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Into the Wormhole: A Terraforming Mars- Ares Expedition Board Game Review

W Updated June 22, 2022
 
4.5
 
0.0 (0)
1566 1
Into the Wormhole: A Terraforming Mars- Ares Expedition Board Game Review
There Will Be Games

First off, I really dislike the title of this game. At a glance, the name Ares Expedition looks and sounds way too close to “Expansion.” It needs a name that nails that it is a stand alone game that just happens to be set in the Terraforming Mars Universe. After numerous games, I also think it needs to somehow work “Wormhole Theory” into the tile. According to Space.com, “The wormhole theory postulates that a theoretical passage through space-time could create shortcuts for long journeys across the universe.”

 

In Ares Expedition, the combination of the simultaneous play, taking more Actions per turn the more players you have, and additional players pushing the Ocean, Oxygen and Heat tracks to completion quicker creates one of the oddest sensations....the MORE players who are playing, the less amount of time it actually takes to play! I'm not sure if it is creating a wormhole or ripping apart the very fabric of the space/time continuum, but either way, I'm here for it. For instance, my first game was a teaching/learning at two-players. We ended up finishing up at roughly two hours and fifteen minutes. So, I looked at that fantastical “plays at 60 minutes” on the side of the box with serious doubt. My second game was also a teaching game but this time at three players and it wrapped up in one hour and forty five minutes. We then tried a four player game, once again with a new player, and it finished up at an hour and fifteen minutes. Hmmm, maybe that playtime isn't pure fantasy.
One

Ares Expedition takes the framework of Terraforming Mars and condenses it down. Sure, it still has a “board” but it is basically saying “That's just for scoring, the game is all about the cards in front of you.” And playing cards does give the best feeling in Terraforming Mars, whether it is slamming an Ice Asteroid into the planet for a one-time boost or cranking up TM or Heat production a notch so that it pays off later.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, one of the new mechanisms is that you only take the Phases/actions that the players select at the beginning of the round. They are: Development, Construction, Action, Production, and Research. Or, as you will find yourself calling them: Play a Green Card, Play a Red or Blue Card, Take the actions on your card and/or a standard action, Gain money and resources, and Draw some cards. This adds a bit of indirect interaction with the other players where you try to guess which phase they will be choosing so that you don't all pick the same phase. At the same time, you still want to pick one that the bonus action (whoever plays a Phase gets a bonus or boost for that action) benefits you in the best way. Of course, you still get those moments when everyone picks the same phase or you speculate someone will play a phase you need to take and then no one picks it for the current round. Factor in that you can't pick the same Phase two rounds in a row and it adds that certain, if not interaction at least anticipation, to the game.
tm01

 

Once your corporation gets humming along, you'll be bringing down tons of resources and Mega Credits that you were starved for only a few rounds earlier. You often see one player/corporation becoming focused on specific tracks/areas (just like real life). One card gives you the option during the action round to flip over an ocean, which normally costs 15 Mega Credits for only 10 Mega Credits...and it gives you an additional discount for how much your steel production currently is. Suddenly you are flipping oceans for about 1/3 the cost the other players would have to pay...and you can do it twice a turn if you are the one who chose the Action Phase for that round. Of course, when there are no more Oceans to be flipped, you'll have to diversify in order to thrive.

 Slots

The new double thick player boards are very sweet since you can't really bump them and dislodge all of the cubes. But I really wish they would have given the main game board this upgrade as well. Giving it a jostle will still move the scoring cubes on the Ocean, Oxygen and Terraforming tracks.

 

A co-op mode which is actually pretty cool because it 1.) Effectively limits the game to 15 rounds and 2.) Takes almost zero maintenance from the players. It is, essentially, two players drawing one cube from a stack after each round, when you run out of cubes, the game is over. Did you get the Terraforming Rating high enough? Congratulations, you win. If not...ummm...I guess you have to answer to some pissy shareholders?

 

The things that are absent from this release that are in the original Terraforming Mars you likely won't miss that much. The adding of cities and associated cubes, purchasing scoring goals and such are all part of the deeper strategy in TM but Ares puts everything up front and on the cards. The original TM does sometimes intrude when a rule from the original game would nudge me after bouncing around inside my head and I'd have to look up the Ares version to confirm there was a change. Still, I will be hanging onto Terraforming Mars and the Prelude Expansion when I have the itch for a deeper, longer game or when we have five players at the table. (Ares Expedition doesn't have a fifth player option, to which I can hear everyone who has ever been stuck in a seemingly never-ending game of Terraforming Mars mumbling “Thank Fucking God.”)

 

Ares Expedition, despite it's confusing name (Yes, this is a hill I'm willing to die upon and, Yes, I do know how to read....thankyouverymuch), provides a great Terraforming Mars experience. The “If you have the resources to boost a track, you must boost that track” requirement sidesteps the drawn out TM experience where players try to tweak their engine to Nth degree. It plays in a shorter time the more players you add, so you'll never hesitate at adding additional players. I'm more than happy to follow the rabbit down this Terraforming Mars wormhole.

Questions

A review copy of this release was provided by the publisher.

Photos

Into the Wormhole: A Terraforming Mars- Ares Expedition Board Game Review
Into the Wormhole: A Terraforming Mars- Ares Expedition Board Game Review
Into the Wormhole: A Terraforming Mars- Ares Expedition Board Game Review
Into the Wormhole: A Terraforming Mars- Ares Expedition Board Game Review
Into the Wormhole: A Terraforming Mars- Ares Expedition Board Game Review

Editor reviews

1 reviews

Rating 
 
4.5
Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition
Ares Expedition, despite it's confusing name (Yes, this is a hill I'm willing to die upon and, Yes, I do know how to read....thankyouverymuch), provides a great Terraforming Mars experience. The “If you have the resources to boost a track, you must boost that track” requirement sidesteps the drawn out TM experience where players try to tweak their engine to Nth degree. It plays in a shorter time the more players you add, so you'll never hesitate at adding additional players. I'm more than happy to follow the rabbit down this Terraforming Mars wormhole.
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

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Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #333850 22 Jun 2022 11:14
I really liked this iteration of TM, so much so I dumped my base game/expansions. I'll still play other people's copies...maybe. But once you get the hang of things, it plays faster - like an hour if that. Downtime is practically non existent. And the aspect of trying to predict and draft off of other players action choices more than makes up for the limited interaction of standard TM which only has it via blocking on the board with tile placement.

About the only thing I'd add to your review is that there are ZERO ways of actively hindering other players. For instance the asteroid cards do not kill other people's plants, you can't steal other people's resource production. I am not sure if this was done to put players at ease who don't like gotcha cards, or to speed up play, or both.

You do have to unlearn a few things from TM. For instance cards that give bonus production are basically retroactive. So if your first card gives you a production bonus for a plant tag, if you play a plant tag later, you get that bonus again. Cards are worth $3 for selling, which makes them a secondary source of income in a lot of ways.

The scoring track sucks massively; the spaces are too small and scoring cubes are easy to knock out of place . That is my only real gripe with the game component wise.

The expansion is due out later this year and from the looks of it, will have Goals and Milestones. Not sure if there will be cards that hinder other players.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #333853 22 Jun 2022 13:22
The selling of cards is one thing I definitely should have mentioned, it really allows you to make moves instead of waiting on production to refill your coffers.
Ah_Pook's Avatar
Ah_Pook replied the topic: #333865 23 Jun 2022 10:45
I think my main issues with this game are 1) it's almost impossible to actually get a card income going, so you're stuck taking the Research action repeatedly to get cards, and 2) the role selection is next to meaningless most of the time. There is often an action that you really need to take, so you pick that because it would be a dead turn if you don't get to do the thing. Then you get some bonus actions following other people. It just feels like a missed opportunity for actually interesting decisions most of the time. Like they copped it directly from RFTG without actually copping the interesting stuff about it just the aesthetics.

I do enjoy the game well enough, and think it's a huge step up from regular TM.
stormseeker75's Avatar
stormseeker75 replied the topic: #333868 23 Jun 2022 11:31
I played this once and couldn't figure out why I wouldn't just play TM instead. Maybe I need to try this again.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #333871 23 Jun 2022 14:57

Ah_Pook wrote: I think my main issues with this game are 1) it's almost impossible to actually get a card income going, so you're stuck taking the Research action repeatedly to get cards,


I like the advanced optional rule for this: Once you draw your two corporations, you can discard any number of project cards and draw the same amount before you select a corporation. It makes it easier to select cards that both sync with your corporation and gives you a chance to get better "starting your engine" cards. If you haven't been using the rule, I suggest giving it a shot.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #333872 23 Jun 2022 15:02

stormseeker75 wrote: I played this once and couldn't figure out why I wouldn't just play TM instead. Maybe I need to try this again.


I'd say the biggest selling point for me is the speed of play with 3 or 4 players. Feels less AP prone as well. Feels like it rips along once everyone knows the game.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #333873 23 Jun 2022 15:05

Msample wrote:
You do have to unlearn a few things from TM. For instance cards that give bonus production are basically retroactive. So if your first card gives you a production bonus for a plant tag, if you play a plant tag later, you get that bonus again.


That's the exact rule I was talking around bouncing around in my head in the review.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #333877 23 Jun 2022 20:16
I feel like Original Recipe and Ares provide just different enough experiences that I'm cool with having both. After playing Ares a bunch I played OG and was like, "oh yeah, I like this too!"

I'm in for the expansions despite not being crazy about some of them. I don't want Ares to get the same bloat that the original did. (I eventually took cards and corps from the Venus, Colonies, and Turmoil expansions that didn't reference expansion stuff and added them to the base game, and everything else is all in a single expansion box that is unlikely to be opened again.)