Some games have a theme with a very small scope. (I’m looking at you, “Patchwork.”) Some games have a grand tapestry of material to draw from. (Welcome to the table “X-Wing.”) And then there is Terraforming Mars — a game that spans multiple generations as players attempt to convert the planet Mars into an area suitable for human habitation. What a cool concept!
I first heard about this game because, well, everyone on Board Game Geek was talking about it. It’s still in the top 20 of “The Hotness” side banner as I write this. Being a science nerd as well as a game geek it felt like a good fit. I bought it, and then bought expansions, then watched some “How It’s Played” videos…then put the game back on the shelf.
Where was the fun in that?
We have a regular gaming group at work. Terraforming Mars didn’t seem like a good fit there because of the length of the game. We have another group that we get together with outside of work where we have longer sessions, but we already had some favorites. (Shadows Over Camelot and Dead of Winter both regularly hit the table.) The last time I had suggested a new game, the feedback was they would rather play something they already were familiar with. So Mars sat on the Shelf of Shame. 🙁
Ultimately I was able to play the game at a local game store which hosts a monthly board game session on a Saturday. The basic premise goes like this:
The World Government has decided that Earth is not big enough, and they fund a program to convert Mars for human habitation (that’s what terraforming means). Each player takes on the role of a company who will be cooperating with other companies to improve three key areas (water, temperature, oxygen) while at the same time competing to see who is the most profitable / best at the terraforming process. Each round (generation) consists of multiple turns. On each turn a player may do two actions, one action, or pass. Once a player has passed for a round they are done.
- Completing (playing) a project (card from your hand)
- Taking an action on a project not yet used this generation
- Convert plants into a forest tile
- Using stored heat to increase the temperature
There are other actions but these are the most common. Because you only get to do two actions for each turn (remember there are multiple turns in a round) the game flows quickly. You can be evaluating your hand and deciding what to do next while other players are playing.
The box sucks. 🙂 I have never seen a more flimsy box for a board game.
The player boards sadly need to hold a bunch of tiny / fiddly cubes and are subject to bumping. (Azul has the same issue, but not as severe.) In our initial play-through with my family one of my sons managed to bump his card and completely scatter all of his tracking markers. Fortunately there are aftermarket solutions for this, but the game really could have used a better (and of course more expensive) solution.
The cards look great. I’ve seen other folks that complain about the art, but I find them to be attractive. I did end up adding sleeves to my cards so the feel / weight is less of an issue.
The board also sucks. My brand new game came with a warped board that refuses to sit flat. From reading online, this is not an uncommon complaint. The art is fine and the layout works, but the board itself feels cheap.
So basically I have a game with a sucky box and board, player mats that don’t work well, and decent card art. Yet after all of that, the game is really fun to play, and I have found myself pulling it out every night this week and playing solo. The concept behind the game is fascinating, the game has a basis in real hard science, and the process of managing resources and funding is much more interesting than it might sound.
Terraforming Mars is definitely a keeper and will be hitting my gaming table often. I will write a more in-depth review after I have more experience, but that’s my first impression.