According to Board Game Geek’s ratings, Terraforming Mars is the fourth-best board game of all time, right now! That’s high praise indeed for Jacob Fryxelius’ pride and joy. It balances a blend of hand management and card-drafting that’s all driven by economic resource-management, and it culminates in territory-building on the red planet.
Yes, Mars is the setting here (oh, you’d already guessed?), and, much like Elon Musk’s plans at the time of writing, you’re a corporation looking to make the fourth planet habitable for the human race in the futuristic 25th century.
Mars begins the game in its current state: it’s an inhospitable host, with the temperature being far too cold for life to thrive, there’s a severe lack of oxygen and there are not enough oceans. It’s your job to contribute towards fixing these three factors, transforming Mars into a planet that more resembles Earth. When these three characteristics have met their goals, the game will end, and whoever has amassed the most points will be the winner. Hopefully by this point you will have built various technologies, earned set collection rewards and you’ll have a healthy bank balance (terraforming ain’t cheap, you know).
Over 200 different Project Cards drive Terraforming Mars. A round begins by players being dealt cards, and then they decide if they want to pay 'megacredits' to keep some or all of them. It will also cost you 'megacredits' to play the card (think of it as ‘funding’ the project, itself), so money-management is always tight. At the start of each round, players will receive 'megacredits' equal to their current Terraform Rating (which count towards your points at the end), so you’ll want to increase this as soon as possible.
Some projects offer game-long benefits, while others can count towards achieving certain immediate goals. Others also produce resources such as steel, or plants. Players each have player boards to manage their own resources, to further improve their ever-growing tableau of projects.
The brilliant thing about all of these Project Cards is that some of them cannot be completed until certain factors have been triggered, such as Mars’ temperature reaching a certain degrees, or a particular oxygen percentage is met. Other cards have to occur before certain landmarks are hit, making it quite the efficient race. Should you pay the 'megacredits' now, even though you can’t use the card at the moment? Will you even get to complete the project in time?
Asymmetrical starting powers are available, too (recommended for those with a few plays under their belt). These also add further cards into the mix. Players might want to also consider acquiring separate expansions – Hellas & Elysium, and Venus Next.
One thing’s for sure: Terraforming Mars provides a truly absorbing theme. It’s so satisfying when a game’s theme is logical and married with its mechanics in such a superb manner. It’s easy to see why this is rated so highly.
Player Count: 1-5
Time: 120+ Minutes