Terraforming Mars, that’s a good idea, we need a new place to live other than this planet. Why don’t you go take care of that for me.
Sometimes a game comes along and it brings with it a creative, new and exciting game mechanic that innovates gaming. I think of Dominion straight off as being a game that created a whole new sub-genre of games that has since been taken and run with by designers and publishers all over. As a result we have a slew of deck building games that range in complexity and styles giving us interesting places to go.
Terraforming Mars is not a game of that will change gaming as a whole. Then there are those games that show up and offer nothing new as far as mechanics but tend to take the mashed up cores they chose to go with and presents them in a well put together and polished manner. A very clear example of this for me is Tasty Minstrel Games’ product Belfort. Go ahead, read some reviews or comments on this gem and you will see over and over again how rehashed mechanics can be put together in such a way that it creates a wonderful gaming experience. Terraforming Mars is not this game either.
What Terraforming Mars is however tends to be the former part of that last paragraph, and that is….nothing new. Several already used and better implemented mechanics for gaming are put together, wrapped up nicely in an admittedly wonderful theme, with very sub par graphical representation with at best, only a fair quality production level.
Look, the thing is, one of my favorite kind of games is tableau building games and that is the very heart and soul of Terraforming Mars. I love the idea that buildings give you tags, and other buildings have pre-requisites of certain tags or combinations of tags just to be built. So I have to hand manage, plan and execute timely to get things accomplished, affect my position on the board and ultimate score points. I can appreciate the idea here but like so many other games I feel like there is something dire that didn’t happen during the play testing process. You see, all the games of this I have played have felt very similar. We started out playing with just the basic corporations and not including the corporate era advanced cards.
I could tell the game was a little bit flat right out of the gate after that first game but also understood that the simplification process of playing the basic game may have impacted things. This made me quick to want to replay the game and add these elements into it to really feel what this game was all about. Well a few plays more like this and I realize this game feels like a bad ass muscle car, let’s say one of those new Camaros with that menacing looking front end and nearly fully blacked out tinted windows. Only to find it’s got a 4 cylinder engine under the hood and it can just barely muster enough power to carry it’s own body weight.
Every game I have played has left me feeling very underwhelmed. In fact, the last game I played was a four player game and I chose my opponents to be people who I knew loved games and liked to get into games. Theme players, if you will. This was everyone’s first game save for me. We got our corporation cards handed to us and we all seemed to right away get into the thematics of who we were trying to be.
In play we had Ecoline who vowed to bring flourishing greeneries to the planet. Mining Guild, self dubbed as the dwarves of Mars. Interplanetary Cinematics who determined they were shooting The Truman Show on Mars. Finally Inventrix as run by myself, dedicated to being the Gadget Man of our new world, this suited me fine given my penchant towards tableau games anyway. The players were set and had mindsets ready for a furious land grab that Terraforming Mars also like to play around with.
We had what I would describe as the best game session as you could possibly hope for. Each person role played being the corporation they were playing. Cards would get played with flare and a short discourse on how said card fits into that specific corporations direction of advancement.
We had some conflicts amongst us, that turned into rivalries. We had some alliances formed that were then broken just as quickly as Arnold’s eyes bulge out in Total Recall.
We had races for milestones and jostling of positions for the first and second places on awards. In the end, four competent players ended the game all within eight points of each other with winner only being three points ahead of second place.
During this final play through I never indicated to anyone that I had my suspicions of not thinking highly of the game. I was excited to play and gave a rules run down with enthusiasm. I wanted to see how these three new players to the game would feel about the game untainted by me. In the last couple rounds you could feel the players were trying to rush the game as everyone was ready to be done with this. We had all accomplished much of what we initially set out to do and felt as good as we could about our decisions. Upon completion two players voiced my previously felt, yet unstated position, of how the game just felt lackluster.
One player was mostly quiet and simply said “Why does this game get so much hype?” and I knew then that my feelings on this game were probably more right than wrong.
I really do believe that being a Kickstarter backer of a game that then goes on to become somewhat of a rare item does in fact make the owners of such games concede on points where they might normally find fault with a game. There is a level of pride in owning the hot, new, buzz worthy game when no one else can get it and so you want said game to be, hot and buzzy.
When the day is done, the game is packed and the planet is habitable, Terraforming Mars is not a bad game. In fact it’s a fine game. You know the kind of fine I am talking about here right? This game does what it intends on doing, only that’s been done better in other games. Sure the theme is something to give a nod to as I love that we aren’t building a cathedral in Europe during the 14th century. But really if the game play is superior somewhere else I can let the theme go. Terraforming Mars, I personally, am finished with you.
~ J. Neil Edge