second chance games

Search This Website of delight

TERRAFORMING MARS Well from modern urban warfare to the future.  Quite a journey and, in this case, not a military one.  Here ...





Well from modern urban warfare to the future.  Quite a journey and, in this case, not a military one.  Here we're solidly into Eurogaming mode - my other major gaming preoccupation. 

Quite some time ago, when invited to take part in my first game of Terraforming Mars, I was willing, but less than enthusiastic.  For someone who thoroughly delights in establishing cotton mills and iron works in Lancashire [Martin Wallace's Brass - currently reissued as Brass: Lancashire, along with its sequel Brass: Birmingham], undertaking the task of transforming an alien world should surely have had more appeal.  It didn't.  Thankfully, being willing to try anything once paid off! 

It's my most played game in the last six months and since first being introduced to the game I've played it with the whole range from 2-5 players.  Most recently a 3 player game a few days ago.   I can strongly recommend all number of players [5 perhaps not so wholeheartedly.]  But, I didn't have my own copy.  Sold out!  Yes, for an eye-watering sum  a second-hand copy might have been possible.  Just as reprints were starting to be advertised as available soon, I was given the opportunity to receive my own mint copy to review.  Bliss!  Seventh heaven! Pigs in muck!

So, you can tell ... I like this game.  I hope I can infect you [no, there are no alien parasites or chest-bursters in this game] with my enthusiasm.  You are the head of a gigantic corporation undertaking projects [no, you can't undertake a project to acquire and research an alien creature and turn it into a biological weapon/soldier], mine resources, construct oceans and cities, undertake a sort of afforestation to increase oxygen levels and develop plant life and produce energy and heat to raise temperature levels.  Oh , and by the way produce lots of money which can be ploughed back into all these activities and make more money and fund awards and pass milestones and emerge as the most influential force behind [fanfare of trumpets] the terraforming of Mars  ... and win the game.

Having read a very wide range of views and reviews of the game, it does seem personal taste may play more of a part in your reaction to some aspects than with many games.  Take the playing board, not surprisingly a schematic of the planet, Mars.

As you can see, it's surrounded by a track on which you record your Terraform rating [which indicates both your base income for each turn and VP score].  The curved track above the planet charts the increase in oxygen, the temperature gauge to the right records ... well, the temperature.  Beneath the planet, are two sets of VP awarding objectives that you can achieve - even the potential to achieve them will cost you money.  To the lower left is a table of basic actions and their costs that you will probably be in dire straights if you need to utilise them.

Mars itself is covered in those good old hexes where you will place lovely thick cardboard tiles as you acquire cities, oceans and what, for want of a better word than that used in the game, are called greenery tiles.

Loads and loads of ...err ...greenery tiles!

Well, you are transforming Mars by your actions into a green and pleasant land fit for humans to inhabit without the sealed domes beloved of SF.  Currently, it is a bare landscape, with some hexes outlined in grey/blue where you can place ocean tiles and a scattering of symbols that indicate bonuses when you place a tile there.  Mars is a sort of pinkish ochre in colour - definitely not a strongly Red Planet!

For me it works well.  All's clear and, I would say, a good sized board, appropriate and very functional, which my very average camera skills don't do full justice to.  In come other views and questions that I've seen.  My favourite was why was the board when folded down for storage made smaller than the box it comes in. As if the questioner had been cheated because there is room for the board to be bigger!  It serves its purpose perfectly.  I've never heard anyone I've gamed with complain that it is too small or there's not enough room and so on.

Here it is set up for three players, never mind five.  As the game progresses, the whole layout takes up quite a bit of my gaming table even despite my OCD as you can see for producing neat piles and containers for resources.

Next comes your player mat.  Attractive, colourful and well organised, but lacking the two key words that, if you read my reviews, feature repeatedly: sturdy and strong.

They are thin and I would agree would benefit from being larger.  The reason you will see below.

You place nice little plastic cubes in your player colour on each track to show your current number of each resource available to be produced and collected at the end of each turn.  The display above shows 1 resource of each type at the set up of the game.  This is one of the main complaints, as it's all too easy for a marker cube to get accidentally misplaced... a trailing sleeve, a heavy sneeze and curses on the one who jolts your table!  As for anyone who you have the slightest suspicion might stoop to underhand practices - just don't let them near this game.  Oh for the lovely thick, strong, sturdy [there I go], recessed player mats of Scythe!

And so you shall have it! Or something very like it.  A special set of overlays for your player mats, along with a whole lot more to organise the game.  Not essential, rather pricey, but when available that's what I've ordered.

On to the major gripe from players, the resource cubes, also done in neat plastic cubes, but coated in bronze, silver and gold for denominations of respectively 1/5/10.

Complaints have come in of some of the cubes' coatings already being chipped at the corners when the game arrives.  Got to say that mine were all fine, but I've already started to see the problem starting to appear with friends' copies of the game and I know that at some point it will start to happen with mine.  If the state of my cubes gets so bad that I can't stand it any longer, I know that I'll simply substitute small wooden cubes in three different colours that I possess in abundance.  I agree that the quality should really be better than this, but the way this game sells like hotcakes indicates that it's not a killer problem.  Oh, and nearly forgot, there are3 slightly larger white cubes for use on the Oxygen, Temperature and MC tracks.

Apart from the rulebook, the other major component are the cards which are the heart of the game and drive the whole process.  There are lots and lots and lots of them: 208 to be precise.  So many that shuffling is a skill in itself and considering the amount of use they are going to get if you like this game, then sleeving them produces a real Eiffel tower's worth that needs to be piled in at least three stacks.  In the picture I have not yet sleeved them, because I don't have enough sleeves left to cope with all them!

Good quality, plenty of colour and a range of art work.  I'll say more about the meaning of the symbols, when I discuss game play later.

There are also 2 sets of 4 references cards, which after your first game should largely be redundant.  For a seemingly complex game, once you've experienced a single game, I doubt you'll need these at all and finally there are 17 corporation cards.

There are 5 identical copies of the top Corporation card, which as the heading suggests are designed mainly for if you are very new to the game.  It means that you start the game with 42 "money" or, in game-speak MC [MegaCredits] and 10 Project cards that you don't have to pay for at the start of the game. 

Once you're familiar with the game or, if you prefer even on your first game, you will be randomly dealt two of the individual Corporation cards [PHOBLOG being one such example].  You choose one of them as your Corporation card for the game, receive the appropriate amount of MCs and a specific number of resources, in this case 10 titanium and a bonus ability framed in the oblong box.  Also you receive 10 Project cards, but now you only get to keep as many of them as you are willing to pay 3 MCs for each card chosen.

The rulebook is a slim 16 pages of fairly thin glossy paper.  Again not the most durable item; mine had a slight tear in the back page when I unboxed the game and I shall have to handle it with care.  But the rules themselves are abundantly clear and thorough.  I found no ambiguities nor uncertainties at all.

So, regarding total components, I'd rate them in the main as good quality with the key question mark for some people hanging over the resource cubes.  For a typical price of at least £49.99, perhaps you might expect better, but again no one I know has been put off buying or has been disappointed with the game.

For me, the compulsive element of the game is its mechanics of play.  Like many games of this type, it is a question of building a smoothly working games engine, increasing as many of the different types of resource as possible, increasing your terraform rating, acquiring cards with VPs on them, achieving bonus VPs ...

The game ends when three goals have been achieved: all the ocean tiles have been placed on the board,  the Temperature track is at maximum and the Oxygen track is at maximum.  At this point players conduct one last Production Phase and place any greenery tiles that their supply of plants allows them to.  Then work out your scores.   

Game play is in essence very straightforward.  First player moves clockwise at the start of each Round.  Next is the Research Phase, where players are dealt four project cards and simply to add them to your hand costs 3 MCs per card retained.  A variant is offered where you first draft the four cards you have drawn.  According to the rules this is for greater interaction, but personally I feel that the main reason for using this variant [which I strongly recommend] is more to reduce the luck element.  

My most recent game illustrates perfectly what I mean.  When gaming with a group who favour not drafting, I drew only four cards in the whole game that directly improved the levels of some of my resources, while the others drew more than double the number of such cards.  I've found this one area of drafting/not drafting to be the main one that players disagree over.  It adds only slightly to game play time, unless you have players who suffer from analysis paralysis and as I've said I strongly recommend trying.

Nor do I think it adds much to aiming to thwart other players from obtaining a card they need, as some have claimed.  Each player will build up so many cards that are upside down from where you are sitting, so if you can see what they might especially need you must have special inverted x-ray vision.

Once you've paid for the cards you are keeping, you take them into your hand and then the main Phase of the game begins which is taking Actions in turn order.  On your turn, you can take one or two actions and this opportunity continues until you pass.  At this point, you can no longer take any further Actions and the Phase continues until every player has passed.  Occasionally this may lead to an individual player having a little downtime, but I've never felt that it has occasioned anyone major delays.

Most Actions will probably involve you paying to play a card down in your play area of the table.  At this stage, it starts to become very important to know the meaning of the symbols on the cards.  When you explain this can be critical.  I've experienced those who like to try and explain every symbol to newcomers before play starts and I think for some beginners this can be a significant deterrent to them enjoying and coping. 

Two of the three types of cards that can be played.

Personally, I tend to point out that there are three types of card; with either a red/orange band, a green band or a blue band across the top.  The first are Events that are one-off happenings that are then turned face down; the second again have an immediate effect, but need to be kept face up in a pile so that the symbols at the top of the card are visible and the third type also need to be kept face up because they either have an effect that can recur or that you can activate as one of your Actions once per Round.

The reason why you need to be able to see the symbols is twofold.  Some cards have instructions on them that they can only be played, if you already have a specific number of the appropriate symbols in front of you.  Some cards can be paid for using not just MCs, but in resources too.  For example, a card that has a brown circle with a building inside the circle can be paid for in steel resources and/or MCs.  Or a card with a black circle with a golden star inside can be paid for with titanium resources.  So, the card above on the right that costs 11 MCs could be paid for using MCs and/or steel resources and the card below on the right costing 12 MCs can be paid for using MCs and/or titanium resources.

Apart from paying to place a card in front of you, there may be other requirements.  Again a typical example is on the left-hand card above.  The requirement is given both symbolically and also in words - the oxygen level must have reached 11% on the Oxygen track to allow you to play the card.  So, good news, all these types of symbols don't need to be known or remembered!  Just read the words!

Other Actions you can take are the basic ones, that I mentioned early in my review, for which there is a table to explain them on the game board.  These allow you to do things like pay to place a city or a greenery tile, but they are the most expensive way to accomplish anything in this game.  So, try to achieve them by playing cards rather than purely spending MCs.

As the game progresses, you and the other players will slowly at first, but with rapidly accelerating progress towards the end be filling the map board with cities and oceans and greenery, until ultimately Mars will have been appropriately terraformed.  In the process, you will pick up a lot of information about that process and every aspect of the game from actions to cards to game board reinforce the theme.

For you, that may play a part in the enjoyment of playing Terraforming Mars, but for me that is wholly peripheral and that is not a complaint or criticism.  I am wholly immersed and taken up with the sheer delight I get from trying to make the most of my every card and action, trying to create a smoothly effective process, to build up my terraforming rating and to acquire VPs in as many ways possible.

Rarely has the winner been clear until the very last totting up of all the different ways to score VPs.  And if you're really desperate for a game, it can even be played solo and just as all the other numbers of players provide a fantastic game, so does the solo experience.

RRP – £64.99
Online Retailer –


  1. Great game! One of the few boardgames that my wife not only enjoys, but actually asks to play fairly often.

  2. Played this at GMT West in April with 2 other players, one had played once before, and we had a blast. I agree that the components are nice to look at but not very durable, and the player mats need to be MUCH bigger.