Review: Terraforming Mars

In the 2400s, mankind begins to terraform the planet Mars. Giant corporations, sponsored by the World Government on Earth, initiate huge projects to raise the temperature, the oxygen level, and the ocean coverage until the environment is habitable. In Terraforming Mars, you play one of those corporations and work together in the terraforming process, but compete for getting victory points that are awarded not only for your contribution to the terraforming, but also for advancing human infrastructure throughout the solar system, and doing other commendable things.

Setting up Terraforming Mars appears daunting at first, but when you do it a few times, you’ll realize that it’s basically handing out resources and putting a few cubes on the board.

Game and corporation cards

Everyone will start with some cards to choose from, and everyone will receive a corporation. Resources are handed out, which are determined by what is stated on the corporation card. Some will receive more MegaCredits, or some will start with more production of a resource, while others will have better economy options for certain cards.

And after the appropriate cubes are placed on the board, the game is ready to go!

Terraforming Mars is played in rounds, or generations, which is kept track of with the numbers on the edges of the board. These numbers also represent your Terraform Rating, which is the amount of base MegaCredits (MC) you receive at the beginning of a generation (and part of your ending Victory Points if you’re keeping score.)

When a new generation begins, players draw 4 cards and purchase whichever ones they want (at a cost of 3 MCs each). MegaCredits and resources are handed out. Then that player makes one or two actions. No one has to make 2 actions, but a player must make one action if they want to continue playing in that round. If someone doesn’t want to do anything, or can’t do anything, then it’s a Pass. They are out that round. Why would someone make only 1 action? Well, it could be to see what another player will do. Or it could be that that’s the only action they can take.

Game in progress
To terraform Mars, you pay heat to raise the temperature; place greeneries to increase the oxygen; and buy opportunities to place water. Anyone one of those could be the result of a card’s action, or from buying the improvement outright as a Standard Plan as well. The cards also provide you with ways to increase resource production amounts, ongoing actions that take affect when a catalyst activates it, and chances to use one-off action per round.

Once everyone has passed, that generation ends, and a new one begins.

Solo play isn’t that different from the main game. You don’t use milestones and awards - since you’re not competing with anyone - and the board starts out with 2 cities and 2 greeneries. The main goal is the same, however: terraform Mars by raising the oxygen and temperature and place all 9 water tiles.

Solo game setup
Easy enough, right? But you’re on a time crunch. You have 14 generations to complete all 3 objectives. You draw and use cards and spend resources the same as a multiplayer game. If by the end of generation 14 you haven’t terraformed the planet, you lose. And let me provide a warning now: We Roll Solo nearly guarantees that most game sessions - if you win - are won in the last few of generations. It may take you a while to produce enough resources to make a difference, but when you do, you’ll see the goals within site. If there’s one piece of advice to take, it’s be patient. Don’t panic the closer you get to generation 14 and you have no idea how you’re going to get 10 things accomplished in 4 generations.

If you can’t get together with others to play Terraforming Mars, the solo variant is well worth playing. You might even prefer it over multiplayer!

There is a lot of complex goodness in Terraforming Mars. The rules aren’t hard to understand after a few rounds of play, but on first glance, may seem daunting. Boiled down, the game is all about resource management and tile placement. With multiplayer, you want to earn Victory Points the best and most efficient way possible. For solo, you simply want to terraform Mars to win, but you can keep score if you wish. The game definitely has strategy and tough decision-making circumstances to keep you coming back for more.

Because each game won’t play the same due to the randomness of the cards and corporation draws, Terraforming Mars has good replayability. And with the two expansion available now - Hellas & Elysium and Venus Next - you’ll have plenty of things to do in space as you transform nearby planets for human colonization. (NOTE: Reviews for both expansion are forthcoming.)

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to make yourself at home on Mars!

4.5 out of 5 Solos

  Spaced themed!
  Great replay value (especially with the expansions)
  Intelligent mechanics based on real science
  Challenging solo play
  Deep gameplay with simple round progression

  Mechanics and theme not for everyone
  The more people that play, the longer the game sessions (might turn some off)

After playing the main game or running through a number of solo games from the base rules, why not try a solo scenario created by We Roll Solo's Gregory Thompson? There are 2 scenarios, one that lasts about 30 minutes, and a more involved one that averages around 60-75 minutes of playing time. Both are available on Board Game Geek at the following links:


Gregory Gregory Author