GAME REVIEW: Terraforming Mars

The buzz was pretty strong on this game leading up to Gen Con, but for some reason, there was something about it that just wasn’t grabbing me.  My brother heard some people talk about it on a podcast and asked why I wasn’t interested in picking it up there.  He said it sounded like my type of game….. because it sounded like that he wouldn’t like it.  You see, he likes dice chucking games and dungeon crawls, I love resource management and worker placement games.  But, I looked at the box and the look of it just wasn’t grabbing me.  It looked fine, but just didn’t seem special to me.  I finally decided to grab it on Day 2 of Gen Con, but it already sold out.  Oh well, I thought.

Now, it’s one of the best reviewed games out right now.  So, I decided to bite the bullet and pick up a copy finally.  Does it live up to the hype, or was I right to not be that interested in it early on?  Let’s find out!

TERRAFORMING MARS (2016) Designed by Jacob Fryxelius; Published by Stronghold Games – For 2-5 players and takes about 90-120 minutes (but most likely longer). 

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The game definitely has a neat theme going for it.  Some 300 years in the future or so, Earth is trying to colonize mars.  They need to start immigrating people to the planet because Earth is running out of room.  But in order to do that, Mars needs to be safer.  It needs more Oxygen, more oceans, and a higher temperature.  Players get to control their own corporation, competing to contribute the most to Terraforming Mars.

So….. there’s a heck of a lot to explain in this game.  It’s a heavy one.  I feel like I’m not the best at giving a complete, thorough run through of the game.  There are many other videos out there that do a better job that I could ever do, so I’m just going to give a basic overview.  If you’d like to know more details, check this video out here.

The object of the game is to have the best terraform rating (most victory points).  Players can raise their terraform rating by raising the temperature, by placing an ocean on the planet, and by placing greenery tiles that raise the oxygen level.

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The board represents mars, and players will be placing city tiles, greenery tiles and other special tiles that will help make the planet more livable.

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Each player will have a player board that will help keep track of their resources: Money, Steel, Titanium, Planets, Energy and Heat.

Each player will also start with a certain amount of money and resources depending on the corporation they choose.  Also, each corporation will give them a special ability throughout the game.

The main gameplay is through project cards.  At the beginning of each round players will get to purchase project cards into their hand at 3 money a piece.  Then, during the action phase, they can pay the fee at the top left of the card to play that card if they so choose.

There are many different kinds of project cards to play.  Some place city tiles out, some help get greenery tiles and ocean tiles out for a cheaper price.  Some are victory points.  Some are animal cards, that allow you to place a bunch of animals on the card during the game, to be worth victory points depending on how many animals you have on the card at the end of the game.  Some also help raise production on your resources.  And a lot more too.

The actions you can actually take on your turn during the action phase are

  • Play a project card from your hand

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  • Perform a standard project (sell cards, increase your energy production, increase the temp, place an ocean tile, place a greenery tile, place a city tile)

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  • Claim a Milestone (an objective that you achieved during the game)

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  • Fund an Award (an end game objective)
  • Use an action on a blue action card
  • Convert 8 of your plants into a greenery tile
  • Convert 8 of your heat to increase the temp.

You can take 1 or 2 actions during your turn.  Players can take as many actions per generation (round) as they can afford or want to.  Once all players pass, the generation ends, and players gain resources and money according to the production on their player boards.

Once all oceans have been placed, the temp has reached the top, and the oxygen is the highest it can go, the game will end that round.  All 3 of these conditions must be met.

And that’s the basic overview.  I apologize if it’s not super clear.

At the end of the game, players will count up victory points on their cards laid out in front of them, any milestones and awards they collected.  Also, greenery tiles players built are worth a point a piece, and city tiles are worth 1 point per greenery tile next to it.

That’s about it.  Like I said, I didn’t cover every detail here, but I feel that’s a decent overview.

Well……… what can I say…… my brother was right!  I DO love this game!  It’s amazing, and is easily one of my favorite games of the year.  This game is definitely up my alley.

Man, where do I start.  First of all, the look of the game, which I wasn’t impressed with at first, has grown on me.  I love the board.  It looks cool and is very functional.

The resource cubes look so cool too.  Gold, silver and bronze.  Love em’!

I like placing tiles on the board, trying to raise my terraform rating, and getting my production up, but the main reason that anything happens at all in this game are the project cards.  That’s the game right there.

What I love about the project cards is that EVERY cards is great.  It’s so hard to choose which one to keep for the action phase.  You could buy all of the 4 cards your drew at the beginning of the round, but then you’ll have less money to play those cards during the action phase.  The decisions are deep and meaningful in this game.  That’s what kept me riveted.  Getting those cards at the beginning of every round felt like Christmas!  If you don’t get good cards (which isn’t often) you can always choose to do standard projects to build cities and greenery tiles.

Man, what else do I love about this game?  I love that you can try to earn a bunch of plants just by placing out tiles (through placement bonuses) and then converting plants to make more greenery tiles.  I love that energy turns to heat during the production phase. I love that you can use your steel and titanium as money to buy specific cards from your hand (and for a discount!).  I love the milestones and awards.  I’m a sucker for games with goals and objectives to work for.

Another great thing about the game is the corporations.  I love that each one gives the player a different special ability (like being able to use heat for money, or gain plants every time someone places an ocean).    It’s that cool variability that will keep me coming back to the game.  Plus, there are soooooooo many project cards that it’s hard to get through them all during one game.  Maybe with the full player count I suppose.

I have one minor, negative thing to say about the game.  I wish the player boards were indented to hold the cubes in place on the production tracks.  During all games I’ve played, I bumped my player board on accident, making the cubes move around and I had to remember where they were.  You see, I’m kind of clumsy, so I wish the player boards were a little better.

Other than that, this game is fantastic.  It really feels like you’re contributing to making mars more inhabitable.  The theme surprisingly comes through here.

This is a great 2 player game.  I’ve only played it with 2.  I think it’ll be good with 3 as well.  However, I’m not sure how much I’d like it with 4 and 5.  I tend not to like these heavy strategy games with more than 2 or 3.  Imperial Settlers is a great example.  Love that game…… 2 players.  Any more and there is just too much downtime.  Some people won’t care and would want to play with the full player count, and more power to them.  That’s just not for me.  This isn’t a negative thing for me about the game.  I just won’t ever play it with more than 3.  All games I’ve played have run a little over 2 hours, which is great for this game.  Also, the game never felt that long either.

Terraforming Mars is an excellent strategy game that is surprisingly thematic.  I love trying to figure out the right card combos and different strategies to achieve victory.  It seems like there are a few different ways to win, and I can’t wait to explore this game even further.  And don’t be scared by the weight of this game.  It may have a little bit of a learning curve at first, but once you get through a round or two, you will most likely get the hang of it.  It’s not as hard as it seems.

This is of the best games of the year!  Don’t miss this one!

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