Hobbies and Games


 Adventure calls. Will you answer?

Terraforming Mars, by Stronghold Games, is an economic hand and resource management game about terraforming Mars over 5-15 generations.  In order to make the planet livable, your and some friend's corporations will utilize all of humanity's resources on patents for projects that will raise the oxygen, increase the temperature, and place oceans on the face of Mars, as well as build cities, raise animals, and potentially crash a moon in to the planet (just Deimos, not Phobos).

We have mostly played the game co-op, but we have had the game for less than a month and we have played 36 co-op games.  The game is primarily a competitive game, but it does have solo rules, and we found these easily adapted to co-op.  We have both played competitive as well, and we'll make sure to talk about how our opinions differ on each aspect of the game.
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Favorite Part


Gabe (Green):  I was intrigued by the resource management of this game instantly, and the way you buy patents (cards) before you play them was an interesting insight to the economic aspect of the value of a dollar today versus a dollar tomorrow.  I can spend lots of money to hold on to more patents, but then I won't be able to afford to enact any of them; or I can spend less money, but then if I have 3 extra Space Bucks at the end of the turn, I'll regret not keeping a really powerful card I ditched and could've saved for later.  The board itself didn't do much for me originally, but I've grown to appreciate the tile placement aspect of the game.

Ashley (Blue):  At first, I thought the game was so-so, but my first experience was competitive and I prefer co-op games.  After getting a lot of co-op games under my belt, playing competitive again was much more enjoyable.  In the first game I played Saturn Systems, which exploits outer space cards and uses Titanium as its primary resource.  This steered me towards certain cards and towards prioritizing certain goals, which helped me pick cards, but it also does not directly lend itself towards terraforming the planet, which made me try to get victory points in other ways.

Players Green and Blue Terraforming Mars Review

Ashley and Gabe:  The production quality of the game is definitely a problem.  The pieces that represent the oceans, forests, and cities feel cheap and the paper over the cardboard has started to peel on some (which is especially bad for the oceans, because you use all 9 oceans every game), and the board has some writing where the board folds that becomes creased and illegible after being used.  The writing itself is not a large factor; it is mostly flavor, telling you what the names of those regions of Mars are, but it still feels bad to have a product we enjoy so much and put so much time in to that doesn't hold up even after a month.  The player boards that come with the game do not hold the pieces of the game very well, and are made out of the flimsiest of cardstock.  We had to solve this problem by buying overlays, which there are a variety of kinds available if you google “Terraforming Mars player board overlays”, and those have been worth their weight in Space Bucks.  Also, there will be a double-sided game board as the new map for the first expansion; while I wouldn't expect the product quality to necessarily improve, more boards will mean we're using each board less.
Ashley and Gabe:  Clearly this game is a winner in our books, and we've gotten a lot of play out of it.  Our enjoyment is not diminishing, and we don't feel like we're almost “over” this board game and on to the next game.  Another board game might take its spot later, but we haven't played that game yet.  To compare it to the other big names of 2016, being Scythe and Great Western Trail, Terraforming Mars is the easiest to teach and the easiest to set up, and even if you play competitive, it does not feel as “in-your-face” as some of the others.  I, Gabe, enjoy all three, and am not sure Terraforming Mars is my favorite, but it is certainly the easiest for me to break out and play with Ashley in a timely manner, so that adds a lot of value right there.

A few recommendations on gameplay:  the game has a “starter mode” with “beginner corporations”; this mode should be ignored.  If you play with the normal corporations, they each have special powers and will steer the players in certain directions, whereas the beginner corporations open the new players up to being competent at everything without being great at anything, and will have them wanting to play too many cards and not focus on any strategy.  Also, the game has a drafting variant; we strongly suggest not using this when teaching players for the very first time, and using it every other game after that.  While players are learning the cards and how to value patents, drafting adds a lot of time and complexity, but after one game of understanding the mechanics players should be better suited to make good drafting decisions.  Finally, for our custom co-op mode, we follow the rules in the rulebook for Solo, with a few minor exceptions.  We put the turn limit at 10 turns instead of 14, and we also draft each hand (including the first 10).  We've been keeping track of all of our games with the turn we finished and our scores, and we consider a Turn 9 win to be superior to any Turn 10 win, regardless of how many points we scored.


First Impressions

Worst Bits

Gabe Schmidt (Green player) and Ashley Grubb (Blue player) are a power board gaming couple.  They enjoy how much board games give them time to think and play together instead of staring at a screen in the same room as each other.  We're frequent fliers at Huscarl Hobbies and Games, and if you have any questions for us, feel free to contact us at profparm@gmail.com.
Ashley:  The game is easy to learn, but it has plenty of variety in it.  For the first 20 or so games, you are always learning something new and finding more depth.  For example, the microorganisms are a little complex for the first couple games, but they aren't necessary either, and you can just not play those cards.  Early on, you are just focusing on how to terraform, especially in co-op where you have a time limit.  As you play more games, you can delve into strategies that are more complex and net you more victory points.

Gabe:  One of my bigger fears the first time I played the game is that there are only just over 200 cards, and when you play with 5 people you see the entire deck.  I was worried that the gameplay would get repetitive and boring after replaying it.  I can soundly say that after playing the game over 40 times (not counting solo plays), I've never had a game feel the exact same twice.  A single card's value changes so much based on how early or late the game is, what your corporation's power is, what your other cards are, what your resources are, and how you are personally trying to score points that game, that even getting the exact same card in multiple games, I will value it differently in each situation.  In any given game you see at least 40 cards that you can have a unique analysis and value on, making every game feel different, whether I'm exploring a strategy in the game I rarely try or if I'm going with one of my staple strategies that I always enjoy.
Ashley:  The co-op feels like a race against time.  For 2 players, you have 10 generations to try to terraform the planet, and it makes an hour of real life go by very quickly.  There's an exponential effect:  it is not uncommon for the first four or five turns to have very little happening as you're getting your systems online.  However, once you get started on turns six or seven, a game that seemed unwinnable can suddenly turn into a solid victory.  It's especially nice to combine resources by drafting out the cards, so that each player can specialize in either heat or plant production and really feel like they own their half of the gameplay.

Gabe:  The competitive gameplay is a whole different beast.  It is surprisingly more relaxing, as there is no inherent turn limit, and you can sit back and play around with different engines.  Since I spend so much time of co-op trying to actively terraform the planet, when I switch to competitive I try to use strategies in which I minimize actual terraforming for points and just try to get points off of the greedy victory point cards.  Once you've played the game enough to get a glimpse of all of the strategies, in a competitive game you can pick any one you like and do well with it.  The cards themselves are very well balanced, and most of the corporations seem like they're on an even playing field.  The actual terraforming of the planet can become a much smaller aspect of the game, as everyone at the table is busy exploring their own corner of the gameplay.

Featured Game:  Terraforming Mars