For years, I was sure that the process of terraforming mars would involve the implementation of some futuristic technology constructed by an alien race – like that thing Arnold Schwarzenegger activated at the end of Total Recall. Game designer Jacob Fryxelius (pronounced: jay-cub) has made me doubt that theory with his game Terraforming Mars. Perhaps in the future the free market will kick off the process of turning Mars into a habitable planet with various corporations taking their role in creating an atmosphere, oceans, and a stable temperature.
The theme of this game works incredibly well with the mechanics – which are diverse. At its core this is a tableau/engine builder, but also crucial to this wonderful recipe is a generous amount of hand management, a dash of card drafting, and just a pinch of area control. You start the game in control of a corporation ready to take on projects (which you continually draft throughout the game) that allow you to, say, up your production of various resources, or construct a new city, or breed puppies/puppy-eating bears. Eventually Mars will have been Terraformed and the winner is generally the player who contributed most to the cause.
Conclusions: The learning curve on this game is modest compared to its intimidating appearance. Somewhere in the rules it’s mentioned that you might take off a few bells and whistles like unique player roles and drafting, but the curve is not steep enough to justify losing out on these two amazing features. As an engine builder, this game earns a 10 out of 10. There aren’t many games I’ve played that give such a fulfilling experience of building a ground-up corporation with significant production of up to 6 different resources, spending those resources on a variety of available actions, & endign with a tableau of 15-20+ completed projects along with significant board presence, all in a tight 90-120 minutes.
If you’re looking for a a new top-shelf euro with oodles of replay-ability – this is it.