Terraforming Mars

1-5 players, Competitive, Engine Building/World Building

Designer: Jacob Fryxelius

Artwork: Isaac Fryxelius

Publisher: Stronghold Games

Overview of Gameplay

Terraforming Mars is quite the interesting game of figuring out the most efficient way to complete actions based on the cards you draw. Every turn you and others will draw up 4 cards (there is also a drafting variant), choose which to keep (which costs money) and then off to the races trying to terraform as much as you can with what you have. The first few turns are going to be pretty slow as you are just trying to build up a powerful engine with which to use towards unleashing those much more expensive cards later. Once you get that beast a-rollin however, there’s no stopping it.

As you complete tasks to make the planet livable which come from the 3 main operations (Oxygen, temperature, water) you lay tiles on the board in the form of water and greenery. There are also some other types of tiles that can be laid, for example one of the cards you draw allow you to set off a nuke to increase the temp on the planet. This also has you lay a special tile down on the board that shows a mushroom cloud which I thought was pretty nifty. Besides all those there are also city tiles you can lay that increase your end game score.

Which leads to my next point, how you win. So to end the game you must get all three of the operations I mentioned above maxed out. Once this happens you get 1 more chance to convert your plants to greenery tiles and then you start calculating your score. This score is based on a number of things such as the cards you used throughout the game, how much your cities are worth, how many greenery tiles you laid and a special awards and milestones section on the board. To make it easy to track this there is a nice little point tracker that circles the outside border of the game board that you also have your tokens on so you know where you stand as the game progresses.

Components/Game Board

So these are some bottom tier components here. To name a few of the quality issues that I’ve seen: The cards are very thin/slick and you may want to sleeve them to keep them in pristine condition. The resource cubes are pretty and glossy but the paint already started to chip away on some of them after just 4 plays. And the worst contender of all…..the player mats. Oh my, the player mats need an upgrade something fierce. Honestly truth be told I would be totally fine with all the other issues but these player mats are a travesty. To give you an idea of how these work, you are expected to place your tiny little colored tokens on your player mat to keep track of each of your 6 different productions in the game. These range from 0 up to 10 or more. Now these player mats are the most flimsy paper mats I have ever laid eyes on. You could be in the middle of a game 2 hours in and someone gets up to get a drink and bumps the table……all your tokens shift. You look down with bewildered eyes having no idea where they all were. OR, (and this has actually happened to me during one of my plays) When you are picking up more resource tokens to add to your supply, you accidentally drop one of the heavier 10 valued ones on your player mat. These mats are so light and flimsy that even a drop of a resource token will cause your markers to shift. The game board itself isn’t too terrible. Although I am starting to see some wear along the edges where it folds which leads me to believe they cheaped out on board quality as well.


The box is your pretty standard sized board game box although everything will need to be bagged up as there really isn’t anything that helps keep everything organized. Nothing much really to say here for what the game comes with BUT I will provide a recommendation. The Broken Token Insert and storage solution for this game in particular is outstanding and I would highly recommend picking it up. It not only provides a nice wooden insert to hold all the bits and pieces for the game but also some really lovely player boards that have indentations to hold the bits in place. It’s totally worth it if you enjoy the game.

Visual Appeal /Theme

The board itself is a pretty bland look at the Martian surface HOWEVER once you start populating it with city, greenery and ocean tiles it really comes alive. Like you’ve actually accomplished something within the game. On top of that I don’t have any other Terraforming board games in my collection so it’s a pretty unique theme unto itself. The artwork on the cards is another ballgame, they are composed of a mishmash of stock photos and drawings. There does seem to be a clear disconnect in the art direction they were going for in the game but honestly they don’t bother me.  


The rules are written ok. Not the greatest but also not bad either. I mean I don’t like the rule books layout at all. Lots of paragraphs of words and not enough examples, it does make it a chore to read and focus on. That said everything was clear and I didn’t have to resort to watching any videos to understand how to properly play the game.

Table Talk/Fun Factor

There are a few cards included that do mess with your opponents such as robbing a resource but for the most part everyone is kinda going about their own business. Heck I would almost consider this a race game since players do get bonuses for reaching certain milestones first. So there will be some competition and with that comes the table talk. However most of the table talk usually came down to muttering about what cards we got during the card draft. Like “ugh that one is nice but SO hard to deploy” or “WELP that card would have been nice 3 turns ago” stuff like that. Since your engine is YOUR engine you spend most of your time thinking about that.

Now as far as engine builders go this is one of the best. Super fun to manage your terraforming engine and utilize the cards taken to manipulate those tokens to increase or decrease resources. While all the while working towards the bigger picture of actually placing tiles down on the Martian surface.

Optimal Player Count/Replayability

Hmmmm. I can say that I do enjoy the solo game, it’s challenging but very luck dependent on what cards you draw as well. In the single player variant you have to make the planet habitable before 14 generations (rounds) complete. Even though I technically lost because I didn’t get the planet habitable until generation 15, I still had a ton of fun playing the game and it didn’t really feel like a loss. And I think that part is very important to realize here, it’s a fun game to play regardless if you win or lose. Two player was also just as fun BUT 3 player is where it’s at in my opinion. With 3 players you actually feel like you are making a difference on the board. With more tiles coming down more often the planet really starts to shine.

The Fuzzy Llama Silver Seal of Distinction

Positive Final Thoughts

One of my favorite engine building style games. I also love how the theme incorporates into the game very well and the gameplay only ramps up over the course of the game and becomes more exciting. There are a ton of cards and more than likely you will not see nearly all of them through the course of a single game so with each new game you are introduced to some new strategies.

Negative Final Thoughts

The components are truly terrible. I would rank these just as low as the more recent Resident Evil 2 The Board Game. The sad part of this is, I came to find out that after I purchased that Broken Token insert my enjoyment of the game only increased. Which leads me to believe that the terrible component quality actually LESSENED my enjoyment.

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