Welcome to Tabletop Tips, a regular blog where Drew goes over some basic strategy insights for new and popular board games. These are a great read if you are already familiar with the rules of the game, or even just starting out to provide a strategic approach when playing. To start things off, Drew is going to talk about one of his favorite new games, Terraforming Mars!
Terraforming Mars is a heavy strategy board game where players manage resources to terraform the Red planet. Yeah, the title of the game pretty much nails it right on the head. The objective is simple: accrue the most victory points by the end of the game. The challenge of the game is balancing your early game development with late game goals in order to efficiently maximize your victory points.
Points, points, points
As a resource strategy game, it can be tempting to focus on generating more resources. And certainly, having access to more resources in the middle to the closing generations (rounds) of the game can lead to some big payoffs by investing in more projects at the end of the game. A card like Acquired Company is a great project to pay for on turn 1, as it will pay for itself in five generations. However, it is not a card I will take in later generations if I have to pay full price for it.
The key to remember is that you need to be converting your resources into victory points in some manner. Acquired Company is a great resource generation card, but it does not give you any victory points. In contrast, Pets on the first generation will often give you 6-9 points, which is quite the bargain for only 10 megacredits. However, it does nothing to contribute to your resource generation, yet I am extremely happy to have Pets on the first generation simply because it gives you so many points for its low cost.
A question you should always ask yourself when you decide you want to keep a project in your hand or use a standard project is: “How do I get points out of this?” It may be cool to have a lot of science projects that draw you lots of cards from the deck, but do you get a lot of points out of all those cards?
Greeneries are pretty boring. They aren’t as flashy as AI Central or as explosive as a Giant Ice Asteroid. But when placed properly, they provide a solid amount of points for their price, whether using plants or megacredits to place them. I’m not advocating to just ignore cards, as an early AI Central can easily fuel a powerful card based strategy. The advantage of cities and greeneries is how much control you have over them as a player. Certainly, other players can jockey for city positions on the map or hijack a location primed with some green tiles with a city, but you aren’t waiting on just the right card or cards to come your way to build them. Greeneries and cities are available immediately, and provide a lot of points for their investment. Consider the following layouts:
In the first position, every greenery placed between your cities is worth four points, assuming you can still increase the oxygen level for each green tile you place. In the second position, a greenery placed between all three cities is worth five points! Even if only placed next to one city tile of yours, a greenery tile is three victory points if you raise the oxygen from placing that tile.
Next time you don’t have a lot of options with the cards you are receiving between generations, consider focusing on developing the board with cities and greeneries. You may be surprised at how many points you earn at the end of the game!
Cash is King
The core resource for Terraforming Mars is megacredits. Other resources usually convert more efficiently, but they are narrower than megacredits. Just like the real world, anything you want to do can be done with money. You can be flush with too much of one or more non-megacredit resources at the end of the game by investing too much in their production, especially if the right cards don’t come your way.
Megacredits, however, will always be useful at every stage of the game. You can basically always spend them in the later parts of the game on victory points, whether those come from standard projects or cards that give you points. Early game megacredits are valuable as well. Consider comparing two corporations as an example: Ecoline and Teractor. While Ecoline has a focus on plant production and the ability to churn out greeneries in the middle to later parts of the game, Teractor starts the game with 24 more megacredits. 24 megacredits will help pay for one or more cards you decide to keep, and essentially every standard project, including a city or a greenery. Ecoline will naturally struggle early on with resource generation outside of its plant production, while Teractor will mostly likely be able to generate more early resources, allowing it to easily develop its early game. Again, this isn’t to say Ecoline isn’t a viable corporation (my most recent win I played Ecoline), but rather to consider just how potent and flexible megacredits are.
The Power of City Cards
I generally think most of the cards are reasonably balanced. The powerful ones are often steeply priced and/or have significant requirements in order to play them. However, there is one group of cards I do think are generally undercosted as well as being incredibly powerful, and those are all the cards that either trigger each time a city is placed, or check for how many cities are in play when they are played. While the former are most powerful when played very early on in the game, the latter can be taken early, even as early as your very first research phase and sat on until the later generations when they can be played for their powerful effect. I have not played a game of Terraforming Mars in which less than twelve city tiles are placed throughout the game. Whenever I have an opportunity to take one of the below cards, I almost always do (with the exception of Energy Saving. Sometimes you will have something to do with that much energy, other times it will not add much to your strategy. It is still worth considering though because of its effect versus its cost.)
Terraforming Mars offers plenty of strategic depth and replayability. There are a plethora of options for you to pursue when directing your corporation to develop the planet. Keep the above tips in mind the next time you are playing Terraforming Mars with your friends!