Digital boardgamers have waited with bated breath since it was announced that Terraforming Mars was coming to Steam and (eventually) to mobile devices, brought to you by Asmodee Digital and Lucky Hammers.
As anticipation ramped up and a release date was set, people were starting to hold their breath (the hospitalization rate was staggering, so I’ve been told).
Dave, the wonderful (and very well-groomed, from what I’ve heard) proprietor over at the Stately Play web site, even posted a glowing review of it the day before it launched.
Now that I’ve been able to dig into it some myself, does it hold up to all of this praise and anticipation? (Editor – Don’t look at Reddit or the Steam public reviews)
I’d say yes, but with some caveats.
Let’s see how it works, first.
How to Play:
Each player is a corporation that is trying to terraform Mars into a habitable planet for humanity to thrive on. Of course, you are trying to do the best job of it by accumulating victory points, so everybody will see you as the best terraformer.
You will do this by playing project cards that will let you do things either on Mars or improving your own resources. You can also plant forests (greenery), build cities, increase the temperature on the planet, increase the oxygen level, create oceans, and increase your energy production.
These are called “Standard Projects” and just cost megacredits (the apparent world currency now).
The cards you play may also allow you to do some of that, as well as increase your resources (or the production of your resources). Some of them will even give you victory points at the end of the game.
Green cards usually affect your production. Blue cards will give you actions you can do, or allow you to collect things like microbes, animals, insects, etc, or they may give you discounts or rebates when you do other actions. Red cards are typically events that will give you some benefit (and may hurt another player).
On each turn, you can do two actions. You can play cards (as long as you can afford to pay for them), do a standard project, do a blue card action, or things like that. Once it’s your turn and you can’t do anything on it, you pass.
Once everybody has passed, the generation (i.e. round) ends and production is done. Remaining energy that a player has is moved to heat and you get the resources that you have production for. You also get megacredits equal to your Terraforming Rating as well.
How does the game end?
There are three “Global Parameters” that must be completed to end the game. Temperature must be raised to 8 degrees Celsius, Oxygen must be raised to 14%, and all 9 Ocean tiles must be placed on Mars.
When you place a Greenery tile on Mars, Oxygen goes up. You can spend 8 plants to place a Greenery or you can just do a Standard Project. You can also use 8 heat to raise the temperature, or you can do a Standard Project. There’s also a Standard Project for Oceans.
Of course, some cards will let you do these things as well.
Every time one of these Global Parameters are increased, your Terraforming Rating goes up too. Thus, as you do them, your generational income will increase as well. It’s a win-win!
As soon as all three Global Parameters are maxed out, the current generation will be the last one. You will still complete the generation, but at the end of it, there will be one last production phase. Then anybody with enough plant resources can place a greenery on Mars.
You’ll end up with a map similar to this.
Total up all of your points from various places (cards, Greeneries you placed, Cities you’ve placed that have Greeneries next to them), add them to your current Terraforming Rating, and whoever has the highest TR wins!
There’s a lot of detail I left out (playing Basic or Corporate era, and how you can play with variable corporation abilities and the like), but that’s the basics of how the game works.
Is Terraforming Mars a lush forest that’s beautiful to walk in or is it a dry, dusty Martian landscape where you can’t breathe?
I have to admit that I was one of those folks who was waiting impatiently for this game to come out. Everything I had heard about it indicated it was going to be sensational. I love the game itself (it was #2 in my Top 10 Games played last year) and was chomping at the bit to play it online with my friends.
So allow me to mention the things about Terraforming Mars that make me sad before talking about the (many more) superlatives.
First, the game does support async multiplayer with your Asmodee buddies. Yay!
But at least the creator of the game has to remain with the room open until all players have accepted their invites or the game disappears. Boo!
I did manage to create an asynchronous game and start it with a couple of friends, but it was after me spending an hour keeping the room open for them and trying to coordinate a time for us all to be online. We’ve done one turn so far, and it seems to be working fine.
For having async multiplayer but an archaic way of implementing it (seriously, even Ticket to Ride, when the invites actually work, don’t require the originator of the game to stay there), they get the Golden Raspberry.
Another asynchronous annoyance, though it is a more minor one, is that you don’t get to see what events (red cards) your opponent played.
In a real game of Terraforming Mars, you see the event but then it’s placed face down. You don’t get to look through already-played events but you saw it when it happened.
Yet since we have another Asmodee Digital annoyance of not having replays of the other players’ moves when you go to take your turn, in an asynchronous game you never get to see the event before it gets placed face down.
Finally, and I believe this is true of any multiplayer game, not just asynchronous, there is no indication of who is which colour. So if I’m playing a game with Jack and Jill, I have no idea what colour Jack is unless we tell each other in the in-game chat (which is nice to have, by the way).
One other major negative thing and then I’ll stop being a Negative Ned.
I understand that the card-drafting variant is a bit harder to implement and they wanted to make their deadline, and that it is scheduled to be included in the December major update to the game.
But I’m reviewing the game as it is now and it’s really missing something without the drafting variant.
What is that variant? Each generation, you get four cards to choose from and buy. In the drafting variant, you choose one and pass the rest one direction or the other. Then choose a card from the three you’ve been given, then the two you’ve been given, and then finally you get a remaining card. You still have to decide whether to buy these or not, but this lets you see more cards and allows you to tailor your strategy a little bit.
So many people think the variant makes the game so much better that it’s sad it’s not there from the beginning.
(Edit: 10/25/18) – my friend just reminded me of another asynchronous annoyance. There are no notifications that I could see that it is your turn in a game. Again, even Ticket to Ride has those. Surely these could be implemented? If they’re not in the mobile version of the game, I’m going to scream. (End edit)
How about the rest of the game?
The interface is quite good for the most part, though the lack of an undo button (with certain restrictions, of course) is sometimes annoying. While this is offset by the annoying number of “Are you sure you want to do this?” pop-ups, those pop-ups only really come up at the times where they’re not really needed (“Are you sure you want to end your turn when you don’t have any actions left?” is what it should say if it were being honest).
I have to say the graphics are beautifully done. Each greenery area is different, and spontaneously bursts from the ground when you place it. The cities do the same thing.
All of the “special” tiles (like the mining area, the reserve zone, etc) that are put out due to certain cards are all very pretty and unique. When the Nuclear Zone card is played, the screen flashes and a little mushroom cloud pops up on the destroyed space.
I also love how the map is laid out. All of the information is there for you to see with maybe a mouse click. The Global Parameters are all clearly marked on the right side of the screen so you know where you are in the game, along with what generation you’re in.
The players and their Terraforming Rating are on the left side. Specific places that may have a card played for them are labelled (like Phobos Space Haven). Each tile that’s been placed has the player colour of the one who placed it as an outline of the hex.
The Milestones, Awards, and Standard Projects are available at the top with a click of the mouse. You can clearly see how many of the Milestones and Awards have been funded (only three each of the Milestones and Awards can be) and which ones they are.
And I absolutely love the player information display at the bottom.
At a glance, you can see your (or another player’s if you click on their colour) production and available resources. Your hand of cards and how many cards are in it is at the center. Clicking on the cards brings up your hand (it doesn’t bring up another player’s, of course, if you are on their tableau)
At the right, you can see how many available blue-card actions you have, how many tags you have, and how many effects you have in play.
Clicking on one of those items on the right will give you even more information. How many tags and of which type have you played?
Even better, the Effects, Card Resources (animals, microbes, etc) and VP will tell you what is giving you each effect.
The Card Actions tab tells you how many actions you have available to you. In a perfect world, the number would show you how many you have left to do, not how many you have in total. But it’s ok as it is. I think it would be more annoying the more card actions you have, but it’s not that hard to remember.
Adding to the graphical wizardry, the map kind of moves in a pseudo-3D manner, which is neat. I actually had it move so Ganymede Colony went behind the planet momentarily, which was a cool effect (maybe not if I had been wanting to place the city there, but I digress…)
As mentioned, the game does have multiplayer and I’m sure live games work really well (I haven’t tried one yet). It has both lobby chat and in-game chat which is nice.
It also has two solo modes. You can play the solo mode that the boardgame has, or you can play against three levels of AI. I’ve only played the Medium AI (usually two in a game) and it seems pretty competent.
They do have a tendency to do a lot of Standard Projects early, which I rarely see on the table (one of them will put down three Greeneries as soon as possible and then claim the Greenery milestone), but overall they seem pretty good.
What it boils down to is that this Steam version of Terraforming Mars is amazing, though it could be almost legendary if they’d fix a couple of niggling issues like those named above.
Some people have mentioned a lot of bugs in the game, but I haven’t noticed too many. That being said, my last solo game against the AIs did hang when the second AI was supposed to be choosing cards. Thankfully, those issues have been few and far between for me.
Your mileage may vary, of course.
Terraforming Mars is currently available on Steam for $28.99 CDN (apparently $25 US, which means we Canadians are actually getting a discount! Woo!!!) (Editor – Cue the bitching and whining from the “$25 for a boardgame app?” crowd)
Is it worth it?
I know I have spent $25 on games and other crap that I have not enjoyed nearly as much as Terraforming Mars. I will be playing this game a lot in the future, especially when they add the card drafting and eventually bring out the expansions (yes, they will cost additional money, but what do you expect?).
I highly recommend this game. When it comes out on mobile devices, I will be getting it there too. I’m sure there will be cross-platform play, and hopefully will already have the draft in it.
I know I will be playing this tons. I hope you will be too.