Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday 16 May 2017

The good kind of global warming:- Terraforming Mars

GameTerraforming Mars

Publisher: Stronghold Games

Designer: Jacob Fryxelius


Terraforming Mars is a 1-5 player game in which you team up to transform the wasteland of the red-planet into a habitable wonderland capable of supporting human life, just. Essentially you have to increase the surface temperature and Oxygen levels to equal those of the most remote mountain villages on earth, and add enough water to create a functioning evaporation/precipitation cycle that will ensure the survival and growth of plants.

Each player takes control of a corporation and while you are out for personal victory, you actually work together to terraform the planet. Contributing to the worldwide Oxygen/Temperature/Ocean objectives gives you terraforming rating which is both victory points and income during the game. There are also tons of cards which are limited on the planet being in certain states. For example building a domed mars reserve to preserve how the planet once was requires the planet to not have changed much, however introducing cattle requires there to be enough oxygen for large lifeforms to live, and graze on the surface.

There are actually a couple of ways to play, you can take basic corporations with no special rules, which is handy for learning the game, or you can take more advanced ones which each have their own starting strengths.There is also an optional corporation phase which adds lots more card that interact with other players without really achieving much terraforming. In addition you can decide to draft or not and both work fairly well since you need to spend money to even research the ability to play the cards you get. If you are low on cash it’s a legitimate strategy to try and take cards from your opponents. The game works great with 2 players, and while it does slow down as you approach 5 the turns are fast so it’s still very enjoyable. There is also a single player mode, which I haven’t tried personally, but some of my gaming group seem to be playing that almost nightly, so I can only assume that it works well.

Your personal play area tracking the cards you've played, including events and ongoing action or effect cards. Your player board tracks your current production level and also holds your supply of resources - there are not different tokens for different kinds of resource you just need to make sure your generic cubes stay in their correct slot.
Terraforming Mars has several resources to track, and does so in a great way, there are gold, silver and bronze cubes representing 10s, 5s and 1s respectively, these are then placed on boxes in your player board to determine if they represent money, plants, heat build-up, ore etc. You’ll never feel like you have enough resources to do everything you want, though there is a good feeling of progression in the game, the cards that expect more heat/oxygen/water tend to be more powerful, and while they cost more you should have built up enough income (or ore production) to pay for them easily, in the first round you could easily be only performing 1 or 2 actions while by the end of the game having 10 to do is not out of the question.

On top of all this there is a tile-laying aspect. The game board is mars itself split into hexagons, many of these are reserved low-land areas where rivers, lakes and seas will naturally form as you bring water to the planet (or defrost the water already there). The rest you are free to build anything on, though mostly you’ll be building cities and forests. The tile-laying doesn’t have a huge impact on the game by itself, it provides you with the occasional bonus card, some ore, perhaps a small amount of money. But all of these add up, and if that money lets you get an extra action in a turn the ripple effect can be huge. Playing a forest can be much like a butterfly flapping it’s wings!

The game board with Terraforming rating around the edge - a track for both oxygen and temperature plus a whole bunch of other information crowding the board!
Probably the biggest let down is the art design, a lot of the images look to be ripped out of Google image searches and there’s no overall style to tie things together, that being said the board itself does look good, it just feels like a little more effort could have made it really beautiful. What I can’t find much flaw in is the gameplay, fast paced, difficult choices at every turn and due to the combined terraforming effort you end up in a race for each resource, there’s no point generating a lot of heat once you’ve stabilised the temperature for life. So you want to make sure you are the one spending your heat tokens first, but also increasing the temperature might enable your opponents to play cards which require a warmer planet. This tactical depth, combined with a game that is so easy to play makes for one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had from a board game.


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