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Terraforming Mars» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Why I am disappointed by Terraforming Mars rss

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Florian Trabert
Germany
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Terraforming Mars is, without any doubt, the most hyped game of Essen 2016. It is #1 on GeekBuzz, got and impressive rating of 8,5 and is ranked #50 at BGG when I am writing these lines, ready to climb up in the top 20 and maybe even top 10. The days before Essen I was jumping on the hype train as well, and when the Spiel opened its gates on Thursday morning, I was literally running to the Schwerkraft-booth to secure me a copy of this game. I couldn’t hardly sleep the night before, since I was afraid it would be already sold out (OK, to be honest, I usually don’t sleep very well the night before Essen ).

It is quite easy for me to tell you why Terraforming Mars was my most anticipated game this year, even more than A Feast for Odin (and I adore Uwe’s games!):
engine building: Some of my favorite games are engine building games, like Race for the Galaxy and my all-time-favorite Through the Ages, games which have been compared to Terraforming Mars.
the theme: I already own several space-themed games (Race/Roll for the Galaxy, Galaxy Trucker, Space Alert), but these are all space operas compared to the more realistic scenario offered by Terraforming Mars.
different fractions: I love games with different fractions (Terra Mystica, Android Netrunner, Marco Polo), since you always need a different approach depending on the chosen fraction.
design: I like the non-mainstream design of Terraforming Mars. It is very nice to see that all the Fryxelius-brothers have been involved in the development of the game.

Some positive aspects added up to the mentioned points after I have played the game for the first time: It doesn’t seem worse with low player counts (which is always important for me, since I play mostly with my wife), and the theme is very much present. It is impossible to think of a re-theme of the game: It is about Terraforming Mars, period. However, after having two plays under my belt right now (the first one with the beginners corporation), I must say that Terraforming Mars is certainly not a bad game, but it is not a very good or even outstanding game either; for the time being, I would rate it 6,5 or 7.

So what is my problem with Terraforming Mars? To put it in one sentence, I would say: The game play feels completely scripted to me, because you are entirely depending on the cards you draw. There are not many interesting decisions for me; in most cases, it is quite obvious which cards you should keep or not. The nature of the game is very tactical, and it is almost impossible to develop long-term strategies because of the draw-luck. Also, the cards seem quite boring to me: most of them follow the “increase this, decrease that”-pattern or a simply better versions of the standard actions. One of my biggest concerns is that many cards are completely useless when you draw them in the wrong moment. Arctic Algae (#023), for example, is a super strong card when you find it in your starting hand, but it is only trash when you draw in the second half in the game. And there is nothing you can do with trash-cards, unlike in RftG for example! It feels like you are drawing Irrigation or Knights in the third Age of Through the Ages, when your opponents already have computers and rocketry. Of course, this will never happen in Through the Ages, which is much more elegant at this respect. So the arbitrariness by which cards came into play in Terraforming Mars fails to underline the strong narrative of the game: At the beginning, you are struggling against the hostile environment like the protagonist of the movie The Martian; then your economy slowly becomes stronger, and in the end you have created conditions similar to those on earth, with big cities, oceans, animals and so on. Maybe it would have been an idea to divide the card pool into different ages. I also miss tutor cards (like Special Order in Android Netrunner), which will help you to find cards with special tags.

I know what you will say now: drafting. Yes, I think the game will be better with the drafting variant, which we didn’t try until know. But I doubt Terraforming Mars will become a really good game for us with the drafting variant. In the standard variant, you maybe draw 3 or 4 trash cards in one round (this happened several times to us in both of our games); in the drafting variant you will get those trash cards by your opponent... yuk

I fail to understand the hype about this game. shake If you have rated this game 9 or 10, please explain to me why you think it is so good. I really want to like this game, but given its long playing time, I think it won’t hit our table very often, if we can play Uwe’s big games, Through the Ages or Vital Lacerdas The Gallerist instead.

And, yes, I know you can perform more than two actions per generation... meeple
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Jim Fardette
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Well said. I've been watching the positive feedback on this game, but I agree that decision making is key to a good game, even if the decisions are sometimes about how to handle poor hands and card management. But if some cards are stinkers no matter what, it starts to feel less like fun and more like taking out the garbage.

I keep thinking of experiences with an old video game called SimEarth. It seemed pretty random to me, and when I just let it run overnight one time I woke up in the morning to find I had won. Never played again.
 
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Michael Denman
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"in most cases, it is quite obvious which cards you should keep or not"

I have to disagree with this point. Sure, I get cards at times that bear no resemblance to my plans in the least bit and they are tossed right away, but I have had PLENTY of turns where I am agonizing over how many cards to keep as I try to figure out which will really help me and if I can can actually get them played.
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Jack
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The tactical nature - making due with what comes your way - is what I love. Also, if you get 4 crap cards on your turn, that means you're going to have 12 extra bucks if you don't buy any of them. I think in the three games I've played - all which happened to go 14 generations - I've had one research phase where I didn't want to keep any of the cards.
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Gringe Commander
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I agree. Big hype not much fun.
The other things i disliked: Steel, titanium and plants are just another kind of money and not really needed for anything. Would be much better if some cards would require resources to play.
You can tell that they only included these resources so that the playerboard got some more areas and the game looks more interesting.
My rating: 4.5
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Jack
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Uh, yeah, the cards with the building and space icons are giving you the option to build with those. What else exactly do you want to be able to do with them?
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Ben M
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Don't forget that with crappy cards, you can always sell them for money, and in this game, every dollar counts. Plus, some cards let you draw more cards or even discard a card from your hand to get a new one.

My experience is that the game is very long, and thus you'll encounter many cards. Some hands are better than others. A lame draw can feel defeating, but the money saved can be put towards a powerful card next round. Last night, I felt I was getting bad cards, my engine was sputtering, and I barely had a presence on the board. But in the late game, things turned around, and I managed to land 3rd place, which is remarkable considering I thought I would be at the back of the pack by many points. Ultimately, my sense of dread was unfounded (even if I didn't win).

To me, the joy of the game is that it's actually not very scripted at all. There's no obvious first move or strategy. Had the cards been organized into different eras, that would actually move the game towards a more scripted structure. Half the fun is choosing which cards to purchase, how to prioritize them, and knowing when to pivot to a new strategy mid-game.

I will say that the first time I played, I used beginner corporations and the standard game setup, and I found it to be a somewhat forgettable experience. Using an advanced corporation and the full deck of cards is the only way to play this game in my opinion.

But hey, not all games are for everyone, and if the game doesn't speak to you, then that's fine too.
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Bill Buchanan
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Yup, not every game works for everyone. And that's ok ...
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Adam P
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Drafting the cards is a variant? I didn't know that, we played that way from the get go.

I was not blown away by this game either, but the game did not feel tactical. I enjoyed hanging on to bigger point cards for when the temperature could reach a certain degree. I lost terribly, so maybe that wasn't the correct strategy.

 
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I totally understand why this game isn't for everyone, and that's cool. I have issues with this game, as well (different ones than you, actually), but it's still a solid 8 or 9 for me. (One caveat - I've played solo and with 4-5 players, never with 2, so the experience might be a little different).

Your main issue with the game seems to be the randomness of the card draw. Two things help minimize this: drafting and the advanced corporations.

I can't overstate how much drafting helps with the randomness factor. Instead of seeing 4 cards, you're seeing 7-10 (depending on the player count). It's very unlikely that you'll completely whiff, and it's a lot easier to build a coherent plan over multiple turns, since what you're drafting also affects what the other players see.

Relatedly, the advanced corporations give you focus and a direction that affects how you draft. I think the game actually does a pretty good job of letting you find synergies (especially in the engine-building phase), while also seeing what the opponent is going for and giving you a chance to hate-draft.

I do agree that it can be annoying getting an early game card in the late game, but you can always refuse to buy it and spend your money on advancing the board state (strategically placing a city or greenery can pay big dividends in the end) or saving up for a big card.

It's definitely not a perfect game, but I think adding the drafting and advanced corporations really makes a difference.
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Michael Denman
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ObligatoryReference wrote:
It's definitely not a perfect game, but I think adding the drafting and advanced corporations really makes a difference.


I'd agree that drafting makes a difference, but it's not a purely positive one.

If you feel that it's too random without drafting and you want to have more cards to buy, then maybe drafting is the way to go. This also means you're more likely to buy more cards and thus have less to work with on your turns. And drafting adds time to the game. And drafting eliminates a lot of the surprise as far as what the other players are going to be doing.

This isn't to say that drafting is bad. I think it's just a matter of the group you're playing with as to which set of pros and cons is the best way to go. I'm pretty happy with or without.
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Vergililus De Kat
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flott wrote:

...If you have rated this game 9 or 10, please explain to me why you think it is so good...

This:
flott wrote:
...Some positive aspects added up to the mentioned points after I have played the game for the first time: It doesn’t seem worse with low player counts (which is always important for me, since I play mostly with my wife)

And this:
flott wrote:
...and the theme is very much present. It is impossible to think of a re-theme of the game: It is about Terraforming Mars, period.

Also: it's tactical indeed, but take "bad" cards in your starting hand for instance (I mean cards that need a high oxygen rate f.e.).
You can either discard them, or keep them and use them as a basis for a long(er)-term strategy.

Why else do I and my wife rate this game high.
Each game feels like an "event". When the game is finished, you keep thinking and talking about moves you should or should not have taken.

Another reason is the Solo game.
It's hard and it gives a very different experience than multiplayer.
It's a race against the clock and feels like a totally different game.

flott wrote:
...Maybe it would have been an idea to divide the card pool into different ages...

I think this would make the game *more* scripted, not less.
And this does not garantuee you won't draw "crappy" cards.
Look at Twilight Struggle, the deck is divided in different era's, but every turn you'll have to deal with opponent events and other crappy cards like defcon-suicide cards etc.

flott wrote:
...However, after having two plays under my belt right now [...] I must say that Terraforming Mars is certainly not a bad game, but it is not a very good or even outstanding game either...

In my very humble opinion, two games certainly is not enough to get the whole picture of this game.

But of course, not everyone has to love the same games, it would make the world so much more boring
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Florian Ruckeisen
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flott wrote:
There are not many interesting decisions for me; in most cases, it is quite obvious which cards you should keep or not.

Man - please teach me, sensei!

I find it curious that you bring up RftG as a game which you like in comparison - when it comes to card-centric games that can feel "scripted" to me, Race absolutely comes to mind, as that game sometimes practically plays itself with the right cards. TM... not at all IMHO.

Quote:
One of my biggest concerns is that many cards are completely useless when you draw them in the wrong moment. Arctic Algae (#023), for example, is a super strong card when you find it in your starting hand, but it is only trash when you draw in the second half in the game.

Not a problem at all IMO. It's not like you can afford to buy and play 4 new cards every generation, so it's no issue if some of the cards you get are "insta-discards". Now, if you were to get nothing useful offered at all over several generations, that's probably bad. But even with drafting in a 4p game, I sometimes buy 0 cards during research - no big deal.

Quote:
I know what you will say now: drafting.

Yes, drafting. Even in a 2p game, drafting lets you see 7 cards as opposed to 4. It should be obvious that this makes a big difference, especially since you also get to influence which cards your opponent isn't getting.

Quote:
I fail to understand the hype about this game. shake If you have rated this game 9 or 10, please explain to me why you think it is so good.

No, I won't. Frankly, if you're the type of guy who feels compelled to write a disappointed review focusing on how bad the random card draw is after just TWO games, one with beginner corps and both without drafting - I feel like I might as well save my breath.

Yes, drafting makes the game a lot better (IMO).
No, cards are not everything (seems to be a common new player misconception, but this isn't RftG).
No, you don't need 2-4 killer cards every research phase (you couldn't afford to play them all anyway).
Standard projects are actually pretty cool.
Yes, if you continually have bad luck with cards while things just fall into place for your opponents, then it can be rough.

Try drafting, and try to not overvalue the importance of cards.

If after that you still can't warm up to the game, you can at least sell it easily right now...
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robert baynosa
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Interesting review, as it's always nice to see both sides.
Personally, the reason I like tm is because it gives you a multitude of things to do, even if you don't have the best cards. Sure, your opponent may be playing ecoline and seems to be lucking out on the plant cards even. But, you can mitigate this by placing cities using the standard projects, in the right areas to take advantage of his greenery placements. You could also beat him to milestones and achievements. Also you could build significant engines with the blue cards.

So in conclusion, I like this game specifically because it gives you other choices aside from the card draw - especially if you use those actions at opportune times.

With that thought, maybe give the game another go and try other strategies aside from just playing cards (which I admit is the easiest and probably strongest strategy but is by no means the only one available.
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Ryan Dorton
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I disagree too.. EVERY single game I've played I'm up to 6 now... I've had more cards than I can do anything with.. I have too many good choices every time I'm like.. ok I got my next turn planned out.. the draw phase happens... messes me all up cause there is something else I want to do......
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Paul Bauman
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Snapshot wrote:
[q="flott"]
Quote:
I fail to understand the hype about this game. shake If you have rated this game 9 or 10, please explain to me why you think it is so good.

No, I won't. Frankly, if you're the type of guy who feels compelled to write a disappointed review focusing on how bad the random card draw is after just TWO games, one with beginner corps and both without drafting - I feel like I might as well save my breath.


Maybe I'm missing something in the language barrier but you really managed to douche it up with this part of your (otherwise astute) response. Just an observation. Don't get all huffy because someone is eliciting actual responses.
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Jake Blomquist
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I'm not going to give you what you want (an explanation of the 9 ratings) because we seem to be almost entirely in agreement. I rated the game a 7 and I think it's one of my lower 7s. It was fun to see the card effects, a few of the interactions, and all of the nice thematic trappings, but I don't know how many more games of this I'd be willing to play.

My impression was that the card luck was actually not quite as bad as I expected as you see a good number of cards and most of them are at least pretty good for a few different strategies. And in fact it felt to me less lucky than games like Deus or Bruges, which I'd put in roughly the same category as this. But it also seems to me like card luck isn't really your main concern, contrary to what many of the people in this thread seem to think.

But I think you hit the nail on the head with the stuff about the decisions being largely too obvious and the card effects being largely too generic, which few people seem to be responding to.
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Örjan Almén
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What I really really like about this game is that its so different in how you need to decide on which cards to buy in each situation, and between generations. I really like that you need to adopt to the ongoing play and need to change plans over and over again because the game moves towards different directions. That there are no bad cards, everything depends on the situation.
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Florian Ruckeisen
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Frohike wrote:
Snapshot wrote:
No, I won't. Frankly, if you're the type of guy who feels compelled to write a disappointed review focusing on how bad the random card draw is after just TWO games, one with beginner corps and both without drafting - I feel like I might as well save my breath.

Maybe I'm missing something in the language barrier but you really managed to douche it up with this part of your (otherwise astute) response.

Eh, I may be overreacting, but for me, there's a difference between

a) someone posting a thread saying "guys, am I missing something about this game? 'cause I'm not feeling the hype, can you please explain why you like it so much?" (Examples [1], [2], [3], [4])

b) someone posting a review, making definite statements about the game ("The nature of the game is very tactical, and it is almost impossible to develop long-term strategies", "there is nothing you can do with trash-cards"), and suggesting changes that would make it so much better. After two games. whistle

In cases of b), the person has already made up their mind anyway - you don't call it a review if you expect your opinion to change shortly after, right? And there are plenty of threads around here where people outline what they like about TM (see above and others), some of which I have chimed in myself, so I really didn't feel like elaborating and reiterating here.
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Paul Ferguson
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What they should have done is had 2 draw piles for the cards. A phase 1 and phase 2. Phase 1 cards are cheaper and have less abilities, this would add to the thematic nature of the game play. The phase 2 cards come into the game when X number of Cities or Water tiles have been placed. I don't see what the fuss is about the game either, the mix of differing graphic design choices is a mess, some of it looks like clip art while the image of mars looks really good.
 
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bort
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Played this today, and yeah, I pretty much agree with this review. A lot of reading cards, and watching tracks go up and down. Really did not enjoy.
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Ted Morris
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Trump wrote:
"in most cases, it is quite obvious which cards you should keep or not"

I have to disagree with this point. Sure, I get cards at times that bear no resemblance to my plans in the least bit and they are tossed right away, but I have had PLENTY of turns where I am agonizing over how many cards to keep as I try to figure out which will really help me and if I can can actually get them played.



I agree with the disagreement! Towards the end game it's obvious which cards to keep because some of them can't be played any more. At the beginning it's wide open. I like figuring out what to do when I'm dealt a hand of "useless" cards. If you add in drafting then not only are you figuring out which cards benefit you, but you may want to try to keep cards that will benefit your opponents out of their hands.

If you want every card to be a "good" card for your plans, then I can see why the game would be a turnoff. I'm 9 games in and loving this game so far! Different strokes...
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Jack
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I like the idea of deciding if I should pay that vital 3 MC for a card I might not be able to play for a while or pass on it. I did that in one game only to have a mega-turn by another player wipe out my ability to play the card. Great stuff!
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John Burt
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I love it when drafting proponents say, "drafting helps you get the cards you need!", and then say, "it also lets you prevent your opponent from getting the cards they need!". Something doesn't add up here...

My wife and I wouldn't hate draft, but we still don't draft in TM, because it adds significantly to the game length. We're fine dealing with the standard draw so we can finish the game before bedtime.

Currently I'd rate this game between 8 and 8.5, which is pretty high on my scale. I really like it and play it a lot (solo, 2p and 4p, mostly 2p). It's not a 9+ because of the card randomness and it just hasn't knocked me over the way a game like Fields of Arle does.
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Dennis Ku
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Okay, I'll give it a shot. I have played it 23 times.

I like the feeling that I have to plan long-term to make sure I don't run out of cards and resources in the last few rounds of the game. In the solo game, especially, there is a lot of pressure to terraform the planet within 14 rounds, which I enjoy. There is a large number of cards, most of which you won't see in a solo game. Even in a three-player game yesterday, we still had a good chunk of cards left over when the game ended in 10 generations. The different corporations also present different challenges and change the way you have to approach the game.
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