When looking into whether Terraforming Mars was for me or not, the thing that swung the balance was the fact that it had a solo mode. I intended to play the game with others at my games group as I knew it would be a bit too heavyweight for my family, but the thought that I could also play it at home on my own persuaded me to make the purchase.
Terraforming Mars is an awesome game that I didn’t think would live up to the hype… But it does! As a multi-player experience it ranks up there amongst the very best, but how does it rate from a solo perspective?...
In space no one can hear you terraform
The solo game uses the Corporate Era expansion cards, which are included in the base game, and you start with zero production and a lowly Terraform Rating (TR) of 14 (rather than the usual 20). The board is pre-populated with two randomly placed neutral city tiles, each with an adjacent neutral greenery tile, and you can also steal resources from this benignneutral opponent. Milestones and Awards are not used in the solo game.
To win the game, you need to complete terraforming before the end of the generation 14 by raising the three global parameters to their required levels (oxygen to 14%, heat to +8˚c and adding nine oceans to the planet surface). After the final generation, you get one last chance to convert your remaining plants into greenery tiles as per the regular game, and then you score your victory points with the aim of getting as high a score as possible. There is no second place here – if you have not completed terraforming by the end of generation 14, you simply lose.
Roving Solo on Mars
Perhaps the biggest thing from the multi-player game that is absent in the solo mode is the Milestones and Awards, which both provide inventive ways for players to earn bonus points for reaching certain achievements before their opponents. It is a standout aspect of the multiplayer game but wouldn’t work in a solo mode. The solo mode is rather simplified by not including these, but it doesn’t hurt it as much as I expected because you’ll be concentrating on the race against time to get the planet terraformed and that’s the slight change in focus from the multiplayer game.
In the multiplayer game you can sometimes win despite ignoring certain aspects of the terraforming process, letting others take care of it for you, but in the solo mode you need to raise all parameters yourself – this involves taking a more holistic approach and focusing mainly on cards that will contribute to that aim and sometimes ignoring others that would distract or take resources away from the end goal.
In later generations I have found that my engine is often big enough that I am fairly sure that I will be able to meet the global parameters and can focus some of my resources on improving my point score.
I also have the Hellas & Elysium map expansion and in terms of the solo experience I really like the variety and different spatial challenges they offer. I rotate between the different maps each time I play, but that’s not saying the base “Tharsis” map gets boring – I’m sure it could withstand over a hundred plays before I’d be bored of it.
Final thoughts on Terraforming Mars Solo
Terraforming Mars really stands tall in comparison with other solo games. Yes, the game time is a lot longer than smaller/lighter solo games such as Onirim or Friday, but it’s Terraforming Mars and you know what you’re getting into. Plus it’s so good that you’ll probably be sad when the experience ends. It is one of my favourite solo gaming experiences.
The big (hypothetical) question is would I buy it if I could only play it solo? The simple answer is yes. Granted, I’d be missing out on the interaction and the Milestones and Awards, but the solo mode is a solid epic experience in its own right and I think it justifies the cost.