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Top 4 Games To Play On Mars

Terraforming Mars

Hello readers. There are no prizes for guessing what inspired this post! By the time it goes live, NASAs Perseverance rover will have been on Mars for at least a week. Like many, I followed news coverage of the landing with interest and a little excitement. The footage of the landing was particularly captivating. It gave me gooses bumps, even watching it after the event.

The exploration of Space fascinates me. As I've grown older, I've found my interests leaning more and more toward the sciences, particularly those involved with the study of the universe. The more I learn, the more my interest develops. Looking on at missions like Mars 2020 leaves me in awe of the people who make them a reality.

Mars has inspired some fantastic fiction, both in literature and on-screen over the years. More recently, it's inspired some great board games. A few of my fellow bloggers and I have picked out some of our favourites:

Terraforming Mars - Carl

Player Count: 1 - 5 | Complexity: Medium | Released: 2016

For me, Terraforming Mars comes as close to perfect as a board game can get.  It hits a sweet-spot in terms of theme, gameplay, complexity, and playtime, which draws me back time and again. It also has an impressive table presence, more so if you're playing with custom 3D tiles! I particularly appreciate how the game board evolves as you play. As the rounds (generations) progress, the planet is populated with cities, forests, oceans, and an array of unique tiles. It really helps tie into the theme and heightens the overall gameplay experience.

The gameplay itself is largely driven by a deck of project cards. Each round, all players have the opportunity to draw and purchase new cards from the deck.  Play then rotates, with each player taking up to two actions until all players pass. At that point, everybody produces resources in readiness for the next round.

The most common actions you will take involve playing or activating cards, representing technologies or events that generate resources or aid terraforming. Taking Terraforming actions will result in a new tile being added to the board, and/or the Oxygen or Temperature levels increasing. The game end is triggered when the Oxygen and Temperature reach specified levels, and when all ocean tiles have been placed.

Your aim is always to build up a position from which you can start to generate points. Either through terraforming or from playing projects which generate bonus points. How you do that will be influenced by what cards you hold and what you can currently produce. Given a large number of project cards, it's highly unlikely you'll play the same game twice. But for those who love the game and want more, there are five expansions that bring in new content and gameplay elements.

Magic Maze on Mars - Jim

Player Count: 1 - 6 | Complexity: Low | Released: 2019

Landing on Mars is a pretty big deal. Well done the human race! I cannot wait to see what this recent rover finds. Signs of ancient water deposits? Undiscovered minerals? Or maybe some wooden meeples? Because in truth, Mars has been fully discovered for years, and it’s just not made of red rock as the so-called experts think, but cardboard and little wooden meeples.

Magic Maze on Mars is so fun! If you have tried Magic Maze then you already have half an idea of what this game is going to be like. If not, let me sum it up in a sentence for you. Working in real-time with your fellow gamers, you will attempt to move little robots around unexplored tiles to complete certain missions, all whilst not talking! Its fast, frantic, and utterly bonkers!

All players have limited actions that give you moment access to certain coloured paths. If you want to get your robot down a certain route, and you don’t have access to that specific colour, there is very little you can do. Other than staring wildly at the player who does have that colours access with a silent rage! This is both infuriating and brilliant at the same time!

If you don’t like real-time games or can see yourself going crazy in a co-op with massively reduced communication like this, then perhaps look elsewhere on this list. But, if you like the idea of trying to reach a relatively simple common goal without the ability to talk, much like The Mind, then this could be for you. In my house, we have had the best of times and the worst of times, with Magic Maze on Mars. But the good times for me, far out way the bad.

On Mars - Callum

Player Count: 1 - 4 | Complexity: High | Released: 2020

With a bit of a bump and a shed load of technical knowhow, we have managed to put another thing on Mars. And not just anything! A rover called Perseverance - a little robot that is designed to look at the geological processes that made Mars's surface. We've seen some stupendously gorgeous images of the planet's surface. And I for one have seen a superb location for a few residential blocks and a hydroponics building or two. So what better, and more thematic, game to play than On Mars by Eagle-Griffin Games!

You, as players, work together to develop technology that will aid you in your development of the planet's colony. Once a technology is of a certain level, the colony can be advanced further. Each round players move between Mars and the orbital station to playing workers to different elements, gaining benefits and resources. Players also gain technologies and buildings unique to them, allowing them unique benefits. By managing tracks listing the needed resources, players advance the colony and improve its quality to the point where the orbital side is not needed.

So what's the twist? It's competitive. You work alongside one another to improve the colony's infrastructural needs such as water supplies, air filters, mineral miners... but you need to cooperate the best to win. Players score points by advancing the colony, and relying on other players, or hindering them, is what will put you on top! I love the idea of this game! You have a collective goal you all need to achieve and have to work together to do so... but to win, you have to be the best at working together! Putting in the most effort guarantees that top spot! A terrible model for colonising a planet, but a damn fun one nonetheless!

Mission: Red Planet - Thom

Player Count: 2 - 6 | Complexity: Medium | Released: 2015 (Second Edition)

If you asked me what my number one area control game was, I’d say Mission: Red Planet. It kept popping up on Dice Tower top 10 videos, but it was horribly out of print. Luckily, since Fantasy Flight Games put out the second edition it has been pretty easy to get hold of.

In this game, players will be looking to control as much of the surface of Mars as they can. Each of the different sectors of Mars will payout some resources at different points in the game. If you control a sector, you get the resources. And resources mean victory points! Each player also has a secret objective to try and score as well.

To control Mars, you’ll need to send your brave astronauts on their way in one of a selection of spaceships. These ships will be headed to different parts of Mars, or the moon Phobos. Once full, the rocket blasts off on its journey to the Red planet. To load up your little space adventurers you’ll be selecting different cards from your hand. These cards will allow you to load some astronauts, but also take some different actions: Move your people across the surface of the planet. Change the destination a ship is headed to or draw cards to allow you to change the way a sector scores. Or blow up a ship to stop people from making it to their destination.

It’s such a brilliant game and I’m always amazed at how quickly it plays. This game is done and dusted in under an hour and a half with six players. It doesn’t outstay its welcome and I’m always left waiting to be able to play it again.