As soon as we had finished our first game of Terraforming Mars, I knew I had found my new favorite game of all time.
Jeremiah & Kara Clark
Designer: Jacob Fryxelius
Artist: Isaac Fryxelius
Game Type: Engine Building
Game Type: Resource Management
Initial Year of Release: 2016
Age Range: 12+
Expected Playtime: 120 minutes
Number of Players: 1-5
Theme and What is it?
Planet Earth is destitute. The greedy inhabitants have mined, harvested, and reaped the natural resources until almost nothing remains. The land is overpopulated, and the seas are full of garbage – the human race is doomed. Then someone proposes a radical idea: what if we pour the remaining resources we have into colonizing our neighbor planet Mars, a mere 250 million miles away? It’s ludicrous — a pipe dream! But it just might be the far-fetched lifeboat humanity needs to survive.
In Terraforming Mars, players will compete as the heads of companies devoted to the terraforming and colonization of Planet Mars. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be fast. The planet is freezing, dry, and there’s no atmosphere to speak of. By carefully managing their money and resources, the players will be able to raise the temperature, plant forests, and create oceans as they compete to be the most successful terraformer in the galaxy.
The Gameplay for Terraforming Mars is genius. At the start of each generation, you have money to spend, forests to plant, awards to accept! It’s all so exciting, but you only get two actions per turn! This means timing is crucial. Do you raise the temperature twice so you can snag that bonus? Or do you claim that award before your opponent snatches it for themselves? Ahh but these projects need to be funded, and the oceans need filling!
There are so many awesome things you can do, but you have to choose which to do now, and which ones to save for later. This creates an atmosphere of brain-twisting, butt-clenching tension as you choose your actions for this turn and pray nothing happens to mess up your next.
We were hesitant to get Terraforming Mars at first, because there was so much hype surrounding the game it started to annoy us. Something piqued our curiosity, and we started doing our research. What we saw got us so excited that we drove to an out-of-state game store (Terraforming mars was out of print at the time, and difficult to find) and bought it as soon as we could.
We read the rulebook aloud during the car ride home, and it hit the table the very next day. We were delighted. Terraforming Mars was everything we had hoped for and more! The intense decision making, the race for achievements, and the sense of freedom as we decided what to do with our companies scratched every engine-building outer-space itch we had. As soon as we had finished our first game, I knew I had found my new favorite game of all time.
Game Build Quality
The only downside to Terraforming Mars is the poor component quality. The forest/city tiles are often poorly cut, the box is thin, and the artwork style varies from card to card.
The biggest problem with the components is the player boards, which are made of flat cardstock. These player boards are essential for tracking each company’s production and resources. There are six different sections on each board, with numbers running underneath to mark production value.
There aren’t any dividers or insets to help keep your cubes separate, which means the player boards are basically just pictures with cubes set in slightly different areas. If the table gets bumped at all, those cubes go flying everywhere, and it can really mess up the game. Luckily there are tons of options for Terraforming Mars component upgrades and replacing the player boards isn’t difficult if you want (and you probably should).
The main complaint people have about Terraforming Mars, is that the artistic style varies from card to card. For instance, one card has a photograph of some lovely deer eating twigs. Another shows a computer-generated bear snarling at the camera. These inconsistencies really irritate some people, but they’ve never bothered us.
Something that I love about the Terraforming Mars cards is that the ability of each card is shown in symbology under the picture. Then beneath the symbols, there’s a full-sentence description about the ability of the card. This is so helpful, for both experienced gamers and newbies, because no one has to ask, “What does this card do?” which can be a very scary question to ask your opponents.
My absolute favorite thing about Terraforming Mars is the way the board changes throughout the game. At the beginning of the game, players have arrived on this dusty, dry, waste of a planet. There is nothing. No water, no trees, not even air! But throughout the game, players place little tiles on the board—cities, forests, and oceans—until the entire surface is transformed into a beautiful environment, teeming with life. The difference between the board at the start and the end of the game leave players feeling like they’ve accomplished something significant.
The fun Terraforming Mars brings to the table is out of this world! Each player is deeply focused on the development and growth of their own company, but they have to be aware of what the surrounding companies are doing as well—after all, they’re the competition! There’s a constant feeling of risk and reward as you delay one action in favor of another, or give up a bonus to snatch a milestone out from under your opponent’s nose.
There are so many strategies you can try and watching the main board change over the course of the game is so satisfying. Win or lose, you still feel like you’ve accomplished something. Everyone always has a fantastic time whenever we play this game.
Age Range & Weight
The manufacturer recommended age for Terraforming Mars is 12+. I think this game is too complex and requires too much planning for a 12-year-old to handle, but maybe I underestimate kids these days. Terraforming Mars can induce a little analysis-paralysis, but it’s mitigated by the fact that players have limited resources and two actions to spend them on, which helps to narrow all the options down to the best choice.
There’s a reason Terraforming Mars is in the top 10 BGG games of all time. It’s so much fun! Even if you don’t win, you still get an immense sense of accomplishment from watching your company grow and watching the surface of Mars change. Terraforming Mars would be the perfect fit for anyone even remotely interested in outer space, but really I think everyone would enjoy this game. It’s the perfect combination of outer-space science and Jupiter-sized fun. Turns are quick, decisions are important, gameplay is astronomical. If this one isn’t on your shelf, it really should be.
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