Tabletop and Video Games

Terraforming Mars

A Tabletop Game Review

(1-5 players, 1-2 hour gameplay)

Terraforming Mars is a literal world-building game that creates a pace and domino effect of changes that feels accurate.  Fun for one player or a group, this game rewards strategy at increasing levels of difficulty depending upon how many of the rewards you count toward final scores.

I first played Terraforming Mars with a low level of interest.  There were so many pieces and the tracking system for my organization’s money, iron, plants, heat, etc. looked overwhelming.  But when I played a couple rounds, I was hooked. The thing that got me most was the fact that the gameplay felt real. When you draw cards, some are immediately playable.  Others require that the planet’s oxygen and heat be at a certain level. After all, mining can begin immediately when developing a dead planet, but animals are not going to be able to survive until the basics are taken care of.

Because there are limitations on what you can do when, the beginning of the game is slow.  Each player can likely only perform one or two actions before passing to the next. But as heat rises and terraformed plant tiles increase the planet’s oxygen (not to mention as your money intake grows), you can perform more and more actions.  These in turn speed up the rate at which the planet is developing, until by the end, all players are scrambling to accomplish all their goals before Mars is fully terraformed. At that point, scores are totaled based upon the number of cities you founded and whether they touch greenery, which feels like a realistic goal for a game about making a planet habitable.

The fact that the system feels real and is, I assume, well-researched, continues when you move beyond the beginner corporations and try the game with specific organizations targeted to certain goals.  For instance, my pick was a mining corporation, which made the costs of mining actions lower. This led to faster expansion and more money, which ultimately won out over my partner’s attempts to push plants.  But in another round with different cards being drawn, the outcome could be totally different.

Together with the fact that there are expansions to Terraforming Mars, the number of corporations you can play as and the amount of action cards available make this game incredibly replayable.  

Pros:  

  1. Chill and Competitive.  There are rarely opportunities to directly attack your fellow gamers, and you indirectly help each other by raising temperature and oxygen levels.  The competition primarily comes from building your own successful system, which is only fully realized when score counting. As a person who values non-aggressive competition, this game was perfect for me.
  2. Realistic.  I mean, I haven’t terraformed Mars.  Nor has anyone else, so who knows if this actually is realistic.  But it’s very well thought out, and this makes the game feel immersive.
  3. Play Alone or With People.  My girlfriend played Terraforming Mars solo, and she said it was just as enjoyable as playing with others.  Alone, you are racing against the clock, and she said it felt impossible right up until the last couple rounds, which was just the kind of drama you feel when competing against others.

Cons:  

  1. There are a lot of tiny game pieces needed to track all of your resources.  This isn’t a huge deal, but I could see people with children or pets getting into some trouble here.
  2. We haven’t played with all of the corporations, but some do feel more easily winnable than the others.  More playtime will reveal if this is true!

I recommend Terraforming Mars to game players who love strategy, science, and the satisfaction of a series of decisions paying off in big rewards.

Have you played Terraforming Mars?  
Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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