Make Mars habitable and put your corporation on top… in just an hour.
Jacob Fryxelius adapted his own Terraforming Mars to this compact format. Concepts from the original game come over to this one, but without some of the complexity and resource management.
How To Play
There are five sorts of custom die, each denoting three related resources with different frequencies: for example, the green has three faces for plants, two for microbes, and one for animals. You roll a die only when you take it; then it stays as that resource unless you’re able to change it.
Turns are played in rotation, and each time the player chooses between an action turn and a production turn. In the former, you’ll take one “support action” (take and roll a die, spend one die to choose the face of another, spend one die to draw two project cards) and one “main action” (take another support action, play a card, or do one of the five standard terraforming actions). The cards you play, which will cost resource dice, come in three sorts: red cards get you a benefit right now, green cards contribute to production, and blue cards give some kind of special ability, which you can use once (sometimes also paying an action to do it), then flip the card. On a production turn (something like Terraforming Mars’s generations, but for your company only, whenever you choose to take one), you discard most of your resources, generate new ones from your production cards, discard any unwanted cards and refill your hand—as well as resetting any blue cards you’ve used.
There are some additional incentives: three randomly-chosen die symbols will reward whoever has spent most of that symbol with a small bonus at the end of the game, while three milestones (such as “have three blue cards in play” or “have at least one production of each die colour”) are grabbed whenever someone qualifies for them. While there are plenty of other ways to score points, this is a helpful prompt during the early game.
The end of the game is triggered when two of the three terraforming tracks (oxygen, temperature, and water) have reached their end; play one last round, ending with the player who ended the game, and tot up end-of game victory points. (This lets a player hasten the end to some extent, by choosing two of the tracks to hammer by any means possible.) The winner is the player with the highest score.
The solo mode is essentially a challenge to beat your own score, with some of the end-game bonuses being removed if you haven’t claimed them by a particular turn. It’s not very different from multiplayer, because there’s little opportunity for interaction anyway; perhaps your asteroid will make everyone else lose a green die, or you’ll build your city to get a placement bonus where someone else wanted to, but that’s about it.
Dice luck can be mitigated relatively easily, but if the right cards don’t come into your hand there’s not much you can do about it, except bygiving up the glamour and going for standard terraforming actions—which won’t get you the big points and card combinations that make for a convincing victory.
Even though the box has space for future expansion content, it’s quite compact: there’s one huge card deck, two much smaller decks for corporations and in-game bonuses, a pile of custom dice, and some tokens (forest/city, ocean, wildcard, and player colour markers) Even new players may get through a game in 60-odd minutes, and with a bit of experience the boasted 45 is achievable. Time doesn’t vary much with player count, as the end-game is brought on by the number of terraforming actions played.
The dice themselves are clear and easy to read, and while there are rules for what happens when they run out, this is quite rare unless someone’s trying to monopolise resources in a four-player game.
The basic iconography is very straightforward, but grows complicated branches: you may be called on to take a die of a specific colour and turn it to a specific fase, take it and roll it, or take it and choose its face, and it’s not particularly obvious which of the latter two icons is which. And is that pale grey on the card meant to be grey (the “metals” die) or white (any die of your choice)? If you have colour vision deficits, this game is probably not for you, which is a sad thing to see in 2023.
The artwork is in the usual uninspired Terraforming Mars style, but it’s secondary to the symbols and text on the cards anyway. The 12-page manual contains the rules but doesn’t explain all the iconography. (The game’s only available in English so far, though a translated manual would get you most of the way to international playability; only a few cards have specific rules text.)
Only two player reference cards are provided; four would have made things more convenient.
Let Me Know What Spring Is Like On Jupiter And Mars
If you want the full Terraforming Mars experience, play that. But if you want a shorter and more lively game, with plenty of luck but also opportunities to mitigate it, this does a decent job: unlike Ares Expedition its primary purpose is to be lightweight and fast-moving (and easy to carry to a game session) while still giving much of the Terraforming Mars flavour.