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The Terraforming Mars card game is as good as we’d hoped it would be


The 2016 board game Terraforming Mars is an amazing title.

As evidence, I present the following image:

Note: This image, of a chintzy player mat stamped with clip-art-quality design work, is not from the game we are looking at today.
Enlarge / Note: This image, of a chintzy player mat stamped with clip-art-quality design work, is not from the game we are looking at today.

Nate Anderson

If a game this ugly can capture the hearts, minds, and continued attention of the devotees of the overcrowded board game market to become a modern classic, you know it’s something special.

And if a board game becomes popular, you can be sure of one thing: A card game version will eventually arrive. If that’s a hit, get ready for the dice version. And then, market willing, comes the roll-and-write version. That may sound like cynical resignation to cash-grabby companies endlessly returning to the same well, but these reimagined versions aren’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, some of my favorite games are card or dice versions of “bigger” board games.

That’s where last year’s Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition comes in. A card-game spin on the original, Ares Expedition aims to capture the feel of the board game in a smaller, tighter package.

We are pleased to report that it succeeds.

The new game’s theme is identical to the original board game’s. You and up to three opponents take on the role of CEOs of megacorporations working to turn the inhospitable terrain of the red planet into something humanity can call home. While your actions contribute to the main goal of raising three key global parameters—the planet’s temperature must hit 8° Celsius, atmospheric oxygen must rise to 14 percent, and oceanic coverage must become sufficient to kickstart the planet’s own hydrologic cycle—this is not a cooperative game.

Both games end when the parameters have been met—thematically, this takes place over centuries. But because you’re a CEO of a corporation, your real goal is to be the best terraformer on the planet so you can secure funding, lucrative contracts, and accolades from the World Government on Earth. Among other tasks, you’ll populate Mars with plants, animals, and bacteria; you’ll build cities and life-sustaining infrastructure; and you’ll mine the moons of Jupiter for resources. For a fuller look at the original board game, check out our full review.



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