Shortly before the current crisis, I caught another virus. I had just joined a neighbourhood board game group and got introduced to some new games every week. One of them was Terraforming Mars. I thought it was brilliant.
The introductory multiplayer game took 4,5 hours and I was involved and enjoying myself the whole time. I have no idea why I never looked into it before. Now I wanted to try the solo variant as well. Alas. The Dutch version of the game was sold out everywhere in February. The shops told me to wait until June. Of course I couldn't. So I bought the app and played it almost daily. Until I finally could lay my hands on the board game this month.
What makes this game so much fun for me? First of all, theme. I've loved reading SF since childhood. Looking up in the sky at night. Thinking, dreaming. Planets, stars, space - to me it's out of this world. Then, terraforming. It's a constructive activity. Of course the game's not 100% hard science, but there's logic in the card play and the actions you can take. Then, placing the tiles. During the game, Mars is slowly transformed before your eyes. It comes to life. There's the flavour text. I realise the artwork and short blurbs on the cards won't be for everyone, but a lot of them have a lighthearted subtle joking atmosphere to them. It's a nice change from my usual Cthulhu terror. But what keeps it fun, of course is the gameplay. I'm silly enough to play something with this theme even if it was match-3 or push your luck yahtzee. But it would not give the same kind of satisfaction and it would not have the same replayability in the long run.
You play as a corporation, specialising in, for example, mining or science. Every generation (round) you'll be able to buy a few cards, that will give you a certain benefit when played. And there are some default actions you could pay for as well. For solo, there is a clear goal: reach the needed temperature, level of oxygen and amount of water, in 14 generations. You can take as many actions every generation that you can afford. But it's a slow process. The first few rounds you're just preparing, laying the groundworks. You won't have much money to play cards or invest in projects. Then there will be a long time where you see if you can build some engine (produce steel to construct buildings, produce heat for temperature) to profit from in later turns. Or maybe you'll invest in a one-off expensive card that puts you a huge step further. But still, everything goes slow. Mars was not terraformed in a day. Then, in the last three generations, everything should fall into place. You'll suddenly be able to afford all kinds of useful projects, your engine is running smooth and you race towards the end.
It took a few plays before I had a basic strategy thought out. By playing it more, I got less and less dependent on the draw of the cards. And after a while, I had won with ten of the twelve included corporations at least once. But no reason to quit. Because just winning is not enough. If you manage to win, you can count your Victory Points. And now the goal becomes to not just win, but win with a good score. Which means you will have to take risks during your gameplay. And you'll start losing again. At least I did. But of course now I know the deck well enough to pick my cards with "intuition". And so there are also sessions in which my gamble pays off. And those wins feel so good.
Because of the theme, I really like to have this on the table and look at it. So Terraforming Mars is a game that just screams to be blinged out. I bought the recessed player mats, custom sleeves and now do weekly searches on Etsy for 3D-printed custom tiles. If only there were official ones...
Wait, what's that? June 9?