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Terraforming Mars iOS (Digital) Review

Quick Look: Terraforming Mars iOS (Digital)

Designer: Jacob Fryxelius
Artists: Isaac Fryxelius
Publisher: Asmodee Digital (Physical Game: FryxGames, Stronghold Games)
Year Published: 2019 (Physical Game: 2016)
No. of Players: 1-5
Ages: 12+ (App says 4+, but I think that's a bit young...)
Playing Time: 30-120 minutes

Ever since receiving Terraforming Mars for Christmas a number of years ago, it has been a favorite for me and my wife. We have played it countless times—with each other, with friends and family, and also solo. It really is a fantastic game. 

Then it was released in digital format on Steam, followed by mobile. Now, I’m not a huge mobile gamer, be it digital board games or otherwise. I have played Star Realms on iOS because it’s a quick way to play, and I’ll play Sudoku and Jurassic World: Alive here and there to kill some time. I wasn’t sure how Terraforming Mars would fall for me. I love the tabletop version, so would that love transfer to digital? On the other hand, I don’t use my phone for games very often, so would I even want to play it?

The answer is yes. 

Terraforming Mars is still wonderful on mobile, and I still want to play it—perhaps even more so now. I play it on the go, when I’m sitting quietly in my kids’ room as I wait for them to fall asleep, while I’m pooping (you know you’d do it too), and anytime I’m itching for some terraforming goodness. Playing solo or against the AI, I’m able to stop and start as I please. Playing against others can also be when I please, taking my turns as they come and when I have a spare moment, or doing it all at once like I’m at a digital table with a bunch of randos.

The residue of my thoughts will be distilled below, done in the same format as all our other (i.e. physical and not digital) reviews.


If there’s one massive perk to mobile board games, it’s the omission of setup and tear down. Setting up a game in the app constitutes choosing players and selecting whether you’ll be using Corporate rules and drafting variant. That’s it; easy peasy. Plus, you don’t have to shuffle the seemingly endless supply of cards, which, if you’ve ever played the physical cardboard game, you know is one of the most tedious things to do.


I won’t go into the actual rules of play, since they’re the same as the tabletop version, but I will look a bit at what it’s like to play on mobile.

First of all, it’s pretty dang smooth. The interface is easy to work with, intuitive, and doesn’t take long to get the hang of—especially if you’ve already played the physical game. And I feel like gameplay doesn’t seem to take as long, either. At least, playing solo, games take far less time than on the table. That is a good thing! I’ve been able to get countless solo games in, whether against the AI or by playing the solo variant.

Playing with others is fun and easy as well. Go to the lobby, find a game that’s waiting for players, and in no time you’ve got yourself a game. Or, start your own! Play with friends or random people. I wish it were easier to add friends to your contacts, but apparently you’ve got to play a game with them first, or at least have them online when you add them. At least, that’s what I’ve deduced—if I’m wrong, I’d love to know.

When playing with other humans, you can either play in one sitting or log in and take your turn when time is on your side.The games where you’re not watching and waiting for your turn obviously take longer, but hey, at least you get to play!

These types of games are great for playing with family and friends in other parts of the country (or world, for that matter). We somewhat recently moved across the country, leaving my wife’s brother and his wife two time zones away. We used to play games with them a lot, and Terraforming Mars was always a favorite. Well, the day the Terraforming Mars mobile app released, they texted us asking if we had the app. We did (of course), so we are now able to continue playing games with them, even at great distances. The only downside is the time difference and waiting for them to take their turns so we can take ours. It’s a small price to pay to be able to play and keep in touch with family.

Another great aspect about playing on the app is that if you sneeze, your player board doesn’t blow away. Also, the app calculates your upkeep for you, as well as what you spend, so it makes calculating cost—especially with modifiers—easy.

One downside, however, is the lack of an “undo” action/button. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken my own greenery cubes away instead of an opponent's because I was trying to click through it quickly. It’s embarrassing. But then again, I should have paid better attention to what was going on. But, it definitely enforces the “card laid is a card played” mantra. No mulligans, no take-backs, and no mercy. 

I will say as well that it’s not as easy to see the entire game state in the app as compared to on the table. On the table, I can glance at everyone’s player board and see what’s up. I can see how many cards they’ve played, get a feel for the tags they have, and so forth. On the app, when you’re buying cards (for example), you can’t see the board or your own hand of cards. You can’t see what others have in front of them either. Instead, you have to back out to view the game state and tap on each individual player to get a look at their setup. Do this one by one until you’re ready to buy your cards, and hopefully you haven’t forgotten what you’ve seen by then. It’s not a huge issue, but it’s definitely part of the nature of the app-based gameplay. This concern is so minor to me, however, that it’s not at all something that would keep me from playing.

In the end, the app version of Terraforming Mars is exactly the same as the tabletop version, only without the physical presence of actual humans. When it comes to board games, one of the reasons I love it is because of the human interaction. That can get lost in the app, but it is simulated by being able to play with people at long distances. Still, the game is fantastic, and it’s a handy little app to have on hand. It got me through a rather bumpy flight a little while back, with my focus on the game and not on the turbulence (except when my whole body bounced out of my seat—wear your seatbelts, kids).

I really enjoy this app, and I’m glad I have it. It’s a great game, and it integrates well digitally. There are definite perks to playing on the app, and some minor downsides (such as having fat fingers and tapping on the wrong hex for where you wanted to place your city/greenery/etc.). I am very happy with it, and would certainly recommend it to anyone who is already a fan of the game, or who wants a new mobile gaming experience.

Theme and Mechanics:

The theme of terraforming mars is strong, much like in the tabletop version. The graphics make the theme pop and really adds to the overall feeling.

The engine building aspect of Terraforming Mars is great. Building off of combos of effects is always satisfying. Drafting cards makes for a more fair distribution and less luck-of-the-draw.

Artwork and Components:

The art on the cards and game board is the same as in the physical game. Because the screen on my phone is limited, I do have to tap on the information icon to see the entire card description/ability. No big deal, really, especially since I’m already very familiar with the game.

The cities, greenery, and other tiles, however, are wonderful. They are made to look like 3-dimensional cities, forests, oceans, and so forth. The water even has simulated waves—it’s gorgeous. Definitely beats the flat cardboard tokens of the physical game. And the space/stars around Mars help create a depth you just don’t have in the cardboard version. It really is a good-looking game on iOS.

As for components…well, you’ve got your phone, you’ve installed the app, and that’s all you need.

The Good:
  • Cards are always randomized/shuffled well (compared with the physical copy and it’s overwhelming amount of cards which can be difficult to shuffle sufficiently)
  • No setup time
  • No teardown time
  • Beautiful tiles
  • AI players
  • Play with family/friends anywhere in the world
  • No need to calculate costs/upkeep (unless you want to know how much you’ll have left over)
  • Portable TM? Yes, please!
  • Can have multiple games going at once
  • No devastation/scattered pieces if you sneeze or bump the table
  • Can pass-and-play on one device or play via Internet with more distant others
  • Can play while pooping
The Other:
  • No undoing an action if you selected the wrong one
  • Difficult to see the entire game state while making purchases
Final Thoughts:

Terraforming Mars on iOS (and other mobile operating systems) is fantastic. It’s the same game you love, just mobile, streamlined, and a touch better looking than its tabletop predecessor. I love it. I play it all the time, and I love the option of being able to play with friends and family that I don’t get to see often. It’s a solid app. Two thumbs up in my books.

Players Who Like:

If you like Terraforming Mars, the app is just one more way to get that fix. It’s a great engine builder. The card abilities are backed by science (as far as I’m aware—don’t quote me on that), so if you like hard science fiction, this is a good game to jump into. And, lastly (but not leastly), if you’re looking for a way to keep in touch with distant friends or relatives, this is a fun way to do it.

Check out Terraforming Mars (Digital) on:


Benjamin Kocher - Editor and Reviewer

Benjamin hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He's a certified copyeditor through UC San Diego's Copyediting Extension program. He's a freelance writer and editor, and covers everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Kocherb, and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

See Benjamin's reviews HERE.
Terraforming Mars iOS (Digital) Review Terraforming Mars iOS (Digital) Review Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on March 19, 2020 Rating: 5

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