Terraforming Mars is one of those sprawling board games that fans love but that beginners find intimidating. For this reason, Stronghold Games started a crowdfunding campaign for Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition. We manufacture the final retail product – now exclusively at Target – put through its paces, and it works fine. But the game is unfortunately limited by some of the same issues that plagued the original.
in the Terraforming Mars: Ares Expeditiontake on the role of megacorporations trying to transform the red planet into a second earth. They do this by playing cards from their hand, depicting infrastructure on or around the planet, or key events in the life cycle of the terraforming process. For example, if you’ve planted a heather field to increase the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere, you may want to introduce respiratory filters to allow walking around on the surface without an environmental suit.
It’s a competitive game, not a cooperative one, so the race becomes that first introduce these filters; to be first fill in an ocean; to be first open a lava flow that releases heat and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In typical Euro fashion, the players follow their progress with a victory point tracker on the edge of the game board.
What does Ares expedition What is so interesting is that the game is divided into several phases, but not all of these phases jump out in each round. The players secretly choose which phase they want to play personally in each round, making this phase accessible to everyone at the table. That creates a little tension when you look around and try to guess what will happen next. Will your opponent trigger a production phase in which you benefit from your investments in high-end infrastructure? If so, you could instead choose the Research Phase to add more cards to your hand in the next round. If it doesn’t, you’d better trigger a production lap yourself or fall by the wayside.
Unfortunately, the process of densification is the larger Terraforming Mars Experience in a smaller, mostly card-based game leaves a few holdovers from the original. For example, there is little reason to have symbols that represent both space and titanium production. The two concepts are practically the same in terms of gameplay, and grouping them together in a single icon across the various game components would make it easier for new players to find their way around. On the other hand, there are other redundant symbols and concepts that could have been more explicit to avoid confusion. The result is a cluttered board and manual that requires a little more jumping back and forth between sections than I’d like.
However, all of this is only a nuance. Find someone who knows what they’re doing, or who played and loved the original game, and your first session of Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition will go quickly. But for someone browsing the aisles of a wholesaler, I could find real dismay when they got home and tried to play the game.
My biggest annoyance is the pawns. Just like in the original, players are expected to precisely position tiny plastic bits on a perfectly flat playing surface. If someone nudges the table, it can invalidate a lot of careful billing. Poking a sideboard is easier to fix in this smaller version than the original, but it would be even better if you didn’t have to worry. Look for dual layer boards with tiny sockets to hold plastic markers in place to show up in the aftermarket – just like they did with the original game.