Finally, I have a chance to review Terraforming Mars. Well I say review; I am a reviewer in a very casual sense. I play games that I mainly buy myself and I know I’ll like, so it’s rare that I’m ever going to pan anything. This year I think there have been two games that I’ve had to hold my hands up and say ‘look, I made a mistake’ and I think I’ve made that pretty clear in my past posts (namely A Study In Emerald and Tiffin). I’ve never been mean or negative, but I have to say when I’m genuinely baffled, frustrated or disappointed. My reviewing ‘style’ is usually to chat about the game, basic game play and what I thought. So that clears up my ‘reviewing’ style.
I didn’t think I’d be disappointed with Terraforming Mars. When you’re on a tight budget you kind of have to vet the games out fully to make sure it’s not going to be a colossal waste of money and time. Made that mistake and never again as far as I’m concerned. Of course it’s bound to happen again at some point because sometimes you just don’t know if you’ll be into the vibe until you play. Anyway, there is so much out there on Terraforming Mars that I think it would be very tedious to give you a full break down of the game play as I’ve done in the past. I kind of reserve that now for games I don’t see getting a lot of attention, like maybe a game that’s not had a lot of coverage or I think deserves like a full work up, rules and all. But Terraforming Mars is not one of those games. It seems that it’s a very enthusiastic thumbs up from everyone and a lot of videos and blog coverage. So I just want to focus on two things; is it worth the hype and what do I like about it?
Yes. Yes it is. It’s a very clever game with what seems like infinite ability to replay at this point. In a two player game it seems that there are cards constantly coming up that you didn’t see the first two times you played, so I can imagine that with two player plus this would happen all the more. The cards represent so many things you can do to steam ahead, and I love the way they work together. Admittedly in my first game I was just buying what I thought looked good, but by the second I was more switched on as to what I was doing and employed a good amount of strategy into what I bought and why. The cards thematically link in different ways so for example you may want to go down the plant life route or the city building route to head up the score track and generate lots of ‘credits’ (the game currency). The cards synchronise by the ‘tags’, and you can use these cards to generate credits and build up a storage of titanium, steel heat etc and use these as payment for other cards. You can build on plant life and animal cards which will score you tons of points.You can be an amazing scientist. You can be a top biologist. It’s a good idea to get cards with end of game bonuses, and please, whatever you do, try to remember everything. I really thought I had the last game in the bag, I was ahead on the terraforming track, I was set to win some ‘awards’ but I forgot that land tiles on the board will score you end of game points, and I made a bad bet on an award at the last minute, not foreseeing that actually my opponent was going to end the game before I could fully achieve it. So I lost, and not by too much which was really frustrating. That’s the thing with this game, you have lots to think about and work at, but you need to remember that it’s all going to come together at the end.
I like the way you have to work with your opponents somewhat to bring the game to a close, and you have to do this by meeting the three end trigger conditions; all sea tiles placed and oxygen/heat leveled up. It takes a surprisingly long time in a two-player game, around 2/2.5 hours. But you know it’s a good game when the time has flown by and you feel like you’ve only been playing ten minutes.
Overall, it’s fun, it’s challenging, it’s a bit of a brain burner, but not hard to pick up and learn. It’s having the full mental capacity to see it through that’s the tricky part.
As an aside, it is a gorgeous game; beautiful big board, clear and concise cards, some with realistic photographic print, some illustrated. Shiny and transparent cubes which I love to look at (however I think my criticism would be that they are slippery little devils and a bit fiddly to handle) I would also say that I was mildly disappointed that with all the other very obvious effort put into the game I wish the player mats had been solid cardboard and not thick card, which is prone to warping. But you know when that’s your only real complaint, and it’s nothing to do with the game play, it has to be overlooked to an extent. So yes, if you have to pre-order and wait a while, or pay a little over the odds for it, I say do it. It’s worth it.
My last comment, a genuine thought and something that has been really bothering me….did the designer start this design before The Martian or was it inspired by the film? I would ask him, but I’m too embarrassed.
To find out more about the game play, rules and full details, go to the BGG page and follow all the links.