Moonwalking Mars - a Terraforming Mars Board Game Review

W Updated October 28, 2019
 
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Moonwalking Mars: Terraforming Mars Board Game Review

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There Will Be Games

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.

Terraforming Mars

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.

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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?).

Terraforming Mars boards

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.

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Moonwalking Mars: Terraforming Mars Board Game Review
Moonwalking Mars: Terraforming Mars Board Game Review
Moonwalking Mars: Terraforming Mars Board Game Review
Moonwalking Mars: Terraforming Mars Board Game Review

Wade Monnig  (He/Him)
Staff Board Game Reviewer

In west Saint Louis born and raised
Playing video games is where I spent most of my days
Strafing, Dashing, Adventuring and Looting
Writing reviews between all the Shooting
When a couple of guys reminded me what was so good
About playing games with cardboard and Wood,
Collecting Victory Points and those Miniatures with Flair
It’s not as easy as you think to rhyme with Bel Air.

Wade is the former editor in chief for Silicon Magazine and former senior editor for Gamearefun.com. He currently enjoys his games in the non-video variety, where the odds of a 14 year old questioning the legitimacy of your bloodline is drastically reduced.

“I’ll stop playing as Black when they invent a darker color.”

Articles by Wade

Wade Monnig
Staff Board Game Reviewer

Articles by Wade

Editor review

1 reviews

Board Game Reviews 
 
4.5
If you like Pina Coladas and Moonwalking Mars...Terraforming Mars is a mixture of Euro brilliance, substantial player interaction and an undeniable catchiness.

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Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #302881 29 Oct 2019 11:35
I remain one of the few that is... unimpressed. As you say, I've seen all this before, so there was nothing to really pique my interest to the point of saying: "Let's try that again." Despite the outer space trappings, the gameplay is still somewhere between dry and mechanical. That criticism gets leveled at Knizia designs quite often, too (i.e. theme being tacked on to an otherwise faceless engine.) But the difference with Knizia is that there are a lot of layers to be peeled back, even from initial plays. TM didn't give me that feeling. It's an engine builder and one not entirely dissimilar from many other engine builders. Given the choice, I'd play 51st State every time; mostly because there's more theme, there's more direct interaction between players, and it won't run one hour per player.

Caveat: I've only played TM three times and two of those were teaching games (one using the intro corps, another using regular), so it's possible I don't have enough experience with it to understand some of the more enjoyable nuances (I was just making this point on Reddit yesterday to people claiming that they didn't like CE after one(!) play) but then I think about sitting down to discover those nuances and I immediately think of a half-dozen other things that I'd rather spend three hours with. [shrug]
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #302883 29 Oct 2019 12:06
Not only am I unimpressed, I would go as far as to say it has completely fallen apart for me. It’s been a couple years since I parted with my copy, so it’s not quite so fresh for me to adequately explain/defend my points, but there were two reasons.

1). The appeal of the game is that you put these cards together that give you combos and that’s satisfying because it makes you feel smart. That’s cool if you enjoy that feeling, but know it’s an illusion. So much of it works together, and to be honest, it has to because the deck is so massive. It’s not like RftG where you have more agency over searching for specific cards that fit you engine. You’re not going to see everything, the game is too long and the deck too big for that to happen, it just comes down to what you get, what you decide to play and the order you play it in. Some of those choices will help, but none of them will actually break you. This is why I can’t shake the feeling of it being a farce and what it’s really satisfying is something much more shallow, and yet the hobby at large seems to be treating it like that’s not the case. It is, full stop.

2). The second reason kind of spins off of the first, and that’s that playing against the systems in place is really where the competition is. There’s some on the board, but it’s so insignificant to the card based engine building, which, as stated in reason one, isn’t actually as clever as the game would like you to think it is.

It’s also just...dull. For what it’s doing, I’d rather play OG RftG, even with that being a game I’ve moved on from.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #302884 29 Oct 2019 12:30
Agreed with comments, not a fan of this one. Would much rather play RftG or a shorter tableau builder that doesn't take so much time and isn't so slow.
cdennett's Avatar
cdennett replied the topic: #302885 29 Oct 2019 12:56
I'll pile on: played it once, even won the game, have zero interest in ever playing it again. Resounding meh.
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #302886 29 Oct 2019 13:09
Well, I still like although I haven't played it recently since a guy in my current game group hates it. I like the theme, and I like the gameplay angle of trying to make the most with the cards you have. The lack of control is a feature for me and I prefer not to play with drafting. It can have a lot of variance, but it's a medium-length game at most so it doesn't bug me.
Ah_Pook's Avatar
Ah_Pook replied the topic: #302888 29 Oct 2019 13:33
im fine with a high variance card game of making lemonade from whatever bullshit you draw into. im less fine with that same concept spread across a 4-5+ hour game, which is what TM is every time i ever play it or see it played at a meetup.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #302889 29 Oct 2019 13:33
All very valid points. A simple review at this point in its "lifetime" seemed a bit pointless. All gatherings seem to have that one person who hates it, a few others who always want to play it. I attempted to try to nail down the appeal while acknowledging the backlash. TM gets a fair share of "Nickleback" hate, where people seem to dislike it because it's cool to dislike it. I enjoy the discussion here with actual reasons for not wishing to play it.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #302891 29 Oct 2019 14:20
That blue tack life hack is brilliant! I'm throwing a wad of it into my game kit and using it for all my games that use cubes to track scores and stuff!
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #302892 29 Oct 2019 14:25
Terraforming Mars is too damn long. Like it's a perfectly good card game, but it doesn't offer anything that RftG or its ilk can't do. Hell, I've played San Juan over 100 times and I'd rather keep adding to that tally than spend an indeterminate number of hours on TM and live in constant fear of that awful player board getting nudged.
RobertB's Avatar
RobertB replied the topic: #302895 29 Oct 2019 16:05
I like it because it gives you a lot of potential strategies, and a lot of specialized corporations to implement the strategies. There's enough luck in the card draws to make them interesting, but not so much luck that it's all about drawing the good cards. Of course these qualities aren't unique to TM, but it seems to hit the sweet spot in a lot of them.

The in-game playmats suck - there's no getting around that.

The game can get long if you're new or if nobody wants to end the game. There's 226 (I think) cards in the game, and you'll have to read each one you draw until you play the game a few times. 2 hours is about average.

I've been playing it for 2 years now, and I'm not bored of it yet. The plan for tonight is to paint some miniatures, but I might drag TM out instead.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #302907 29 Oct 2019 20:05

Ah_Pook wrote: im fine with a high variance card game of making lemonade from whatever bullshit you draw into. im less fine with that same concept spread across a 4-5+ hour game, which is what TM is every time i ever play it or see it played at a meetup.


That is way too long; our games clock in well under 3 hours.
Ah_Pook's Avatar
Ah_Pook replied the topic: #302916 29 Oct 2019 22:38
I agree, which is why I don't ever want to play Terraforming Mars again. Also, 3 hours is still way longerr than I would want. If TM was
was a consistent 90 minute game it would be totally fine.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #302918 29 Oct 2019 23:08
This is a game I never crave to play, but enjoy it when I do. I actually look at the card art and the capabilities my company generates and get a picture of how I'm contributing. None of that available in Race for the Galaxy or others in this ilk.

Don't mind the playtime now that the rest of my group is good with it as well.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #302919 29 Oct 2019 23:35
I'm looking into prelude and, possibility, the 1st player bumps temp or oxygen one notch at the beginning of a generation variant to shorten game play time. But I need to research the latter.
mezike's Avatar
mezike replied the topic: #302923 30 Oct 2019 06:22
The latter is officially part of the expanded game - the 'World Government' step - where at the end of each generation the first player bumps any one of the tracks or places an Ocean tile without gaining any reward. Prelude will also quicken the game by giving everyone a jump-start.

I totally sympathise with people who don't enjoy TM and the reasons given, in fact I also disliked it the first couple of times I played but there was something there that made me want to go back for a closer look. I find it very subtle in that you have to run through many small incremental steps to move toward your strategy whereas the likes of RFTG and San Juan have bolder and more obvious plays because you are playing within the limits of a fixed tableau size. In TM you'll be playing three or four times as many cards as well as using many more actions either on cards or the board so the game has a larger space within which to develop to its climactic point. I also concede that it will always be a long and involving game with minimal direct player interaction, and it also perhaps attracts a certain crowd because of that (which is why I only play this at home with my son, I never go near it on club nights). Play what makes you happy with the people that you like.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #302925 30 Oct 2019 08:46
I love it and played it last night. That said, there are expansions (Colonies) I dislike and strategies (card draws) that I don't care for, but I almost always enjoy a play of it, and apart from one aberrant game, we get things done in well under 4-5 hours, even at 5p.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #302939 30 Oct 2019 14:31
I keep seeing a used copy of this at my second hand book/music/media store and thinking hard about it every time.