In Terraforming Mars you have to make Mars habitable by influencing three parameters. You need to get the oxygen level and the temperature up and you have to make sure there’s enough water on the planet. While doing so, you allow a lot of stuff to happen; plants will grow, animals can be introduced and most importantly, that’s why you do it all, mankind can enter the scene.
I have been waiting to write this review, don’t know why, the game is wonderful. It has a board, a lot of stuff happens there, but it focuses on clever cardplay. Turn after turn you will play cards until all three parameters, oxygen, temperature and water, are at the end of their tracks. Then the game ends and the player with the most points wins.
You are part of, or you are a company that tries to get a leg up in the Terraforming business. The game advises you to start with the generic companies for you first, or first couple of plays, but I do not. Just start with the cool companies, the ones with special abilities. Yes, they might be a bit more complicated, but they also give you a direction, a starting strategy.
That company also tells you what’s your starting capital. That capital is used to buy cards at the beginning of a round and to play cards during your turn. You money, and all other resources are tracked on your player board. You have a production track for every resource and a pile of cubes to show what you can actually spend.
Every round you get the option to buy card for 3 million each. You draw four of them and pay for the ones you want to add to your hand. Then turn after turn players can do one or two actions, more on that later. Then, when both player have passed, the round ends and you get the amount of resources according to you production rates.
There are a lot of things that you can do on your turn. You can do a generic action, or standard project as they are called. These actions are available to everyone and cost money. You can think of them as useful actions, but more expensive than when you are able to do the same with cards or resources. Think of building a city, raising the temperature or placing a greenery tile. It costs quite a lot of money to do these actions via the standard way.
Greenery tiles and the temperature can also be placed or raised by spending plants or warmth cubes respectively. And also by playing cards. There are three types of cards and all cards have a different value that you have to pay if you want to play them. Red cards are events, they are triggered, do something cool, and are moved to your discard pile. Green cards stay in front of you after you’ve executed its effect. You can use them for their tags later.
Some card have a requirement, like the temperature has to be at least four degrees, or the oxygen level must be 6% or less, or, and now the tags come in, you must have a specific amount of a certain type of tag in front of you. Like the purple circle with the white lighting bolt you see above on the Solar Power card.
These requirements make sure, and this is one of the fun things about this game, that you have to plan. You sometimes have to buy cards you cannot play until much later in the game, and you have to do your best to manipulate one or more parameters, so that you can eventually play them. Manipulating the different parameters so that you can play the right card at the right time is, obviously, incredibly important in Terraforming Mars.
The last type of card you can play is the blue card. This type might give something immediately, but most importantly it gives you an ongoing benefit or allows you to execute an unique action every round. For instance, a card gives you points for every animal token that is on it at the end of the game. Now you only need to find a way to add these animals to that card, maybe by playing another blue card that allows you place animal cubes on other cards.
So during the game you’ll raise the oxygen level, create oceans, collect different kinds of tags. All because you want to be a top-notch terraformer, with the highest terraforming rating of the class.
At one point though, you might want to reward yourself, or show others that you are, without a doubt, one of the best. Then you can claim a milestone. If you meet the criteria for that milestone of course. Like owning three greenery tiles or three cities. You must pay eight million and you claim it. No one else can claim that milestone, and throughout the game only three of the five available ones can be claimed. You guess it, it’s a race.
You can also fund an award. No, you’re not lacking in confidence. You’re pretty sure of yourself. You pay some money and now the award ceremony is taking place at the end of the game. Which award ceremony? You have to choose now. Do you think you’ll win if we look at who has the highest income in the end? Or the most science tags maybe? Or maybe you think you will own the most tiles in play? You fund the award, but it doesn’t mean that you will automatically win. Only three awards can be funded and they get more expensive to fund. The earlier you fund an award the cheaper it will be, but then there’s more time for the other players to make sure that they will win that award instead of you. I really like the awards. The tension, – will I win? -, really adds something fun to the game.
This game is right up my alley. A big stack of cards, multiple corporations to play with, all with different powers that give you tones of options and tones of roads to take. Another great thing is that your progress is not only represented by your cards, they are actually only the back story of your company’s struggles on Mars, but most importantly by the the tiles on the board. Here you see Mars transform into an actual habitable planet.
The fluff text on the cards is pretty cool, it brings this whole game to life. What I do not like is some of the illustrations and graphic design of the cards. The pictures in the basic deck are fine, I’m talking about some of the illustrations on the ‘more advanced’ cards, used in a longer game. On some of those cards the font is suddenly different and it looks like they just took some random Google pictures of people in lab coats and tall buildings. Really weird. A bit of a disconnect with the other cards.
Talking about these advanced cards, I do like the basic game better than the more advanced game. And with the basic game I mean the game where you use the non-standard corporations, but do start with one production of each resource. It played much quicker than the advanced game.
The advanced game adds a bunch of new cards that are not all very fun. You also start with zero production of any resource, except when your corporation cards tells you otherwise. This causes the game to have a very slow start, you have to wait several turns before you can start doing cool things. I like it better when I can kickstart my corporation into greatness.
So the basic deck of cards is enough for me. I just like to start immediately doing cool stuff.
By the way, there is some take-that, some stealing, or destroying of resources by asteroids and other heavy, solid, flying space objects. Nothing too bad, just a tiny hiccup on the road to success.
What can I say more. It’s a great game, one of the best games of the year. Exciting, quick and with tones of strategies to try out. Buy it I say.