Terraforming Mars allows you to live out Elon Musk's wettest of dreams, putting you in the driver's seat of one of a group of private companies working to, well, terraform Mars. You'll engage in cutthroat tactics, nuke the planet, plant trees, and build cities to steak your claim and become the heroes who made Mars inhabitable.
Each player will take the helm of a unique corporation with different powers and starting resources. Players all terraform the planet together while trying to raise their Terraform Score, representing their contribution to the task. Highest score wins. You can raise your Terraform Rating a number of ways, such as raising the global temperature, raising the oxygen levels, or creating oceans in the great craters on Mars. Your Terraform Rating is also how much funding the governments on Earth will grant you at the beginning of each round. You will use this funding to buy cards at the beginning of a round, and play those cards through the course of the round. Each turn you can take two actions, which include playing cards from your hand. These cards can be used to gather resources, gain access to special actions, build cities or special tiles, or a number of other things. The cards are what really make this game shine. Each of the over two hundred cards in the game are unique, and because of that each game will be very different. Some cards are nasty, adding just the right amount of take-that for me, but if that isn't your thing those cards can be left out of the game without affecting gameplay much at all. The iconography on the cards may be imposing, but unlike games like Race for the Galaxy, they also all include clear written descriptions of what the iconography means on every card.
Other actions include buying city and forest tiles, and buying one of the various options for end game scoring. Savvy tile placement is key to the game, as it is a way to gain resources, valuable free cards, and end game points. This adds a good amount of player interaction, as players maneuver to block opponents and set themselves up for large windfalls of points in the endgame. The endgame bonuses available for purchase add an extra level of planning and depth. There are two types of bonuses: a milestone bonus available for purchase after you reach certain milestones during the game, and endgame bonuses you can activate to add end game scoring parameters to the game. The end game bonuses add a great element of trying to guess what your opponents are working on, and waiting until just the right moment to activate the bonus and be secure that you'll be the one to take those points in the end game, rather than hand them to another player.
Also included in the box is a fantastic solo game, where you race against a timer to fully terraform the planet yourself. The solo game is tense and has a good level of difficulty. The solo game is nearly as fun as the multiplayer game, and plays pretty quickly. It's one I have been coming back too often.
The components are the only place the game doesn't shine. The player mats are thin, the cards are average quality, the art is an odd mix of stock photos and art, and the resource cubes, while the have a nice metallic finish, are just the standard plastic cubes you'll find in any game. The components aren't bad by any means, but for $70 MSRP, you would typically expect more.
Despite the subpar art and components, the gameplay carries Terraforming Mars, and makes it one of the most fun gameplay experiences you'll have with a game from the past few years. Terraforming Mars has all the hallmarks of a classic euro, and I expect it to be talked about for a long time in the future.