Best Terraforming Mars Expansions | Ranked And Recommended

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Terraforming Mars was designed by Jacob Fryxelius and released in 2016. At the time of writing it is still ranked 4th overall on Board Game Geeks website which is quite a feat. Since its release there have been 5 expansions that expand on the base game.

If you have Terraforming Mars and played it for a while then perhaps it is time to add a little more fun to this amazing game.

This article ranks and recommends the best Terraforming Mars expansions. To ensure you will enjoy the most from the game and to make your choice a little easier. If you are unsure of which expansion to buy then this post is just what you need.

Read on to find out about each expansion’s Pros and Cons and pick the best expansion for you. For those who are short on time, here’s an easy table to read.

If you want to read a little more about each expansion I have also put together some great tables on the various corporations you’ll get to play with and an overview of each one.

Best Terraforming Mars Expansions

Terraforming Mars was released in 2016 and the following year the first expansion was released. To give you an idea of the timeline and in which order the expansions were released you can find this infographic below.

Terraforming Mars Expansion Release Timeline

As you can see there are 5 expansions released between 2017 and 2019. I have ranked them in order from best to last in the table below.

Rank
Recommended
1st
2nd
3rd
4th
5th
Image
Terraforming Mars Prelude
Terraforming Mars Hellas & Elysium The Other Side of Mars Expansion
Stronghold Games Terraforming Mars The Colonies
Stronghold Games Terraforming Mars Venus Next Board Games,Various
Stronghold Games Terraforming Mars Turmoil
Expansion
Prelude
Hellas & Elysium
Colonies
Venus Next
Turmoil
Price
$24.94
$20.48
$33.28
$34.94
$30.98
Recommended
Rank
1st
Image
Terraforming Mars Prelude
Expansion
Prelude
Price
$24.94
Rank
2nd
Image
Terraforming Mars Hellas & Elysium The Other Side of Mars Expansion
Expansion
Hellas & Elysium
Price
$20.48
Rank
3rd
Image
Stronghold Games Terraforming Mars The Colonies
Expansion
Colonies
Price
$33.28
Rank
4th
Image
Stronghold Games Terraforming Mars Venus Next Board Games,Various
Expansion
Venus Next
Price
$34.94
Rank
5th
Image
Stronghold Games Terraforming Mars Turmoil
Expansion
Turmoil
Price
$30.98

Let’s take a look at the first expansion and the one I recommend you buy – Prelude.

Prelude

By far the best Terraforming Mars expansion pack, Prelude seeks to improve the starting phase of the game. As the game title suggests this expansion mainly modifies the start of the game. Prelude’s main benefit is that it gives players a boost at the beginning with Prelude cards to help production and income. There are also 5 new corporations that will be fun to play.

Let’s take a look at the Terraforming Mars Prelude expansion contents:

  • 35 Prelude cards
  • 5 Corporation cards
  • 7 Project cards
  • 1 solo summary card

The Corporation and Project cards are shuffled into their respective decks to be included in the game. If you want to make sure players have an option to play one of the Prelude Corporate cards then there is a nice variant.

In this variant you don’t shuffle the Corporate cards into the base game. Instead deal 1 base Corporate card and 1 Prelude Corporate card to each player. Each player then has a choice to play one or the other, discarding the unwanted one.

Each card is marked with a symbol to indicate they are Prelude expansion cards. This is so you can take them out again if you don’t want to play this expansion. To be honest, the chances are once you have played with the Prelude expansion you’ll always play with it. It’s nice to have the choice though. The 35 Prelude cards become their own deck.

Prelude cards

Prelude cards do not cost you anything to keep but they provide additional bonus resources at the beginning of the game and throughout.

The Prelude cards are shuffled and placed in their own deck. When setting up and dealing out the standard cards to each player you also deal 4 Prelude cards too. Once you have played your corporations and all cards have been paid for there is an additional step where each player plays their two chosen Prelude cards. They then discard the other two.

Prelude cards work in a similar way to green cards and stay out throughout the game with their tags showing.

Corporation cards

There are 5 new corporation cards for you to play with in the Prelude expansion. Here is a nice table showing you the basics.

Starting
Mega Credits
Production/
Resources
First ActionEffect/Action
Cheung Shing Mars453 MCNoneEffect: Pay 2 MC less for playing a building tag
Point Luna37Gain 1 TitaniumNoneEffect: Draw a card when you play an earth tag
Robinson Industries47NoneNoneAction: Spend 4 MC to increase one of your lowest production 1 step
Valley Trust37NoneDraw 3 Prelude cards and play 1, discard 2Effect: Pay 2 MC less for playing a science tag
ViTor45NoneFund an award for freeEffect: Playing a non-negative VP card gains 3 MC

It’s great to see additional Corporate cards added to Prelude as this gives some more variety and choice to strategy during play.

Project cards

These are standard fare Project cards and are very similar to the base games. There is one nice introduction of a wild card tag which allows you to decide which tag you want to use when playing. This can give some real flexibility to your gameplay and is a really nice introduction to the game.

Solo summary card

This is for those who like playing Terraforming Mars solo. Playing solo is one of the reasons that I bought Terraforming Mars. When there is no one else around interested in playing then I can pull this game out and enjoy a few hours raising the temperature on Mars.

The solo summary gives you a new objective of raising the TR to 63 in 14 generations and also provides a new standard project. The standard project allows you to convert 16 MC into 1 TR.

If you decide to play solo with the Prelude cards then this objective is further modified and you will need to reach TR 63 within 12 generations.

Summary

If you enjoy Terraforming Mars then Prelude is a must have expansion. It is by far the best and once you have played with this it will become a part of your Terraforming Mars games.

You can check out Terraforming Mars: Prelude expansion at Amazon here. If you don’t have any expansions yet then let this one be your first. You’ll love it.

Pros

Improves game start
New corporations
New Project cards
New solo mode

Cons

Difficult for beginners to choose prelude cards

Hellas and Elysium

This expansion was the first to be released and is basically a new double sided board with two new maps to play on. There are also some rules. They provide different areas on Mars for you to terraform. Along with this comes new milestones and awards for you to enjoy.

Hellas

The Hellas map is based on the southern area of mars. It has a south pole and reaches up to the mars equator where all the greenery tiles are based. It also has the Argyre Planitia sea tile and surrounding mountains in common with the base game board.

On the Hellas board there are heat tiles as the surface crust here is thinner and also when melting the ice around the southern pole carbon dioxide is released. There is also a special tile at the south pole where you can place a tile for 6 MC and receive an ocean tile plus TR to place on any ocean tile on the board.

As there isn’t a Noctis Region or any volcanoes on this board you can place these special tiles anywhere that is not an ocean tile.

Elysium

This is an area west of Tharsis and has the Arsia Mons tile in common with the base board.

As with the Hellas board it does not have the Noctis Region so those tiles can be placed anywhere. It does have 4 volcanoes where Lava Flows tiles can be placed. The oceans are in different areas too. The main differences on this board are the milestones and awards.

There are no special placement bonuses on the Elysium board.

Milestones and Awards

I thought it would be easiest to compare the differences if I created a table for you to view. So here it is.

TharsisHellasElysium
MilestonesAwardsMilestonesAwardsMilestonesAwards
Terraformer:
Having a terraform rating of at least 35.
Landlord:
Owning the most tiles in play.
Diversifier:
Requires that you have 8 different tags in play.
Cultivator:
Most greenery tiles.
Generalist:
Requires that you have increased all 6 productions by at least 1 step (starting production from corporation cards count as increase).
Celebrity:
Most cards in play (not events) with a cost of at least 20 MegaCredits.
Mayor:
Owning at least 3 city tiles.
Banker:
Having the highest MC production.
Tactician:
Requires that you have 5 cards with requirements in play.
Magnate:
Most automated cards in play (green cards).
Specialist:
Requires that you have at least 10 in production of any resource.
Industrialist:
Most steel and energy resources.
Gardener:
Owning at least 3 greenery tiles.
Scientist:
Having the most science tags in play.
Polar Explorer:
Requires that you have 3 tiles on the two bottom rows.
Space Baron:
Most space tags (event cards do not count).
Ecologist:
Requires that you have 4 bio tags (plant-, microbe- and animal tags count as bio tags).
Desert Settler:
Most tiles south of the equator (the four bottom rows).
Builder:
Having at least 8 building tags in play.
Thermalist:
Having the most heat resource cubes.
Energizer:
Requires that you have 6 energy production.
Excentric:
Most resources on cards.
Tycoon:
Requires that you have 15 project cards in play (blue and green cards).
Estate Dealer:
Most tiles adjacent to ocean tiles.
Planner:
Having at least 16 cards in your hand when you claim this milestone.
Miner:
Having the most steel and titanium resource cubes.
Rim Settler:
Requires that you have 3 jovian tags.
Contractor:
Most building tags (event cards do not count).
Legend:
Requires 5 played events (red cards).
Benefactor:
Highest terraform rating. Count this award first!

Summary

Whilst this does not sound the most exciting expansion it still provides a great variety of play. Having this expansion gives you a choice of which map to play. It also provides some new milestones and awards that will change your strategy and game play to suit.

All in all this is a great expansion for those who have been playing Terraforming Mars for a while. If you want some more variety and new challenges in your game then you can check out Terraforming Mars: Hellas and Elysium at Amazon here.

Pros

New milestones
New Awards
Slightly different gameplay
Beginner friendly

Cons

No Corporations
No Project cards

Colonies

The Colonies expansion brings some extra interest to Terraforming Mars in the shape of moons throughout the solar system you can visit, build colonies and trade for resources. It is basically an interesting way to gain more resources.

Contents:

  • 49 project cards
  • 5 corporation cards
  • 11 Colony tiles reference tile
  • Trade fleets tile
  • 8 trade fleets
  • 8 Colony track markers
  • Rulebook

The moons each have colony tiles on which you can either build colonies or trade. There is also a Trade Fleet tile where each player places their Trade Fleet. They place a cube of their color to indicate it is theirs.

Shuffle the Colony Tiles you draw colonies to the number of players plus two. If you are playing 3 players then draw 5 colonies. Place a white cube on the second track position of each Colony tile.

This is unless you have drawn Titan, Enceladus or Miranda as these have floaters, microbes and animals. Once a card has been played that interacts with these then you can put their cube onto the second spot on the track.

In Terraforming Mars Colonies you now have a new standard project and new action. The standard project takes one action and allows you to build a colony on the tile for 17 MC.

There are a maximum of 3 colonies per tile and you move the white cube 1 to the right along the track to make space if needed. You can now place a player cube onto the track location. A player can only have one colony per tile unless a card states otherwise.

The new action is to Trade with the colony. This costs 9 MC, 3 energy, or 3 titanium and allows you to move your trade fleet to that tile. You then follow the instructions on the card and receive the trade income along with giving the colony their trade bonus. You then move the white marker to the farthest most left along the track that isn’t occupied by a player colony.

When a generation ends all trade fleets move back to the Trade Fleet tile and each colony white marker moves 1 space along their tracks.

As with Prelude the Colonies expansion has a symbol on Corporation and Project cards so that you can remove them from the game if you wish to not use the expansion.

Corporation cards

There are 5 new corporation cards for you to play with in the Colonies expansion as follows.

Corporation NameStarting
Mega Credits
Production/
Resources
First ActionEffect/Action
Aridor40NoneAdd colony tile of you choiceEffect: When you get a new (non event card) tag in play gain 1 MC step.
Stormcraft Incorporated48NoneNoneAction: Add a floater to any card.
Effect: Floaters on this card can be used as 2 heat each.
Poseidon45NonePlace a colonyEffect: Any colony placed including this raises your MC 1 step.
Arklight452 MC/Gain 1 VP per 2 animalsNoneEffect: When playing an animal or plant tag including this add 1 animal to this card.
Polyphemos505 MC/Gain 5 TitaniumNoneEffect: When buying a card to hand pay 5 MC not 3 MC including starting hand.

Summary

Terraforming Mars Colonies expansion is solid. It adds to the game really well. The expansion is additive so there is more to do and more to think about. Like when you should pick up that lovely resource or should you let it get a bit bigger?

Having colonies on tiles also gives added benefits and so deciding to build a colony will help towards the main goal of the game.

The Colonies expansion doesn’t extend Terraforming Mars noticeably either. If you wanted to play Terraforming Mars with a novice then I think you could definitely do that.

On the whole I think Colonies is a great expansion. Adding this to your game will give you a new and interesting aspect to the game that you will enjoy. If you have been playing Terraforming Mars for a while then you will want to add this to your collection. You can check out Terraforming Mars: Colonies expansion at Amazon here.

Pros

New gameplay and rules
New Corporations
New Project cards

Cons

Slightly more complex for beginners

Venus Next

This expansion was the second released and was released in the same year as Hellas and Elysium. Whilst Hellas and Elysium was designed to give you some variety in maps, milestones and awards it did not add to any of the cards.

Terraforming Mars: Venus Next is the first expansion to add to the game in that way. It introduces Venus with the world government deciding to begin terraforming Venus. The contents of this expansion are:

  • Venus board
  • 49 project cards
  • 5 corporation cards
  • Venus marker
  • Hoverlord Milestone tile
  • Venuphile Award tile
  • Rules

As with Prelude and Colonies, Venus next comes with additional project cards and corporation cards for you to play. It also comes with a new global parameter in the Venus Scale which is simply referred to as Venus. This scale represents Venus being terraformed from 0% to 30%. Venus provides more opportunity to gain TR and other bonuses.

There is a new standard project that allows you to increase the Venus TR rating with 15 MC and gain the TR as you would from the base game.

With Venus Next you do get four Venutian Cities added and these work similarly to Phobos Space Haven and Ganymede Colony.

As per the other releases with additional cards Terraforming Mars: Venus Next cards have the symbol on them allowing you to remove them from the base game should you wish to not play this expansion.

The Venus Next expansion also comes with a new resource called floaters. These are venutian floating infrastructure and work in the same way as microbes and animals in the base game.

Finally the game comes with a new milestone and award. These two items are on individual cards that can be placed next to or near the board.

Corporation cards

In the Venus Next expansion there are 5 new corporation cards for you to play as follows.

Corporation NameStarting
Mega Credits
Production/
Resources
First ActionEffect/Action
Aphrodite471 plantNoneEffect: Whenever Venus is terraformed 1 step you gain 2 MC.
Celestic421 VP for every 3rd floater on this cardDraw cards until you have revealed 2 cards with floater icons. Pick the floaters up and discard the rest.Action: Add a floater to any card.
Manutech351 SteelNoneEffect: For each step you increase a resource production, including this, you gain that resource.
Morning Star Inc.50NoneDraw cards until you have 3 Venus tag cards. Pick these up and discard the rest.Effect: Your Venus requirements are +/- 2 steps. Your choice in each case.
Viron48NoneNoneAction: Use a blue card action that has already been used in this generation.

Summary

Venus Next was the first expansion that added corporations and cards and was pretty good. However, I would start with Prelude as my first choice as this is one you will use all the time. Venus Next is a good expansion and has some nice new corporations to play with and plenty of project cards.

The expansion also gives an additional milestone and award which is nice. You only get these in the Hellas and Elysium and this expansion. There is a new milestone in Turmoil but that replaces the milestone on the base game board of Tharsis.

This is a good expansion, it is just not as good as the previous ones in this article. If you are not sure different maps interest you that much and the additional Colonies doesn’t appeal then you can check out Terraforming Mars: Venus Next at Amazon here.

Pros

New Corporations
New Project cards
New cities
New milestone and award

Cons

Doesn’t add as much as other expansions

Turmoil

Terraforming Mars: Turmoil is focused on bringing politics into Terraforming Mars. This was the last expansion in the series and is definitely the most complex to play. It introduces the Government board and the Global Events board.

With Terraforming Mars: Turmoil you get:

  • Rules
  • 6 policy tiles
  • 16 project cards
  • 5 corporation cards
  • 2 reference cards
  • 31 global event cards
  • 14 neutral delegates
  • 35 delegates (7 in each color)
  • Dominance marker
  • Terraforming milestone tile
  • Terraforming committee board
  • Global events board

The Terraforming milestone tile is only used on the base game Tharsis board to replace the milestone requiring 35 TR. The new requirement is for only 26 TR to obtain that award and we will come onto why a little later.

As with the other expansions Turmoil has a symbol on its cards to allow you to remove them should you want to not play with this expansion. Useful if you have new players round and want to keep it simple.

Terraforming committee board

This represents the government with various different parties very similar to normal politics. Each party brings its own benefits when it is in power. Place 1 grey delegate marker on the chairman seat and the rest on the Neutral Reserve space.

Now add 6 delegate markers for each player in their color to the Delegate Reserve space. Finally add 1 color for each player in the Lobby area

Global events board

This represents events that will happen throughout the game. There is an event deck and three spaces on the board. There is a Distant, Coming and Current space to represent time so that you can see events that are coming up. When You set up you place two cards from the deck on the Distant and Coming spaces.

Each event card has a party affiliation symbol. Take one of the grey event tokens for each of the two event cards and place them in their respective party spaces shown by seats on the board.

Things to know about the government board:

  • The party with the most delegates becomes the dominant one and should have the large white marker placed on it.
  • If there is more of one color than the others in a party then one of those colors tokens is placed in the party leader’s seat.

The final thing to do is place the green party policy on the board as you always start with that. The current policy will change the game play and give resources. Like the green party we just mentioned, their policy grants 4 MC to the person who places a greenery tile.

The set up is relatively simple and that is where it ends. Here on in it gets complicated with the objective of creating turmoil. This is largely done by taking away with one hand and giving with another.

The Turmoil phase is added onto the end of the Solar Phase and is as follows:

  1. All players lose 1 TR
  2. The current global event is activated
  3. New government – changes the dominant party, active policy and refills the lobby
  4. Changing times – events move along 1 space on the global event board. The event card on the coming space goes on top of the current card, the distant card is moved to coming, and a new card is drawn for the deck and placed on the distant space.

There is a new action that allows you to lobby. This means that you can either move one of your colors to a party for free from the lobby or move a delegate from the delegate reserve for 5 MC. This allows you to influence the potential dominant party, policy and resulting resources available.

Also, your delegate can become Chairman and when that happens you get 1 TR. So, working to get your delegates to Chairman is quite a good thing to do.

That gives you an idea of this expansion, I’m not going to go into the full run through of the expansion here as this article is an overview. It would just take too long as there is a lot more going on during the Turmoil phase to rebalance power and ensure one party does not stay in power. With that said, let’s look at the Corporation cards next and see what that brings to the game.

Corporation cards

There are 5 new corporation cards for you to play with in the Turmoil expansion as follows.

Corporation NameStarting
Mega Credits
Production/
Resources
First ActionEffect/Action
Lakefront Resorts52NoneNoneEffect: When any ocean is placed, increase your MC production 1 step.
Effect: Your bonus for placing adjacent oceans is 3 MC not 2 MC.
Pristar53NoneDecrease TR by 2 steps/1 VP per reservation resource hereEffect: During production phase, if you did not get TR so far this generation, add 1 preservation resource here and gain 6 MC.
Septem Tribus36When you perform and action, the wild tag counts as any tag of your choiceNoneAction: Gain 2 MC for each party where you have at least 1 delegate.
Terralabs Research20NoneLower you TR 1 stepEffect: Buying cards to hand costs 1MC.
Utopia Invest401 Steel, 1 TitaniumNoneAction: Decrease any production to gain 4 resources of that kind.

Summary

Terraforming Mars: Turmoil is a good expansion and it brings a lot to the game. You have quite a lot more to think about. Whether it is planning for the upcoming global event or trying to get your delegates to Chairman and grab that juicy 1 TR.

The fact that there is a lot added to Turmoil may mean that you need to have a clear strategy in order to get something from both the base game and this expansion. So it is definitely for the more experienced Terraforming Mars players.

Whilst it is complex and definitely for players who are comfortable with playing the base game. Once you have played through with the Turmoil expansion a few times it will be easy enough to follow the steps and it does flow.

If you are up for a challenge and want to add some new variables to Terraforming Mars that will give you plenty to enjoy then you can buy Terraforming Mars: Turmoil at Amazon here.

Pros

Definitely creates turmoil
New competitive aspect with committees
Shakes up your normal strategies so you need to make new ones

Cons

Most complex expansion
You lose TR!

Recommendations

Fryx games has brought out some amazing expansions for Terraforming Mars and they all add interest to an already fantastic game. So which one should you buy? It should be noted that Fryx Games have done a solid job with their expansions and they are all worth adding to your game. Well, I have three recommendations.

Terraforming Mars: Prelude

If you are unsure which expansion to buy then Prelude has to be it. It will be one that you will likely never take out of your game once you’ve played it. It improves the start of the game and removes many of the base games negative aspects. This expansion will renew your love for Terraforming Mars all over again. You can check out prices for Prelude at Amazon here.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas and Elysium

Hellas and Elysium is an inexpensive addition that will give you variety as you play so it makes a really good choice. Whilst it is just two extra boards, these change the game in ways that will add interest as you play. You will need to play each game differently. Along with the new milestones and awards this is a great little expansion. You can check out prices for Hellas and Elysium at Amazon here.

Terraforming Mars: Colonies

Finally, Colonies is a great expansion that adds some interesting choices like deciding if you should pick that resource now or let it grow. If you let it grow then can your opponents snap it out from under your feet?

It also comes with some really interesting corporation cards that will allow you to play new strategies and explore ways of playing. You can check out prices for Colonies at Amazon here.

If you enjoyed this article then you will definitely like 11 Best Legacy Board Games 2022. Or maybe the amazing How To Play Wingspan Solo will answer some questions.

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