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Subject: A nice game but I don't love it - A non-worshipper review rss

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I began to write this review because every other review I had read for this game was praising it heavily and there's a big hype about it, but I saw nothing so special about it. It's merely a reasonably good game in my opinion. It called my attention that many people compare it to Race for the Galaxy, one of my favorite games. So, how can I love RftG and think this game just reasonable? Read on and you'll find out.

Unfortunately, it took me a while to publish this review after I wrote it. I was without time and wanted to let it mature a bit. In the meantime other neutral and even negative reviews came up. So, my review became a little pointess, but I decided not to waste my effort and publish it anyway.

I was lucky enough to get a copy of this game quickly and played it many times in a short span of time. I played the game 3 times with 5 players, once with 4 players , twice with 3 players, 4 times with 2 players and once with 1.

As usual with any game that has many fans, I apologize in advance if my opinion is not the same as yours and if anything I say may hurt anyone's feelings (easy to happen when a game has a lot of dedicated fans), but hey, it's just my opinion, everyone is very welcome to disagree!

Short description of the gameplay

Theme, set up and end of game conditions

In TM you play on a board that represents the map of Mars surface divided in an hexagonal grid. The players have to - more or less in a cooperative way - make Mars inhabitable for mankind by adjusting 3 parameters: a) Temperature - there's a counter on the board, it starts at -33 -30 Celsius degrees (edited for correction) and has to rise up to 8 degress; b) Oxygen level - also there's a counter on the board, it starts at 0% and has to rice up to 14%; and c) Seas - Mars begins with no seas and 9 hexagonal sea tiles have to be put on Mars. There are special spaces (low spaces on Mars surface) where sea tiles may be put. When all the 3 targets are reached the final round of the game is triggered and players check their scores to see who is the winner.



The players play the role of corporations who are financing projects to terraform Mars. In the beginner's game, the game is simetrical and the all players begin with the same amount of money and no special power or initial special production of resources. In the normal game the corporations are asymetrical. The players are given 2 corporation cards at the beginning of the game and select one. The corporation cards say with how much money, initial stock of resources (normally zero) and initial production of resources the players begin. Also each corporation gives a special power to the player.

Also at the beginning of the game each player receives 10 project cards. In the beginner's game, they keep all 10 for free. In the normal game the players select which cards they want to keep. They have to play $3 for each card they choose to keep. The project cards are the most important aspect of the game and the whole game flows around them. I'll come back to them later.

Everytime a player does anything to help to terraform Mars (increasing temperature or oxygen level or laying a sea tile) his/her terraforming ratio (TR) increases one point. The TR is registered on a track around the board. It starts at 20 (14 in the solo game) and increases along the game due to those terraforming actions and due to the effect of certain cards. The TR has a double importance. At the end of every round the players will earn money that is equal to their TR + their money production (see next paragraph), so the TR is a source of income along the game. At the same time your TR will be converted to victory points at the end of the game at the rate of 1:1. So when you increase your TR you're both increasing your income during the game and your VP count at the end of it.

The players have individual boards that keep track of their stocked basic resources and their production. There are 6 kind of basic resources: money, steel, titanium, plants, energy and heat. Money is key to the game. To play cards and finance standard projects you have to spend money. Steel and Titanium are also money that you can spend to play cards with certain icons. The uses of plants, energy and heat are explained below. If you play the "normal" game, you start with a production of 1 of each resource. There's a variant, the "corporate era" variant, in which you use all the cards in the game. If you play with this, then the normal initial production of each resource will be zero.

Flow of the game and how to terraform Mars

The flow of the game is as follows: at the beginning of each round (except the first, when the players don't draw any new cards except those that had been given to them during set up) all player draw 4 project cards and select which of those 4 they want to keep, paying $3 for each that goes into their hands. Then the players may, each in turn, in clockwise order, perform 1 or 2 actions or pass. I'll explain the actions briefly later. This go on until all players have passed. Finally comes the production phase of the round, the remaining energy of all players is degraded to heat (so energy not spent becomes heat) and the players produce their 6 resources according to their production capacities as marked on their individual boards. Then the initial player marker changes in clockwise order and a new round begins.

The normal way to place a sea tile is to pay $18 to place the tile. Some cards allow that you use an action to place a sea for substantially less. Finally, some cards allow you to place sea tiles when you play them.

The main normal way to increase the oxygen level in Mars is laying greenery tiles, hexagonal tiles representing a planted region, on the surface of Mars. Everytime you lay such a tile, the oxygen level increases a point. The effect of some cards may also increase the oxygen level. Also every greenery tile laid by a player will give him/her 1 VP at the end of the game. Greenery tiles are laid in 3 ways: you can do an action to spend plants (and that's the function of the plants) to place the tile. you can finance a standard project paying $23 to place the tile, and finally some cards let you place the tile directly when you play them.

The main way to increase the temperature is to spend heat to increase the temperature 1 degree 2 degrees (edited for correction) (and that's the primary function of the heat as a resource). You can also finance a standard project paying $14 to increase the temperature. Also, when you play certain cards, you can increase the temperature directly.

The actions and the cards

The actions available to the player are a) play a card from your hand, that remains in front of you; b) finance a public project; c) spend 8 plants to place a greenery tile; d) spend 8 heat to increase the temperature; e) use the action effect of certain cards. The players can still f) claim a milestone and g) finance an award; but those 2 last actions rarely occur along the game.

The most common action of the game will be to play a card. As I said the game runs around of them. Every card has a price to be played. Some cards have icons that allow part or whole of its cost to be paid with steel and/or titanium. Some cards also have requirements to be played. The oxygen/temperature/number of seas in Mars must have reached or must not have surpassed a certain level is the most common. Some cards require that the player has previously played a certain number of cards of a certain type.



Each card is unique and their effects are widespread. Most of the cards trigger an immediate and one-time effect when they are played and after that just sit in front of you more or less useless until the end of the game (those cards are green or red, the green ones are the most abundant). The blue cards, however, give you a power or give you a special action that can be executed once per round (the (e) action of the previous paragraph). Many cards also give you VPs at the end of the game (and some cards will make you lose VPs at the end of the game). Some cards allow you to increase the production of your resources (and the only way to increase your production of steel, titanium, plants and heat is to play a card such as this), and among those, some will require that you decrease the production of something else to do this. Some cards allow you to play greenery, ocean or city tiles directly. Some cards allow you to increase the temperature or the oxygen level directly. Some cards give you resources directly. Some nasty cards "attack" your opponents depleting their resources or their production. Some blue cards introduce new special resources to be stored on the card whose purpose is explained in the card. Some cards require you to play special tiles on the board, whose effects are also explained in the card.

Public projects are a set of actions that allow you to perform certain actions usually without the use of cards and paying a certain amount of money. You can (1) discard cards to gain $1/card discarded (this is the only one makes you earn money instead of spending it); (2) pay $11 to increase your energy production; (3) pay $14 to increase Mars temperature; (4) pay $18 to place a sea tile; (5) pay $23 to place a greenery tile; and (6) pay $25 to place a city tile on Mars and increase your money production in $1. A city tile has nothing to do with terraforming, it's just a source of VPs at the end of the game. A city you place will give you 1 VP per greenery tile placed around it at the end of the game.

The last actions seldom taken during the game are:
Claim a milestone action - There are certain milestones along the game to be reached (for example, have place 3 greenery tiles) and the players may spend an action and pay $8 to claim that milestone, if they have reached it. Each milestone attained will give 5 VP at the end of the game.
Finance an award action - You pay to create a target at the end of the game that will give VPs to the player(s) who have most of a certain thing - not necessarily yourself! For example, you can create an award that will give VPs to the player who has the greatest money production at the end of the game.

When you lay a tile on certain places of Mars, this placement gives you a bonus, that is represented on the board. The bonuses can be plants, steel, titanium or cards. Besides, you gain $2 for every sea tile that is adjacent to a tile you place.

The Review

The strong points


Theme

Without doubt, the strongest point of the game is the theme and I atribute most of the hype of the game to it. The author is a science teacher and developed the game carefully so that every element of the game is thematic and has an explanation. The board is a real representation of the surface of Mars. Every bonus in the game has a physical explanation. For example, the plant bonuses for placing tiles are more abundant close to Mars Equator line area, because the temperatures are higher there. When the temperature of Mars reaches zero degrees Celsius the player may place a sea tile, because the frozen water in the soil will melt. When the oxygen level of Mars reaches a certain level the atmosphere becomer thicker and the temperature rises due to the greenhouse effect. Also all the project and event cards are thematic and each card has a flavour text to reinforce it. To make clear that all projects have a very long execution time, a game round is called by the author a generation. For this, the game is to be highly praised indeed.

However, it's an eurogame. Eurogamers are so used to more abstract games that theme practically ceased to be a determinant factor to many of them. And I don't know, for people who do care about theme, how appealing a theme about making Mars inhabitable can be. Well, certainly space themes will always have their fans. A popular film and other 2 games having Mars as theme were recently released.

Entertainment

For me, the main positive point of the game is that it's entertaining and pleasant to play. For some kind of people. In the game you are building an engine. An engine to increase your production of money and other resources, that will make you buy more cards in future rounds, and/or perform terraforming actions in a more quick and efficient way. Building your engine can be so entertaining that you can easily forget that you are playing against others to win in the end. In this sense, it can be compared to Through the Ages: a Story of Civilization. You play and don't feel the time passing. For me it's the most positive aspect of this game and because of this I say it's a good game.

Some cards can break this feeling a bit. Because as I mentioned there are "attack" cards, that are played to cause harm to other players.

Another charm of the engine building is that you have many different resources and 3 different elements to terraform Mars, so you can focus on different ones to your engine. This gives you variety, what is always interesting.

This engine-building feature can be found in many games and appeals to many people, myself included. If it appeals to you, you have a good chance to find this game interesting.

Game weight

I don't know if it's a positive or negative point, depends of what you prefer. Except for the game length, a point I'll comment later, I consider TM to be a medium-light game. The rules are simple, and the strategy to win is more or less straightforward and not complex and and the game is in no way a brain-burner. The game has almost no learning curve. For me, it counts as positive, up to a point. The only thing the novices have to learn to deal with seems to be the temptation to keep many cards in hand, as the money to play them is limited and their requisites may take quite a while to materialize, you have to learn to be rational with them or you end up with a hand full of cards and no money/requisites to play them.

Replayability

It's also a positive point, with a small but. The variety with the powers of the cards and the corporations give this game a considerable replay value. However, if it's improbable that 2 games are equal, the "feeling" along a game potentially long is more or less always the same and due of this there's some potential for people to get tired of it after a certain number of plays.

The weak points

Price and quality

It's not determinant, but I consider this a weak point. The "normal" price of the game is US$46. As any game whose price is close to US$50, I consider it a reasonably expensive game. I don't see much in the components to justify this price. The number of components is not that great. The board is not that large. The game has many cards, ok, but many games have more cards than it and a cheaper price. Apart of it, the game has a number of hexagonal tiles that is not that great too, and many plastic cubes. The individual boards are the weakest point. They are made of very thin cardboard, in the style of Castles of Burgundy, a game famous for the poor quality of the components.

Among the people I played with, there was much discussion if the game is "pretty" or "ugly". Well, I don't think it is either one thing or the other, but anyone is free to look at the pictures and decide for him/herself. Everyone seems to think the resource cubes are cute. They seem to be made of metal, but in fact they're plastic cubes, just like the player's cubes.

Another thing that bothered me a little in the manual is the lack of comments about some cards. During the games many doubts came up about the correct use of some cards and there's nowhere to go to solve those doubts. Certainly the author thought the text in the cards clear enough. Well, in many cases it isn't.

The final negative aspect about the components is the way to register your production of the 6 resources in your game board. You do this by putting plastic cubes in the color of the players on tiny tracks on the individual boards. If someone bumps the table even slightly or if a breeze blows while you're playing the cubes will be displaced, and unless you remembered where the cubes were everything will become a mess. I'm sure many guys will come with methods to overcome this. I already saw someone wisely suggesting - to reduce the impact of this potential mess - to put the cubes on the tracks only when the production of a resource is different from zero. A suggestion I myself give is to forget the tracks and register your production in the same way you register your stock of resources: with the brown (=1), silver (=5) and golden (=10) cubes. Above the track those cubes represent your stock, on the track they represent your production.

Playing Time and downtime

I saw many people saying it's a relatively quick game lasting 90-120 min. Well, it may be so, but it may not and it may last much much longer. It doesn't depend so much of the number of players - as the mechanism that triggers the end of the game is fixed. The total number of actions taken along the game would be more or less the same, only with more players each player individually will take less actions in a game with 5 than we would take in a game with 2 players. Of course in a game with 5 the downtime will increase and this may bother some people. Usually the other players do nothing when another player is taking a turn. Because of this problem, I think the best player count for this game is 2, and the worst 5. I didn't like the solo game very much, because it's a very different game, merely a race to terraform Mars in 14 rounds, what makes the game poorer because many cards and actions (placing cities, for example) lose their meaning. But as I mentioned I played it solo only once.

One of the problems is, for a game to finish the 3 factors - ocean, oxygen and temperature - have to reach their targets. My impression is, if all 3 increase together, it makes a quicker game. If they increase at very different rates, then the game can take more time. If many players build an engine to focus on one of the factors, then when that factor reaches its target it becomes useless, you have to change direction and focus on another. This may take time.

The public projects would help to mitigate this, because in theory you only need to focus on money production and then money can become anything through the standard actions. The problem is, the cards are a too compelling shortcut to the public projects. For example, if the cards allow you to assemble an engine to transform energy into oxygen at a reasonable rate, or if the cards let you place ocean tiles at a low price, you tend to focus on those elements, disregarding the others a bit. If 2 or more players have a set of cards that push them on the same direction, one element of the game will grow more quickly than the others, what is not hard to happen.

The potential long game length (and the uncertainty about how long the game will take) and the downtime with many players are elements that may have negative impact on the game. I played with novices and someone may always say this was the reason the game took so long. Indeed it may be so, but as the game is not so complex, I don't feel that anyone took a long time to play in any of my games.

Still, my theory about the 3 elements growing together making a quicker game is still just a theory.

Finally, you'll see below that I strongly recommend the game to be played with the draft variant. Well, though it makes the game more strategic, it also will make the game even longer.

Randomness

Here I come to the main negative point of the game. Of course it has been aborded in many other reviews, but people seemed to consider it not determinant and mitigated by other game mechanisms. Some cards seem to be stronger than others, some cards make great combos with others and they come in your hand in a totally random and arbitrary way.

In fact the effects of the cards are so nice that I dare to say that in TM it's not you that play the cards, it's the cards that play you, because you keep the game adapting yourself to the cards that come in your hand so you can play them and take the most of them.

If you get cards that let you increase your titanium production and then no nice cards that can be paid with titanium come into your hand that sucks. If you increase your plant production at a high cost and just after that another player plays a card that undoes your just acquired production that sucks. If you assemble an engine to transform energy into oxygen in a very efficient way and then another player assembles another highly efficient oxygen engine in a way that you both soon enough make the oxygen level reach the maximum and your beautiful engine becomes useless that sucks too. Many other examples can be given.

It's not only the strength or weakness of the cards that hurts. There's luck involved in the timing for the cards. Because many times you get a card that is perfect for you, but has requirements that are too far from being accomplished and it's virtually useless. The temptation to keep cards such as these in your hand waiting for their requisites to be fulfilled may be damaging too. You have to pay to keep them and this paying is stealing money from you that could be put to good use straight away.

The randomness degree of this game seemed to me high enough to compromise its strategic aspect. Some people commented this is mitigated by the public projects - you don't need the cards to do things, there's always another way - if you have money. Others have compared TM with other tableau-drawing-cards games where randomness is a minor element, like Race for the Galaxy. I deal with these aspects below.

As was mentioned before, there is a draft variant to mitigate the luck of the draw. At the beginning of each round, you make a draft with the 4 cards in your hand. Then, after all cards rotation is finished you decide which ones you want to keep. This mitigates the luck of the draw and make the game more strategic because you have to look at what the other players have before passing to them a potentially powerful card. It mitigates the luck of the draw problem, though it doesn't solve it. It prevents the concentration of too many powerful in the hand of a single player in a single round. That's not all, but it's progress. I consider the draft variant mandatory. However, it will make the game longer. So, if you want a faster game and the randomness problem is not so important to you, keep away from this variant.

Project Cards x Standard Projects

In principle you don't need the cards to do anything. All 3 elements of terraforming Mars can be dealt with money + standard projects. You can pay $18 to put a sea tile. You can pay $23 to put a greenery tile and raise the oxygen level. You can pay $14 to increase Mars temperature.
However, as I said before, many cards let you do this in a more efficient way. For example, there's a card that allows you to place a sea tile once per round paying only $8 and you can even use steel to pay! So, as I said before, the cards are a too compelling shortcut to the standard projects and it's easy to see that you can assemble combos to bypass the standard projects. For example, you can increase your energy production to 4 (many cards help you to increase production but you may even use the standard project if necessary) if you get a card that allows you to spend 4 energies to increase the oxygen level and still get steel or titanium (there's one card for each). That seems much more efficient than paying $23 to place a greenery tile if the game is still going to take a while to finish.

So the standard projects are a clever way to have an alternative (even if it's a bad one) to do what the cards don't allow you to do. If you have no plant production, for example, you can place greenery tiles paying for them. Without the standard projects, the game could become stale, because if no players get cards to raise a certain element the game could not reach its end-of-game condition. However, it's usually much better to use cards instead of standard actions to do things.

I made a small test. This weekend I put the game on the table and played a 2-player-game where I played for both players, red and green. I played green in what I call, the normal way, trying to keep cards to build combos. I played red more or less like a robot trying to focus on standard projects. Red kept some cards, but mostly if their effect was very beneficial. Well, I may elaborate more about this test in the comments, but I'll refrain from doing here so I can be a bit less boring. At first it seemed clear that red would win. Close to midgame red's TR was so ahead of green's that it seemed to be inevitable that Red would win. Additionally Red claimed 2 milestones, for TR>35 and more than 2 greenery tiles. But in the end, green caught up and won by a large margin. Green got a nice titanium production, a large heat production, many jovian cards and cards that gave VPs for them. Green also managed to get an energy->Oxygen level combo. He got all 3 awards and claimed the builder milestone. Green only used standard projects to place cities in the last round of the game. In the whole game red played only 12 cards, green 32.

The test is not conclusive because I would have to repeat it a few times. But it works as a sign that relying mostly on public projects is not a winning strategy.

Race for the Galaxy x Terraforming Mars

One of the things that pained me was comparison between RftG and TM when talking about randomness in drawing cards. In both games you draw cards to play them to form a tableau in front of you. And both games rely on icons on the cards to explain their effects. As Race is one of my favourite games and TM is merely a nicey game, it would be a contradiction. Because of this I created this item in my review.

Race also has randomness in card drawing, sure, there's no way to deny it. When the cards don't help you, you're doomed and the best player not always win.

However it's much easier to deal with randomness in Race. For once the kinds of cards you can combo are more plentiful in the deck. If you try to run for military cards, there are many of those in the deck. If you try to create a combo with Consumer Markets and/or Free Trade Association and blue cards, there are many blue cards in the deck. The cards in Terraforming Mars are too specialized and their powers too different. It may not be wise to play a card waiting for specific cards that make combos with it in the future. For example, if you choose the corporation that increases titanium value, it may easily happen that you pass the whole game without a single card that increases the production of titanium to show up in your hand.

Add to this the flow of cards in Race for the Galaxy is much more dynamic. It's much easier to look for specific cards. You can use the explore+5 cards role, you can have cards that enhance your explore power, you can have cards that give you more cards for almost any other action you take, and you can sell products to get more cards. In Race the cards in the deck flow very fast and it's easier to look for a card. In Terraforming Mars, apart from the 4 cards that you get in the beginning of every round, very few things in the game can give you more cards. The cards in the deck flow very slowly.

A game of Race takes minutes and if you play with only 2 players and the basic deck it's much probable that you have to reshuffle the discard pile. A game of TM takes hours and there's a good chance that you won't have to do it.

All this makes the luck of the draw in Race a smaller factor when compared to TM. With all randomness it took me quite a while to learn Race well enough to beat the Keldon program AI for the first time. If there was an AI program for TM, would it take me long to beat it for the first time? It might be so, but I don't believe it.

But even if the randomness in Race and TM were similar, the one in Race would be more tolerable. Because a Race game lasts 20 minutes. Even if you lose due to randomness, it's easy to play another game and try again, and repetition of many games dilutes the effect of randomness. It's much harder to play Terraforming Mars again, because it's a much longer game.

Finally, to mark the difference between the games, the nature of the cards in Race and TM is different. In Race most of the cards give you powers and you have to keep looking at them the whole time, what can be complex, and would be pure hell if the game didn't end with a 12 cards tableau. In TM most of the cards trigger one-time effects and after you play those cards you can more or less forget about them, what makes the game much more simple to manage.

A nice thing about TM when compared to Race is about the icons in the cards. Both games rely on icons to show what the cards do. In Race you really have to know the iconography or consult a reference guide to play the game. In TM, all cards have text that explains them in addition to the icons. This is nice. However I think it would not be pratical to do so in Race because the effects of some cards can be much more complex than in TM.

At last, besides Race I saw someone comparing TM to another strategic game where there would also be luck of the draw of cards that you play in a tableau: Agricola. In Agricola there's no deck rotation at all. You start with 14 cards in your hand and that's it for the whole game. I also find this comparison unfair. Because Agricola is not a game so centered in the cards as TM is. In Agricola, the cards can help you and/or influence your strategic approach, but in a more subtle way and not as deeply as in TM. You will play much less cards in Agricola. Anyway, Agricola also has a draft mode for the cards that I also consider mandatory and I think the draft mode solves more of the luck of the draw in Agricola than in TM, additionally having a smaller impact in the playtime. Cards in Agricola are more an element to give replayability to the game. In TM they have a more central importance.

Summary of my opinion

Don't take me wrong, Terraforming Mars is not a bad game. It's a fun and well designed game for people who like to build engines and don't care much about randomness. It's a relatively light game, though somewhat long. However it's not a game for those who look for deep strategic games. If you want to make it a bit more strategic, go straight to the draft variant, but be aware that it will make the game longer. I like to play it and don't bother to play if invited. But it seems unlikely that it becomes the game of the year and it doesn't seem to be absolutely wonderful as some reviews seem to imply. Its similarity with games like Race for the Galaxy is very tenuous to say the least, Race being deeper and faster. If you are looking for a new Race, stay away from it. If you think Race is too complex for your taste, don't fear to give Terraforming Mars a try. The people who may really love the game are people to whom the theme of making Mars inhabitable is particularly interesting, because the author made a superb job linking theme and mechanics.
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Bryan Holtz
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Thank you for your review. I am in the fanboy camp but appreciate your thoughts.
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Fraser
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Back in the days when there were less maps we played every map back to back
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Ooh a little higher, now a bit to the left, a little more, a little more, just a bit more. Oooh yes, that's the spot!
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That's the first time I have heard it mentioned that some people say it is like Race for the Galaxy. Sure it has cards and a space theme, but to my mind totally different games and in no way related. I certainly wouldn't correlate them myself and agree with your comment that the link is tenuous at best.
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Sergio Perez
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Your assessment of the negatives is exactly how I feel about the same elements. I'm not sure I'd be willing to play the game again without drafting. The last two times I taught the game, I went straight to the draft variant with new players, and although it added some time to the game, it was worthwhile.

I played the game at BGG.CON a couple times (brought my copy), and each time, quite a few folks stopped by to look at the game and ask me how I liked it. I would say, "with drafting it's solid - a pretty good game, but not really what I would consider a top 100. Without drafting, decent, but not a game I would often want to play as you are very much at the mercy of your draws, and it really detracts from the strategic aspect of the game." Most looked at me like I had two heads. wow

And I also really like RftG, but I don't think there are enough similarities between the two games to compare them. Although tableau building isn't exactly a new concept, this game does feel fairly unique.
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Jonathan George

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I believe this game was produced in the US. I could be mistaken... but that would differently explain the high price you claim this game has..
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David Luchetti
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Thanks for mentioning exactly how many times and at what player counts you played with. Many reviewers today play games once or twice, often at a single player count, and then create rather uninformed reviews. You definitely put in the time and effort for a thorough review!
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Matt Marcinkowski
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Thanks for the review. I very much like this game, but I can definitely see your points on the negative front.

To me, this game could really do without the awards and milestones as things to buy. Maybe make those objectives drawn at the beginning or something. I've played a game where one of the three parameters was deliberately not accomplished so that players could build up to compete for an award, drawing out the length of the game unnecessarily. This essentially turned a four player game of TM into a two player game of TM, and a two player game of "screw you, I'm going to be that VP bonus." It's not that VP awards are bad, but when the focus becomes those instead of the primary goal of the game, its painful and makes the game much less enjoyable.
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Arthur Rutyna
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I've played a total of 3 times at 3, 4, and 5 player count. I agree that it is a good game, but not game of the year material. I also got the feeling "in TM it's not you that play the cards, it's the cards that play you." I'm interested in trying the draft variant to see how I like that format. Nonetheless, I do enjoy the game, and am looking forward to play it again.
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Sebastian Stückl
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Karlsen wrote:
That's the first time I have heard it mentioned that some people say it is like Race for the Galaxy. Sure it has cards and a space theme, but to my mind totally different games and in no way related. I certainly wouldn't correlate them myself and agree with your comment that the link is tenuous at best.


FYI: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1654163/what-other-game-mos...

Note that most comparisons refer to the hand management and card-driven gameplay of RftG. Obviously, the turn structure and goals of TM and RftG are entirely different.
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Karlsen wrote:
That's the first time I have heard it mentioned that some people say it is like Race for the Galaxy. Sure it has cards and a space theme, but to my mind totally different games and in no way related. I certainly wouldn't correlate them myself and agree with your comment that the link is tenuous at best.


I have actually been presenting TM as a crossover between Race for the Galaxy and Suburbia. It does help when teaching the rules.

To my mind, the more obvious similarity with RFtG comes from the fact that you're building a card "engine" in your tableau, looking for neat combos between the cards. But another similarity is - and this points to the remarks on randomness made by the OP - is that you have to adjust your strategy to fit the cards you are dealt with. In RFtG, if you spend your turns exploring and looking for that specific alien or 6/? card to get to you, you won't go vary far.

Obviously this a matter of taste, and I can certainly see why this bothers the OP. But to me this is actually one of the allures of the game. This harks back to my favourite game, Twilight Struggle, which is very much an exercise in managing bad cards and bad events as much as making the best out of good cards and good events.

Actually, I think TM is superior in this regard to RftG, as the luck of draw is somewhat mitigated by having a 10-card opening hand and using the drafting variant in the Research phase of each generation (which I always do, btw).

Regarding the milestones and awards, I actually prefer the TM system thatn just a Suburbia-style random pick of goals. It is like a mini-"chicken game" within the game, adding tension and uncertainty. I like that.
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Sebastian Stückl
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Hey there! Nice review!
Even though I love the game,
it's of course nice to hear different opinions as well!


brito wrote:
[...]
a) Temperature - there's a counter on the board, it starts at -33 Celsius degrees and has to rise up to 8 degress

[...]

The main way to increase the temperature is to spend heat to increase the temperature 1 degree (and that's the primary function of the heat as a resource). You can also finance a standard project paying $14 to increase the temperature. Also, when you play certain cards, you can increase the temperature directly.


Temperature starts at -30°C, and every temperature raise increases the temperature by 2°C (19 steps total)

brito wrote:
Race for the Galaxy x Terraforming Mars

[...]

However it's much easier to deal with randomness in Race. For once the kinds of cards you can combo are more plentiful in the deck. If you try to run for military cards, there are many of those in the deck. If you try to create a combo with Consumer Markets and/or Free Trade Association and blue cards, there are many blue cards in the deck. The cards in Terraforming Mars are too specialized and their powers too different. It may not be wise to play a card waiting for specific cards that make combos with it in the future. For example, if you choose the corporation that increases titanium value, it may easily happen that you pass the whole game without a single card that increases the production of titanium to show up in your hand.


While you are right that there are much fewer cards that do specifically what you want in Terraforming Mars than in Race for the Galaxy, note that your dependency on finding specifically the ones you seek is much lower. While you may want to draw a specific type of card, you will still have good use for other cards, and hybrid strategies are much more viable than in RftG.
Also, typically the amount of cards you see in RftG is similar to the amount of cards you see in the Research Phase of TM alone. (For reference, you see 46 cards in 10 rounds/generations)
Goods in RftG lead to a faster depletion of the card stack, but you never see any of them, so they do not influence the amount of randomness in the game.

Of course, players have more control over the amount of cards they see in RftG, but the gameplay is obviously different in both.
In RftG, the number of actions you may take is limited, so allowing players to choose an action card that allows them to draw more cards is fine;
whereas in TM you have an unlimited amount of actions, so allowing players to dig for cards is more problematic. Here, the cards (and resources) are the limiting factor, not the amount of actions per round.


brito wrote:
A game of Race takes minutes and if you play with only 2 players and the basic deck it's much probable that you have to reshuffle the discard pile. A game of TM takes hours and there's a good chance that you won't have to do it.

All this makes the luck of the draw in Race a smaller factor when compared to TM.


Game length does not influence luck at all. However, longer games tend to have more decision points, decreasing the role that luck plays compared to skill.
In this regard, Race being a short game doesn't make luck a smaller factor than in TM. However, it does allow you to play the game more often, as you have said.
Approximately, game length is 30min/game in RftG and 2h/game in TM, so you can play Race about four times as often as TM.


brito wrote:
With all randomness it took me quite a while to learn Race well enough to beat the Keldon program AI for the first time. If there was an AI program for TM, would it take me long to beat it for the first time? It might be so, but I don't believe it.


I think you fell for a pretty big misconception here. Functioning, strong AIs do not tell you a whole lot about the randomness in a game.(They only tell you that skill can influence the outcome of the game) Unfortunately, they are also not very telling of the complexity of the game itself.
Rather, they are an indication of a linear strategy (else setting up the AI will require a ton of work) or a game with very predictable outcomes.
It may take a while to figure these out for a human (though it's comparably easy for an AI that knows what it's looking for), leaving the impression of a high skill requirement/low luck factor, but this is not necessarily the case.
For comparison, think about Chess vs. Poker.
There are AIs for either (NL Heads-Up, anyway), and I am pretty confidant you can't find a single person on this forum that can realistically beat the best AIs in either game.(The best players in their respective fields have a difficult time playing against them) One of them is purely skill based, asumming an even number of games, the other one has a relatively high luck factor, yet there are AIs for both games that crush almost all human players. (In poker they just don't win EVERY hand)

Cheers,
Sebastian
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Darcy Dueck
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You should sell your copy soon, while prices are still very high. Once the 2nd edition arrives, prices will fall quickly and you will be stuck with a game you don't like.
 
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Bastinator1 wrote:
Approximately, game length is 30min/game in RftG and 2h/game in TM, so you can play Race about four times as often as TM.

Or 7 min per game if you play RftG online.

Good review brito. I've mentioned this elsewhere, but more than RftG this game comes across to me like a much longer version of Glory to Rome. It's very tactical and very draw-dependent with few ways to mitigate that unless you draft. Of course, as you wrote, then the game then takes even longer.

Still, I like it well enough. It's easy to play, it's fun when you draw good combos, and the theme comes through on the cards in an entertaining way. I just don't put a lot of stock into winning or losing.

Also RftG is only good with 2 players.
 
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Karlsen wrote:
That's the first time I have heard it mentioned that some people say it is like Race for the Galaxy. Sure it has cards and a space theme, but to my mind totally different games and in no way related. I certainly wouldn't correlate them myself and agree with your comment that the link is tenuous at best.


You can compare Terraforming Mars to ANY game with a deck of largely unique cards. You draw what you draw and that's that. The end. Race is similar in that you get bonuses and discounts that help you buy future cards. Cards make other cards cheaper. Cards give you the qualifications to buy certain cards. You need 3 science tags or you need 3 military.

Still, it's always going to be a big deck of cards. Play with drafting and you'll get to see more of the deck and make bigger choices.
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Carlos Brito
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Bastinator1 wrote:
Hey there! Nice review!
Even though I love the game,
it's of course nice to hear different opinions as well!:)


Sure! Thanks for the input!


Bastinator1 wrote:
brito wrote:
[...]
a) Temperature - there's a counter on the board, it starts at -33 Celsius degrees and has to rise up to 8 degress

[...]

The main way to increase the temperature is to spend heat to increase the temperature 1 degree (and that's the primary function of the heat as a resource). You can also finance a standard project paying $14 to increase the temperature. Also, when you play certain cards, you can increase the temperature directly.


Temperature starts at -30°C, and every temperature raise increases the temperature by 2°C (19 steps total)


Sorry for that and thanks for pointing that out. I wrote most of the review's text without looking at the game itself and mentioning things I thought I knew by heart. Doing so, it was easy to make some small mistakes.


Bastinator1 wrote:

Game length does not influence luck at all. However, longer games tend to have more decision points, decreasing the role that luck plays compared to skill.
In this regard, Race being a short game doesn't make luck a smaller factor than in TM. However, it does allow you to play the game more often, as you have said.
Approximately, game length is 30min/game in RftG and 2h/game in TM, so you can play Race about four times as often as TM.


I think most of my TM games took much more than 2 hours and many Race games take less than 30 minutes. Anyway, I think you misunderstood me here. What I meant is that if a game has strategy and randomness, if you have 2 players and one is clearly better than the other, the worse player can win some games due to randomness, but if they play many times, the better player will win most of them. Repetition mitigates randomness. So playing a game multiple times helps to mitigate the effect of the randomness. You can play a game once, lose it and blame bad luck. But if you lose 10 times in a row, then it's much harder to do it. As Race is a shorter game, you can play more games in the same time, randomness is more mitigated here because of this. If you think you lost a game due to back luck it doesn't take much to play one more time.

Bastinator1 wrote:

brito wrote:
With all randomness it took me quite a while to learn Race well enough to beat the Keldon program AI for the first time. If there was an AI program for TM, would it take me long to beat it for the first time? It might be so, but I don't believe it.


I think you fell for a pretty big misconception here. Functioning, strong AIs do not tell you a whole lot about the randomness in a game.(They only tell you that skill can influence the outcome of the game) Unfortunately, they are also not very telling of the complexity of the game itself.
Rather, they are an indication of a linear strategy (else setting up the AI will require a ton of work) or a game with very predictable outcomes.
It may take a while to figure these out for a human (though it's comparably easy for an AI that knows what it's looking for), leaving the impression of a high skill requirement/low luck factor, but this is not necessarily the case.
For comparison, think about Chess vs. Poker.
There are AIs for either (NL Heads-Up, anyway), and I am pretty confidant you can't find a single person on this forum that can realistically beat the best AIs in either game.(The best players in their respective fields have a difficult time playing against them) One of them is purely skill based, asumming an even number of games, the other one has a relatively high luck factor, yet there are AIs for both games that crush almost all human players. (In poker they just don't win EVERY hand)


The example I gave with an AI program computer, I could have given with a good player. I merely wanted to give examples to show that Race is a game that involves more strategy and less randomness than TM.

I was comparing randomness x strategy. The more random a game is the easier it is to have a weak player to beat a good AI program or a good player.

If we play heads or toes, a game that is totally random, even if I never played the game I can beat any player easily in my very first game. With a highly strategic game, even if it involves some randomness, this is much harder to happen.
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Jeff Noel
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As a TM worshiper, it's good to hear from someone who doesn't love the game (though I've yet to hear from anyone who's actually disliked it).

Luck is definitely a factor with TM, but for me it hits the sweet-spot in terms of luck (when using both the drafting and Corporate era variants, each of which mitigate luck).

I'm the most experienced TM player in my group, and I win more than everyone else, but I lose often enough that the outcome of the game rarely seems clear until final scores are tallied. The easy learning curve of the game helps a lot with that... new players never seem totally out of their depth and can typically hold their own. By contrast, though I love Race for the Galaxy, many people to whom I've taught RftG show little interest in playing again, given how much it takes to get over the learning curve, and the degree to which even a moderately experienced player will usually beat a new player.

As for "the cards playing you", I think that is true in the sense that it is a tactical game, but not in that the cards push you in an an obvious direction. The game rewards flexibility somewhat more than planning... if you expect to pursue a particular strategy without ever making course corrections, you're going to end up disappointed more often than not.
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Neo_1 wrote:
I also got the feeling "in TM it's not you that play the cards, it's the cards that play you." I'm interested in trying the draft variant to see how I like that format. Nonetheless, I do enjoy the game, and am looking forward to play it again.

That's why I think, drafting is essential to the game. Without drafting, I liked it. It was a pretty neat game with strong theme and some fun mechanisms.

Drafting however entirely changed my perspective of the game. In a 3-player game, you see 9 different cards instead of 4 each generation. This just offers so many tactical and sometimes even strategic choices as you can easily draft for a specific kind of engine you want to run or you can hate draft in order to prevent other players from getting good cards. The game takes longer (probably 30 minutes for us) but the experience is just so much better. The only negative is that I consider drafting to be unfair for new players because they just don't know the variety of cards and how they may interact with future cards. That's why we still do not draft when it is someone's first game of TF Mars but from the second game onwards, there is just no question about it


edit: Thumbs up to the review, even though I personally disagree quite a lot. Your negative points can be argued for depending on someone's general preferences in gaming. I think, your review gives a new visitor to the TF Mars forum a pretty good overview if the game suits their taste as it does not worship everything the game does thumbsup
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David Arlington
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Count me as another person who loves the game and plays it any chance I get, solo or multi-player, but also thinks you wrote a very fair and well-balanced review. Nice job.

Dave
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matt A
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Randomness really? Love the game!!!
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Sergio Perez
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mattcalaho wrote:
Randomness really?


Yes.
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I agree the game is nice but not that great.

I'll buy it from you for 35 euros.
 
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It's the first thing I thought of after my first game.

Karlsen wrote:
That's the first time I have heard it mentioned that some people say it is like Race for the Galaxy. Sure it has cards and a space theme, but to my mind totally different games and in no way related. I certainly wouldn't correlate them myself and agree with your comment that the link is tenuous at best.
 
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Louis George
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There are many cards in the game that are negative to someone else. This leads to a decision on which player to use the card on, with the resultant ill-feeling, destruction of future planning, and potential error in judgement on who to give the negative card to. In addition, negative cards prolong an already too long game. Such negative cards should be removed from this game. The game will then be shorter and more friendly.

The cards that shorten the game are also negative for future game planning and should be removed. They also take resources that could be used to improve point totals while increasing randomness. The players should decide in advance if the game should be shorter by 2 or 3 steps in each of the end criteria.
 
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Fraser
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Back in the days when there were less maps we played every map back to back
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Ooh a little higher, now a bit to the left, a little more, a little more, just a bit more. Oooh yes, that's the spot!
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Louis wrote:
There are many cards in the game that are negative to someone else. This leads to a decision on which player to use the card on, with the resultant ill-feeling, destruction of future planning, and potential error in judgement on who to give the negative card to


However, they are thematically correct. If you dump an asteroid on your neighbour's greenhouse expect a few strawberry plants to get squashed whistle

I wouldn't say there are "many" cards like that, although I have not played with the advanced deck yet.
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Steve
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Louis wrote:
There are many cards in the game that are negative to someone else. This leads to a decision on which player to use the card on, with the resultant ill-feeling, destruction of future planning, and potential error in judgement on who to give the negative card to. In addition, negative cards prolong an already too long game. Such negative cards should be removed from this game. The game will then be shorter and more friendly.

The cards that shorten the game are also negative for future game planning and should be removed. They also take resources that could be used to improve point totals while increasing randomness. The players should decide in advance if the game should be shorter by 2 or 3 steps in each of the end criteria.

You're over-selling the negative cards. Most (or is it all?) just remove plants from opponents. Greenery is very powerful. They help to rein in that power. Without them you might have a strategic collapse to greenery.

As for the cards that advance the global parameters they're a good catch-up mechanism.

Pretty sure removing all these cards would make the game worse, but give it a try and let us know how it goes.
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