Mars was only the beginning! The solar system’s moons and planetoids offer untold wealth to those brave enough to visit. Colonies is an expansion for the multi award winning strategy game Terraforming Mars.
Now I’m going to assume that if you’re reading a review of this expansion you’ve already played the base game. If this is true, read on brave Martian. If not, go buy a copy and play it immediately! Then come back and finish this review and we’ll see what this fourth expansion adds to the experience.
The colonies box includes 49 new project cards to shuffle into the standard deck. There’s also 5 new corporations to choose from. The new mechanisms come in the form of 11 colony tiles and 8 trade fleets. Each colony tile has a track with unique colony and trading bonuses. The colony tiles integrate in the game through 2 new actions that any player may take.
- Colonisation: This new Standard Project cost 17 MegaCredits. After paying the cost you may place one of your coloured player markers on the left most space of any colony tile. You now take the onetime bonus under your marker, usually an increase in production of a resource. What’s more when anyone trades with that colony you will receive a small bonus yourself, usually a single resource. Any one tile can have a maximum of 3 colonies on it, so don’t leave it too late!
- Trade: This action costs 9 MegaCredits, or 3 energy or 3 titanium. Players choice. When trading you use your trade fleet, a little plastic piece with your player marker on it. Place it on the colony tile you wish to trade with. Each colony can only have 1 trade fleet visiting at a time. On the colony track a white cube marks the trade benefit, usually a certain number of resources. In the production phase all these trade markers move up a space, increasing the benefit. When you trade with a colony you will look at the number below the white cube and take that much of the appropriate resource. The white cube then slides down to its lowest available position.
That’s it! Some new cards, some new corps and 2 new actions. So is Terraforming Mars: Colonies worth you’re hard earned cash?
It’s difficult for me to say which is the best expansion for TM. In my opinion Prelude is essential for playing the Corporate Era variant which is how Mars should be played. What Prelude and Colonies have in common is that their game effect is more than the sum of their parts. Prelude adds a couple of cards per player, that’s it! The effect on the game though is massive, kickstarting economies and avoiding the sluggishness of the first few generations. Colonies adds just 2 actions. While not being essential for getting the game flowing these actions definitely effect the game more. They enable even more indirect player interaction and allow a player to further hone a particular strategy. For those reasons I think Colonies is my favourite expansion thus far.
The expansion is so simple that it adds practically nothing to game complexity. It’s easy enough to teach it to first time players without overwhelming them or taking any extra time. Colonies doesn’t add to game length. In fact it probably makes the game slightly shorter as it gives early access to production and resources. Very important for getting that all important engine running.
Colonies doesn’t add any new resources but the variety of rewards is fantastic. This means that the expansion seamlessly integrates with the base game without adding any unbalancing new factors. While all the basic resources are covered there are also moons that give free cards, ocean tiles, microbes and animals. By offering rare components like microbes and animals it creates new and exciting synergies for existing base game cards. For example the Miranda colony tile rewards with animals.
If this is in play then immediately the Arklight corporation, which turns animals into VP, becomes instantly more attractive. What’s more the ‘Ecological zone card’ or ‘livestock’ card become real contenders. Previously animal rewarding cards tended to be cheap but hard to turn into points. With Colonies they can become a viable part of a strong winning strategy. That’s just one colony tile, there’s 11! Each with unique rewards. The strategic effect on the game is not to be sniffed at.
With reward markers increasing each generation but resetting after trade, it also adds a kind of push your luck element. Do I trade with Luna now for 7 MegaCredits or wait another generation and get 10. Trouble is if old money bags over there trades first I’ll miss out altogether! Thankfully there’s enough colony tiles available each game to stop it becoming infuriating. It’s another factor to weigh up each round and I find it great fun.
This expansion is designed to integrate with Venus Next, a previous expansion for TM also. One colony tile and several new cards reference floaters, the resource introduced in that expansion. This is excellent if you wish to include all available content to your games. If you don’t want to play both Colonies and Venus Next together it’s slightly annoying. Firstly one of the colony tiles, Titan, will need to be discarded. Then you’ll need to flick through the huge deck to remove all floater related cards.
Alternatively you can leave them in and have useless cards appear in the draft every now and then. Not the end of the world and overall I’m glad they designed the expansions to work together. Just be aware that some content is specifically designed for play with another expansion.
The rule book for Colonies is adequate, no more, no less. As I mentioned it’s a simple addition and the rules are clearly explained. They also include instructions for the ‘Solar Phase’, the extra steps at the end of a round that allow efficient integration of expansion content. What I would have loved to have seen though is a written reference for each tiles rewards. Most are fairly obvious from the iconography. Some, like the draw a card, discard a card bonus of Pluto though take a second look. For the sake of a few lines of text a reference guide would of been nice.
Colonies is more than the sum of its components. Simple to teach and effortless to integrate. It’s 2 actions are used liberally in all our games of Terraforming Mars. Yes along with it’s younger sibling Prelude, we include Colonies in every single game of TM that we play! It definitely enriches gameplay and enhances new and existing strategies. It does that without adding playtime or complexity to an already heavy and long game. As such Terraforming Mars: Colonies achieves the gold standard of board game expansions.
If you’re a fan of the base game then you are guaranteed to enjoy this expansion. It is quite possibly the best of the lot.