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Frederick Duewer
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Note: It appears that I fail at copy/pasting. Somehow omitted the middle of the post.

Review: Terraforming Mars is an amazing game. It drips with theme and has very tight gameplay combined with high replayability. I absolutely love it. Buy it now. Currently my favorite board game. The card draw adds minor randomness, which I prefer. There is one significant negative - following the theme results in inefficient gameplay - which can result in significantly lopsided games. Most new players, myself included, try to win by building projects to terraform Mars and grabbing milestones along the way. That game is fun, but not amazing. The amazing game is played to ensure a dominant position (as represented by victory points) for your corporation once Mars has been terraformed. Minor negatives are: the player mats are problematic for clumsy people, which includes about half of the people I game with, and the first game with new players tends to run long. Another minor issue is that the game has a fair number of special rules - which our group didn’t get right on the first run-through. I recommend not playing corporate edition and omitting the draft on the first playthrough if you don’t have all day. The other issue is that the game is so popular at meetups that you won’t be able to play with less than 5 players.

Common Rules Mistakes (the manual is fine...it isn’t Agricola-level…)
Special Brown Tiles have two sides - and are owned and therefore count for the Landlord Award.
Mining Area requires that you place it next to another tile that you own.
Leftover energy becomes heat in the production phase.
Greeneries must be placed next to an owned tile, if you have one.
Production decreases, even those applied to another player, are never optional.
Players alternate taking 1 or 2 actions until everyone has passed.

Basic Strategy (5 players):
Actually participating in the terraforming of Mars will provide only a small number of victory points. Forty-two points are available by terraforming and those points, barring odd gameplay on the part of your opponents, will be split roughly evenly. At 5 players, a winning score is expected to be roughly 70 points, with a starting score of 20 points. So, roughly 40 out of 50 points for the winning player will be completely unrelated to terraforming Mars. 36 points are available for milestones and awards, of which you should aim to obtain at least 7 points. This leaves 33 points to be obtained by a mixture of tile placement and projects.
A typical 5 player game lasts roughly 10 turns. In non-competitive games, taking more than the expected share of milestone/award VP will usually assure victory. In competitive games, it will be difficult to take more than your expected share. By the end of the first turn, you should determine which milestones and/or awards are obtainable. The next 3-4 turns will be spent completing milestones and engine building. Awards should be locked in once you are reasonably confident of getting first place. Past the 4th turn, cards giving terraform rating are preferable to production-only cards without requirements. Past the 6th turn, absent certain card combinations, cities, greeneries, terraforming rating, and victory point cards are preferred.
In terms of engine building, titanium, iron, and plants give the strongest return on investment - assuming they are usable and not destroyed. Titanium is rare and valuable. Iron is common, but iron production greater than 6 may be wasted in endgame, since there are relatively few building cards yielding victory points. On the bright side, the Miner Award tends to be non-competitive. Plants are good, but small amounts of plant production will tend to be destroyed by asteroids. MC production is consistently useful, with no diminishing returns, but the Banker award is often competitive. Heat production has a poor return on investment and decreases linearly in value with more than 12 heat production in the game. On the other hand, the Thermalist award may be less competitive. Excluding the Builder and Terraformer miles, the other milestones require roughly 50 MC of investment in non-engine building stuff, so a rush to, eg, the Mayor milestone will not necessarily pay off.
Overall, if you are uncertain about a move, determine whether or not the move will yield more victory points than putting the same expenditures into city and greenery standard projects. Consider this thought experiment. Assume that you’ve been cursed - and that every project card you get is worse than useless. You start with Tharsis Republic. On the first turn, you build your free city and another city. On your second turn, you build a third city and claim the Mayor milestone. On the succeeding turns, you do nothing except build greeneries and claim the Gardener milestone (on turn 4, if it is still available assuming you snag plant bonuses) and the Landlord award. By turn 10, absent enemy interference, you’ll have obtained about 73 victory points. With enemy interference, you’ll almost certainly get to at least 63 victory points, which will be a strong second place in most of the 5 player games I’ve played. Assuming that other players build cities at some point, you’ll come in closer to 70 victory points.
Less Basic Estimates of Project Value:
Being a somewhat obsessive individual who really likes this game, I put most of the cards in the game into a spreadsheet, starting with cards with no requirements and compared cost to various production bonuses. Then, assuming that any income from a production bonus was reinvested into megacredit production prior to turn 5 and saved for use buying victory points afterwards, I estimated the number of MC yielded by turn 10. Some of the values are probably a bit off. Rounds TR is the number of remaining rounds required for a given type of production to be equivalent or better in terms of return on investment to terraforming rating. Rounds VP is the remaining number of rounds required for a given type of production to be equivalent or better in terms of return on investment to buying victory points with standard projects, assuming 9 MC per victory point. ROI denotes the return on investment within 10 turns, assuming reinvestment into MC production when possible. Cost denote cost on a project card.

Production Type: Titanium
Cost: 10 MC
Rounds Remaining: 4 TR, 3 VP
Diminishing Returns: N/A (rare to get enough production...)
ROI (%) 320

Production Type: Steel
Cost: 7 MC
Rounds Remaining: 4 TR, 3 VP
Diminishing Returns: 6 (At some point, run out of buildings with worthwhile late-game bonuses)
ROI (%) 300

Production Type: Plant
Cost: 12 MC
Rounds Remaining 4 TR, 3 VP
Diminishing Returns: N/A
ROI (%) 300
(First plant production in game is useless - asteroids)

Production Type: MC
Cost: 4.5 MC
Rounds Remaining: 5 TR, 4 VP
Diminishing Returns: N/A
ROI (%) 230

Production Type: Heat
Cost: 6 MC
Rounds Remaining: N/A (Never better than TR)
Diminishing Returns: 12
ROI (%) 170

Production Type: Energy
Cost: 7 MC
Rounds Remaining: N/A (Never better than TR)
Diminishing Returns: 12
ROI (%) 130

Production Type: TR
Cost: 8.5 MC
Rounds Remaining: N/A
ROI (%) 230

Production Type: Victory Points
Cost: 7 MC
ROI (%) 130

Production Type: City
Cost: 14 MC
ROI (%) 0-480
Good returns, even early game, if you surround them with greeneries by game end.

Energy Standard Project
Cost: 11 MC
ROI (%) 80

Temperature Standard Project
14
Cost: 14 MC
ROI (%) 140


Ocean Standard Project
Cost: 18 MC
ROI (%) 110
Strong tile placement bonuses make this typically worthwhile throughout the game, (1 TR, 2 plants)

Greenery Standard Project
Cost: 23 MC
ROI (%) 120
Assuming no adjacent cities

City Standard Project
20.5
0-270
Worthwhile with > 2 adjacent greeneries in endgame

Starting cards with science tags seem to be slightly more expensive than expected.
Cards with maximum requirements tend to be about 30% undercosted - so a good deal.
Cards with minimum requirements are usually undercosted by 30-300%. Ocean requirement cards, in particular, can come into play very early game and offer significant bonuses. Oxygen requirement cards seem to be more defensive - they tend to decrease plant production. Temperature requirement cards finish off the game faster - providing plants and oceans. Oddly, several cards with requirements giving oceans don’t seem to get a discount.

Cute VP Combos
Pets. An early pet card can net you 6 VPs, for an ROI close to 500%.
There are 4 Jovian cards that effectively give you 1 VP per Jovian played. Assuming you get enough jovians, you can earn up to about 33 VP in Jovian cards alone. This strategy is chancy, as it requires at least 2 of the 1 VP per Jovian tags (3 cards), and/or possibly also the 1 TR/Jovian card, plus a few Jovian cards. Assuming normal draws, you’ll get 2 such cards, but there is a bit over a 25% chance of seeing only 1 or less of those cards. Your odds improve to >87% if you start with one of the 4 cards. This will happen about 20% of the time. Hate-drafting will kill your chances rapidly.
Now, if you start with several of the 1/VP per Jovian’s, it is reasonable to assume that you’ll get three more, which brings them to be equivalent to milestones and also very efficient.
Extreme-cold fungus can combo with some fungi for 9+ VP.
Specializing in a specific production type is usually useful - partially to get awards and partially because, eg, 7 plants are worth nothing.
Standard Projects are awesome for several corporations.
If you take the beginner corporation for your first game with experienced players, play an ocean and take 2 more cards, bringing you to 12. For the second round, draft 4 cards and claim the planner milestone, yielding 5 VP and some surprised looks. (Can be done more cost-effectively on turn 3).
Advanced Alloys + Mining Guild or Interstellar Cinematics is powerful.
Inventrix + Adaptive Technologies is probably really good, particularly in the draft game.
Traps:
The Energy->Oxygen cards, unless the energy is severely discounted, are very expensive relative to their benefits. They appear good for single player, but effectively cost 40+ credits, the game would need to last 12 rounds to get a decent return on investment.
Heat and energy production have inferior ROI relative to other production. Therefore, they aren’t worth it unless they will allow you to win the thermalist award. Also, for Helion, converting heat to credits is usually a loss.
Science: For 5 player games, the science tags seem mildly useless - excepting the award. The issue is that the late game science projects are difficult to get out early and most of them give production or discounts. They are probably better in lower player counts (longer games). That said, some science projects seem well set up to get the Planner milestone relatively cheaply.

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James Geist

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Very enjoyable readthrough here and raised some great points I hadn't thought about (and some that went right over my head)

As a fellow lover of the game, I have to ask: have you tried the game solo and checked out the Solo Challenge thread in the "Organized Play" forum? I'm only 1 for 5 in my solo efforts, but look at it as a wonderful and difficult challenge.
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AJ Cooper
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fwduewer wrote:
There is one significant negative - following the theme results in inefficient gameplay - which can result in significantly lopsided games. Most new players, myself included, try to win by building projects to terraform Mars and grabbing milestones along the way. That game is fun, but not amazing. The amazing game is played to ensure a dominant position (as represented by victory points) for your corporation once Mars has been terraformed.

I don't understand the distinction you are making here.
 
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Andreas Krüger
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Talmanes wrote:
fwduewer wrote:
There is one significant negative - following the theme results in inefficient gameplay - which can result in significantly lopsided games. Most new players, myself included, try to win by building projects to terraform Mars and grabbing milestones along the way. That game is fun, but not amazing. The amazing game is played to ensure a dominant position (as represented by victory points) for your corporation once Mars has been terraformed.

I don't understand the distinction you are making here.


It is sometimes better to build a city than a greenery for VP, thus you don't always terraform when you can.
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Jon Adlam
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Very interesting thoughts on strategy. The metas between our groups seem to be quite different, although ours continues to evolve with so, so many plays. Some thoughts:

We value science cards fairly highly for their cheapness per card-point, ability to stack, and useful effects, as well as scientist on the horizon.

It looks like the numbers underestimate ground game. You didn't calculate their value in a practical way I think, as nobody builds cities and greeneries in an isolated situation, it's always in a big ground game mess. Our Mars meta evolved with somebody discovering that cities+greeneries could score an insane amount of points, somebody refining the technique to score points in the most efficient way, and then people discovering more and more different ways to get in the way of ground game. Although a ground game player is controllable if you know what you're doing and they don't have a gigantic money lead, it's the most dangerous strategy if left unchecked.

Although you've dismissed it, terraforming is a legitimate strategy to win. The other strategies based on points rather than terraforming require a while to get set up and make most of their points in the last few generations. A good terraformer with a money and plant engine can accelerate the game so that they can't get their points engines going, and take a resounding victory. I'm surprised this hasn't come up in your group, especially in the shorter 5 player games.

Finally with milestones, I think you underestimate them. Indeed they are only worthwhile if your overall strategy happens to involve passing that milestone, and not worth playing for if it involves a strategy detour. However since Mayor and Gardener involve the components of ground game and there's always somebody playing ground game, they'll almost always be taken at no huge opportunity cost. Then builder gets taken by somebody who drew 8 independently useful buildings, and so also took the milestone without any huge opportunity cost. And don't forget that taking the milestone swings the points by 10, not 5 - if you don't take it, somebody else will!
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Florian Ruckeisen
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hypocrism wrote:
Finally with milestones, I think you underestimate them. [...] And don't forget that taking the milestone swings the points by 10, not 5 - if you don't take it, somebody else will!

I think this - and also the (under)valuing of terraforming - may have to do with Frederick playing exclusively 5p games.

In a 2p game, milestones are a straight-up 10 VP swing. Personally, I play mostly 3p games, and I don't recall a single one where a player who didn't get any milestone ended up winning. But the more players there are, the less likely it is that the player you compete with for a milestone will be the same player you compete with for the win later on.

Same with TR - in 2p, every TR taken is a VP and income your opponent isn't getting, but in 5p, the "opponent isn't getting this" part is distributed between more players.
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RyuSora
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Terraforming mars is a really different game with different number of players (1, 2, 3,4 and 5), a 3p game cant not be compared to a 5p game. And other than that, there is also a lot of metagame to consider (in my group ecoline means ecolost). Nice text, but nothing new here.
 
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Sonny A.
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Artic Algae is also really good ROI if you can get it down before 1st ocean tile is placed. But it rarely beats a late Greenhouses in M€ to Plant ratio.
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Maticus
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Quote:
Production decreases, even those applied to another player, are never optional.


Unless this is a rule erata, I thought that was not true.
See Page 10 in the rulebook first paragraph

Quote:
Red bordered resources are optional, so card C does not remove your own plants.


Is their a distinction between production with red borders and resources with red borders?

Dont think it would have made any material difference in games I've played as players would choose to do so anyway if there was a target.
 
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Ido Abelman
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matcook wrote:
Quote:
Production decreases, even those applied to another player, are never optional.


Unless this is a rule erata, I thought that was not true.
See Page 10 in the rulebook first paragraph

Quote:
Red bordered resources are optional, so card C does not remove your own plants.


Is their a distinction between production with red borders and resources with red borders?

Dont think it would have made any material difference in games I've played as players would choose to do so anyway if there was a target.


There is definitely a distinction between removing production and removing resources. Can't quote the rulebook right now but it's definitely there. It's important not because of the option of choosing not to hurt others (which you'll likely never do if you play competitively) but because *someone* must have the right production for you to reduce otherwise you can't play the card. If no one else have the production you must reduce your own (which makes the "steal production" cards useless).
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Sonny A.
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matcook wrote:
Quote:
Production decreases, even those applied to another player, are never optional.


Unless this is a rule erata, I thought that was not true.
See Page 10 in the rulebook first paragraph

Quote:
Red bordered resources are optional, so card C does not remove your own plants.


Is their a distinction between production with red borders and resources with red borders?

Dont think it would have made any material difference in games I've played as players would choose to do so anyway if there was a target.


Yes, there's a difference between the production box and what's outside. What's inside the production box must always be performed.

Read more here.. https://boardgamegeek.com/article/26253914#26253914

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H-B-G
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matcook wrote:


Quote:
Red bordered resources are optional, so card C does not remove your own plants.


Is their a distinction between production with red borders and resources with red borders?

Dont think it would have made any material difference in games I've played as players would choose to do so anyway if there was a target.


See the rules page 15

Quote:
A card effct that reduces production of a redbordered resource must be performed, so if your opponent doesn’t have that production, then you must lower your own production or not play the card at all.
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Maticus
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Thanks for quick responses.
Guess I was wrong but would have been very infrequent there wasnt an opposing target.
Must remember to warn local players I got wrong in previous rules explanations when we play again...
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matcook wrote:
Thanks for quick responses.
Guess I was wrong but would have been very infrequent there wasnt an opposing target.
Must remember to warn local players I got wrong in previous rules explanations when we play again...

In the early generations of a corporate era game, there might not be a target. Later there usually is. Although occasionally in 2 player there can be frustration as the opponent stubbornly refuses to add any of the needed production.
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Rascar Capac
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If first plant production in game is useless, why is anyone playing Ecoline then?
 
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Andreas Krüger
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rascarcapacthefirst wrote:
If first plant production in game is useless, why is anyone playing Ecoline then?


Ecoline can be hard to play, because all asteroids inevitably hit them. I guess better players will be able to hit the player where it is most effective, which is not always Ecoline. But they are the most obvious target.

I am not sure if first plant production is really useless. This means that players hold their asteroids until there are plants to destroy, and also that nobody picks up a sufficient amount of plants from ocean placements.
 
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Thamos von Nostria wrote:
rascarcapacthefirst wrote:
If first plant production in game is useless, why is anyone playing Ecoline then?


Ecoline can be hard to play, because all asteroids inevitably hit them. I guess better players will be able to hit the player where it is most effective, which is not always Ecoline. But they are the most obvious target.

I am not sure if first plant production is really useless. This means that players hold their asteroids until there are plants to destroy, and also that nobody picks up a sufficient amount of plants from ocean placements.

Ecoline can be tough to play, but very effective at its best. It has a strong ability and some handicaps to go with it. A double edge sword, you might say.
 
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Frederick Duewer
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I suspect my calculations mostly omit the value of tile placement - and also early tile placement in terms of getting good positioning. Given that each 2 plants in placement bonus is probably worth a VP, this is a significant omission.

(Another omission was, somehow, copy-pasting from google drive and leaving out the middle of the post...)

You're right - at 5 players - taking a milestone usually doesn't take it from the leader - so they're only 5 or 6 points effectively. Awards, on the other hand, tend to be better at 5 because the 2nd place points tend to not go to the person in second place. The way our meta has evolved is that nearly everyone focuses on getting at least one milestone/award and this makes it difficult to get significantly ahead on those points. Picking up the #2 in award points is often pretty cheap though...

Our meta tends to involve a strong switch to cities/greeneries around turn 5-6, with people picking up ~18ish pts there and an even split between in terms of milestones/awards.

When I think of terraforming, I expect someone focusing on temperature and oceans while deemphasizing cities/greeneries. So far, at 5, those players have tended to lose. This may be because rush strategies don't really change the number of turns much at 5 players. It may also be because the Thermalist award tends to be rather competitive in our groups.

For Science tags, the award is useful, but the starting science cards tend towards card production - and we don't have enough time to build engines to the point where we run out of cards. Then, assuming you have science tags, I haven't seen many likely scenarios where the late game science cards came into effect early enough to accomplish much. I keep thinking there's some neat trick where early card production gets Planner nearly for free - but it doesn't seem to actually work.

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Frederick Duewer
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Or possibly something else - does anyone know why something copied from google drive would be consistently missing the middle?
 
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ryusora wrote:
Terraforming mars is a really different game with different number of players (1, 2, 3,4 and 5), a 3p game cant not be compared to a 5p game.
True. I was really taken by surprise how quickly the terraforming parameters advanced in our first 5-player game.

It made the cards with high prerequisites a lot more playable and worth holding on to.
 
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Wim van Gruisen
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jhaelen wrote:
ryusora wrote:
Terraforming mars is a really different game with different number of players (1, 2, 3,4 and 5), a 3p game cant not be compared to a 5p game.
True. I was really taken by surprise how quickly the terraforming parameters advanced in our first 5-player game.

It made the cards with high prerequisites a lot more playable and worth holding on to.

Really? I would have thought that with five players the terraforming parameters quickly race forward, so that when you can finally play such a card, you have fewer turns to profit from its effects.
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Sam Carroll
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Whymme wrote:
jhaelen wrote:
ryusora wrote:
Terraforming mars is a really different game with different number of players (1, 2, 3,4 and 5), a 3p game cant not be compared to a 5p game.
True. I was really taken by surprise how quickly the terraforming parameters advanced in our first 5-player game.

It made the cards with high prerequisites a lot more playable and worth holding on to.

Really? I would have thought that with five players the terraforming parameters quickly race forward, so that when you can finally play such a card, you have fewer turns to profit from its effects.


Depends on the card, whether it's production or more straight-up VP or some combination thereof.
 
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spartax wrote:
Whymme wrote:
jhaelen wrote:
ryusora wrote:
Terraforming mars is a really different game with different number of players (1, 2, 3,4 and 5), a 3p game cant not be compared to a 5p game.
True. I was really taken by surprise how quickly the terraforming parameters advanced in our first 5-player game.

It made the cards with high prerequisites a lot more playable and worth holding on to.

Really? I would have thought that with five players the terraforming parameters quickly race forward, so that when you can finally play such a card, you have fewer turns to profit from its effects.


Depends on the card, whether it's production or more straight-up VP or some combination thereof.

If it's production (on the card itself, like animals, or a production boost on, say, titanium), you are worse off with fewer rounds after playing the card.

If you want to profit from its tag (say that you go for the builder milestone), then fewer rounds give you less time to pursue this goal.

If it's straight VP bonus, then the remaining rounds don't really matter. But then it doesn't matter either that you have to wait longer to play it; keeping a card in the hand doesn't cost money. The cost is the same whether you have to wait a lot of rounds to play the card or just a few.
 
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Chris Maloof

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Whymme wrote:
spartax wrote:
Whymme wrote:
jhaelen wrote:
ryusora wrote:
Terraforming mars is a really different game with different number of players (1, 2, 3,4 and 5), a 3p game cant not be compared to a 5p game.
True. I was really taken by surprise how quickly the terraforming parameters advanced in our first 5-player game.

It made the cards with high prerequisites a lot more playable and worth holding on to.

Really? I would have thought that with five players the terraforming parameters quickly race forward, so that when you can finally play such a card, you have fewer turns to profit from its effects.


Depends on the card, whether it's production or more straight-up VP or some combination thereof.

If it's production (on the card itself, like animals, or a production boost on, say, titanium), you are worse off with fewer rounds after playing the card.

If you want to profit from its tag (say that you go for the builder milestone), then fewer rounds give you less time to pursue this goal.

If it's straight VP bonus, then the remaining rounds don't really matter. But then it doesn't matter either that you have to wait longer to play it; keeping a card in the hand doesn't cost money. The cost is the same whether you have to wait a lot of rounds to play the card or just a few.

I think you guys are missing jhaelen's point (which I've bolded). It's less about the particular card, more about the opportunity cost of buying it early and holding on to it for a few rounds. You often have a choice between buying a stronger card with unmet prerequisites, versus investing the 3c into a weaker engine right now. If the prereqs will take 2 rounds to reach in 5p, you might be better off getting the card; if they take 4 rounds to reach in 3p, you might be better off firing the engine.
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Jon Senn
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I've only played one 5er, but I was surprised to see your estimate of 10 generations for a typical game. My 3ers last 9-11 generations, and my 4ers are 8-10 usually. (This is with the corporate edition). My one 5er I believe lasted 7 rounds but I could be wrong.

What's common in other groups?

Edit: I revisited this thread: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1654557/help-needed-let...
Average recorded game length in 3/4/5ers is 11.2/10.4/10.6. I'm quite surprised that the 5ers are longer than 4ers!
 
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