By definition an expansion is the action of becoming larger or more extensive. When I think of an expansion for a board game the first thing that springs to mind is that it is going to be bigger, grander, larger...and they usually make the game take much longer.
Prelude is a compression. It addresses one of the most common knocks against Terraforming Mars: that it last just a little too long. The only thing you are going to find in this small box expansion is a stack of cards. And the purpose of the majority of these cards, the prelude deck, is to jump start the game: putting some high octane rocket fuel in your engine before you even start it up.
As part of the set-up portion of the game, you are now deal four prelude cards to each player. Out of these four cards, players will end up keeping two of them and discarding the other two. This is all done while the corporation cards are picked and while you decide which project cards you wish to purchase. Then, two of the prelude cards are played, in turn order, and the remaining two discarded. This is an important distinction, at least to me, because it doesn't require you to commit to which two cards you are keeping until you have all your corporate ducks in a row. There is no specific distinction in case you are using the starting/non-asymmetrical corporations but I would suggest you put on your helpful gamer cap if you are playing with newbies and give them some suggestions of which prelude cards to pick. That's right: Prelude is one of the expansions I would not hesitate to put into the game when teaching it to new players.
The high octane you are going to be putting into your engine via the Prelude Cards hits a wide range of advantages. Some are simple, instant boost like “Gain 21 Megacredits” while others will play out over time with long term benefits like “Place a greenery tile and increase oxygen one step. Reveal cards from the deck until you have revealed two plant tag cards, put those into your hand and discard the rest.” The eclectic mix means that it works equally well for Terraforming Mars veterans and new-ish players. It's hard to go wrong with “Mo' Megacredits” but if you want to point your corporation in a distinct advanced direction, you usually have a couple of choices in your hand.
Prelude also includes 7 new project cards. Not only do they add a bit of new variety to the project deck, they also add Geek Cred in the form of the SciFi Memorial card that features a Mount Rushmore of the most influential Science Fiction authors. And for all of us silly fun pun fans, you'll also find the Space Hotels card with the flashing neon “Inn Space” sign slapped onto a space station.
Also included are five new corporation cards. The equivalent of new characters in other games, the asymmetrical powers will provide you with plenty of “Starting out Titanium Rich and cash poor is a horrible strategy but if you combine that with a good selection of space cards or earth cards you can really take advantage of the Point Luna corporation's tendency to... ” conversations. I think I can actually hear my wife's eyes rolling from here.
“I won't be playing without it” is generally the highest praise given to an expansion. And I certainly will be bestowing this title upon Prelude. It is a anomaly in the world of board game expansions, one that adds strategy and direction while subtracting gameplay length.
A review copy of this release was provided by the publisher. Therewillbe.games would like to thank them for their support.