The airlock opened hissing. The rover slowly began to move. It moved over the red sand surface towards The Hope Station. Inside the rover was a work crew, an extension of the power grid was on the schedule. Before the next settlers would arrive from Earth, the energy supply had to be more stable than the days before. On Mars you could not afford any mistakes. After all, terraforming from Mars had only just begun. It would still take several generations before the first humans could walk on the surface of Mars without their protective suits.
The hype about Terraforming Mars
Even before Terraforming Mars made it into the top ten on Boardgamegeek’s hotness list in August 2016, the game was already present on social networks. It seemed to announce a great game. But how often had you experienced such hype? How often did the hotly anticipated game fail to live up to expectations and quickly end up somewhere in the corner? Terraforming Mars still had to face the critical players. The first test was the Gen Con 2016 in Indianapolis. If some of the much anticipated games were already shipwrecked, Terraforming Mars moved to the top of the game charts. Terraforming Mars was also a big hit at the next event, the SPIEL 2016 in Essen. The German and English versions were quickly sold out and even the subsequent reprint could not meet the demand. With the nomination for the Kennerspiel 2017, the stocks have already shrunk considerably and the prices on Ebay have increased again. And should it win the prize, the current edition will also be sold out again very quickly.
Admittedly, Mars was the theme of SPIEL 2016, along with Vikings and escape games, but if you looked a little bit beyond your own subjective horizon, you would find that there weren’t that many Mars games. Besides Terraforming Mars you could buy Mission to Mars 2049 and Martians: A Story of Civilization. The highly anticipated First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet from Portal Games could only be admired behind the glass. Perhaps it was also the absence of the successor to Robinson Crusoe that catapulted Terraforming Mars to new levels? After all, Mars was not only present in the world of board games, but also in film, radio and television.
A game plan, some colorful dice and a bunch of cards
Terraforming Mars is a game which is controlled by maps. And you shouldn’t be surprised if one of the main parts are cards. Beside these there are a game plan, player panels and resource markers in the box. The resource markers are adapted to the science fiction theme and give feedback on their values through their appearance and size. These markers are kept very general, depending on where I use them on my tableau, it is either the representation of the funds I have available or the amount of metal. But as simple as the game materials appear at first, as seamlessly they fit into the game.
The annoying tableaus
Once unhappily touched the tableau or the table wobbled a bit too much, the general resource markers shift. Where did the silver resource marker come from, which is now lying there? Here the anger threshold is very low. If you have played Scythe before, you know how well designed tableaus can look like and it doesn’t help that you can buy Arcyl overlays, because this is another extra charge that costs at least 5 bucks.
But why did it come to these tableaus? You have to look at who developed Terraforming Mars. Fryxgames is a family publisher from Sweden and although they have already released some games, a new game is always a financial challenge. So the Swedes decided to compromise between the game being affordable and the current flat design.
But what the Swedes didn’t count on, was that the price was set to high. This price was set so expensive that some of the buyers complained about the quality of the game. Probably here the expectations were not in the right proportion compared to the price paid. Due to the enormous success, even a change in a reprint is not really feasible, because all 9 local publishers have to give their approval.
The Terraforming Mars rules fit on 3 cards
Of course the quality of the components is also important for a game. But even high-quality components cannot conceal a miserable game idea. What at first glance appears to be a complex game and thus probably has equally complex rules, turns out to be relatively simple at second glance. So simple that the entire move fits on a normal playing card. When it’s your turn you have up to two actions, for example you can play cards or even convert a field on the Mars, then it’s already your turn to play the next one and so it goes on in turn until everyone passes. Then you get resources and the next round starts with drawing new cards. Finished is the set of rules.
The special thing about Terraforming Mars is playing the cards. Many cards can only be played when certain parameters are reached, for example the temperature must be at least -20 degrees. But now you get these cards at a time when this parameter is not yet reached. So you have to consider if you want to include this card into your long-term strategy. But if the temperature is reached, maybe the game situation has already changed so much that the card you thought to be absolutely brilliant a few rounds ago doesn’t fit into the new strategy anymore.
The biggest advantage of Terraforming Mars is the variety. In the first games you ask your fellow players from time to time in amazement what kind of cards they have played? And then there is the variety of the game. Again and again you have to adjust your strategy. Be it because the other players made a move that didn’t really suit you or be it because the cards you concentrated on didn’t help you anymore. You have to deal with your resources. Because if you had only drawn bad cards in one round, one round later you have cards in your hand that you would like to play all of. But you don’t have the money to use them. You almost feel like an astronaut trying to build something on Mars with limited resources. But the advantage is that the table at home is not so hostile.
Material for extensions
And the terraforming continues, already this year 2 expansions should be released. One is supposed to revolve around the two moons of Mars, the other one takes us one planet further and lets us colonize Venus. And what comes after that, you can only speculate about. If we stay within the boundaries of our solar system or if we move into the vastness of the Milky Way. In any case, there is still a small hope that in one of these expansions, the player tableaus might be replaced by a better version.
Final thoughts on Terraforming Mars
Terraforming Mars didn’t fall for its hype, for one year it was always in the hotness list on Boardgamegeek and due to the nomination as Kennerspiel of the year this hype will continue a little bit more. It’s the variety that characterizes the game and whoever always wanted to be the boss of a big company dedicated to the settlement of Mars won’t go wrong with this game. However, you won’t like the game if you love to build up a well-coordinated victory point machine. The game is too chaotic for that. But if you love to adapt your strategy over and over again, but don’t lose sight of the big picture, you’ll love Terraforming Mars.