Reviewed by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

TERRAFORMING MARS (Stronghold Games/Ghenos Games, 1 to 5 players, ages 12 and up, 120 minutes; $69.99)


When I first saw Terraforming Mars, designed by Jacob Fryxelius, in Essen, I was quite sure I was looking at something special. The hype around the game was great, but that is not so uncommon in Essen. I was able to wait for the Italian edition from Ghenos Games and then I played it more than 10 times, with 2, 3 and 4 players, using both easy and advanced rules.

The mapboard depicts Mars. The different hexes can be empty or provide some special resources. There are also hexes reserved for oceans or special tiles. The goal is to “terraform” the planet, making it suitable for human life. Three different indices for the terraforming process are used: oxygen (from 0 to 14%), temperature (from -30° C to +8° C) and oceans (9 tiles). Every time a player improves a terraforming index, he/she also gets one TT (Victory Point). This increases his/her income by one. So there is a fixed amount of points for the terraforming (42) with extra points available for Milestones, Awards, Greenery, Cities and cards. When the planet is fully terraformed, the game ends

In the beginning, every player gets a company (the standard one in the basic rules or two to choose from in the advanced game), money and, possibly, some cards. During the game, you will get new cards (factories, installations, asteroids etc.) and money.

The game uses different resources: metal, titanium, plants, heat, energy and money. By using cards, you can get resources or increase your production. At the end of the turn, your factories produce resources and money.

The game is divided into rounds (every round is a generation of colonization) and in each round, every player can have zero, one or more turns. During your turn, you can take 1 or 2 actions or pass. If you pass, you are out for this round. There 6 different kind of actions: Milestones, Awards, Standard Project, Actions on your Board, Playing Card and Actions on Cards. Usually you take actions to get resources used to terraform Mars or to improve your resource’s production.

With a Standard Project action, available for all players, you can get money selling cards, build power plants (to get energy), improve the planet temperature using asteroids, create oceans with the aquifer action, create forests (increasing oxygen) with the greenery action and finally, build a city, increasing your income.

You can create a forest using 8 plants from your board or increase the temperature using 8 “heat” from your board.

Milestones can be acquired as long as you can fulfill the requirements, getting 5 TT in the end of the game, but only 3 of the 5 milestones can be acquired.

You can activate one of the 5 awards for special TT at the end of the game but only 3 of the 5 awards can be activated. Cards from your hand can be played as long as you have the money to pay for it and the required infrastructure. Most cards will give you some benefit like 2 Power Plants, 1 Heat Generator, 3 plants and 1 plant generator and so on. Metal can be used for a discount on playing building cards and titanium as a discount for spatial cards. Some cards will give you special actions you can use once every round.

Cards are the central part of the game, much more so than in Agricola. You build your strategy by keeping the “right” cards as determined by looking at your opponents’ cards. If you have cards generating a lot of heat, you can probably rush in raising the planet’s temperature quickly getting a lot of points and so on.

Four new cards are gotten at the beginning of each round but you have to pay 3 money for each card you want to keep. In the advanced game, there is drafting for the cards, so you can have a sort of control over which cards will be available to your opponents.

Get cards, take a turn (1 or 2 actions), convert energy to heat and produce money and resources. Then another round … In that respect, the game is quite simple but it makes you think. You have to use your money and resources wisely to build an infrastructure that can give you TT points with oceans, oxygen and temperature taking into account milestones, awards and some cards that can really give you a lot of TT points.

Terraforming Mars is a game of combinations; which card to keep and when to play it are the most important parts of the game. You can win by playing a lot of cards or just a few powerful ones. At the end, you will get one point for each forest you have built and one point for each forest adjacent to one of your cities. Forests and cities can be a major source of points. As far as I know, there is no “perfect” strategy but, in my experience, you can’t totally forget about plants and cities or it will be very difficult to win the game.

There aren’t miniatures or special materials here, just a solid game  The first turns are where companies are building their infrastructure, then rushing to complete the terraforming and, finally, creating cities and greeneries. What changes is the engines companies are able to build: energy and heat, plants, microbes, animals, money. Terraforming Mars tells the same story every time but differently in the details. I love it!  – – – Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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