Expanding Mars: A Guided Tour of the Red Planet and Beyond

Terraforming Mars: Prelude Cover Artwork

So you want to see more of what Mars has to offer?  You’ve thoroughly explored Noctis City, you’ve summited Pavonis Mons, you’ve collected more “pets” than you can count, and you’ve built enough security fleets to guard Fort Knox and the Hope Diamond combined.  It’s high time for a new otherworldly adventure, and you’re in luck.  There are so many ways to expand your journey outside the asteroid belt, and the key is just knowing where to start.

  1. Prelude

The first thing you’re going to want to do is dig into the history of this terraforming endeavor by adding a prelude to your story.  Preludes enable your experience to differ from your fellow travelers from the outset in ways that will define and shape your motivations for generations to come.  Will you accept the patronage of an eccentric sponsor who will kick your exploration into high gear, or will you establish a self-sufficient settlement in order to get down to the surface with a base of operations ahead of schedule?

Once your story has a prelude, you’ll never want to go without, and you’ll wonder how you ever explored Mars without a backstory.  As a longtime fan of variable starting positions (from the desert planet Arrakis to the depths of the Woodland of “might and right”), Prelude is certainly the perfect way to appeal to this interplanetary traveler.

  1. Hellas & Elysium
Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium Cover Artwork

Assuming you’ve already thoroughly read Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy on the geography and geology of the red planet, you’re surely wondering how to travel beyond the edges of Tharsis Tholus and the Daedalia Planum.  And you’re in luck because your next stop on this tour is the southern wilds of Hellas and the vast lowlands of Elysium.

The second best way to expand your trip to Mars is undoubtedly by adding these destinations to your itinerary.  You’ll love getting to arrange oceans in all new patterns and to secure different rewards for your construction of green spaces.  But — without meaning to offend the cartographers among you — more important than the maps themselves are absolutely the milestones that you will find yourself achieving and the awards that you will be competing for.  You’re surely sick of being a gardener, a planner, or a banker.  It’s high time to become the tycoon, the benefactor, and the eccentric polar explorer that you were always meant to be.  Once you’ve visited Olympus Mons, you’ll never look back (except for the view).

  1. Colonies
Terraforming Mars: Colonies Cover Artwork

The final piece of an essential trip to Mars is making a stopover at its many resource-filled colonies.  This addition to your travel package makes good use of all that “energy” you’ve been stockpiling to no end, giving you a highly productive outlet and a new avenue to compete for your utmost priorities at the beginning of each new generation.

These colonies have so much to offer, but it should be noted that the complexity of visiting the colonies makes them a good fit primarily for experienced travelers.  And yet the payoff is surely worth the added complexity.  The interesting decisions of whether to establish your own colonies, along with when and where to send your trade fleet, add a welcome and fascinating layer to your journey.  Ganymede, Pluto, and Triton are just lovely this time of year!

Based on my dozens of trips around the solar system, I personally prefer to leave Luna out of the mix due to its proclivity for dominating the colonial scene, but the rest of the colonies add a wonderfully varied mix of opportunities and tradeoffs.

  1. Corporation Pack

Your corporate identity defines your terraforming experience from start to finish.  Whether you’re Ecoline, Helion, or Thorgate will shape just about everything you do on this adventure.  And while there are so many different corporations to try out of the gate, even a bit more variability can be a welcome addition.

After you’ve started to exhaust your initial range of corporate possibilities, you’ll want to explore what Recyclon, Splice Tactical Genomics, and the Arcadian Communities have to offer.  Arcadian Communities in particular offers a fascinating new mechanism for staking your claim to the virgin lands of Mars.

The ever-thoughtful and considerate users over at the BGG hivemind have developed this trio of corporations to spice up your life, and while it’s far from essential (unlike the first three additions described above), you’ll find that this is a nice add-on to your travel options.

  1. Turmoil
Terraforming Mars: Turmoil Cover Artwork

And now we begin to get to the bottom of the barrel.  In case you’re not sick of the political scene back on Earth, you can explore the impressive range of political parties vying to control Mars.  Unlike Colonies, which adds a wonderful amount of difficult and meaningful decision-making with a minimal overhead of complexity, Turmoil seems to flip that ratio on its head.  When you start to compete for political favor on the red planet, you’ll quickly find yourself mired in red tape and bureaucracy, without a comparable uptick in the payoff.

While I spent the better part of a year helping to crowdfund this new frontier in the world of terraforming, I’ve been disappointed with what it has to offer.  While the terraforming experience has always been about finding and exploiting small efficiencies, Turmoil strikes me as bringing those minutiae to the fore.  Perhaps I’m biased against event decks (like 2017’s “Branch & Claw” variety), but the minimal (albeit meaningful) benefits from successfully manipulating the elections on Mars truly feel small and petulant.  The experience feels bogged down, perhaps effectively evocative of the theme, but nonetheless undesirable — at least for this traveler.

  1. Venus
Terraforming Mars: Venus Next Cover Artwork

Last and least is the world of Venus Next.  The dregs of this lineup offer you nothing worth your time or money.  You should absolutely add a Prelude to your story, visit the wilderness of Hellas & Elysium, and make time on your journey for the far-flung Colonies… but at the same time you should avoid letting your travel agent talk you into adding Venus to the itinerary.  This is a destination that you can safely skip.

Venus adds the resource of floaters, which can unfairly catapult you to glory if all of the pieces happen to fall into place, including through the monotonous Hoverlord milestone and repetitive Venuphile award, but which can be meaningless discards much of the time.  Venus adds a distraction to your terraforming project, pulling focus from the heart and soul of the game, without making the experience more engaging or compelling in any memorable way.

* * *

There you have it.  Your travel guide to expanding your trip to Mars and beyond, from someone who has been there 45 times and counting.  You have a lot of options for how you approach your terraforming journey, but you’re sure to enjoy the rich tapestry of variability and nuance that these additions can bring to your itinerary if you take the time to thoughtfully integrate them into your experience.  So venture forth and explore the solar system, but make sure to always make time for building those physics complexes and discovering those advanced alloys!

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6 Responses to Expanding Mars: A Guided Tour of the Red Planet and Beyond

  1. Pingback: Expanding Mars: A Guided Tour of the Red Planet and Beyond - Rollandtroll.com

  2. rodiziorobs says:

    TM is one of my favorite recent games (recent to me, I should clarify). Due to the length, it doesnt hit the table with a group often, but I do get quite a bit of solo play. I have considered adding an expansion (so thanks for the ranking!) but have to ask: which, if any, of the expansions offers a meaningful addition to a solo game?

    Also, as a side note, the BGG contest for fan-made corporations received a *ton* of great entries that didn’t make the official pack. I’ve gone through and pulled a few favorites for my own games at home. If you like the three new ones, you’re sure to find some others browsing through the thread.

    • Talia Rosen says:

      I’ve never tried the game’s solo mode, so I’ll defer to others on how that might impact the ranking, but thanks for the comment and glad to hear you’re enjoying the game too :-)

  3. Pete says:

    I’ve skipped Venus and Turmoil and would rank the others in the same order, maybe with a shared first place for Prelude and H&E. Seems I didn’t miss too much. 😉

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  5. Fraser says:

    We predominantly have played two player at home with all official expansions. If we add them all our games can take 4-5 enjoyable hours. I would agree with your ranking order. Venus does add stuff, but significantly adds time, ditto Turmoil. They are both interesting in their own way, but if we wanted a shorter game we would strip them out. That said, currently the game has all expansions in the mix. Prelude and Colonies will never come out, and we always rotate through the maps one at a time anyway.

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