Terraforming Mars Review: Conquer the Red Planet with Tactical Brilliance


Have you ever gazed up at the night sky, the soft glimmer of Mars capturing your imagination, and wondered what it would be like to shape the future of the Red Planet? If so, you’re in luck, as our “Terraforming Mars review” is here to guide you on an epic journey of cosmic conquest and colonization.

From my earliest days playing board games, I’ve always sought experiences that truly transport me to a different world, and Terraforming Mars is such a game. While it wasn’t a staple of my childhood, I have fond memories of unboxing it for the first time a few years back, the intricate components and captivating premise hinting at the immersive experience that lay ahead.

Terraforming Mars Review

The decision to write this review now stems from a growing realization that, despite its immense popularity in the board gaming community, Terraforming Mars remains a gem that many casual gamers have yet to discover. With its stunning blend of strategy, resource management, and thematic depth, it offers a satisfying challenge that transcends the typical expectations of the genre.

Without revealing too much too soon, let’s just say that our journey through the red landscape of Mars will reveal a game of profound depth and delightful complexity, yet one that is accessible enough for those willing to invest the time and energy. Its balance of perplexity and burstiness, of planning and adaptation, is a testament to its design, making Terraforming Mars a true standout in the pantheon of strategic board games. So strap in, fellow explorers, as we prepare for liftoff and journey into the heart of the Martian frontier

Just The Facts

Game TitleTerraforming Mars
DesignerJacob Fryxelius
PublisherFryxGames, Stronghold Games
ThemeSci-Fi, Space Exploration
GenreStrategy, Economic
Target AudienceTeens, Adults
Age Range12 and up
Number of Players1-5
Game Duration120 minutes
Complexity LevelHigh
Game ObjectiveAccumulate the most Victory Points through terraforming and infrastructure development
Difficulty LevelMedium-Hard
Similar GamesThe Expanse Board Game, Gaia Project
AwardsDeutscher Spiele Preis Best Family/Adult Game Winner 2017, Golden Geek Best Strategy Board Game Winner 2017
Release Date2016

Game Overview

Terraforming Mars whisks players to the red planet, thrusting them into the shoes of corporations vying for control through terraforming and infrastructure development. The game’s components are numerous, including the main game board, player boards, and a plethora of cards representing different projects, technologies, and buildings. This enticing combination of strategy and theme caters to the tastes of hardcore strategy lovers and science fiction enthusiasts.

From the onset, players strategize to accumulate Victory Points by increasing temperature, oxygen levels, and ocean coverage on Mars. The game’s intriguing blend of economic and resource management, along with a vast array of strategic options, has drawn a dedicated following amongst the more experienced board gamers.

Components and Artwork

In Terraforming Mars the components contribute significantly to the gaming experience. The player boards are sturdy and functional, housing players’ resources and production levels. However, it’s the vast array of project cards— each adorned with a unique depiction relating to the development of Mars —that truly stands out. These cards tie in seamlessly with the theme, reinforcing the immersive nature of the game.

The artwork is notable in its consistency, capturing the stark, inhospitable beauty of Mars while hinting at its potential as humanity’s next frontier. Each card is beautifully illustrated, and the game board has a detailed, if somewhat dry, aesthetic that aligns with the game’s theme.

Gameplay Experience

Upon setting up Terraforming Mars, you’ll quickly realize that you’re embarking on a strategic journey. The gameplay experience is a delightful blend of resource management and long-term planning. Each turn, you’ll be choosing projects, managing resources, and playing cards—all in an effort to strategically shape the future of Mars.

The game strikes an intriguing balance between strategy and luck, with player interaction heavily reliant on the state of the game board. The game’s unique appeal lies in the synergy between different cards and the player’s ability to craft a long-term strategy around them. The innovative card drafting and tableau-building mechanics add an extra layer of strategic depth, making every playthrough feel unique.

Theme and Immersion

The game does an exceptional job of integrating the theme into its mechanics. Players truly feel like they’re guiding their corporations, transforming Mars from a barren wasteland into a bustling hub of human activity. The unique card abilities, tied directly to different aspects of terraforming or infrastructure development, enhance the immersion factor.

While not heavily story-driven, Terraforming Mars excels in creating an immersive experience through the compelling narrative that unfolds on the game board itself— the slow but steady transformation of Mars.


Terraforming Mars boasts high replayability, owing largely to the substantial deck of project cards that ensures a unique strategic landscape with each playthrough. Variability is inherent in the game’s design, with different corporations, project cards, and even milestones and awards keeping every game session fresh.

The game also boasts a variety of expansions, like “Prelude,” “Venus Next,” and “Hellas & Elysium,” each offering additional cards, corporations, and game boards to further enhance replayability.

Player Interaction and Engagement

Player interaction in Terraforming Mars is multifaceted. It’s largely indirect, revolving around positioning on the game board, competing for milestones and awards, and timing the global parameters’ advancement. There’s also the intriguing dynamic of watching your opponents’ tableaus develop, making educated guesses about their strategies and potentially thwarting their plans.

The game is also engaging in its ability to keep players invested throughout. The tension builds steadily as Mars transforms, with each turn presenting new opportunities and challenges. The decisions are impactful, and the evolving game state demands players’ constant attention. The dynamic board state and card interactions also encourage emergent gameplay, as players must adapt their strategies in response to their opponents’ actions and the changing landscape of Mars.

Learning Curve and Accessibility

Terraforming Mars is not a game you master in your first session. It’s a complex beast, with various mechanics and a large deck of project cards to grasp. The rules, while comprehensive, can seem daunting initially. A first playthrough is often about getting a feel for the game’s rhythm and flow, understanding how different strategies can unfold and how to navigate the many choices each turn presents.

However, once players surmount this learning curve, the game opens up dramatically. The complexity transforms from a barrier to an invitation, revealing a deeply satisfying strategic landscape. Furthermore, the game’s rulebook is thoughtfully designed, providing detailed explanations and examples. The game also offers player aids that succinctly summarize the turn structure and actions, making it more accessible to new players. Online tutorials and guides can further assist those needing additional help.

Strategies and Depth

The strategic depth of Terraforming Mars is immense, rewarding thoughtful planning, and clever adaptation. The game is a constant balancing act; managing your resources efficiently, choosing the right project cards, and making timely advancements on the board are all keys to victory. Successful play often hinges on identifying and executing strategic synergies between different project cards and making the most of your corporation’s unique abilities.

Furthermore, Terraforming Mars encourages players to plan their turns with care. Cards have varying requirements, costs, and effects that necessitate meticulous planning. The interplay of various mechanics—engine building, tableau management, and area control—offer ample strategic avenues to explore. And don’t forget the race for milestones and awards; these provide valuable victory points and add another layer to the strategic onion that is Terraforming Mars.

Moreover, seasoned players will uncover advanced strategies over time. Capitalizing on certain project cards can turn the tide of the game, and knowing when to shift focus from building your engine to directly advancing terraforming can be the difference between victory and defeat. Each game offers a rich tapestry of decisions and challenges, proving its mettle as a deeply strategic experience.


The game offers several expansions, each introducing new elements and strategic options:

  • Prelude enhances the early game with powerful Prelude cards and additional corporations.
  • Venus Next introduces the sideboard of Venus, with new mechanics and milestones.
  • Hellas & Elysium offers two new game boards with unique milestones and awards.

Each expansion enriches the gameplay experience, offering a multitude of new strategies and increasing replayability.

Comparison to Similar Games

In the realm of strategic board games, Terraforming Mars holds its own against the best in its class. Its closest competitor might be Gaia Project, another heavyweight in the genre. Both games share the space exploration theme but approach it in different ways. Gaia Project leans heavily into area control and resource management, whereas Terraforming Mars integrates tableau building, resource generation, and strategic timing.

While Terraforming Mars focuses on the steady transformation of a planet over time, Gaia Project puts players in charge of an interstellar civilization, aiming to colonize the galaxy. Each game offers a deep strategic experience, yet each game rewards different player skills and approaches.

The uniqueness of Terraforming Mars comes from the tangible sense of progression and accomplishment as you witness Mars gradually become a livable planet. It holds a distinct niche in the board game universe, setting a high bar for thematic integration, strategic depth, and replayability.

Pros and Cons


  • Strategic Depth: This game’s strategic depth is outstanding, offering an array of options every turn.
  • Replayability: With the vast deck of project cards and various corporations, no two games are the same.
  • Theme: The game excels in its thematic integration, enhancing immersion and narrative engagement.


  • Learning Curve: It can be a bit overwhelming for new players due to its complexity.
  • Game Length: Games can run long, especially with more players, which might not be to everyone’s taste.
  • Component Quality: Some players might find the card and player board quality lacking compared to other games at a similar price point.

Terraforming Mars Review: Final Thoughts and Verdict

Terraforming Mars is a tour de force in the world of strategy board games. It expertly combines thematic immersion with strategic depth and replayability. While the learning curve and game length can be daunting for some, it’s a rewarding experience for those who stick with it. Overall Terraforming Marss receives an 8.5 out of 10. It’s highly recommended for seasoned strategy gamers and those who are captivated by the notion of transforming the red planet.

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