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Terraforming Mars (board game)

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Terraforming Mars
Terraforming Mars box cover
DesignersJacob Fryxelius
IllustratorsIsaac Fryxelius
PublishersFryxGames (2016)
GenresBoard game
Setup time10 minutes
Playing time120 minutes
SkillsStrategy, tactics, logic

Terraforming Mars is a board game for 1 to 5 players designed by Jacob Fryxelius and published by FryxGames in 2016, and thereafter by 12 others, including Stronghold Games. In Terraforming Mars, players take the role of corporations working together to terraform the planet Mars by raising the temperature, adding oxygen to the atmosphere, covering the planet's surface with water and creating plant and animal life.[1] The game incorporates elements of resource management, engine building, and strategic planning.[2] Players compete to earn the most victory points, which are measured by their contribution to terraforming and to human infrastructure. These goals are achieved by collecting income and resources which allow them to play various projects, represented by cards that increase their income or resources, build infrastructure, or directly contribute to terraforming the planet. The game was received positively by fans and critics, and received numerous awards.


A game of Terraforming Mars that has just been completed

Players represent competing corporations who all have a stake in terraforming Mars. The game board depicts the planet's surface, which is represented by an array of 61 contiguous hexes. Each hex represents about 1% of Mars' surface area. Onto these hexes, players can place oceans, greeneries, cities, and other special tiles.[3] The object of the game is for players to complete three terraforming conditions: raise the atmosphere's oxygen level to 14%; raise the temperature from −30 to +8 degrees Celsius; and cover 9% of Mars' surface by ocean (represented in-game as having 9 ocean tiles placed on Mars).

Players accomplish these goals by playing cards that represent various technologies or buildings used to terraform Mars.[3][4] The game is played over a number of generations, each represented as one game round. A generation begins with players drawing cards, then players take turns performing actions (which can be playing cards, using the ability of a card already in play or paying for one of the several actions depicted on the board). Once all players have finished taking actions, players collect income and resources according to their production of the different resources, then the next generation begins.

One of the unique aspects in Terraforming Mars is the Terraforming Rating (TR) system. Whenever a player performs an action that advances one of the terraforming conditions, the player's TR increases. A player's TR not only represents the victory points they have earned during the game, but is also added to a player's money income when collecting income and resources at the end of each generation.

The game ends at the end of any generation when the three terraforming conditions have been met.[5][6] Then, players count up their points, which come from their TR at the end of the game, cities and greeneries that they have placed on Mars, achievements they have claimed during the game and cards they have played, and the player with the highest score wins.

Expansions and spin-offs[edit]


Five expansions have been released:[7][8][9][10]

  • Hellas and Elysium (2017), which adds a new double-sided board representing two new regions of Mars, with each region having its own terrain layout, milestones, and end-game achievements
  • Venus Next (2017), which adds a new side-board representing Venus as a new terraforming opportunity and new Venus-related cards for the deck
  • Prelude (2018), which adds Prelude cards that players take during setup to jump-start their production and terraforming
  • Colonies (2018), which adds areas around the Solar System for players to colonize and travel to, providing alternative ways of getting resources without having to play cards
  • Turmoil (2019), which adds a Martian government with several political factions, each with their own agendas, which players can influence to gain various bonuses

Future expansions:

  • Prelude 2 (planned 07/2024), which adds 5 new corporation cards, 25 prelude cards, and 24 project cards
  • Milestones and Awards (planned 07/2024), which allows players to randomize 35 milestones and 35 awards
  • Automa Solo Expansion (planned 07/2024), which provides a new solo player mode
  • Arabia Terra, Amazonis Planitia, Terra Cimmeria, Vastitas Borealis (planned 07/2024), which adds four new boards representing new expansion outposts of Mars, with each board having its own terrain layout, milestones, and end-game achievements


Several seasonal promotional cards have been released that include new corporations, preludes, and project cards.[11]

Card Adaptation[edit]

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition, a simplified card game version of the original, released in 2021.[12][13][14] A legacy variant and a dice game are also scheduled for release.[15][16]

Video Game Adaptation[edit]

A video game adaptation of Terraforming Mars, developed by Asmodee Digital, was released in October 2018. Matt Thrower of Strategy Gamer considered the adaptation to have "too many rough edges to recommend".[17] However, in a list of Best Board Games On PC from the same site he later revised this opinion, saying "developer Asmodee Digital has stepped up the plate with a host of updates. And while the interface remains a bit obtuse, the game itself is shining as it should."[18]

Online Play[edit]

Terraforming Mars can also be played on Steam and Board Game Arena.


The base game rulebook acknowledges Kim Stanley Robinson and his Mars trilogy as "great inspiration" to the game.[19] Additionally, the example players in the rulebook are named Kim, Stanley and Robinson.


Terraforming Mars received highly positive reviews following its release. Reviewing from Ars Technica, Aaron Zimmerman criticised the "serious art and component weaknesses", but praised the engine-building mechanism, the uniqueness of cards, and variable starting corporate cards, concluding that it is "a crunchy, engaging brain-burner with amazing theme". It was subsequently listed on Ars Technica as one of its 20 best games of 2016.[20] Matt Thrower from IGN also commented positively on the game's replayability.[21] Editors from Polygon stated that the card system was "gripping" and described the game arc was "gratifying"; Terraforming Mars was also listed as its runner up for best game of 2016 and best strategy game of 2016.[22] Similarly, Popular Mechanics named Terraforming Mars as one of its 50 best games of the year.[23] Vulture called it "the best high strategy game of 2016."[24] In an article for The Guardian, Dan Jolin said that the projects "synergise in many different and rewarding ways", and stated that "isn't just a great science game, it's a great game full stop".[25]

The game was nominated for the 2017 Kennerspiel des Jahres award for Best Strategy Game of the Year.[26] It won Best Family/Adult Game at the 2017 Deutscher Spiele Preis.[27] From 2019 to 2020, Terraforming Mars peaked as the 3rd ranked board game on BoardGameGeek.[28]

The expansions to the game were also received positively. Hellas and Elysium and Venus Next were the two runners-up for the Golden Geek award for the best expansion to a game in 2017.[29] Prelude has been received very well by critics for speeding up the beginning phase by giving each player extra abilities at the start of the game.[30] Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition was also reviewed by Charlie Hall from Polygon, who described the game's multiple phases as interesting, but critiqued that it was "a smaller, mostly card-based game leaves behind a few vestigial remnants from the original" that still contained "redundant icons and concepts". Hall additionally criticised the components and rulebook.[12] Reviewing from Ars Technica, Aaron Zimmerman stated that the game was a combination of Race for the Galaxy and the original title, and complimented the engagement and engine-building mechanics. Zimmerman considered that the game's player interaction was "arguably more" than the base game, and considered its components as superior.[14]

Media tie-ins[edit]

In 2021, a tie-in novel based on the game by author Jane Killick called In the Shadow of Deimos was published by Aconyte Books.[31] In 2022, a second novel titled Edge of Catastrophe was released by Jane Killick.


  1. ^ "Adults claiming board games as more than a childhood hobby". New Zealand Herald. February 10, 2018. Archived from the original on November 18, 2020. Retrieved May 3, 2021.
  2. ^ "Terraforming Mars Board Game Review". The Board Gamer. 2023-03-14. Retrieved 2023-04-23.
  3. ^ a b Law, Keith (December 8, 2016). "Terraforming Mars is One of The Best Games of 2016". Paste. Archived from the original on May 3, 2021. Retrieved May 3, 2021.
  4. ^ Olson, Jeremy (May 24, 2017). "Game of the year 2017 nominees announced!". Albany Times-Union. Archived from the original on February 29, 2020. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  5. ^ Anderson, Nate (October 1, 2016). "Terraforming Mars review: Turn the "Red Planet" green with this amazing board game". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on December 16, 2020. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  6. ^ "5 Board Games David Gardner Would Put Under the Tree This Year". Motley Fool. December 19, 2016. Archived from the original on February 29, 2020. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  7. ^ Adams, Sabrina (August 19, 2017). "Locally printed board game "Terraforming Mars" returns to Gen Con with new expansion". WXIN. Archived from the original on May 3, 2021. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
  8. ^ McAleer, Jeff (December 19, 2017). "Ring in the New Year with 'Terraforming Mars: Venus Next'". The Gaming Gang. Archived from the original on February 29, 2020. Retrieved January 9, 2018.
  9. ^ "Terraforming Mars". BoardGameGeek. Retrieved January 1, 2019.
  10. ^ "TERRAFORMING MARS // Turmoil – erste Bilder". Brettspiel (in German). October 18, 2019. Retrieved November 4, 2019.
  11. ^ "TM Accessories and Promos". FryxGames. Retrieved 2023-10-26.
  12. ^ a b Hall, Charlie (2021-07-02). "Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition is faster than the original, but no less fiddly". Polygon. Retrieved 2022-02-07.
  13. ^ "Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition Improves on a Modern Board Game Classic". pastemagazine.com. 2021-11-04. Retrieved 2022-06-22.
  14. ^ a b Zimmerman, Aaron (22 July 2022). "The Terraforming Mars card game is as good as we'd hoped it would be". Ars Technica. Retrieved 22 July 2022.
  15. ^ Zoch, Patrick. "Terraforming Mars Legacy in the Works". The Dice Tower. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  16. ^ Kenntoft, Jay. "Terraforming Mars: The Dice Game". Boardgame-News. Retrieved April 1, 2020.
  17. ^ Thrower, Matt (October 24, 2018). "Review: Terraforming Mars". Strategy Gamer. Retrieved November 29, 2018. [permanent dead link]
  18. ^ Thrower, Matt (May 22, 2019). "The Best Board Games On PC 2019". Strategy Gamer. Archived from the original on May 4, 2019. Retrieved May 23, 2019.
  19. ^ Fryxelius, Jacob. "Terraforming Mars" (PDF). Fryxgames. p. 16. Retrieved 7 April 2024.
  20. ^ "Game on! The best board games of 2016". Ars Technica. December 27, 2016. Archived from the original on February 14, 2021. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  21. ^ Thrower, Matt (2022-03-07). "Best Board Games for Adults (2022)". IGN. Retrieved 2022-06-22.
  22. ^ Hall, Charlie (March 9, 2017). "The Best Board Games of 2016". Polygon. Archived from the original on February 29, 2020. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
  23. ^ Law, Keith (December 21, 2016). "The Best Board Games for Every Holiday Situation". Vulture. Archived from the original on April 20, 2018. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
  24. ^ Jolin, Dan (20 April 2019). "The board games turning science into playtime". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  25. ^ "2017's "Board Game of the Year" shortlist is out—get playing!". Ars Technica. May 22, 2017. Archived from the original on November 11, 2020. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  26. ^ Krause, Daniel (September 18, 2017). "Deutschen Spielepreis 2017: Terraforming Mars gewinnt". Brettspiel (in German). Retrieved May 3, 2021.
  27. ^ "Terraforming Mars Historical Stats| BoardGameGeek". BoardGameGeek. Retrieved January 26, 2023.
  28. ^ Hall, Charlie (March 14, 2018). "The best board games of 2017, as chosen by the Board Game Geek community". Polygon. Archived from the original on February 5, 2021. Retrieved March 17, 2018.
  29. ^ "Hands Down Best Terraforming Mars Expansions in 2021 [Ranked]". Board Game Theories. 3 July 2020. Archived from the original on May 3, 2021. Retrieved May 3, 2021.
  30. ^ "Books in the world of Terraforming Mars". Aconyte Books. Retrieved 12 July 2022.

Further reading[edit]