Science

Review of the board game Terraforming Mars

Basic information:

Price: $47.49 / £47.99

Type: Strategy

Players: 1-5

Recommended age: 12+

Time per game: 3 hours+

Difficulty: 8/10

Terraforming Mars is a favorite of the board game community, partly for its extraterrestrial theme, but also for its brilliant mix of gameplay elements.

You play as a money-driven corporation desperate to cash in on a terraforming project that is ending on Mars. Together, players attempt to make the planet habitable by increasing temperatures, oxygen levels, and ocean coverage. Once each of these parameters reaches its ultimate goal, the game ends – the player with the most victory points wins by contributing to the terraforming project and completing other achievements.

This is without a doubt one of the best space board games you can play right now. It has a lot of attention to detail (some parts of the map feature actual landmarks from Mars) and a expansive deck of cards means new elements will be unlocked each time you play through it.

Here’s what we made of the game after a few months of playing.

  • Terraforming Mars board game on Amazon for $47.08. (will open in a new tab)

Today’s best proposals for terraforming Mars

Terraforming Mars: what’s in the box and how to set it up

Terraforming Mars _ Beginning of the game, front view

(Image credit: Future)

  • Quick and easy setup
  • Simple, functional design
  • Resource cubes sometimes need to be replaced

Inside the box you will find a board, some tiles, player sheets, a huge deck of cards, some player markers, and resource cubes. Setting it all up is relatively easy — we were able to get it up and running in less than five minutes.

The design adheres to the principle of “form follows function”. Different sections of the board allow you to track moves and follow the progress of terraforming. The cards are decorated with miniature symbols that make it easy to understand the cost, requirements and category of each card. The artwork isn’t the most innovative, but that doesn’t detract from the gameplay. If anything, we believe that a simple design makes it easier to play.

We stumbled upon some issues with resource cubes. These little shiny markers are incredibly smooth and slippery; several times when we played, from a careless push of the table, it was felt that they were flying. Annoyingly, they can also run out during the game, which meant we had to find replacements to represent our resources. They break easily too – ours looked pretty beat up after our first playthrough.

We were also a bit disappointed that the cards didn’t come with any kind of deck holder, so they rattle in the box as soon as you put them away. The game manages to rise above these (mostly aesthetic) issues, but they’re annoying when the rest of the game feels so polished.

Although the rulebook and scoring system are quite extensive, they are not entirely complex. We didn’t rack our brains and argue about how to play cards correctly. However, we needed to revise the rulebook to take a close look at the scoring system to establish who really won.

Terraforming Mars: The Game

  • Brilliant mix of gameplay elements
  • Player Interaction Lighting
  • Slow pace in the last rounds

As mentioned above, all players contribute to the terraforming process by increasing temperatures, increasing ocean coverage, and increasing oxygen levels. Once these parameters reach the optimal value, Mars is officially terraformed and the game is over. So, before that, you need to do a lot of preparatory work in order to get as many victory points as possible.

You earn points by contributing to the terraforming process – usually by laying ocean or forest tiles, or by using thermal resources to increase temperatures – but you can also earn them in a variety of other ways. Building cities will earn you points, as will playing certain cards. There are also special rewards and milestones that can give you a boost, but you will have to put some of your resources into these rewards if you want to set them, which can sometimes backfire.

For example, if you dominate the board, you can pay to top up the “landowner” bounty, which will give victory points to the player with the most tiles on the board. However, if someone increases the tile coverage in the last rounds, you could very well lose.

Terraforming Mars _Game within a game, side view

(Image credit: Future)

In short, there are many ways to win. This is the kind of game that rewards strategic planning, but sometimes requires you to completely overhaul your tactics.

The cards provide most of the fun in this game; you can use them to improve resource gathering, gain victory points, or increase all important terraforming stats. And because the deck is so vast, you’re unlikely to find yourself playing the same hands in later games.

You can buy cards every round, which means that sometimes you will find that a card that seemed incredibly useful in the first generation now lingers in your hand at the end of the game. Our top tip: make sure you don’t get too attached to cards that don’t prove useful, and sell them if necessary.

There aren’t many opportunities for player interaction in the game; there is no exchange or bullying. Sometimes the map allows you to steal a couple of resources from someone else, but in general everyone is busy building their own engine and collecting resources. We like this kind of peaceful play, although aggressive players may lack combat.

Terraforming Mars _ Tracking board close-up

(Image credit: Future)

One pattern that has cropped up a lot in our games is the sudden slowdown in the last rounds. It’s easy to see why this is happening. If you are not sure that you have enough victory points, you will stop contributing to the terraforming parameters in order to delay the end of the game. If everyone is fairly even, you might find that quite a few players suddenly don’t want to raise their temperature or oxygen levels.

We didn’t mind that, mostly because we still enjoyed the difficulty of the game during those stages. Some other players were not happy with the sluggish pace after a solid three hours of play, which is understandable.

There’s also a single player version of the game that you can play if you can’t gather enough friends and feel like an earth sculptor. It definitely misses out on some of the game’s most interesting elements, but it’s a novelty that can be enjoyed with the board game.

Should I buy Mars Terraforming?

Seasoned board gamers will enjoy the challenge of balancing resource management and recurring expenses. However, casual players may find the number of rules overwhelming. And in some playthroughs, you’ll need a holy amount of patience to get past the final rounds.

That being said, Terraforming Mars as a whole is a really enjoyable game, and the gameplay is exceptional – an extensive deck of cards means every playthrough will be unique. It’s also nice to find a game that you can play with friends or alone, so you really get your money’s worth with this game. Terraforming Mars is one board game we definitely recommend adding to your collection.

Today’s best proposals for terraforming Mars

If this product is not for you

Are three hours enough for you? Why not try your hand at Twilight Imperium? (will open in a new tab), an epic strategy game that takes half a day (minimum) to complete. You play as an alien who seeks to take the Imperial throne. There is a lot more trading and bullying in this if you enjoy the interaction with the player.

Or – if you’re looking for something short and sweet – try Race for the Galaxy. (will open in a new tab)which takes 30-60 minutes to complete. In the card game you have to build a galactic civilization. It’s small enough to pack on a trip and has deceptively simple mechanics that tactical players will love.

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