Quarantine Gaming: Terraforming Mars

As part of our quarantine coping, Joy and I are busting out two-player and solo board games to pass the time. We’re a bit late to the party on this one, but we recently picked up Terraforming Mars by Stronghold Games and tried it on for size.

The setup for a two player game was fairly straightforward, and as new players, we opted for the Beginner Corporations to give us a leg up.

Two-player setup.

While the rules look simple, the gameplay turned out to be a lot more complicated. The iconography had a bit of a learning curve, but was really effective once we got used to it. We also struggled a bit with the production phase; we forgot to move energy to heat several times, and occasionally had some confusion between adding resources and adding production.

The hardest part of the game is not the rules, however, but project strategies. It became clear only towards the end of the game how much project synergies matter, and I don’t think we yet have a handle on how to decide which projects to keep and which to toss. Since neither of us had played the game before, this didn’t affect the competition, but I can imagine that a new player would be curb-stomped by an experienced one.

End game, plus Joy’s game-enhancing tequila

The theme of the game was rock solid – the science behind the projects is realistic and you feel like you’re undertaking a massive geoengineering effort. Components are pretty good, but I would have liked two-layer player boards, as the production cubes moved around really easily and that caused some uncertainty about where we each were, production wise. Overall, though, we had a good time playing the game and can see why it is so popular.

I also tried out the solo version of the game, which is only slightly different from the multiplayer. The main differences are that there is a specific number of generations before the game ends (versus ending when Mars is fully terraformed in the multiplayer game) and that the Corporate Age expansion is automatically included. I found the solo game very challenging; I only got Mars about 80% terraformed, and the same challenge of figuring out which projects to support definitely came into play.

Solo endgame on the notorious “Skull Table”

It’s very clear why Terraforming Mars took off as a board game – it’s relatively easy to learn, deep, and themed beautifully. I expect it will be making many repeat appearances at our table.


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