Terraforming Mars Video Game Review

Terraforming Mars is set in the not-too-distant future where Mankind begins its efforts to terraform and settle on Mars. Each player plays a corporation attempting to do exactly that.

There are numerous ways to play this game, like Solo or Local, that provide much enjoyment and make the game highly replayable. The 210 Action Cards and various Corporations you can play make it a gem, something that is worth buying.

This game also has various resources, like Steel and Titanium that are used to purchase specific things that you can’t buy with Mega Credits alone. Mega Credits (MC) are the game currency and the primary key to winning the game.

The game also has victory points which aren’t used in the solo version of the game.

Read More: You can check out the prices and reviews for the tabletop version, plus all the variations, of this game at Amazon.

Terraforming Mars PC Version Versus Tabletop Version

I played the PC (Steam) version of Terraforming Mars after playing the tabletop version (you can read more about that at my tabletop version article about the game). Unlike a lot of other tabletop games with a PC version, the PC version of Terraforming Mars added dramatically to my gaming experience.

The thing I liked most about the tabletop version versus the PC version is that the AI keeps track of everything for you in the PC version, which was often hard for me to do in the tabletop version, sometimes I would forget to add production resources to my player card and things like that. It also eliminated the inevitable bumps to the table or player card that made a mess out of my resource tracking due to the cubes sliding around. With two curious cats around that happened more often than I liked.

Another advantage to the PC version is that it eliminated at least 10 minutes of set up time for the solo version when compared to the tabletop version, plus it enforces the rules properly. It’s not that I cheat at the game, it’s just that sometimes I misinterpret the rules. The AI enforcement of those shows me where I made my mistakes and improves my gameplay in the tabletop version.

For instance, in the tabletop version I equated the word “turn” to “generation”, which meant I was only taking two actions per generation. No wonder I never won a tabletop version!

About the only thing I missed from the tabletop version was having the actual physical pieces to play with. Not a big deal to me but to other players I know that matters lot, but I thought the trade-offs were worth it.

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Playing A Game of Terraforming Mars, PC Solo Version

At the start the solo version, same as the version when you’re playing against AIs or other human players, you get the chance to set some additional rules and include some additional cards, but adding those is typically restricted to having the DLC available so you can use them. Same as the tabletop version you need to achieve the three global parameters by the end of the fourteenth generation.

Once I clicked the Create button, I was given the choice of choosing one of two corporations to play, no Beginner corporation was available to pick from. I liked ThorGate mostly because it gave me more MC to start with than Helion plus I got an energy boost of 1 and 48 MC production instead of the normal starting amount of 14.

Since I didn’t get a Beginner Corporation I had to pay for the cards I wanted to start with, which cost 3 MC apiece. Rather than go into infinite, boring detail about my gameplay I’ll just touch on the basic things that happened during a generation of Terraforming Mars.

The first phase is the order phase, which keeps track of who goes first the next turn. The AI handles that one in the background.

The second phase is the research phase where you are offered four cards that you can purchase for 3 MC each. Each of these has benefits and using them is usually cheaper than taking a standard action. Many of the cards have restrictions, like having two power tags before you can play it. Others have requirements that need to be met first, like having a minimum planetary temperature of -10 degrees C before playing the Bushes card, which costs 10 MC to play.

Next is the Action Phase. I was allowed two turns before I had to end my turn and let the AI play. After the AI played, I was allowed two more turns and that continues until all players pass. After that the production phase begins, which is also handled automatically by the AI.

During the production phase I was allocated all my Mega Credits and Resource production and then the next generation began. The game progressed as it normally would in the tabletop version expect for the fact that the AI kept track of all the cards and resources for me.

At the end of the fourteenth generation, I had all 9 oceans placed but only raised my oxygen level to 9% and the temperature to zero degrees, so I lost. You’d better not count on me if you want to survive on Mars! I enjoyed the solo version of this game a lot. It took me 33 minutes to play the entire game.

Playing A Game Of Terraforming Mars Against An AI Opponent

At the start of the game, I got to choose how many AI players I wanted to play against. I chose one just to try and keep things simple.

I was presented with a choice of three corporations to play and one of them was a Beginner Corporation which meant I got 10 starting cards free. Even though I played the game before I chose the Beginner Corporation since I had not won a game yet (that didn’t help, I still lost).

The turn sequence was identical to the solo version except for the fact that I had to wait for the AI player to complete its actions, which wasn’t a whole lot of time. I liked the card animations but the AI player’s cards flashed by too fast so it was hard to figure out exactly what it was doing although that can be fixed, more on that later.

The options that were added when playing against an AI opponent are Awards and Milestones. I liked these but made a mistake by not claiming any at first, I assumed this was automated. If I would have taken a closer look I would have realized why, it takes Mega Credits to claim a Milestone after you meet the requirements and Mega Credits to fund an award. Who knew? Obviously not me.

The last major difference between the solo game and playing against an AI opponent or two is when the game ends and scoring begins. Unlike the solo version which ends after 14 generations, this version ends when all the global parameters are met, 9 ocean tiles placed, oxygen at 14% and temperature at +8 degrees C.

Scoring is different too. I was scored on my terraforming rating, which was 37 versus the AI’s 45 (pretty pathetic since I set the AI on easy), Awards, which I received a score of 15 for versus the AI’s 5, Milestones, which the AI outscored me on 10 to 5 and greenery, which I outscored the AI 9 to 8.

Since I was only two points behind, I still thought victory was within my grasp, but I got slaughtered when it came to city points, 15 to 4. I did well in victory points 10 to the AI’s 1 but that wasn’t enough. I ended up losing by the slim margin of 84 to 80.

This game was still fun, even though I lost, and it only took 45 minutes to play.

Why Do I like Terraforming Mars?

I like to play quick games sometimes, and since this takes anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, that meets the requirements for a quick game, at least to me. There is some strategy involved but it’s not real deep strategy like in a game of Stellaris (links to another page on this website), which is a nice change sometimes. I like the graphics and sounds, and the animations are pretty nice too. When I compare it to a game like Ticket To Ride (PC version) it holds my interest a little more, probably because it has an outer space/science fiction setting, which has always been my favorite setting for a game.

What Was the Hardest Part About Terraforming Mars?

The hardest part of the game for me was tracking the AI player’s progress so I could determine where I was behind and needed to catch up at. Even when I viewed the AI’s resources it was still tough for me to make sense of it. I chalk that up to a lack of experience at playing the game.

Another part of the game I disliked was the speed at which the opponents Project Cards were displayed, the animations simply just didn’t give me enough time to read it all and figure out what was going on. Fortunately, there is a setting in the options menu to slow the speed of the animations down to the point of needing to click on the screen somewhere to dismiss them, so that dislike was taken care of.

Another annoyance was having to click the End Turn button after I had taken my two actions. Fortunately, once again, there was an option for turning that on in the settings.

Is The PC Version Of Terraforming Mars Easy Or Hard To Learn?

I found this game easy to play, easier than the tabletop version, but like all games of this type, the strategy was a little harder to master. I’ve seen where a lot of players won their first game and think the game is too easy, but that’s not the case for me. Something that made it easier for me to learn was the tutorial.

Is The Terraforming Mars Tutorial Good?

Yes, it does a good job of teaching the game basics. It has five stages that explain the game structure, standard projects, project cards, additional actions, and scoring.

When the Game Structure lesson is launched it tells you what the goal is, and that’s to make Mars as Earth-like as possible. It explains the starting conditions of the game, like the current Terraforming Rating, Global Parameters, and Awards and Milestones.

Standard Projects are important actions that are always available to all players, all the time, and they can be used provided you have enough Mega Credits to pay for them. They include actions like building Aquifers and Cities.

Corporation cards are included in the Project Cards of the Tutorial. The Corporation determined what my starting resource were and sometimes provided “bonus” abilities as well, like increasing or decreasing a global parameter by 2 steps.

The tutorial also does a good job of explaining the Project Cards and what they do. They also fall into one of three types: automated, event, and active. Each card costs a set amount of Mega Credits and sometimes other resources, like steel, that it costs to use. The card typically has a tag, which places it in a category that affects gameplay.

The tutorial covers Additional Actions which include things like converting plants to a greenery, which increases the oxygen level, or converting energy to heat.

The last tutorial covers the scoring system. One to pay attention to since I remember only glancing over this section. It would have made me aware that I needed to claim a Milestone by paying for it instead of assuming it was automatic. If I had paid for one or two, it might have made a difference in the outcome of the game.

Does Terraforming Mars Have Good Replayability?

The diversity, or replayability, in this game is the vast number of project cards, 210 in all (not including the Corporation cards), plus the different corporations you can play. There is both a Solo version and a Local version of the game, which allows you to play against AI opponents or human players using the same computer. There is an online version allowing you to compete against other players online as well.

This game has great replayability in my opinion.

The Most Interesting Aspect Of Terraforming Mars

For me the most interesting part was the challenge of the Solo game. I had to figure out the fastest way to terraform the planet before time ran out. Probably the most interesting part about that was the Project Cards and trying to decide which ones were the best ones to buy and when was the best time to play them.

What’s Unique About Terraforming Mars?

One option that is unique is in the way it closely mimics the board game. Since I knew the PC version would have AI players I was wondering if it would have the Solo version of the game and it does. Another unique aspect is converting plants to greeneries and energy to heat.

The idea of being a Mega Corporation and competing with other Mega Corporations to terraform Mars made the setting unique to me as well.

Is The End Game Interesting And Fun?

The end game is interesting if you’re on the verge of victory and you need to do a lot of resource management during the last generation to achieve it. It was fun playing those expensive cards I held in reserve. Building up a reserve of Mega Credits for use at the end can be a good idea too, but since I haven’t won yet I can’t say that’s a very sound strategy.

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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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