Alfie Dix, 16, reviews board games that he plays with the family and subsequently with groups of friends.

As this is my first review, I thought it would be fitting to talk about one of the games that has most changed my strategy and the way in which I approach new games. Terraforming Mars is a huge game, with multiple components and expansions it Is most certainly not a game for the faint of heart. I never used to be keen to play these marathon games that could last for a whole evening, but from the first time I played Terraforming I was hooked on the mechanics, the scoring and the sheer number of different cards and strategies that could be employed. For me, it is the perfect engine building game where I can watch it grow and evolve and finally use it to defeat my opponents. 

However, I later realised that pure engine-building doesn’t always win you the game. After multiple losses, I decided to take a much closer look at the intricacies of the game and taking more time to analyse and make decisions. I fine-tuned my strategies by playing a few games at the very formidable solo version. Terraforming Mars requires a balance of acceleration and payoff that I have not seen in any game. In a game that has a multitude of choices for players to make every turn, it is surprisingly quick to move forwards as players can only take two short actions on their turn. 

Several expansions to the base game are available. These expansions can bring even more variation into the game and can change the playing time considerably. The Prelude expansion is the easiest to get to grips with and the one I would primarily recommend. Prelude typically makes games shorter as it gives players one-time starting bonuses. These bonuses can influence the direction the player takes and ideally should be selected to enhance the player’s corporation abilities.  The expansion Hellas & Elysium is another simple expansion, which includes two new game boards and new milestones and awards associated with these boards. Venus Next is probably my favourite expansion because of the huge number of new ways to achieve points through the Venus scale. Just as the title suggests, the goal is to start terraforming Venus as well as Mars and introduces a new scale – the Venus scale – that while unnecessary for game completion, allows players who increase the scale to gain Terraforming Rating, like the other global parameters (temperature, ocean and oxygen). The final expansion that is currently available is Colonies. This expansion increases the number of things that need to be done at the end of the turn, which is frustrating and while it adds new actions – of developing colonies on moons and flying to these moons to gain resources, its effects aren’t as impactful as the other expansions.

Finally, here are my three top tips to get you started in your first game of Terraforming

  1. Choose your cards carefully.  It is tempting for players to hang onto powerful cards drawn in the early game because they may be useful later.  But I think it is important to remain versatile and flexible. Spending money on cards that are only good late in the game reduces players’ ability to move forward quickly in the early game. If you hang onto cards for a long time, you may be too focused on trying to play those cards, even if the game moves in a different direction. 
  2. Watch your opponents’ game play. Be aware of what other people are doing and, in particular, when they will be able to raise global parameters. Try to schedule your actions so that you get global bonuses before your opponents do. Don’t be afraid to use the standard projects to help you do this, if necessary. 
  3. Don’t forget how you win. It is sometimes tempting to play actions in the late game, which you have been saving until you have met the requirements, but that have no effect on your victory point total. Don’t do this. Play only actions that give you points and factor this into your decisions whilst playing the game all the way through. For example, keep a close eye on milestones and making sure that you collect one whenever possible as five victory points is huge.

Terraforming Mars is a game that I recommend for families that are looking for a longer, more strategic board game to occupy a full afternoon or evening. That being said, don’t forget the solo version, which is a great use of a rainy day if you’re lacking a formidable opponent to help test your strategies.