The year is 2315 and Earth has become overpopulated, draining what little remaining resources are left. Civilization’s only hope is to expand into space to find a new planet for settlement. The World Government organization, established in 2174, plans to terraform Mars, but it will require cooperation from the major corporations on Earth. A large financial incentive will be given for corporations that participate in this humanity-saving endeavor. It’s time to hop aboard the next shuttle to Mars and begin your mission!
Designer: Jacob Fryxelius
Publisher: Stronghold Games
Genre: Card Drafting, Tile Placement
Play Time: 90-180 minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 5
In Terraforming Mars, each player will take on the role of one of the twelve corporations with a vested interest in the terraforming of Mars. Each of these corporations has a specialization that will give them an edge over competing corporations. The corporations will each have their own player board to keep track of their resources and starting conditions.
To terraform the planet, the corporations must create enough oxygen in the atmosphere to make it breathable, develop enough oceans to allow for weather similar to Earth, and increase the planet’s temperature to a livable level. To achieve these goals, the corporations will fund projects that will help them terraform the planet and also increase their terraform rating (income/end game victory points). Will your corporation lead the way in terraforming Mars or will it fail to prosper in this brave new world?
Players will play through several generations (rounds) as they work toward terraforming Mars. In each generation, players will go through four phases:
- Player Order Phase: The first player marker moves one step clockwise from the current first player.
- Research Phase: Players will receive four project cards that they can choose to research(spend three Mega Credits for each card)
- Action Phase: Players can take unlimited actions per generation, but only up to two actions each turn during this phase. The round goes until all players pass. The actions players can choose from are:
- Play a card: Players can play a card from their hand into their tableau, if the requirements for it are met and they can afford to pay for it. Green cards and red cards give players an immediate effect and are then placed into separate piles. Blue cards will usually give an immediate effect and a passive ability players can utilize in future turns.
- Complete a standard project: Players can complete any of the six standard projects on the board. There is no limitation to how many times a player can use these projects.
- Claim a milestone: If a player fulfills the requirements of a milestone they can take this action to claim that milestone for victory points at the end of the game. Each milestone can only be claimed by one person and only three total can be claimed a game.
- Fund an award: Players can fund an award to be scored at the end of the game for victory points. Only three of the awards can be funded in a game.
- Use a blue card action: Use the action of a blue card in the player’s tableau. Actions on these cards can only be used once per generation whereas passive effects apply whenever possible.
- Place a greenery tile on Mars: Players can trade in eight plants to produce a greenery tile to place on the map. Placing a greenery tile will increase the oxygen of the planet.
- Increase temperature on Mars: Players can trade in eight heat to increase the temperature on the planet.
Once a player has chosen to pass, they will no longer be able to take actions for the rest of this phase. After everyone has chosen to pass, the action phase will end.
- Production Phase: This phase is performed simultaneously by all players. Players will convert any remaining energy to heat and then gain new resources based on their production level for each resource. Income will be based on your current terraform rating plus your current mega bucks production.
Anytime a player increases a global parameter (oxygen, temp, and oceans), they will increase their terraform rating by one step. The end of the game will be triggered once the oxygen reaches 14%, the temperature reaches 8ºC, and all nine ocean tiles are placed. The remaining portion of that generation will be played, and after the last production phase players will get one final chance to convert plants into greenery tiles.
At the end of the game, players will add points from awards, milestones, points on cards, and points from tiles they own on the map to the terraform rating. The player with the highest terraform rating will be the winner!
Players can play an extended game by adding all the Corporate Era cards to the project deck. These cards focus more on economy and technology, which won’t directly terraform the planet, but will give corporations more resources to complete the goal.
Another variant that can be used is the “Draft Variant,” which has players drafting the four cards they receive in the Research Phase. Each player will select one card and pass the remaining cards clockwise (even generations) or counter clockwise (odd generations). Once they receive their fourth card they will then continue the research phase normally and choose which cards they’d like to keep for mega credits.
There were a lot of games that were hyped up during Gen Con 2016 and Terraforming Mars was definitely one of the hottest items. At first, I didn’t really take much interest in it because the theme didn’t really call out to me, but the game play videos and reviews made it look pretty intriguing. Engine building and tile placement in one game with a billion unique cards? Who could possibly say no to that? After playing this game a couple times, I’m glad that I decided to give it a chance despite the theme not really being one that typically interests me.
Mission to Mars
In Terraforming Mars, like any card based game, there will always be a bit of luck factor. You receive four random projects to choose from each round that may or may not help you in your mission. This could be a problem, especially in the beginning, when you’re choosing which corporation you’re playing as after the initial ten cards are dealt. This happened to Mandee one time we played as none of the cards worked well with her corporation’s ability.
With the drafting variant of this game, I feel like a player could easily come back from a bad starting hand by making good decisions during this portion of the game. We’ve only played with the draft variant because we felt like it would reduce the luck factor. It does add a bit of time to the game though as players have to take that additional time to draft their cards before choosing which ones to keep.
I’m not sure I’d play the game without the draft variant since I liked the decision making involved with what cards to keep. That’s not to say that it isn’t possible for one person to get luckier with card drafts, but it doesn’t happen enough to be a problem. Every game we played was pretty close, despite players going for different types of strategies, and the scores ended up being pretty close with the largest margin of victory being eight points.
Pieces of the Mars Rover
Terraforming Mars comes with 208 project cards each with its own unique art. I have to admit, it’s pretty impressive, even if some of the art quality isn’t consistent with a mix of cartoon-looking art and real photos. The flavor text at the bottom of cards was also a great touch as it gave a thematic reasoning for what the project card does.
When playing the basic game, there’s already a pretty sizable deck of cards, but once you add the Corporate Era cards, the stack just becomes huge. This adds quite a bit of replayability since you could play the standard game a couple times and then try out a corporate game to see all the cool new cards. Speaking of the cards, they do a great job explaining what the card does when it’s played. This greatly reduced the amount of time it took to teach because the cards told you exactly what to do.
There’s also a whopping twelve corporations to try out, which makes the replayability go through the roof. In every game, I’ve played as a different corporation and they’ve all felt unique and made me try out different strategies to best utilize their abilities. I also felt like all of the corporations we’ve played as were pretty well-balanced with no corporation having a significantly better ability than others.
One of the problems I did have with the components was the player board, which seems to be a common complaint by other reviews I’ve seen. There’s nothing to really keep the resources in place so bumping the table or accidently brushing your board could be disastrous. I did see some custom board overlays that looked like an awesome solution to this problem that I may have to purchase.
Mars Will Come to Fear My Botany Powers
My favorite part of Terraforming Mars was building up my engine each game and setting up cool combos. The game has a lot of interesting decisions to make as you race to claim milestones and plan long term for winning those awards. I liked that the milestones and awards were both limited to three options per game so if someone was focusing on a couple specific things you could nominate awards that weren’t beneficial to them or quickly claim milestones.
Another interesting decision is deciding when to trigger the end of the game because it could go on for a couple extra rounds if no one is willing to end the game. I had made the mistake in one of our games of extending the game a few rounds too long against a better VP engine than mine, which resulted in me losing by eight points.
The player interaction in the game is done by event cards that can be pretty brutal by eliminating resources or reducing production. I didn’t really have too much of an issue with the ones that killed off resources, but the production ones were pretty annoying. It could really set you back if you’re unable to increase the production of that resource because you don’t have the cards for it.
For the most part, it seemed like most of the cards reduced plant resources or production which are kind of hard to come by in the earlier parts of the game due to the temperature/oxygen constraints. The action cards that steal animals/microorganisms from other players can be pretty crippling too. If you’re the player who’s producing the animals/microorganisms you’re basically forced to no longer use that card since it’ll just generate points for the other player. It kind of balances out if there isn’t anything produced for the other player to steal.
I really liked this game and thought that it lived up to the hype that it was given. The engine building is really satisfying and the board looks awesome at the end of with all the tiles spread around it. Mars isn’t really a theme that appeals all that much to me, but this game did a really good job at getting me interested in how terraforming Mars would actually happen. I actually looked up if 14% Oxygen was actually enough to be liveable and it turns out it wouldn’t be since anything below 19.5% is considered Oxygen deficient(Edit: that data is based off on someone working in a confined space. 14% is a livable oxygen level.) . But the fact that the game actually intrigued me enough to look it up surprised me.
I think anyone that enjoys games with a lot of strategy would enjoy Terraforming Mars. It’s not too difficult of a game to pick up because the actions are pretty straightforward, but it could be a lot to take in for a person that doesn’t play these types of games much. Overall, I’d say that this is one of the best games of 2016. Even with the long play time, it kept me engaged the whole time.
I’ll start off by saying that long games with a space-related theme are not my typical game of choice. And while I may not have an extreme interest in the theme of Terraforming Mars, it works fantastically with the game play and mechanics – something that is not common for this style of game. And I was incredibly surprised when I ended up loving this game.
Do You Want to Build a Planet?
First off, the designers of Terraforming Mars clearly did their homework. Everything about this game really makes you believe you are terraforming Mars to make it a habitable planet. Like how you need a certain amount of oxygen to grow some types of plants or how you need to build a city in order to have pets.
On top of this great theme integration, it all works with the game mechanics. This is primarily a card drafting and tile placement game with the purpose of building an engine so you can gain more resources by the end of the game. Very often in card drafting games, the theme is really not integrated well. But not in Terraforming Mars.
Each card you draft makes sense with the theme. You draft an asteroid event card and that causes oceans to form and an increase in temperature. You draft a card that allows you to build a cool new invention on Mars and you get to reduce the cost of your future cards. Even the standard projects you can take make sense – trading in cards is really you selling patents. It all just ties together seamlessly and it is really impressive.
The Little Engine That Could
There really are a lot of aspects of this game that should make it a flop for me – it’s a very long game (typically at least two hours), it has a space theme, and it’s an engine builder game. But there are so many aspects of this game that makes me think twice about disliking games like this.
I’m not a great engine builder because I tend to focus more on gaining points than on increasing my production. In one game, I played as the company that focuses on heat production, which was challenging because I never managed to draft cards that allowed me to increase my production. In other games we played, I was able to get up and running pretty easily and felt pretty confident. But in this game, I felt like I was constantly struggling to catch up. I really could not get anything going and barely had any money or resources to trade in – meaning I couldn’t really play any cards. I also didn’t really get too many cards that benefited me, which forced me to change strategies.
The main difference between these games was that the one I struggled in was a three player game and the others were a two player game. I prefer a two player game because it allows more time for both players to build up their engine and keeps the score a little tighter. Unlike most other games, the more players you have, the faster the game tends to go.
One thing that often frustrated me in this game is that I often couldn’t play cards because they either couldn’t be played during a certain time or I had to spend my money to buy cards and then couldn’t afford to actually play them. I’m not sure I see the benefit of having to pay to draft the cards, other than to force you to make some tough decisions. But this is more an issue with my own abilities to focus on building up my engine rather than a flaw with the game.
Play It Again, Mars
The combination of all elements I’ve already mentioned makes the replayability of this game incredible. You can play as different corporations, add new cards, and the cards you’ll be drafting will always be different.
There is even a basic and more advanced version of the game. The advanced version aka the Corporate Era cards with the draft variant is the best way to play it. I was convinced that I would not like it because you have to start at zero production unless your card says something different. But I jumped to conclusions too quickly because this version is great. It allows you more time to build your engine and provides even greater replayability. However, I would not play the advanced version with more than two players – it would simply take way too long to play.
You may be wondering if I have any negatives, other than me being terrible at this game. Well, there is some randomness to this game that I’m not a fan of, but it’s minor and something that really can’t be helped in this type of game. Card drafting is random – not much you can do about it. As I mentioned before, it can be difficult in the beginning rounds of the game to get things going – especially if the random draw of cards is not in your favor.
In addition, some components do need work. The artwork on the cards is a little cheesy at times and the player board is terrible. One wrong move and everything shifts off the board. But other than these very minor things, this game is fantastic and definitely one I recommend if you’re looking for a game with heavy strategy. And this is coming from someone who plays pretty badly, but still enjoys the experience.
- Great theme integration with game play
- Well balanced
- Works well as a two-player game
- Satisfying engine builder
- Engaging game despite its length
- Milestone and award system
- Cards are a good aide
- All corporations feel unique and abilities are balanced
- Randomness with card draws
- Can go a little long, especially in a four or five player game
- Some components need work
- Can be overwhelming at first sight
- Player interaction can be mean
He gives this game 9 Mega Credits out of 10.
She gives this game 8.5 Asteroids out of 10.