The Moonwalk: It's a dance we have all seen before but, the first time you saw the move (most likely when Michael Jackson performed it on Motown 25) it blew you away. Plenty of people will tell you that it has been around for decades but that doesn't take away from how amazing it was. Terraforming Mars is the moonwalk of the board gaming world. Maybe we have seen this before but it doesn't diminish from how impressive it is. And even years after it's initial release, it still can catch you by surprise with how excellent it is.
Despite it's relative age, Terraforming Mars manages to stay atop both “Hot” lists and “All Time Favorite” lists. People will tell you it is a “Gamer's Game”with that touch of elitism/pride in their voice. We've all had that “I like to play board games.” conversation that is inevitably followed by the reply “Like Monopoly?” Playing Terraforming Mars means when you get that occasional “Like Catan?” reply, you can haughtily reply “No, like Terraforming Mars.”Also feeding into the Board Game Elite troupe is the playtime. I've had three player games go well beyond the three hour mark. Even a simple two-player affair (with explaining what we are doing on our turns because that is generally how we play games of this sort since it helps the other players grasp the concepts and strategies) have still clocked in past the 2 hour mark. Make no mistake, it is not a “filler,” it is a full fledged experience.
Terraforming Mars is a shining heavenly body with Board Game Groups and it is a hard-earned award. But, with that, has come a bit of backlash. Not unlike the fawning we see over what is the new “Hotness” week after week, arriving at a board game meet-up to see groups forming up only to play Terraforming Mars can be disorientating. Sometimes it seems like it is ALL anyone wants to play. But the simple truth is that it is rewarding watching your corporation grow, expand and the engine behind it produce every generation. Even putting down a city and marking with your color gives a meaningful “I made this” bit of satisfaction.
The theme is another subject for debate. In my opinion,smashing a freaking moon into the surface of Mars to raise the temperature is more rewarding than simply upping your production of radishes like you would in other, drier titles. Sure, the theme could be anything but completely bending an entire planet to your whims is a petty sweet gig and if that means I'm rooting for a bit of algae to take root, so be it.
Much like an “ear worm:” A song that gets in your head and you just can't get it out, (Do you like Piña Coladas? And getting caught in the rain?), Terraforming Mars is a mind worm. It lodges itself in your mind and doesn't want to come out. And, why it might not be your favorite song, you can't deny how freaking catchy it is. Bits of strategy and possible card combos will come into your mind unbidden, even days after playing it.
Terraforming Mars also allows you to ramp up your experience. The first few plays they suggest using the starting corporations: Tons of free cards, a decent pile of credits and no asymmetrical powers. I agree with this...for the most part. One thing this does not teach you, since you get to keep all of your starting cards, is that having a specific focus can greatly improve your scores. But that feeds into the Mind Worm moniker, just when you think “I've got this” another layer is revealed. Drafting the asymmetrical corporation cards gives you much more to build around. Throw in the advanced project cards that they also suggest you remove from the first few plays and things really get humming.
Plenty of games will reward you for having the most money or the highest production at end game. But TM has you “buying” achievements and awards. Spending in-game credits that you could be using to fuel your engine to unlock rewards that might earn you victory points is an exciting process. Especially since there are a limited number of them available and buying one can remove others from play.
Let's talk about the much maligned (and rightfully so) player boards. Even after a single game, it is obvious that it should should have included double thick cardboard with recessed slots so the cubes won't move. Still, you can just grab a dot of blue tack and stop the cubes from sliding around on your board. Or you can laminate the player boards and use a marker (Gasp, it's almost a pen and paper solution). Or you can spend half the MSRP of the entire game to purchase something from the plethora of upgraded, after-market player boards that are available (Can you tell how tempted I am to do this from that sentence?).
If you like Pina Coladas and Moonwalking Mars...Terraforming Mars is a mixture of Euro brilliance, substantial player interaction and an undeniable catchiness.
A review copy of this release was provided by the publisher. Therewillbe.games would like to thank them for their support.