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Board Game Review: Terraforming Mars

Board Game Review: Terraforming Mars

Players: 1-5

Ages: 12+

Official Playtime: 90-120 minutes (which is about right for 3-4 player games.)

Released: 2016

BGG Linkhere.

Read other Game Reviews here

Let's find out how good and fun Terraforming Mars is!

Terraforming Mars from FryxGames is another modern gem in the board game world. Currently standing in the middle of top 10 in the BGG rank, you can be sure that Terraforming Mars does at least something right! And I can say that it truly does, as it is a really fun and engaging competitive strategy, resource management and card playing game (yes, actually most of the gameplay consists of clever card play).

In this competitive board game, you play as one of large corporations who want to terraform Mars into a living planet (well, living for humans). And Mars is considered terraformed when all three main elements of the game reach their maximum. These elements are - oceans, temperature, and oxygen level.

And your goal as the player is to participate the most in the terraforming efforts. To put it simply - you need to have the most points at the end of the game. 

board, components and active gameplay example of terraforming mars board game, a review

Disclosure and foreword: I own a copy of "Terraforming Mars," which I bought myself. At the time of publishing this review, I don't have any affiliations with the game's creators. The opinions in this review are my own. Find the Review Policy here.

My Experience With Terraforming Mars: I have played the game in multiple sittings - as three and four players. It's been with both - experienced and casual players. Therefore, the review does not account for a single player games. This may be updated later, but currently, if you are interested in the single player review, this review is not for you. 

"Terraforming Mars," Explained to a 10-Year Old

Terraforming Mars is a nuanced game, so it may not be well suited for 10-year old's, but that being said:

Terraforming Mars is a game where you collect cards and resources to play out cards (projects) to place oceans, build cities, plant forests, increase temperature and do much more to make Mars livable.

Everyone plays the game until all ocean tiles are built, and the temperature & oxygen levels are at their maximum. Then, you count points!

board, components and active gameplay example of terraforming mars board game, a review

Skill Level - How Difficult Was it to Learn Terraforming?

Difficulty Rating: 4/5

  • The underlying mechanics are actually reasonably simple, but the game has many, many nuances making it a fairly difficult to a difficult game. 
  • I watched a 30-minute tutorial, and read the rulebook, but that was not enough to fully understand all nuances (for example, the tag mechanisms were described only vaguely).
  • To fully understand all rules, you need to start playing it.
  • I would say the average board game player could learn the game from scratch in about an hour (by reading the included instructions + watching the tutorial), but for inexperienced players, it can be a lot more.
  • There are official and several unofficial tutorial videos available on the internet, which can make the learning process easier.
  • Overall, the base mechanics of the game are of medium complexity, but nuances like tags, card types, awards could be better explained in the rulebook. So, I give it a complexity rating of 4/5 (higher means, it is more difficult).

few tiles on the board of terraforming mars board game

Social Interactivity of Terraforming Mars

Social Rating: 3/5

When playing Terraforming Mars, you will be able to do quite many things - from collecting cards, to playing cards, to selling cards; from gathering resources to increasing resource production; from building cities to planting forests; and much more.

But most of the things you do, impact your own progress. By that, I mean there are a few things you can do to have a direct impact on other players. Some cards allow to steal certain elements, and you can build tiles at places that have a slight impact on other player progress. Also, you are not allowed to trade with other players.

From a purely social aspect, it is possible to play the game at complete silence and without interacting with other players in real life.

Actually, most of the social interactions came from telling out loud what your card/action combos! And that is not a bad thing, because sometimes the combination is a work of art and receives woo's and applause from your peers.

That being said, you still need to follow the progress of other players to plan ahead your moves and not miss your chance of getting a milestone, increasing temperature at the right time etc.

So, although you can not socialize, you still will be engaged and have a feeling that you all are playing in the same universe.

Best Number of Players

Best played with 3-5 Players (4 is optimal).

As mentioned, I have not played the game in the single player mode, so I cannot comment on playing solo. I also have not played it with 5 players, but it should not be much different than 4 player game.

With that being said, when it comes to playing the game with other players, it shined when playing with 4 players. And I assume 5 player games would be great, too but it might run out of resources and almost definitely will run out of cards if playing without the expanded cards (special cards with the red triangle marker meant for players who have played the game at least once - read about that more in the special notes section below).

When playing the game with 4 players it strikes a great balance between having the time to plan your next moves and waiting on other players to complete their actions. And usually, more people mean, more fun! 

Otherwise, I can imagine two-player games are also fun, just not as engaging as 3-4 player ones.

close up of temperature, ocean tiles, and oxygen level of terraforming mars board game

What Did I Enjoy the Most About Terraforming Mars?

1. Clever mechanics

  • Resource token mechanic that allows to have high amount of resources without the cluster of many individual resource tokens; 
  • Rounds are played until all players have skipped. This mechanic allows to strategically play out your moves as little or many you might be able to do.

2. Wide variety of cards and their applications

Project cards are divided into three main categories, each with its effects. The Green and Red cards play out pretty similarly having a cost and immediate effect, but the Active (blue) cards adds a fantastic element to the game, introducing an active or passive ongoing effect or action only the card owner can use.

3. Overall, many things to do. To name some:

  • Resource management;
  • card collection;
  • tile placement;
  • milestones & awards;
  • standard actions.

What Could Be Better?

Overall, Terraforming Mars is a great game, and has only minor cons, but it is not perfect. So, here are some things that the game could improve.

1. Objectively

  • Some nuances could be better explained in the rulebook;
  • Art style is inconsistent. It could use more illustrations rather than stock pictures;
  • The box could include some sort of organizer or at the very least, a few more zip-lock bags (organizing the elements are a bit of a hassle)
  • The resources placed on the player mats are prone to moving and making a mess.

2. Subjectively

  • Some cards include 5+ different mechanics (cost, requirement, tags, effect, yield, special notes), some explained with text, but others purely with symbols. For some players, the many icons, tags, symbols can be overwhelming. 

collage of terraforming mars board game components, close up of cards and player mats

Replayability of Terraforming Mars

Rating: 5/5

There are special cards (corporation cards and special project cards) that are not intended for the first playthrough, so Terraforming Mars is a game created with the intention you play it at least twice. But it is not the only reason you should play it more than once.

1) The game includes many different cards with many effects, allowing to change your play style depending on the cards you choose/have.

2) Outside the cards, Terraforming Mars have many base Actions and mechanics, allowing to plan and adapt your moves without involving much luck.

3) The different corporation cards provide some notable bonuses allowing players to have some initial and ongoing bonuses which can lead to different strategies.

4) Last but not least - after my first playthrough, I already wanted to play it again, so that means a lot by itself!

So, it is an overall fun game with many mechanics and possible actions, so I give it the maximum replayability rating of 5/5.

components of terraforming mars board game

Components and Art of Terraforming Mars

The game comes in a standard board game box and includes quite many plastic resources and player tokens. It includes a basic two-fold playing board, 5 copies of simple player boards, and quite a few cut-out tile tokens.

The card quality and design are average. The card material is a notch below standard industry grade, and the illustrations are inconsistent.

So, if your main concern is the beauty aspects of the game, don't expect to be blown away.

But although there is no wow factor about the components, the main thing is that they work. The art, texts, names, and other design elements follow the space-exploration theme, and functionally, they serve their purpose well.

Special Note: Beginner Rules vs Full Experience

Terraforming Mars has its sort of beginner mode. This is done by removing the special project cards (with the red triangle) and by choosing the beginner corporation for all new players. But how big of a difference it actually make?

Actually, it makes a little difference. Not that it is bad, but in  my and my fellow player experience, we all agreed that you could just start off with the normal corporations and include all of the project cards.

Normal corporations add more strategic options, and also the special (red triangle) project cards are not that different from the regular ones. Yes, generally, they are a bit more powerful, but nothing so spectacular. 

Also, when we played the game for the first time (4 player game), we used the beginner rules, so we removed the special project cards. By doing so, we ended up using up all the project cards, which was kind of a bummer and made the end of the game slow and predictable.

So, although it is a nice idea to include the beginner rules/cards, I personally don't see a significant value of using the beginner rules. If you are a relatively experienced player - just use all cards from the get go.

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Terraforming Mars: Value For Money

Rating: 4/5

Given that Terraforming Mars is a popular game, which is sold world-wide in many e-stores and retail stores, its price varies. And given the price you can find it, its value changes accordingly.

I got a good deal and purchased a new copy for under 60 USD (including shipping), which would make it a great value. But usually a copy of Terraforming Mars goes for 75-80 USD + possible shipping, which makes it a tougher pill to swallow.

Well, if we are looking purely from the gameplay, than 80 USD is reasonable, because Terraforming Mars is a great game. But if you are looking for great quality aesthetics and components, than there are far better alternatives available for the same price or even cheaper. For example Scythe, Wingspan, Ankh Gods of Egypt, to name a few.

terraforming mars board game and its components in action

Overall Rating and To Who Would I Recommend This Game?

Final Rating: 4.5/5

Terraforming Mars is a great package overall, from it base mechanics, to clever use of resources, to unique projects, to many possibilities each player can do. The only minor complaint could be the quality of components and art style, but from a gameplay perspective, it is a near perfect game - for what it is.

Of course, it is not for everyone. This game includes many sub-mechanics and sub-rules. Many cards will make you stop and think about, what that card even does. So, if you are someone who enjoys relaxed games with few rules, then Terraforming Mars is not for you. 

Otherwise, it is an excellent choice for players who don't mind challenging their brains a bit and who are looking for an engaging resource management game with a theme that perfectly matches its mechanics. 

In the meantime, feel free to explore what Joyful Games has to offer - from other board game reviews and board game tips to fun board and card games.


Looking for a new card game to play with your friends?

The Spheres of Life: Mythical Forest is a new competitive fantasy card game for 2-7 Players. From stunning design to fun gameplay, this exciting game can be a fantastic addition to your family and friends' game nights!

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