Terraforming Mars Hellas & Elysium (Expansion Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designers:  Jacob Fryxelius
  • Publisher:  Stronghold Games
  • Artists:  Isaac Fryxelius
  • Players:  1 – 5
  • Ages:  12 and Up
  • Time:  90 – 120 Minutes
  • Times Played: > 6 (On Review Copy from the Publisher)


Terraforming Mars has been one of the hottest games of the past year, and we loved it when we reviewed it last fall.  

The game currently sits at #7 in the BoardGameGeek ratings.  It earned a Kennerspiel des Jahres nomination this spring, plus it is poised to do well in voting for several other awards this year.  

So it is no surprise that the game’s first expansion — Hellas & Elysium — is one of the most anticipated releases of Gen Con 2017.  I’ve already played the expansion six times, and I love it.  If you like Terraforming Mars, I bet you’ll enjoy its first expansion.

Expansion Walkthrough

If you haven’t played Terraforming Mars, check out my review from last fall.

The Hellas & Elysium expansion comes with a two-sided game board, one for Hellas (“The Southern Wild”) and the other for Elysium (“The Other Side of Mars”).  Each side has a new map with different placement bonuses, ocean areas, and new milestones and awards.  

Hellas Map

The Hellas Map

The Hellas Map shows the south pole as well as the great Hellas sea, with the top of the map approaching the equator.  As such, the plant bonuses are towards the top.  Some regions of the map release heat — particularly the south pole — when construction happens there.  

The new milestones on Hellas include:

  • The Diversifier, which requires 8 different tags.
  • The Tactician, which requires 5 cards with requirements.
  • The Polar Explorer, for having 3 tiles on the bottom two rows (near the south pole).
  • The Energizer, for having 6 energy production.
  • The Rim Settler, for having three jovian tags.

Hellas Milestones

The new awards on Hellas include:

  • The Cultivator, for the most greenery tiles.
  • The Magnate, for having the most automated (i.e. green) cards in play.
  • The Space Baron, for having the most space tags (but event cards don’t count).
  • The Eccentric, for having the most resources on cards.
  • The Contractor, for having the most building tags (but event cards don’t count).

Hellas Awards

Now let’s turn to Elysium…

Elysium Map

The Elysium Map

The Elysium Map shows the other side of mars, with a completely different set up.  The plant bonuses are near the equator, and the ocean sits in a cluster near the top of the map.  

The new milestones on Elysium include:

  • The Generalist, for having all 6 productions by at least 1 step.  
  • The Specialist, for having at least 10 production of any resource.
  • The Ecologist, for having 4 bio tags (which can come from plants, microbes, or animals).
  • The Tycoon, for having 15 project (i.e. blue and green) cards in play.
  • The Legend, for having played 5 events.

Elysium Milestones

The new awards on Elysium include:

  • The Celebrity, for having the most non-event cards with a cost of at least 20 megacredits.
  • The Industrialist, for having the most steel and energy resources.
  • The Desert Settler, for having the most tiles south of the equator (i.e. in the bottom four rows).
  • The Estate Dealer, for having the most tiles adjacent to oceans.
  • The Benefactor, for having the highest terraform rating.  (This award gets counted first.)

Elysium Awards

My thoughts on the game…

Terraforming Mars has cracked into my to 20 games of all time, so I was very eager to try its first expansion.  And it didn’t disappoint: I love the new maps, but I especially love the new milestones and awards, which add greatly to the game’s replayability.  

Hellas & Elysium adds exciting new elements to gameplay, but it doesn’t complicate the game.  Most expansions tend to fall flat with me — I often find they add clunkiness or break an otherwise fine game — but Hellas & Elysium is a streamlined and well-thought out addition that enhances the best parts of its base game.  

Hellas is my favorite of the two sides, and I (surprisingly) think I like it better than the base game map.  Hellas is the most different from the base game, with different kinds of placement bonuses.  I really like that aspect of it, and I slightly prefer the milestones and awards on that side.  

In particular, I love the Diversifier milestone, which requires having 8 different tags in play.  Terraforming Mars often rewards specialization, but the Diversifier milestone is for those players that go after a little bit of everything.  (And it is possible to get it while still specializing, if you get the right cards.)

Based on my few plays, the Hellas map seemingly adds another twist: it speeds up the rising temperatures.  At least in my group, temperature has usually been the first metric to be maxed out in Terraforming Mars.  Seemingly by design, it’ll go even quicker here.  There are heat bonuses on the map, a nice thematic touch to show frozen carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.  Add in the fact that the Energizer milestone rewards having 6 energy production, and I expect this is a map where temperature rises quickly, because players are getting more energy/heat resources than ever before.  After the temperature hits the max, players are rewarded for using the (many) cards in the game that lower their energy production.  

I also enjoy the new milestones and awards on the Elysium side, although the map there felt very similar to the map of the base game.  The placement bonus are similar, although I think the oceans on the Elysium side are well-thought out.  

Because of the new milestones/awards, Elysium is the side that rewards building a lot of cards, or at least the most expensive cards.  The Tycoon milestone goes to the player with 15 project cards, and the Legend milestone goes to the player with 5 events.  If you’re not getting a lot of cheap cards out, you can go for the Celebrity award, which goes to the player with the most cards (not events) with a cost of at least 20 megacredits.

My favorite addition on Elysium, though, is the Estate Dealer award.  In Terraforming Mars, I’ve often been indifferent about where I place oceans, even with the base placement bonuses.  The Estate Dealer changes that by giving an award to the player with the most tiles adjacent to ocean tiles.  I think it is the single best award/milestone on all three maps: in my plays, players have really focused on how to place their city/greenery tiles in combination to their ocean tiles.

Overall, I’m highly impressed.  This really freshened up gameplay for me, and I played it six times in a week!  If you like Terraforming Mars, I enthusiastically recommend its first expansion.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris Wray
  • I like it.
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…
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5 Responses to Terraforming Mars Hellas & Elysium (Expansion Review by Chris Wray)

  1. David Tepfer says:

    I have only had a few plays of Teraforming Mars (so far) and I like it quite a bit. But since the expansion doesn’t seem to add any new mechanics do you feel like its more for veterans of the game looking to breathe some life into it or something that adds even more value to the game?

  2. ianthecool says:

    Thanks for the review! I’m glad to hear its worth it. New maps as expansions usually dont excite me much, but I love Terraforming Mars, so I’m excited about more period. But a new map will take up a lot of box space, so it needs to be worth it.

  3. Pingback: Chris Wray: My Gen Con Most Anticipated List | The Opinionated Gamers

  4. Ralph Anderson says:

    Can Elysium expansion be a stand alone game or do I need the base game

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