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Board Game Review: Terraforming Mars

Updated on December 2, 2020
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I am a big fan of boardgames, especially larger strategic boardgames. I have played a lot of them and are still trying new games.

Terraforming Mars
Terraforming Mars

The Board Game Terraforming Mars

Terraforming Mars is a board game that was released in 2016 by the Swedish company Fryxgames. The goal of the game is to score more points than your opponents. All players represent their own company that wants to settle on Mars. To make this possible they must first terraform Mars by raising the oxygen level, raising the temperature and bringing water. All companies have their own business model and advantages. The game is played on a board, on which you can see Mars with its level of oxygen and temperature.

Different resources in the game

During the game, the players can get different resources.

  • Money
  • Steel
  • Titanium
  • Plants
  • Energy
  • Heat

The main resource is money, which is mainly used to pay cards and standard projects. Steel and titanium can be used to reduce the costs of certain types of cards, plants can be used to build a greenery and energy can be used to power some cards. Unused energy converts into heat, which can be used to increase temperature.

Buying and playing cards

Unique for Terraforming Mars is the way you get cards. At the start of every turn each player gets cards. In the first round every player gets ten, the remaining rounds they get four. However, a player can't simply add these cards to his hand. Instead they have to buy them. Each card has a cost of three to get it into your hand. Therefore it is crucial to carefully select which cards you want.

When you want to play a card you have to pay the costs of that specific card. In principle you have to pay with money, but some cards allow you to pay with other resources. These cards have special tags on them. There are two types of cards. Event cards trigger a one time effect, where non-event cards have an effect that lasts the entire game.

Playing Terraforming Mars, including some expansions
Playing Terraforming Mars, including some expansions | Source

How to score points?

The goal of the game is to score points. There are a couple of ways points can be scored. Firstly, a player scores a point every time he terraforms, meaning he raises the oxygen level, raises temperature or places an ocean. The oxygen level can be raised by building a greenery. The temperature can be raised by converting heat and an ocean can be placed with certain cards. Furthermore, a player can buy a standard project to do one of these actions.

The second way of scoring points is by cities. A city tile can be placed after buying a standard project, or playing a card that allows you to place a city tile. Every city is worth one point per greenery tile that is adjacent to it.

Furthermore, some non-event cards are worth points. This is either a fixed amount or a variable amount, e.g. one point per city tile.

What makes Terraforming Mars a great game?

Terraforming Mars is a very high rated board game. On board game rating website Boardgamegeek it is ranked third, only behind Gloomhaven and Pandamic Legacy Season 1. But what makes the game so great? I think it is a combination of a couple of things, namely:

  • Finding the best strategy is a real challenge
  • Mistakes can cost you dearly
  • Every time you play is different

Finding the best strategy is a real challenge

The game has a lot of variables. Every company has its own strengths and weaknesses. Therefore every company requires another strategy. Your strategy will also be determined by the cards you get. Furthermore, there is a lot of interaction between players. Cards can allow someone to steal resources or someone chooses to do what you wanted to do before it is your turn. The fact that you have to buy cards, instead of just adding them to your hand requires you to make decision in advance. Often you have to adapt little things in your plan. This makes playing optimal a very difficult task.

Mistakes can cost you dearly

When you make a mistake in Terraforming Mars, it can cost you a lot of points. If you planned to play a certain card but you happen to have miscounted, and it turns out you don't have the resources to pay for the card it can cost you. Cards are often played in a chain of multiple cards. If one falls out, the effects of the other will often be weaker too. But don't be afraid. As I said, determining a good strategy is very difficult, so everyone will probably make some mistakes during the game.

Every time you play is different

The experience of the game is determined by so many factors that every game is different. Playing another company provides a whole new challenge. Also, playing against another company is very different. Besides that, there are a lot of cards in the deck, most of which you won't see during the game. Therefore, if you play the next time it is very likely you will get a completely different set of cards.


For those of you that really like the game there are a couple of expansions that can add to the experience of the game. They add more options to the game and make it even more challenging to find the best strategy. In total there are five expansions:

  1. Hellas and Elysium (2017)
  2. Venus next (2017)
  3. Prelude (2018)
  4. Colonies (2018)
  5. Turmoil (2019)

Poll: what is your opinion on the game?

Terraforming Mars is a great game, but it does not appeal to everyone. It is complicated and not suitable if you don't want to spend a couple of hours on playing a board game. What's your opinion on the game?

What do you think of Terraforming Mars

See results

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