Terraforming Mars Review

“In space, no one can hear you clean…”

Description from the Manufacturer

Coming to Mars was a big step… making it habitable will give us a new world! In the 2400s, mankind begins to terraform the planet Mars. Giant corporations, sponsored by the World Government on Earth, initiate huge projects to raise the temperature, the oxygen level, and the ocean coverage until the environment is habitable.

In Terraforming Mars, you play one of those corporations overseeing the terraforming process. But, competition is fierce, with victory points awarded not only for your contribution to the terraforming, but also for advancing human infrastructure throughout the solar systems and other commendable achievements.

Playing Time

90-120 Minutes

Number of Players

1-5

Best With

3-4 Players

Complexity Rating

3.24 out of 5

There are many different kinds of board games out there, for many different kinds of board game players.  Some people love tactical war games like Advanced Squad Leader, other’s love historical games so accurate it borderlines on LARPing (Virgin Queen anyone?)  That’s the fun part about this hobby, there’s something for everyone, and anyone who says they don’t like board games, it simply means they haven’t found the right game to fall in love with.  Their gateway drug.

That said, I’m going to tell you my personal bias.  I love strategy games.  Specifically, I love strategy games that reward long term planning, have multiple avenues for victory, and have huge replay value.  Sprinkle in some negotiation elements (my favorite game of all time is still Diplomacy.  Oh to back-stab my friends for 10 hours, is there anything more joyous?), and you’ve got the perfect recipe as far as I’m concerned.

Why am I telling you all this?  Well, because Terraforming Mars hits hard on nearly all the things I love in a good board game.  So you’ll have to forgive the (relatively) glowing review, because I really, really enjoyed this game.  Read on dear board game nerd, to find out why.

Things I Loved About Terraforming Mars

Terraforming Mars is an incredibly great game, in large part because of the high replay value.  The diversity of cards available, and the different Corporation combinations means each time you play, the engine building can feel starkly different.  During my first five games, I experimented with different techniques, and while some were more successful than others, they all were incredibly fun and challenging to attempt.  Similar to Through the Ages, there are many ways to skin a cat in this game, which makes it very fun to play over and over again.

Did I mention the huge variety of cards?  Because man, the  number of cards they created for this game is impressive.  While there are a number of them that play out like more potent versions of other cards, most are unique, and have really great in game effects.  They are really well balanced, meaning there isn’t a “Whoever gets the best cards first wins” style scenario, unlike some other games I could mention <cough> BLOOD RAGE <cough>.

The engine building is really, really great.  It’s incredibly balanced, and as I said, there are so many different ways to win the game, so many different strategies to explore and techniques to use, after at least 20 plays, I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.

The theme is really well thought out.  If you like a solid flavor, this is the game for you.  Terraforming Mars was developed by a science teacher, and you can feel it in the cards and in the gameplay.  It has a slight science fiction feel, obviously some of the tech is futuristic, but if feels incredibly grounded in real science.  We haven’t terraformed mars yet, but man does this game seem like an accurate prediction of what that will look like.

Things I Hated About Terraforming Mars

My biggest complaint, is that the game could benefit from more direct conflict.  Sure, we’re all on the board together, and the game end mechanic allows for some nice interplay (if you know an opponent needs oxygen below a certain level, you can raise it to ruin their plans), but the bulk of the game is parallel play.  Minus a few cards that target an opponents resources, you’re mostly just building your own engine, and racing the clock to score points.

The card draws feel a bit too random, and can make it hard to synergize with your Corporation (similar to the Lords of Waterdeep problem).  Some cards are stronger than others, and some card combinations are incredibly powerful, but since the card draws are totally random, it can be difficult to plan.  The randomness falls just short of effecting the strategic aspect of the game, but it’s very close, and if you feel the game is flawed, I’d recommend using the Draft variant to counteract it.

If your engine specifically focuses on one of the three game end techniques, once that goal is met, the engine becomes useless and you have to shift focus.  Pivoting that late in the game can be incredibly challenging, and frustrating.

However, by far the biggest complaint I had, was in the individual player mats.  It is a relatively flimsy card, and keeping your resources straight, and in the correct spot can be incredibly difficult.  One bump to the table can spell disaster for multiple people, and can necessitate starting over.  I know from personal experience, when some friends and I were playing and my youngest daughter bumped my player mat, sending my resources flying during our second play through.  Luckily I was doing so badly, I just conceded and the others finished the game.  But the design would be vastly improved by simply using a similar player pad toe Scythe, where there are indents for the various boxes, and the mat is made out of something a bit sturdier.

Final Thoughts

This is a great game.  Like, really, really great.  One of my most favorite new games I’ve picked up, and I can see why it jumped up the Board Game Geek rankings so very quickly.  All of my complaints were very, very minor, and I’m glad I was able to snatch up a copy before it sold out (again).

If you enjoy playing Through the Ages, then I think this game will be well suited for you.  The mechanics are quite different, but it scratches the same Deep Strategy and Engine Building itch that TTA does.  The game rewards repeated plays, as new strategies begin to unfold.  It’s one of those games that you will obsess over after game night, trying to tweak and think through what you should have done differently.  In short, Terraforming Mars is just a fantastic game, and you should buy it as soon as you can.

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