Terraforming Mars is my #1 solo game. I’ve only added the Prelude expansion and it has enormous replayability for me already. So back when the card version Ares Expedition was up for funding on Kickstarter, I did not back it. What could it possibly add? It looked like a mix of Race for the Galaxy (my #1 overall game) and TM, I could just keep playing these two games, right? Right? Wrong.
2022 is finally coming to an end and, during these End Times, Athena and JW will share some thoughts on what they played this year.
When Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition showed up in shops and the first reports came in, my curiosity got the better of me. I bought it and started to play.
For the solo game you’ve got 25 rounds to terraform the red planet. Each round you pick a phase (Development or Construction for playing certain types of cards, Action for using abilities on cards and for converting resources to heat and forests – or just buying your way up, Production for gaining income and resources, Research for drawing cards). There’s a dummy player that will pick one of these phases as well, so with some luck or good planning you will be able to make the most of two phases in a round. This kind of simulates multiplayer: as the dummy player always plays all five phases before reshuffling, it gets more and more predictable. In the last 5 rounds, you get to pick the phases for the dummy player as well as your own, which means you’ll be able to make huge progress near the end of the game.
There are three difficulty settings, and a lot of corporations, so the replayability is excellent once again.
It’s all about the money, money, money
It does feel different to the board game. The way to success is by feeding the money machine. Actions and effects are nice, conversion of plants and warmth sure helps, but buying your way to the top works every single time. So after a few plays I wrote down how to get the most production phases (to make money) and action phases (to spend it) near the end – and I stick to this plan religiously.
Another way to make money, is by selling cards. As a huge improvement over Terraforming Mars: The Board Game, cards are free to acquire and you can now sell any card at any time for 3 MC. Even better: you can “produce” cards, just like you do with money, warmth and plants. So ideally, you’d produce (draw) a few cards in the Production phase - they may be good, or they may be thrown out for 3 MC each.
What about love?
As soon as I got Ares Expedition, I played the game over 25 times almost non-stop, so yes, it’s addictive. Though this didn’t make me think of it as one of my favourite games. There were no warm feelings, I just somehow had this strong urge. And then it hit me. This exact thing happened to me once before. Ares Expedition is co-designed by Nick Little. He’s the developer and co-designer of the Aeon’s End series. A game once described on this website as “good sex, no love”. Nick, Nick, Nick, you saucy little devil. You did it again.
So it got back to the table regularly. I went through all corporations, first on easy, then on medium difficulty. And while going through the motions, I’m whistling:
It takes money to make money, they say
Now ain’t it funny how love doesn’t work that way
Green on Red - Sea of Cortez