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Quick Hits: Terraforming Mars Review


Terraforming Mars Review

Mars has been the subject of so much speculative fiction over the years, the Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, and the Mars Trilogy of Kim Stanley Robinson. It is this last work that seems to directly inspire the development of one of the hottest games recently released, Terraforming Mars (review here). The team here at Board Game Quest has strong (and usually diverging) opinions about hot games, and Terraforming Mars is no exception to this. Read on to see what each member of the crew thinks on it, and please add to the conversation in the comments below.

Terraforming Mars

In this game, you are at the helm of a corporation leading the way of transforming Mars from a barren and harsh landscape to a verdant paradise. By purchasing project cards that represent natural resources, new species of animals, new technologies, and everything else in between, you can determine a strategy that best fits with your corporation’s goals and the projects available to you. By carefully managing resources and money to maximize your terraforming endeavors, you can succeed in the ultimate goal of turning Mars into an Earth-like paradise.

Gameplay Thoughts:

Terraforming Mars is one of the best games to be published in recent memory. The huge diversity of cards allows you to build a different type of engine every game and gives you lots of control over the outcome. I highly suggest always playing with the drafting advanced rule as it gives players more agency in what cards are available both to them and to their opponents. The component quality is fine, with the exception of the absurdly terrible player “boards.” Plastic overlays or wooden inserts are almost a necessary add-on but it’s worth it for a game you’ll gladly revisit dozens of times.


Terraforming Mars

Terraforming Mars is a fantastic economic engine builder. The game play has a very Sid Meier’s Civilization feel; different factions give different benefits, which will guide you to different types of victories. Will you bombard the planet with nukes and meteors? Create a chain of microbe farms? Amass huge stockpiles of resources and money to spend? It’s well balanced and the game play is dynamic. However – that player board is the WORST. Without an overlay you’ll spend almost as much time playing “was my counter cube on 4 or 6?” as playing the game itself. I love this game and definitely recommend you give it a go, but save yourself some headache and buy some accessories or try the app.

Brian B:
This is probably my favorite non-cooperative game released in the last two years. Terraforming Mars is fantastic. I love how different each game plays out even with just the base game. I also appreciate that there are ways to step up the complexity depending on your group’s experience with the game; I prefer playing with corporations, all cards, and the draft variant to reduce the randomness. My only negative is the component quality. I am not a fan of the card art and the player boards are terrible. I would immediately buy a second copy if they would release a deluxe version with recessed boards.


Terraforming Mars

There is no denying that Terraforming Mars has an attraction and a rewarding futura-civilizationesque feel to the gameplay. There’s also no denying that it has some great strategic choices and feels like a perfect balance between weight and depth. That being said, I still have reservations about this title from the lack of out of the box assistance with the rules to the woefully luck-dependent nature of the card draft. With modifications, there and some good teaching videos, it becomes much better. However, for first impressions, these issues ruin a first play experience. Later plays and knowledge of variants will solve this but sometimes those initial impressions can really harm a great title.

Tas is wrong. This is easily one of the best and most accessible euros my gaming group has ever been introduced to. How can I say this so definitively? Because they actually ask to play it. The whole group, eurogamers and non-eurogamers alike. The rules are simple and present players of all levels a surprisingly high return on their strategic investment. I will agree that the card acquisition mechanisms can lead to some frustration, but here lies the beauty of it all. It is all about the pivot – if the card draft isn’t working for you, change your strategy, round the corners a bit, pick a new direction or become more of a generalist. In the end, it really doesn’t matter. The frustration really only means something if you are pushing to the win and don’t enjoy pulling levers. That one is simple: don’t bring such an ego to the table. While the game’s weakness to some may be its (admittedly strong) solitaire leanings throughout play, you don’t have to be winning the game to have fun playing it with friends. All in all, one of our faves that always hits the table. 

Terraforming Mars

Terraforming Mars hits me right in my sweet spot of gaming. Civilization building and resource management? Yes. Asymmetric player powers, engine building and a ton of replay value? Oh yes. Immersive science-fiction theme? Very yes. I will admit I was very resistant to trying the drafting variant, but I would not go back to the card-draw rules unless I was playing with new players. The game scales well for the crowd you are playing with, and there’s really no way any single player can get locked out from taking meaningful actions and building their terraforming engine. The game is helped by the addition of the Hellas and Elysium maps, giving some variations and extra strategy in different plays. We have also played with the Prelude expansion and it is definitely worth adding to the game. Terraforming Mars is one of those titles that I will always play if asked or given the opportunity.

I can’t disagree with what most of my fellow reviewers have said here. Well other than Jon saying Terraforming Mars being one of the “most accessible Euros”, which is just flat-out insane and defies logic. Please do not pick this up thinking it’s remotely close to a gateway euro. Anyway, I agree wholeheartedly with Tas that while Terraforming Mars is a good game, it can be much more punishing on new players that other euros in the same weight class. I got crushed in my first game because I wasn’t aware of all the card combos and what I should be working towards. It’s just a game that having at least one session under your belt will pay big dividends. Yet, frankly, I have bigger issues with the poor component quality. The mixture of artwork and photos feels lazy, and I have no idea how Stronghold Games could publish this title and not realize that it really needs an overlay (as others have mentioned). While the engine building was fun and I liked the variety in the game, Terraforming Mars just didn’t do enough for me for me to feel like it needed to be added to my collection.

1-5 Players • Ages 12+ • 120 minutes • $50Get Your Copy




  1. Tony is a madman. This totally works as part of a gateway to euros curriculum for a new eurogamer. I would place it on the syllabus after Splendor and Waterdeep, but way before A Feast for Odin or Lisboa.

  2. Not that I expect them to, but I wonder if Stronghold would ever consider a Kickstarter for an upgraded edition? Not anything crazy, but with logical component upgrades that will enhance the game. The component quality piece has been a significant hurdle for me to get over and I’m still not ready to pull the trigger on what otherwise sounds like an amazing game.

  3. If u really want to terraform mars it would be best to put reflective material on phobos first. That would create more light and heat on the planet.

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