Terraforming Mars Review
Review by David Lent
Terraforming Mars was on my radar for a while before I bought it. I kept hearing good things about it online, but kept putting off buying it. When I found out that it had decent solitaire rules I decided to get it. Many of the games in my collection can be played solitaire, but most of those are wargames. This is the first Euro I’ve come across with solitaire rules. I went to the game store and to my dismay, could not find a copy on the shelf, so I asked the clerk when they would have more copies of it. He said he had some in the back and sold me a copy. It pays to ask!
When I got home, I opened the box and was happy to see TM has decent components. There is a mounted map, rulebook, tons of plastic cubes, hexagon tiles, player’s mats and 233 full-color cards.
The map looks good and has a picture of Mars in hex format. Most of the hexes are for placing cities and greenery while some are only for placing oceans. Some of the hexes give you resources if you place a tile there. Along the edge of the map is a terraforming rating track for the players. Your terraforming rating is one of the things that determine how much money you get each generation. It also counts for victory points at the end of the game. There is also an oxygen track that goes from 0 to 14% and a temperature scale that goes from -30 to +8 Celsius. On the left side of the map is a chart showing the costs of standard projects and at the bottom of the map are the locations for claiming milestones or funding awards.
The plastic cubes included with this game keep track of resources and money and are also used to mark tiles as your own. Each player picks a color to represent their resources. The copper, silver and gold cubes represent money. Copper is 1, silver is 5 and gold is 10. Sometimes I would run out of colored cubes and have to use copper cubes as a substitute.
Each hexagon tile represents greenery, oceans, cities or special tiles. When you place a greenery tile, you increase the terraforming rating (TR) by one and increase the oxygen level by one. Each greenery is worth one victory point. Oceans increase the TR by one and give a 2-credit bonus to anyone placing a tile next to it. Cities give you 1 victory point for each adjacent greenery tile at the end of the game.
The player’s mats are what you use for worker placement. You keep track of your money, steel, titanium, plant, energy and heat production on them. You place a cube on the production value of each one. Steel can only be used to purchase building cards and titanium can only be used to purchase space cards. When you accumulate 8 plants, you can use them to pay for one greenery tile. Energy converts to heat and 8 heat can be used to raise the temperature and increase your terraforming rating by one. The mats worked ok, but I felt they were a little small and sometimes the cubes would slide out of place on them.
TM has 2 types of cards: corporate and project cards. At the beginning of the game, experienced players are dealt two corporate cards and keep one while new players are given the beginner corporation card. Your corporate card tells you how much money you start with and usually has some ongoing effect or special rule for you. Everyone is dealt 10 project cards at the beginning of the game and new players keep all 10, while experienced players have to pay 3 credits for any they want to keep. Project cards can effect resource production, give victory points, increase oxygen, increase heat, change the cost of placing oceans, etc. When you play a project card out of your hand, you first check the card to see if you meet the prerequisites before playing it and then pay its costs. Some cards require a certain number of oceans or a specific oxygen or temperature range before playing them.
This game is played in generations that play in the following order. First, the first player is determined by moving the first player marker clockwise. Second is the research phase. During the research phase, each player draws four cards and pays 3-credits for any he wants to keep. Third is the action phase, which consists of multiple turns. During each turn in clockwise order, each player gets a chance to play 1 or 2 actions or pass. The possible actions are play a card from your hand, pay for a standard project, claim a milestone, fund an award, use the action of a blue card, convert 8 plants to a greenery tile or convert 8 heat into a rise of temperature. If you passed instead of playing an action, you do not get to take the next turn. The last phase is the production phase where you get and produce money and produce any of the other resources you have production in.
Terraforming Mars can either be played competitively or solitaire. In the solitaire game, you start with a terraforming rating of 14 and play 14 generations and do not use milestones or awards. You try to place 9 oceans, increase the oxygen to 14% and raise the heat to 8 degrees Celsius. If you fail to do any of these by turn 14, you lose. If you win, you count victory points to determine how big a victory it is.
In the competitive game, you start with a terraforming rating of 20 and the game plays until all three global parameters (oxygen, heat and oceans) have reached their goal. However, unlike the solitaire game you win by having the most victory points. Players obtain victory points by getting their terraforming rating as high as possible, placing greenery, placing cities, playing cards that have a positive victory point value, paying to claim milestones (after meeting their criteria) and funding awards.
This is one of those games that you should play 3 times before developing an opinion. It takes a few games to figure out the strategy and once you do, you will love this game. I’ve played this game around 30 times solo and 5 times multi-player. In the solo game, I win around 80% of the time. It’s a lot of fun terraforming as fast as possible and spending the last few turns trying to rack up as many victory points as I can. There are two main strategies in this game. The first is buying and playing project cards that work best with your corporate card. Sure, sometimes you will keep drawing useless cards but most of the time you will find something you can use during the research phase. The second strategy is determining what to spend your money on. Is it better to buy a special project to place a greenery tile or is it better to pay to play a card that increases your plant production? Should you buy cards that decrease an opponent’s production or only buy cards that help you? The strategy in this game is really robust and that’s why it’s so fun to play.
When I first started reviewing games, I was very excited that I would get to try new games every week. Terraforming Mars showed me that there is a downside to this. I could play this game another 100-200 times before getting bored with it, but I can’t because I have to constantly review new games. There is a downside to everything…
Buy your own copy here.