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.
The players acquire unique project cards (from over two hundred different ones) by buying them to their hand. The projects (cards) can represent anything from introducing plant life or animals, hurling asteroids at the surface, building cities, to mining the moons of Jupiter and establishing greenhouse gas industries to heat up the atmosphere. The cards can give you immediate bonuses, as well as increasing your production of different resources. Many cards also have requirements and they become playable when the temperature, oxygen, or ocean coverage increases enough. Buying cards is costly, so there is a balance between buying cards (3 megacredits per card) and actually playing them (which can cost anything between 0 to 41 megacredits, depending on the project). Standard Projects are always available to complement your cards.
Your basic income, as well as your basic score, is based on your Terraform Rating (starting at 20), which increases every time you raise one of the three global parameters. However, your income is complemented with your production, and you also get VPs from many other sources.
Each player keeps track of their production and resources on their player boards, and the game uses six types of resources: MegaCredits, Steel, Titanium, Plants, Energy, and Heat. On the game board, you compete for the best places for your city tiles, ocean tiles, and greenery tiles. You also compete for different Milestones and Awards worth many VPs. Each round is called a generation (guess why) and consists of the following phases:
1) Player order shifts clockwise.
2) Research phase: All players buy cards from four privately drawn.
3) Action phase: Players take turns doing 1-2 actions from these options: Playing a card, claiming a Milestone, funding an Award, using a Standard project, converting plant into greenery tiles (and raising oxygen), converting heat into a temperature raise, and using the action of a card in play. The turn continues around the table until all players pass.
4) Production phase: Players get resources according to their terraform rating and production parameters.
When the three global parameters (temperature, oxygen, ocean) have all reached their goal, the terraforming is complete, and the game ends after that generation. Count your Terraform Rating and other VPs to determine the winning corporation!
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If you like a game with depth, a theme that really meshes with the game mechanics and the option of playing solo with no loss of enjoyment, then this is for you! This is no gateway game as it is, but I have watched newbies shoulder surf to learn how to play pretty quickly. It is complex in its paths to victory, but not ridiculously intricate in its play mechanics. If you can manage Stone Age or Lords of Waterdeep, you will be at home here. There are elements of 7 Wonders with card drafting, Dominion with card purchase and engine building, all topped off with some strategic board map placement and a dose of take that when played with more than one player. When all rolled together, the experience is seamless and logical. The solo version is challenging and will always feel like a race against the clock to complete your terraforming within 14 generations. Did I mention that it's also incredibly fun to play? Any game that lets you throw asteroids or moons at your opponents can't be all bad. Even after several plays, we are still discovering new ways to attack the game with different strategies and it seems immune to the "I got bad cards-roles-luck" curse. Yes, some of the cards have artwork that looks like it escaped from an 80's clipart collection, and the player boards are not exactly made from the heaviest stock card, but these are minor quibbles that you should forget about and just get on with this game! Recommended to the moon and back!
Very fun and good strategy game
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