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Subject: Terraforming Mars - Overview and Initial Impressions rss

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Greg Syferd
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Hilliard
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Terraforming Mars is one of the cadre of Mars colonization games coming out in the later half of 2016 and 2017. For many, the theme of Mars exploration will be a big draw and Stronghold Games has a history of delivering good products.

Overview
In Terraforming Mars, each player represents a corporation who has been granted privileges by the World Government to colonize Mars in an effort to solve over population on Earth. Each corporation has different capabilities and starting resources. Players are dealt 2 corporation cards at the beginning of the game, choosing one to play. The goal of the game is to score victory points by terraforming the planet, through VPs on cards, and special bonuses that can be earned through the game.

At its core, Terraforming Mars an engine building game in which players will produce an increasing number of resources. These are used to play cards, complete projects, and pay for game end bonuses. Resources are also used to increase the temperature and oxygen level of the planet, earning points. To be effective, players must use the right combination of cards to produce goods and lower costs.

The driver for the engine is a large deck of cards which represent one-time events, abilities, and ongoing benefits. Many of the cards have pre-conditions that must be met, such as the temperature has to be at a certain level or a certain number of water tiles must be on the board. Many cards also have 'tags' (symbols) that can be used with other abilities to enhance the effectiveness of a played card. Additionally, the steel and titanium resources acquired in the game can be used to lower the cost of buildings and space cards. Finally, some cards will hurt your opponents such removing resources or lower their production capabilities.

A turn begins with each player drawing 4 cards from the deck and pay 3 credits (money) for each card they wish to add to their hand. Play then alternates, with each player taking 1 or 2 actions on their turn. Actions include playing cards, spending resources to modify the temperature track or place tiles on the board, or claiming a milestone (such as first player to build 3 cities.) Play continues clockwise until all players have passed.

After the action phase, play moves on to production. The game has 6 resources, and each player has a board to track their production of each. Each player collects their current production value for each resource, then a new player starts the next round.

Played cards provide a lot of flavor and options to players. An asteroid may be harvested (or crashed into the planet) to increase titanium or heat production. As the planet warms, you can begin to grow plants, which increases the oxygen level. Iron mills provide steel to reduce building costs. There are event microbes and animals that can be nurtured to score points.

In addition to the cards, there is a hex grid of the martian surface. Cards will allow players to build cities, plant, and ocean tiles. These provide points and in the case of the ocean tiles an end game condition. As mentioned previously, there are a number of end game bonuses that can be achieved through the placement of tiles. Many of the hexes have bonus resources that can be earned when a tile is placed on the location.

The game ends when the tracks for oxygen and temperature have reached their highest levels as well as placement of all 9 ocean tiles. Players will count up their terraforming rating (representing how much they contributed to the oxygen and temperature tracks), VPs on cards, plant and city tiles on the board, and any bonuses they may have picked up along the way.

Impressions
By being one of the first Mars colonization games to hit the market after The Martian book/movie, there are a lot of high expectations. The first few rounds see players finding their way a bit as resources are extremely tight. However, it picks up pace quickly and there is a fair amount of player interaction as you must anticipate where your opponent will be placing tiles on the board and play cards to slow up your opponent's momentum.

At first glance, the game appears daunting as there are a number of symbols and different paths to victory a player can take. Thankfully, each card has a description of what it does and as you play everything starts to fall into place quickly. You need a number of plant resources to place a greenery tile. Greenery tiles improve the oxygen level. As the oxygen level improves, microbes and animals can begin to live on the planet. It all makes sense.

The game comes with some nice components. Bronze, silver, and gold cubes are used to represent resources and look pretty sweet sitting next to the board. The illustrations on the cards are well done. One gripe I had is the player boards. Cubes are placed on the 6 resource production tracks, meaning one bump or sneeze and you've lost your production level. Perhaps Scythe has set the bar too high with it's thick cardboard which hold the cubes securely.

As the game evolved, I felt that I was building something big. I started off from humble beginnings, with cards costing 5-10 credits which didn't do much by themselves. However, they soon began to combine with other cards to provide a lot more flexibility. It was quite satisfying by the end of the game to be playing to be laying down 30 credit cards, but only paying 15 credits to the bank. There are a healthy number of choices to make each turn, but the game plays pretty fast with a tolerable amount of downtime.

Overall, I highly enjoyed Terraforming Mars and look forward to many more plays of it. The large number of different corporations, cards, and paths to victory make the game highly re-playable.

If the theme appeals to you and you're a fan of card driven engine building games, Terraforming Mars should be high on your list to check out.

8/10
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Morten K
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Thank you for your impressions. How much player interaction would you say the game has?
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Greg Syferd
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Hilliard
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Well your mileage will vary based on your group. As I mentioned, there are cars that cause your opponents to loose resources, so there can be a negotiation element there. As momentum picks up, there is competition for space on the board. For example, each city tile will earn VP for adjacent greenery tiles, regardless who owns the plant tiles.

Finally, there is competition for those bonuses. You have to take an action to purchase a milestone bonus. So if your opponent is close to getting one, do you try and beat them to the punch? You can also be competing for having the most tiles or most heat resources at the end of game.

Hope this helps. When playing, I think you need to keep an eye on what your opponents are doing. You also may find yourself having to parlay when a player brings down an asteroid in an effort to hurt you.
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Steve Carey
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Also, when using the Drafting Variant (performed during research, recommended) it's important to understand what your opponents are doing.

At times, you may want to keep a card (then discard it) to prevent it from getting into someone else's hands. For example, last night I kept two big events from an opponent who had a large titanium engine going because he would have been able to play them without spending any funds (and he also had the card giving him some money back for event plays).

The game is truly phenomenal in so many regards, as I've noted elsewhere TM is for the time being my Game of the Year.
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Greg Syferd
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Great point. I had not played with the draft yet, but am looking forward to giving it a try!
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Bartosz Popow
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Thanks for pointing the draft variant out. This somewhat brings it back to my radar.
How frequent are "take that" cards aimed at a particular player (unlike targeted at all other players)?
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Steve Carey
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BartP wrote:
How frequent are "take that" cards aimed at a particular player (unlike targeted at all other players)?


The "take that" cards in the game target only one other player.

I understand the negative impact that "take that" cards can have with some players, but in TM I think the designer's have done a really nice job in mitigating the harmful effects but still ensuring that such cards have a meaningful impact.

In other words, such cards are not introduced merely as haphazard events but rather as a part of the overall scheme of things. When drafting (and paying for) cards, you'll be making decisions on several levels that depend on the current game status, your available monies, and what your opponents are up to.

It works really well, in my opinion.
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Thomas Leitner
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Cards allowing one to affect other players constitute roughly 10% of the overall card pool.

They are not too aggressive, but are an important means for allowing players to slow down the leader. Since most scoring information is open, telling who is in the lead is not difficult, making those cards more effective than just plain nasty.
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Stephen Buonocore
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Thanks for the great review!

Thanks,
Stephen M. Buonocore
Stronghold Games
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John Burt
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Steve Carey wrote:
Also, when using the Drafting Variant (performed during research, recommended) it's important to understand what your opponents are doing.

At times, you may want to keep a card (then discard it) to prevent it from getting into someone else's hands. For example, last night I kept two big events from an opponent who had a large titanium engine going because he would have been able to play them without spending any funds (and he also had the card giving him some money back for event plays).

The game is truly phenomenal in so many regards, as I've noted elsewhere TM is for the time being my Game of the Year.


Glad you mentioned the card draft variant. I hadn't seen that in the rules. I played a beginner game last weekend at my FLGS with two other new players, and one major complaint we had was that the random card draw could have a deep impact on the game (pun intended). In our case, one player got a bunch of blue cards with useful actions at the start, which he used to get his engine going and jump ahead, while the other player drew 2-3 asteroids (over the course of the game), which helped him a great deal. Meanwhile, I never saw an asteroid, and I didn't see any blue cards until mid-game. We concluded that that it should always be played with a draft of some sort to smooth out the luck of the draw.
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Erik Hasse
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MDJD wrote:
Cards allowing one to affect other players constitute roughly 10% of the overall card pool.


If anyone's curious on the exact numbers, 14 out of the the regular set of 137 cards can directly hurt other players. In the included expansion, 8 of the 71 cards can do it.

That said, the times I've felt most "attacked" is when someone swipes a milestone out from under me. Or when someone gets the bonus for raising the oxygen or heat to a certain point. Or when someone puts their city in a place that you wanted.
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gregor1863 wrote:
Terraforming Mars is one of the cadre of Mars colonization games coming out in the later half of 2016 and 2017.


What others are there?
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Greg Syferd
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The couple I was referring to are:

First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet
Martians: A Story of Civilization

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Excellent. After a bit of research, Terraforming Mars is looking to beat those two for a next (maybe last) purchase. Thanks a bunch!
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Greg Syferd
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TheUbiquitous wrote:
Excellent. After a bit of research, Terraforming Mars is looking to beat those two for a next (maybe last) purchase. Thanks a bunch!


No problem, hope you enjoy it!
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Love Nilsson
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ehasse wrote:
MDJD wrote:
Cards allowing one to affect other players constitute roughly 10% of the overall card pool.


If anyone's curious on the exact numbers, 14 out of the the regular set of 137 cards can directly hurt other players. In the included expansion, 8 of the 71 cards can do it.

That said, the times I've felt most "attacked" is when someone swipes a milestone out from under me. Or when someone gets the bonus for raising the oxygen or heat to a certain point. Or when someone puts their city in a place that you wanted.


Most of those cards hurt the player playing them more than they hurt you, imho. They're wasting resources for no actual gain.
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Sam Carroll
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TheUbiquitous wrote:
(maybe last) purchase.


I've heard that song before!
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Frank Jaeger
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Hi,

one remark about the player mats and SCYTHE spoiling us: yes. Absolutely. When you made 1.8 million Dollars on your project it is easy to do that. But note that the dual layered player mats were the 750000 Dollars stretch goal, 75000 Dollars up from the last stretch goal. That is like 3 Dollars per game more, because such a dual layered player mat costs about 2.5 times as much as a normal player mat. So as much as I like it, most games won't have the extra 2 Dollars to do it, because each Dollar spent means between 5 and 8 Dollars on retail level. Also, since printed components get considerably cheaper with volume, it becomes more affordable when you print a lot of games, too.

So while Jamey did the right thing with SCYTHE and made a beautiful game, I am afraid that will not become the standard for board games just because of its financial implications. Sorry to say.

Cheers
Frank Jaeger
LUDO FACT GMbH
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