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Subject: Review after 1 game, from a "Do I want to play again" perspective rss

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Matthew Bishop
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Disclaimer: I don't usually write reviews, but when my expectation and experience of a game drastically misalign, I feel more inclined to. I have now played the game a second time, and added updated thoughts at the bottom.

If you've read Arne_Sven's well-done review, this will be pretty similar. I'm not going to talk about how to play, which is well-covered elsewhere.

The setup:
I played the game once, at a convention. There was 1 expert (teaching us), 2 newbies (myself included), and 1 moderately-familiar player. We played the accelerated start (all resource generation at 1) and drafted for everything after the starting hand. I personally don't usually care for long (2+ hour) games, nor are heavy competitive games my favorite. I jumped in because I like the theme and have seen this rated/talked about so highly.

Why am I reviewing this after 1 play? Because A) it caused some slightly stronger-than-average feelings on my part, B) I find critical reviews often enlightening, and C) I almost never play a game without at least 1 new player, so having a new player's thoughts on a game is something I find helpful.

The positives:
Great theme, beautiful board showing Mars, cool concept. As others have stated, there were a lot of scientific ideas represented that I may go on to learn more about as a result of this game.

The negatives:
Game length: our game ran 3+ hours. I spent the last hour extremely disinterested and almost excused myself.
Downtime: as other reviews have mentioned, the drafting seems very necessary, but also very time-consuming. Turns could sometimes bog down when 1 or 2 players in a row tried to figure out what they were doing, especially as interaction is minimal.
Components: again, often mentioned elsewhere; without having any idea what the game costs, I was still surprised at how...amateur the artwork, player boards, and some of the iconography was. Also, the player boards are too easily bumped; at least 3 times I had to figure out where cubes had been.
Seemingly important decisions made right out of the gate: my biggest complaint. As soon as we started, I had a hand of 10 cards to evaluate. I had no concept of relative value, rarity, long term strategy, etc, and yet these cards influenced the first few turns quite a bit. I hate this feeling of a game asking me to make decisions with information I won't have until I've played the game at least once, because guess what, I may never play it again. Also, I hate introducing games like this to new players, and having to tell them "do whatever, it won't make sense until later".

Some caveats:
Assuming we counted correctly, I still won, tying for points with our teacher and winning on the first tiebreaker. So the "whatever" approach to the starting hand didn't overly hurt me. But in either case I still don't like it: either you take a LOT of time at the start to make sense of everything, or you're admitting "eh, your choices don't matter that much".

Also, as pointed out below, the new players were not playing with the "starting corporations", which might have lessened the initial rush of negativity I felt toward the game. I do not think it would have changed my overall opinion, however.

Final thoughts:
I'm not going to rate the game, as I can easily see the competence of the design and the possibility for more purposeful, clever strategy upon subsequent plays. Instead:
Who might not like this game:
- Players who frequently have 1 or more new players in their games.
- Players who do not plan to replay the game frequently to build up familiarity with the different cards.
- Players who dislike long (~3-hour) games.
- Players who dislike long downtime and the occasional feeling of "multiplayer solitaire".
- Players who dislike having their central engine-building abstracted down to a player board with 12 different flavors of numbers. The cards are thematic, the boards are not.

I believe I can see why the game is well-regarded, but personally I have no desire to play this again. In retrospect I would have been happier doing what our 5th player did: hovering for 30 minutes to observe, and then wandering off to do something else.

---

Update after playing a second time:
Knowing what I was in for, I played the game for the second time. This was a 4-player game with family/friends, without the accelerated start, and without drafting. No starting corporations. Everyone had played at least once, and the most experienced player helped us along with advice.

So, did anything in my opinion above change? Nope, it was all pretty solidly reinforced.

Updated positives:
- The game does seem to be very well balanced; despite what felt like a horrible start and many bad draws, I played to the cards I had and tied for first (losing to the tiebreaker). Although my experience is still limited; maybe I just got lucky.

Updated negatives:
- It still feels way too long for what you're accomplishing.
- It still feels mostly like pushing different flavors of numbers around.
- It still feels mostly like multiplayer solitaire, with occasional "take that" spikes or needing to jump on something before someone else does.
- It still has a lot of downtime; often I had my next 4-6 actions planned and ready to execute, but the player next to me had long, decision-filled turns that had me bored and fidgety.
- It's still easy to bump the player boards and lose track of where your cubes were.
- It still leaves you feeling fairly lost at the beginning if you're unfamiliar with the game.

In short, I stand by my list of points above for "who might not like this game".
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Derry Salewski
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Sounds like you were taught poorly under terrible conditions with some weirdly influenced expectations.

My condolences.

The game's pretty great!
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tosx wrote:
The negatives:
Game length: our game ran 3+ hours. I spent the last hour extremely disinterested and almost excused myself. This is typical with new players. 2 hours is normal with experience.
Downtime: as other reviews have mentioned, the drafting seems very necessary, but also very time-consuming. Turns could sometimes bog down when 1 or 2 players in a row tried to figure out what they were doing, especially as interaction is minimal. Also partly due to new players. Still, sometimes some thought is needed to make good decisions. I consider that a good thing. If it is always obvious what to do, the game is too easy.
Components: again, often mentioned elsewhere; without having any idea what the game costs, I was still surprised at how...amateur the artwork, player boards, and some of the iconography was. Also, the player boards are too easily bumped; at least 3 times I had to figure out where cubes had been. Discussed at great length in many threads. Short version, opinions vary.
Seemingly important decisions made right out of the gate: my biggest complaint. As soon as we started, I had a hand of 10 cards to evaluate. I had no concept of relative value, rarity, long term strategy, etc, and yet these cards influenced the first few turns quite a bit. I hate this feeling of a game asking me to make decisions with information I won't have until I've played the game at least once, because guess what, I may never play it again. Also, I hate introducing games like this to new players, and having to tell them "do whatever, it won't make sense until later". This is precisely why the beginner corporation is included. It spares a newbie with no knowledge of the cards from making these critical decisions immediately. The game included a custom solution for your exact problem. If you didn't use it, that's on you. (Unless of course, this option was not offered and you were not aware of it. In that case, it is on the teacher.)

Some caveats:
Assuming we counted correctly, I still won, tying for points with our teacher and winning on the first tiebreaker. So the "whatever" approach to the starting hand didn't overly hurt me. But in either case I still don't like it: either you take a LOT of time at the start to make sense of everything, or you're admitting "eh, your choices don't matter that much". Again, you should have used a beginner corporation, this is what they are for. If you choose not to, you should accept that there will be some special challenges associated with that choice.
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Matthew Bishop
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scifiantihero wrote:
Sounds like you were taught poorly under terrible conditions with some weirdly influenced expectations.
I'm not sure any of those are true, unless you count "heard good things" as "weirdly influenced expectations".

I think I am simply not the target audience for this game, and felt that by writing down my impressions, it might help other folks identify if they were not either.

Talmanes wrote:
Again, you should have used a beginner corporation, this is what they are for. If you choose not to, you should accept that there will be some special challenges associated with that choice.
For all I know, I had one; our teacher did not mention anything about them. A side effect of learning a game at a con. However, there are plenty of upsides to learning games this way, so it probably balanced out.
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tosx wrote:
Talmanes wrote:
Again, you should have used a beginner corporation, this is what they are for. If you choose not to, you should accept that there will be some special challenges associated with that choice.
For all I know, I had one; our teacher did not mention anything about them. A side effect of learning a game at a con. However, there are plenty of upsides to learning games this way, so it probably balanced out.

I suspect you would know if you had one. In any case, if you played for 3 hours and walked away not knowing what corporation you had, you must have been very disengaged.

And from a larger perspective: why should the decisions be easy in your first play? If they were, there can't really be much to the game, IMO. If I played a game for the first time and everything was trivial, I would think that either (a) I am missing a lot, or (b) the game isn't very interesting.

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Matthew Bishop
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Talmanes wrote:
...you must have been very disengaged.
This is true. I do know what corporation I have (not by name). I'm afraid I don't know if it was a/the beginner one, so it's probably safe to assume it was not.

Talmanes wrote:
And from a larger perspective: why should the decisions be easy in your first play?
They should not be easy, but they should make sense. I tried to be specific about what I didn't like with the way the game starts: new players are completely lacking context for what has value but handed a pile of cards. I hope I was also clear that I understand how this is something that changes with repeated plays. Which is why I suggested that this game might not be for people who don't plan to play it multiple times (like myself).

As reviews are a matter of opinion, I tried to do my best to give all the context that formed that opinion.
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Derry Salewski
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tosx wrote:
scifiantihero wrote:
Sounds like you were taught poorly under terrible conditions with some weirdly influenced expectations.
I'm not sure any of those are true, unless you count "heard good things" as "weirdly influenced expectations".



From your description, you were taught poorly. *shrugs* I've taught it more than you've learned it. Maybe someone else will disagree.

You said you read people recommending drafting. That's not a universal and certainly shouldn't be how one teaches the game.

And at a con, with strangers, with noobs, taking forever. Maybe you like those conditions . . .
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tosx wrote:
I hope I was also clear that I understand how this is something that changes with repeated plays. Which is why I suggested that this game might not be for people who don't plan to play it multiple times (like myself).

I certainly agree with that. TFM is definitely not a one play wonder.

For reference, the beginner corporation lets you keep all ten of your starting cards without paying for them.
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Matthew Bishop
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scifiantihero wrote:
And at a con, with strangers, with noobs, taking forever. Maybe you like those conditions . . .
At a con, with everyone excited to be part of the same hobby they love, eager to teach you so you don't have to pour through a rulebook, willing to let you try games you don't own...yes, I do generally enjoy those.

Talmanes wrote:
For reference, the beginner corporation lets you keep all ten of your starting cards without paying for them.
If that applies to all players, I can certainly imagine how that would have caused fewer negative feelings at the start of the game.

I still don't think it's a game I would have enjoyed through to the end, nor that it justifies the time it takes to get there. But thanks for clarifying.
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Bill Eldard
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tosx wrote:
I believe I can see why the game is well-regarded, but personally I have no desire to play this again. In retrospect I would have been happier doing what our 5th player did: hovering for 30 minutes to observe, and then wandering off to do something else.

It sounds like it's definitely not your kind of game. You're wise not to play it again.
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tosx wrote:
Talmanes wrote:
For reference, the beginner corporation lets you keep all ten of your starting cards without paying for them.
If that applies to all players, I can certainly imagine how that would have caused fewer negative feelings at the start of the game.

It applies to anyone who chooses the beginner corporation. The game comes with five of them, all the same. It is ok for some players to use the beginner corp while others use the standard corps, the game is designed to allow this.

Overall it sounds like you prefer lighter fare than TFM.
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Joe Rakstad
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While I understand the appeal of the draft variant, I have yet to use that variant, and I've never felt like the game was broken without it. Granted, I've played mostly with my kids, but it still hasn't been a big deal.

You mentioned not knowing the value of certain cards. For any beginner, my suggestion for this issue is the look at the standard projects. Many times, cards will do similar things as the standard projects. For instance, there may a card that gives you an energy production. It will usually cost less than 11 MC. Or there may be a card that provides a city, which will often be less than 25 MC.

I'm sorry your first experience was not a lot of fun. I hope that you will eventually give it another chance. This has been a favorite in my groups/household, and it really does do well with multiple plays. Thank you for your review.
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Bruno Freitas
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I have concluded that for begginers the number of initial cards should be 4, maybe dropping initial income too. The sheer possibilities of all 10 cards may sound overwhelming to a begginer.

That said, this game is easily on my top 5 of all time.
 
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Venshad wrote:
I have concluded that for begginers the number of initial cards should be 4, maybe dropping initial income too. The sheer possibilities of all 10 cards may sound overwhelming to a begginer.

That said, this game is easily on my top 5 of all time.

At risk of repeating myself, that is exactly why the beginner corporation does what it does. Beginners should use it, unless willing to accept more decisions than they can immediately grasp.

Also, overlooked that the OP played with drafting. That is an awful mistake with beginners. Your teacher did a poor job IMO.
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Bill Eldard
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joepunman wrote:
While I understand the appeal of the draft variant, I have yet to use that variant, and I've never felt like the game was broken without it.

While many players will not play the game without the draft variant, I don't think anyone thinks the game is actually broken without it.

We prefer the draft variant, but we don't use it if there is a new player in the game. There's enough to absorb in one's very first play without the added burden of determining what cards are best for you and what would be best to withhold from opponents.
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tosx wrote:
scifiantihero wrote:
And at a con, with strangers, with noobs, taking forever. Maybe you like those conditions . . .
At a con, with everyone excited to be part of the same hobby they love, eager to teach you so you don't have to pour through a rulebook, willing to let you try games you don't own...yes, I do generally enjoy those.



They taught you like shit. That's my point, for your readership.
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RyuSora
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Drafting on your first play? Ouch...
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Greg Cox
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I like to read an opposing view of a game as there are too many gushing reviews of games on BGG that turn out to be average, to me anyway, thanks.
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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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I'm also part of the group who has no interest in playing Terraforming Mars again and welcome reviews from this perspective.

If the OP was taught the game badly, how should it be taught? By going through each and every card so that everybody knows what to expect?

I don't deny that knowing the cards is an important skill in Terraforming Mars that will tell experienced players from beginners. I'm just not interested in playing games where such skills are important.
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Andreas Krüger
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nhjelmberg wrote:


If the OP was taught the game badly, how should it be taught? By going through each and every card so that everybody knows what to expect?



Using Beginner Corporations!!!

I'd also recommend to not use drafting.

I'd also recommend the base game, not corporate era (not sure what the OP played, I guess he doesn't even know).

The beginner corp saves a lot of time for explanations and thinking through the first turn. It helps to avoid critical mistakes in the first round.

Drafting works best if everybody has some experience to evaluate the cards and determine how valuable each card is for any player. You have to read the game to see what the other players are up to. If you have no idea that Jovian cards exist, you may accidentally pass a lot of victory points to your neighbour.

Corporate Era makes the game longer and emphasizes engine building which is great for experienced players but not ideal for a demo game.


This review is going to be very helpful and has valid points, but for context it is very important to understand that about 50% of the negativity could have been avoided easily by following the recommendations (beginner corporations for beginners) and non-variant rules of the game.
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Joel Berg von Linde
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If you don't remember the name of your corporation, it means it wasn't the beginner one. The beginner corporations are literally named 'Beginner Corporation'. Shouldn't be that hard a name to remember
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Dirk Meijlof
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Sad to hear you had such a bad first experience with this beautiful game.

If ever get the change to play it again, please do. But maybe with a few changes. Esspecially for getting familiar with the game, TM has different playing-modes:
-Use beginner corporations: all the corporations are the same. The newbioes and the one teaching the game don't have to take into account that everybody needs a different strategy fitting their corporation (and to figure out what that strategy should be);
-Start with a production of 1. TM is about engine building. With an already slightly running engine the game takes a bit shorter and as a newbie you have a smaller chance of falling behind too much;
-Don't draft. For two reasons: 1. It adds additional time to the game. 2. Drafting benefits the experienced players who know the cards, know what they are looking for and are familiar with the combos.

Once you've played the game a couple of times you can switch to corporate era, using the specialist corporations, drafting and a starting production of 0.

Please give TM a second chance. You're denying yourself a brilliant game.
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Wim van Gruisen
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Let me join the chorus. When I play with newbies, we don't draft and I let the new player(s) play with beginner corporations. That way, they have time to get used to the cards.

I'd also play without the Corporate Era variant; that way the focus is more on the global parameters, and with fewer cards and an income in each resource, the game goes faster and is more forgiving.
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Matthew Greet
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This illustrates the problem with strategy games: beginners are unavoidably thrown in the deep end. The point of strategy games is the player forges his own strategy and hand holding negates that. Strategy games take time to understand, making them the wrong genre for casual players.
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Matthew Bishop
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Given that's it's what I highlighted in my review, I can understand why so many people are responding with (very helpful) comments about how the game should be taught, and from the sound of it there are some great resources for new players.

However, while I didn't spend as much time emphasizing it, I'd like to point out that at the 2-hour mark where I almost walked away, and at the 3-hour mark where I used 2 meteors to force the game to end, I had a fine grasp of the basics and my feelings of disinterest at that point were no longer due to issues of beginner overload.

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