Terraforming Mars Board Game Review | Can you master the red planet?

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The population of Earth has reached its limit and as a species we have a choice – expand or remain with ever dwindling resources on Earth. The choice is obvious – we must explore the universe and the first step is to Mars.

With a few small colonies already there then the World Government offers rewards to any corporation or enterprise that significantly terraforms the red planet. Will your corporation succeed in stealing the highest accolade and help further the human race’s endeavors to expand and explore?

Let’s find out as we look into the fabulous Terraforming Mars board game review.

Terraforming Mars Board Game Review
PlayersAgePlaytime (m)Overall

Table of Contents

  1. What is Terraforming Mars About?
  2. How Well is Terraforming Mars Made?
  3. Can Terraforming Mars be played solo?
  4. Terraforming Mars Expansions
  5. Is Terraforming Mars Worth Buying?

What is Terraforming Mars About?

Terraforming Mars is mainly an engine building, tile laying and card management board game released by Fryx Games in 2016.  It is exactly as it says on the tin and your objective is to terraform Mars. 

Obviously this can’t even be done within one man’s lifetime, not even Elon’s. So you will need to don the persona of a corporation, working alongside other corps to terraform Mars within a number of generations.

There are three things that you will need to complete to have been successful. You’ll need to raise the temperature, increase the oxygen, and ensure there are oceans of water. 

Do all that within the time and you could win the financial rewards you deserve from the grateful World Government.

The board is of Mars and you will recognise well known names of areas such as Tharsis and Thaumasia. There are hexagonal spaces over the surface on which you can lay tiles of water, foliage, cities and various special tiles as you progress with the terraforming process. 

You also have a terraforming track on the outside where each player has a cube to keep track of their TR rating. There is also an oxygen meter starting at 0% and a temperature meter starting at -30oC.

At the beginning of the game you also choose your corporation and this can be done randomly or by selection. When first playing it is recommended to choose the beginner corporations as these have slightly less mechanics to them and so are easier to play. After a few games and once you have the hang of the rest of the game then you can play with any corporation of your choice.

Each player has a player mat on which they will use to keep track of production of MegaCredits, Steel, Titanium, Plants, Energy, and finally Heat. The production may go up or down as the game progresses and is indicated by more cubes placed on the mat. These are moved up and down as needed.

The actual quantity of MegaCredits, Steel, Titanium, Plants, Energy, and Heat that you have at your disposal is also kept as quantities of cubes on the player mat. So, you have an amount produced every generation and an amount of resource to use.

Finally there is a Project Deck which is core to the game and where the card management comes into play. You will draw projects from the deck and then choose which ones you would like to add to your hand. Obviously projects are a costly thing to run and so you will need to pay 3 MegaCredits for everyone you decide to keep.

Once you decide to play the project card you will also need to check that you have met the requirements shown on the card. If you have then you will need to pay the card’s cost in resources. Once paid for you will gain the immediate effects shown on the lower card.

Finally you place the cards down depending on which type they are. Project cards are how you build your engine and will increase production of your various resources. Along with tile laying and moving those ever important oxygen, heat and water towards your ultimate goal.

Once you have maxed out the oxygen and heat and laid all the water tiles the game will end at the end of the next generation. Each player will have gained Victory Points and will add these to their Terraforming Rating. Whoever has the highest points at the end wins the game.

How Well is Terraforming Mars Made?

The game is well made on the whole with good quality cards. The board is sturdy and the player mats are good. The full contents are shown below.

  • 1 Rules Booklet
  • 1 Game Board
  • 5 Player Boards
  • 17 Corporation Cards
  • 208 Project Cards
  • 8 Reference Cards
  • 200 Player Markers (transparent
  • plastic cubes, 5 colors)
  • 200 Resource Markers (opaque
  • plastic cubes in gold, silver, and
  • copper in different sizes)
  • 3 Game Board Markers (big white
  • plastic cubes)
  • 9 Ocean Tiles
  • 60 Greenery/City Tiles
  • 11 Special Tiles
  • 1 First Player Marker

There are over 400 cubes to play with. Which is a lot of cubes for you to manage so I would seriously consider getting some trays to keep them all in.

Piecekeeper Storage Bowls

SIQUK 6 Pieces Dice Trays

The theme is pretty consistent and I like the science and terraforming part of this game. The graphics possibly let the side down a little here. There have been a lot of negative comments I have seen about the project cards. The graphics are not particularly consistent when you look through the project cards and I can see where people are coming from. There are 208 project cards with varying artwork from clipart to stock photos. However, in my opinion this does add to the variety and you will see lots of different images as you play through multiple times.

It is commonly recognised that the cubes placed on your player mat are not fixed down and this is a problem. Particularly the ones indicating your production. One accidental tap of the mat mid game and your game could be ruined. 

This is a real downside to the game but some bright person came up with a solution of using magnates. You can find one method on Board Game Geek that shows you how you can achieve this and you can read it by clicking here.

There are also solutions that you can buy if you google ‘Terraforming Mars Magnetic Players Mats.’

Whilst I have noted two negatives here the game is well made and will last you for a considerable while taken care of properly. The mechanics and game itself more than makes up for these in my opinion.

Can Terraforming Mars be played solo?

Yes, Terraforming Mars has a solo mode that is one of the best. In fact it is in my article 20 Best Solo Board Games at number 6. It is still a challenge to complete raising the temperature, oxygen, and laying out all the water tiles.

Unlike the multiplayer game there is a generation limit. You must complete the terraforming within 14 generations or you have failed. This makes it quite the challenge.

The solo game doesn’t include the Milestones or the Awards. Which makes sense as there is no one else who can beat you to them.

At the end you can add up your victory points and terraforming rating to get a final score. Then challenge your friends to beat you, or try and beat your own score.

Terraforming Mars Expansions

Terraforming Mars has some great expansions released so far. Pretty much all of them aim to improve the game too. Like Hellas and Elysium which adds some new maps giving you some variety to the tile laying and different choices to make during the game. Whereas the Prelude expansion works on improving the start of the game. The current expansions in order of release are:

  • Hellas and Elysium
  • Venus Next
  • Prelude
  • Colonies
  • Turmoil

Once you have some good gaming under your belt and are ready to expand it then there are plenty of expansions to add to the fun. You can find a full description of each expansion and my recommendations in Best Terraforming Mars Expansions | Ranked and Recommended.

Terraforming Mars Expansion Release Timeline

Is Terraforming Mars Worth Buying?

Terraforming Mars is an exceptionally strong game that has excellent replayability. With the different corporations each having different strengths, weaknesses and starting positions. You are forced to find and utilize different strategies to beat your opponents (or yourself). 

Then there are so many project cards that it is unlikely you will see the same card for quite a while, which also leads to more variety and having to think on your feet. You have no idea what cards will come up and when they do which ones should you keep?

On top of this you will be working to build your engine to maximize your production and resources to feed the terraforming process. This is an excellent game and I highly recommend it.

On top of that the solo variation is really fun, so if you can’t get your friends around then, no problem, sit down and see if you can beat your high score. Or perhaps see if you can win using a different corporation you’ve not tried yet.

If you like engine building and card management then this is an excellent game to add to your collection.


Great replayability
Awesome solo mode
Strategic game
Great card draft option that improves the game
Science fiction based in realism theme


Not very player interactive
Graphics could be better on Project Cards
Difficult to learn
PlayersAgePlaytime (m)Rating
Terraforming Mars Board Game-Award Winning Strategic Space Adventure Game for Family Game Night, Competitive Play&High Replay Value-Adults, Cardboard,Teens&lovers of Board Games by Stronghold Games 
Terraforming Mars
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