Terraforming Mars and the Quest for Human Innovation

Avatar Rachel Boesen

20 Mar 2024

As we look up into the sky, one little red dot stands out amongst the brushstrokes of stars. This is Mars. Named after the Roman god of war, Mars is barren, inhospitable and unforgiving. It killed Matt Damon's potatoes without a second thought. What better place for humanity to work as one and come together to stick a flag in its terracotta soil?

Terraforming Mars is a 1-5 player competitive science-fiction extravaganza. The aim of the game is to raise Mars to a habitable level by increasing the oxygen, raising the temperature and fostering oceans. Each player heads a corporation that rewards you with a varied income level and a special skill, such as providing a discount on placing forests or allowing you to use Heat as MegaCredits. Spearhead the United Nations Mars Initiative or environmentally-geared Ecoline. Multibillionaire corporation CrediCor can simply hurl cash at the project. Choosing a corporation will adapt the way you play. The base game gives you twelve corporations to choose from, ensuring no two games are the same.

Card Types and Resources

Terraforming Mars has three types of cards: automated green, active blue and event red. Green cards have an immediate effect such as increasing your titanium or plant production, whereas blue cards often have an action you can activate each turn, such as transforming excess energy into steel. Your employees have scored their complimentary Red Bulls and productivity is high. Red cards are a one-time event that can change the nature of the game, like chucking a giant ice asteroid into the planet's surface.

There are six kinds of resources: MegaCredits, Steel, Titanium, Plants, Energy and Heat. MegaCredits, Steel and Titanium are used for paying for cards. Plants are exchanged to place a greenery tile on Mars and increase the oxygen and heat is exchanged for raising the temperature. Any excess Energy you have at the end of a round gets converted into nice bonus Heat for your next turn.

The Game Begins


Before the game starts each player gets ten cards from the deck and chooses how many they'd like to keep. Each chosen card costs you three MegaCredits. During your turn you can take up to two actions such as; play a card, activate a blue card, place a greenery or raise the temperature. The round ends once everyone has passed their turn. Everyone will produce their six resources ready for the next round.

All players get dealt four new cards from the deck. This begins the drafting phase and thus the mind games. You will choose a singular card and pass the remainder to your left. Will you choose a card or revel in depriving your opponents of their best move? There's no wrong way to play Mars. The drafting phase ends until you have four cards in your hand. But wait! You don't own these, not yet. Pay up another three MegaCredits and it's all yours.



The game ends once the oxygen, temperature and ocean count are high enough to support humanity. Everyone will finish off the final round and then have a final production phase – if you have enough plants now is the time to cram the board with sycamores. You'll find points in a lot of things. Cards can have positive (or negative!) victory points. Placed greeneries are a vital source of points and they give any cities they surround (not necessarily yours) bonus points as well. Throughout the game players will also be racing for two kinds of endgame points; milestones and awards.

Milestones are achievements claimed, for example, by being the first to build three cities on Mars or having sixteen cards in your hand. There are five milestones but only a total of three can be claimed, so get there quick! Awards are almost like bets for how the game will unfold. For example, the Banker award gives points to the player with the most MegaCredit production and the Scientist award is won by having the most science symbols on cards. Awards can be funded by a player but won by anyone. You can snatch an award right out from under your opponent's nose.

Terraforming Mars is a brilliant game of thinking on your feet, subterfuge, potential despair and limitless success. It has a clean engine-building gameplay system with no accidental pitfalls that relegate you to being a spectator rather than a player. The volume of cards ensures gameplay doesn't get stale with repetitive strategies. You have to innovate against different corporations, different cards and different opponents if you want to win. Terraforming Mars can be played just as well with any number of players. At about two to three hours of game-time, it is perfect for an afternoon indoors or a birthday game-day. This is a great game for players wanting to experience a unique, thematic, strategic board game. It has been, and still remains to this day, one of my favourite board games of all time.


There's also no end to the limits of human ingenuity. The successes on Mars stands as a beacon of innovation, but there's always one more discovery to be made, one more bit of land to explore. These are explored in Terraforming Mars' expansions, which are available to mix-and-match to your hearts desire:

Prelude [add in link]

Prelude [note to Lucas: webpage doesn't exist on our store] is a short and sweet expansion thematically surrounding the early days of Mars' terraforming process. It contains Prelude [add in link] cards that jumpstart your terraforming efforts, such as giving you extra starting cards or production. It also contains five new corporations to expand the diversity of play.

I highly recommend snagging this expansion along with the base game. It speeds up the rate of the early game and adds in some more enjoyable elements to the first few rounds.

Hellas & Elysium

Contrary to futuristic conspiracy theories, Mars isn't flat. This expansion adds in two brand-new playing maps that take you to other regions for a great variety of gameplay. The Elysium map is on the opposite side of the planet where Olympus Mons awaits. Hellas lies to the south where the south pole is just waiting to be melted – there's even special discounts on oceans! Both of these maps include completely new milestones and awards. The Legend milestone from the Elysium map rewards a brave player that carves their name in the annals of history by being the first to play five events. Hellas & Elysium are fantastic additions to spice up the way you play and see if you've still got the chops to terraform Mars.

Venus Next

Venus Next takes you to the next planet in humanity's scope for continued expansion. You are tasked with building flying cities while trying to make the atmosphere of Venus hospitable. This expansions adds additional cards along with a five extra corporations. The Venus track is a new terraforming parameter that has to be satisfied before the game can end. At the end of the round the Venus track also forcibly moves up either the oxygen or heat track, so all your stalling tactics are foiled!

Venus Next is a great expansion for players of Terraforming Mars who have a few games under their belt and are looking for something to introduce more variety to the game.


Humanity has widened its sights to the rest of the final frontier. It's time to colonise the moons of the solar system. The citizens of Mars can enjoy the windfalls of their hard work by shipping in extra energy, plants and cold, hard cash. Colonies has several moons where you can establish a settlement, such as Europa, Ceres and Titan. Beware, there's a strict maximum of three colonies per moon. You get an immediate bonus when you establish a colony and when someone comes to trade with you. The longer a colony is left alone the more resources it will accumulate each round. Trading with a colony will reap these rewards and reset the counter.

This expansion allows for more player interaction as you routinely interact with other players' colonies. They might receive a small bonus for the privilege of your visit but the extra resources are worth it.



Oh God, it's worse than rats. It's politicians. In the Turmoil expansion you choose the right time to fight for control in the Terraforming Committee, or sit back and ride the coattails of another player. In addition to more new cards and corporations, each player receives delegates they can install in a political party. At the end of the round the party with the most delegates gets installed and implements a policy that lasts for the duration of the round. These can be extraordinarily powerful, such as paying ten MegaCredits to draw three cards from the deck.

Turmoil also has global events that effect gameplay. Don't worry, as representatives of the people you can see the rising trends. Everyone has three rounds to prepare for a global event before it happens. Global events are both good and bad, like giving you bonuses for cards or reducing your production of a resource. There's enough global event cards that you can play several games of Terraforming Mars before you see the same one again. This expansion is likely to add the most time to the game as you bicker, beg, and make promises you don't intend to keep with your fellow players. If you enjoy great deals of player interaction this expansion is a great addition to Terraforming Mars.