Is Terraforming Mars Hard To Learn?


It depends on which game you’re asking about, the tabletop version or the PC version. I’ve never played either version prior to this and wanted to play a tabletop version solo and then compare the gameplay to the PC version to see which type was easier to learn. How hard was the tabletop version of the game to learn?

Terraforming Mars (tabletop edition) will seem very difficult to learn at first, but it is not hard to learn if you take the time to carefully read the instructions. You also need to allow time to get familiar with things like the cards, board setup and the player board.

You can check out prices and reviews for Terraforming Mars and expansions at this amazon page.

Is The Terraforming Mars PC Version Hard To Learn?

If you’re curious about how difficult the Terraforming Mars PC version (you can read my review of the PC version by following the link) is to learn, the answer is that it’s not hard to learn at all and is easier to learn than the tabletop version. Like most PC versions of board games, the game AI keeps track of everything for you. There is no trying to learn what the value of each resource cube is and remembering to pay yourself since the AI automatically pays you at the end of each generation.

There is a 5-step tutorial in the PC version that guides you through learning the game structure, what standard projects are, project cards, additional actions you can take and how the game scores. The game also won’t let you violate any rules so it can be a good learning tool for the tabletop version as well. Not sure if you are playing a certain aspect of the tabletop version correctly? Start up the PC version and find out. If the PC version lets you do it, then you can do the same actions in the tabletop version.

I took around 3 hours playing around with the tabletop version of this game at first since I had never played this game or a tabletop game that was designed for solo play. The 16-page manual is very helpful although it is easy to misunderstand the rules if you don’t read them carefully. To win this game in the solo version you need to achieve the 3 global parameters, oxygen level of 14%, place 9 oceans, and raise the temperature level to +8 degrees C.

After the first three hours of figuring things out and trying to play a game, I was in a hopeless mess by generation 9 but felt like I understood the game well enough to try playing an actual game. My first “formal” solo game took about an hour and I lost.

Things I Misunderstood About Terraforming Mars

Some of the cards are hard to understand but that’s nothing unusual, most games have a few things about them that take time to figure out. This game is no exception to that rule. The cards do a good job of explaining themselves, there were only a few I still had doubts about after reading everything on them.

One of the first things I did wrong was move all my resources, which included my plant production, on my player board into heat conversion. The rules (and the player board) clearly show that only energy converts to heat. No wonder I didn’t have any plants to convert to greenery tiles until I corrected that but then I made another mistake.

Another major item I got wrong was plant resources. Every time I placed a tile that gave me plant resources, I increased my plant production instead of adding 1 or 2 of those resources to my resource box. By the end of my game, I had a ton of plant resources that I couldn’t use, or so I thought.

And that leads me to my biggest mistake of all. I’d like to say I cleverly figured this out by reading the instructions again but actually I bought the PC version of this game so I could compare the two, and then I noticed my biggest mistake of all.

Toward the end of the game in the tabletop version, I had a lot of MegeCredits along with plant resources that I thought I couldn’t use. I noticed in the PC version that I could take as many actions as I wanted as long as I had the resources to cover it, so I reread the instructions for the tabletop version. On page 8 of the manual, in bold lettering, it says I can take 1 or 2 actions per turn. The mistake I made was equating the term “turn” to the word “generation.” In other words, I thought I could only take 2 actions per generation. I’m an idiot! That lettering is in bold for a reason, to make people like me realize it’s saying something really important!

If I would have read the entire paragraph I would have noticed that as long as I continued to take actions I would get more turns. The only way the action phase ends is when everyone passes, which in the solo game is me. I was frustrated because I had built up my economy but couldn’t use all the MegaCredits and plant resources I had. Now I know why.

How Long Does It Take To Play Terraforming Mars?

As I mentioned earlier it takes about 60 minutes to play the tabletop version. The PC version takes about 45 minutes. I successfully lost both versions of the game the first time I played them.

Is Terraforming Mars A Fun Game

At first, I found this game a little frustrating since I was trying to figure things out and viewed winning it as almost impossible. That was almost entirely due to limiting myself to 2 actions per generation and was unsure of how to build up my economy, which was a big mistake. Now that I have a better understanding about how everything works in the game it has turned out to be a lot of fun and entirely winnable, with a little bit of strategy.

Is Terraforming Mars Worth Buying

This is a very good solo game, one that is designed to be played solo if you’d like. The bad part about the solo game is that you don’t get to use milestones and events, and unless you’re trying to get a high score with victory points those are useless as well. Although I’ve never played the tabletop version with other players my experience with solo play tells me it would be worth getting.

If you like the physical feel of playing a board game or want a great tabletop game to play with friends get it. If you want solo play, I’d get the PC version to be honest. Not only does the computer keep track of everything for you (I sometimes lose track of things) you can also play the game against other AI opponents and experience the full version of the game, like Milestones and Awards.

You can check out prices and reviews for Terraforming Mars and expansions at this amazon page.

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Rich Gallien

I've always liked board games like chess and PC games, especially space based strategy games, which lead to the creation of this site. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it and updating it with new games!

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