Daily Illuminator

January 12, 2020: Playing Terraforming Mars

Jacob Fryxelius' Terraforming Mars is one of the big hits of the past few years. It's a sprawling card-driven Eurogame with no less than six "currencies" to collect and spend: cash, steel, titanium, plants, energy, and heat. The players are all working toward the same end – turning Mars into a habitable planet – but this doesn't necessarily imply cooperation. You can play it anywhere from full co-op, all cards on the table, to total cutthroat . . . "Too bad what my comet did to your forest, but we needed the nitrogen!"

Eric, Hunter, and I played, using the basic game plus the Prelude expansion. Our three-player game took about four hours to complete. We were being competitive, but not evil about it. At least, not very evil. Not usually. In that time, we went through many dozen project cards without anywhere near exhausting the draw pile . . . and the order in which the cards come up is just as important as what they are. A given card might be unusable in the early game, very profitable in the midgame, and not worth the trouble during the endgame!

This is a very fine game with a lot of replay value. It is less complex than it seems at first, but attention to detail is necessary to let you craft an economic engine that will supply everything a growing planet needs. Beyond a doubt, the theme is a big attraction for me, but the game does it justice. I look forward to trying some of the other expansions, but Terraforming Mars right out of the box has enough variability to last a long time. Enthusiastically recommended!

-- Steve Jackson

PS – For an idea about living on Mars without terraforming the whole planet, see this article.

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