Updated: Oct 2, 2021
In the far reaches of space, no one can hear you…… introduce algae to the ecosystem of Mars in an attempt to make it suitable for human life. Catchy eh?
Well, Terraforming Mars - Ares Expedition by Stronghold Games makes it catchy!
It's no surprise to most that I love the original Terraforming Mars designed by Jacob Fryxelius. I would give it a solid 5 out of 6 and it remains one of my most played digital games. However, it’s a rare instance of a game where I would almost prefer playing it digitally… to the mammoth task of playing it in real life. With its thousands of cubes / tiles and bonuses adding to other bonuses, different combinations of cards syncing with each other, number crunching, resource management, and advanced mathematical conundrums!!
*takes a deep breath*
One of the perks of going digital! No need for brain exploding quadratic equations, let the computer do it for you!
So imagine my horror when the dead tree format of TM’s little sibling, **Terraforming Mars : Ares Expedition** landed on my lap. Additionally, unless it's digital, I’m pretty much a solo gamer these days, my wife isn’t really into gaming and my two-year-old son still is at risk of eating the pieces… so it's all down to me! Can I secure humanity's future by myself?
In summary, the aim of the game is the same. You, the player or players, take control of one of a large selection of corporations. Determined to ensure humanity's survival into the stars by making Mars suitable for organic life. You do this by playing a series of cards and actions to raise the three required terraforming steps that are needed to make the planet livable.
You need oxygen, you need heat, and you need water (or oceans, whatever). The player achieves this by investing their company's hard-fought funds to create engines that make it easier for you to terraform the planet. Perhaps you invest in mining metals and materials? Making it cheaper for you to construct buildings down the line? Perhaps you bring plants and animals to the planet. Bringing oxygen along with it and turning the red planet green. Perhaps you just build tourist centres? Giving you more and more money to build other stuff? Or just throw asteroids at the planet to heat it up. Do whatever you want! The world is yours! Literally. Until the rest of humanity joins you anyway.
So how is Ares compared to its big bro?
Jacob Fryxelius returns, this time collaborating with co-designers Nick Little and Sydney Engelstein. In short, it compares very well! In long….this is designed as a more streamlined version of the big game. It's marketed as a card game, which is mostly accurate. There is a board that represents Mars, but this is a lot smaller and is mainly used to flip ocean tiles for hidden bonuses and to keep track of the scores / current state of the planet. Gone is the tactical long-term planning of tiles of the surface of Mars. Not more spamming the planet with cities. No more cheekily putting a city next to a bunch of opponent's greeneries to gain the points before they had a chance to capitalise on their own investments themselves.
In fact, it is worth noting that your ability to “mess” with your opponents has been pretty much removed entirely. There are no more “take that” cards. There will be no resource stealing or crashing a small moon into your opponents' plant reserves anymore. All gone. Is this a bad thing? Hmmm, not really. But it does make for a different kind of game.
It's a lot more pleasant and chilled. A lot less corporation back-stabbing.
This is a much brighter version of the future, where humanity is working together a lot more to make the planet livable to give a better life for all. There can still only be one winner though, it's the one with the most victory points. So with this in mind, how can you stop your opponents?
Well, in short, you can’t really. This isn’t a war game, it's a race game. A race to build the most efficient engine at terraforming the planet the fastest to nab all those sweet, sweet points. If this lack of conflict bothers you, then maybe this isn’t the game for you, go for its more aggressive older brother. However, if you want a more chilled game where you can plan out your ultimate terraforming machine, without fear of aggressive opponents. This will be right up your street.
Another thing to note is that this game has a shorter play time than the original. On my first go at this, I played the game in one to two hours, and that was reading the rules as I went. I imagine once I’m up to speed, I’ll be completing this game in about an hour (solo mode at least). One of the main differences is that players' turns are done simultaneously. A very nice addition that certainly speeds up the downtime waiting for the other player to make their actions.
In terms of components, it is fantastic. Excellent artwork on the cards and lots of nice sturdy cubes of various sizes to keep track of your income levels and resources. The new mini Mars board is also a great way to keep track of your progress. No complaints here. It is a good-looking game.
Last thing I should mention is that I only played the solo version of this game. But I can see how it translates over to the multiplayer aspect. In solo-mode, you create a “dummy player” hand of cards, which essentially act as the time limit. You basically have 25 turns to fully terraform the whole planet all by yourself. With various different options for difficulty. I was playing on the easiest setting and only just terraformed the planet on the very last turn, phew!
In summary, I enjoyed this game just as much as its big brother, and would recommend it to anyone if they want a slightly streamlined and less competitive version of the game.
With this in mind.... my final score out of six is....
Now… go brave astronaut! Be like Matt Damon. Go grow potatoes on Mars. Like in the movie right? The Martian? You seen it? Good film. Ah nevermind... laters all!
If you like the sound of the digital version of the original Terrarforming Mars be sure to check out our review.