TERRAFORMING MARS: ARES EXPEDITION Review

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Quick Look: TERRAFORMING MARS: ARES EXPEDITION


Designer:  Sydney Engelstein, Jacob Fryxelius, Nick Little (I)
Artists: William Bricker, Garrett Kaida, Nio Mendoza, Justine Nortjé
Publisher: Stronghold Games
Year Published: 2021

No. of Players: 1-4
Ages: 14+
Playing Time45-60min. (More like 90 to 120 minutes)
Rating: 8.2 – ( would be a 9 if it didn’t have the Spontaneous mechanic flaw at the end of each game.)

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com  

From the Publisher:

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition is an engine-building game in which players control interplanetary corporations with the goal of making Mars habitable (and profitable).

A new, stand-alone game inspired by Terraforming Mars featuring faster gameplay and over 200 beautifully illustrated cards!


Review:

Is it dumbed down or streamlined? As a board gamer, I fancy the pretty pictures (Art Work) and  table presence of every game I play.



Most games of strict analytics, worker replacement  strategies, and card text reading immediately form that glaze one’s eyes get when forced to  read Great Expectations novel in 9th grade. Terraforming Mars – Ares Expedition arrived this week from FryxGames and Stronghold Games via their Kickstarter campaign. My thoughts on this  one are as vast in topics as there are microbial genome sequences! (Is that a lot? Sounded like a lot.) Lets organize it: 

Unboxing:

I, as most when a new game arrives via the gaming store, peel the ever thinning  shrink wrapping and begin my expedition into this one as soon as it hit my porch. Originally  published, the differences that were touted by the publisher over the mass retail version at the  box store seemed underwhelming. That is not the case when you realize the importance of the double layered cube riddled game boards that are included and how valuable still this upgrade is to the game. (If you do not own or can’t get a copy of this version – seek the aftermarket folks that will ensure one bump of your forearm won’t trigger an anxiety fit that lasts the entire game.) The inclusion of trays for the credit cubes and card separators also ensures an easy game-after-game setup in just a few minutes. 

Playing the full version of Terraforming Mars, I found the number of items to remember and symbols to associate with a bit cumbersome and always leading to something missed on a turn before that you should have caught to help in the subsequent rounds. This as well, lead me to the stressful eye twitching less than 5 rounds in. Not something leisure time spent should be doing. 

Speaking of time – Playtime:

This heavier card version of the game gave me the feel that all the fun, colored cube metrics, and Corporation variety remained while removing a few mechanics that bogged down the game. I am completely in tune with the designers direction on this and  give immense kudos to Sydney, Jacob, and Nick for exploring and creating this version of the game. One major removal is the large board and tile placement requirements with its own set  of pages in the rulebook. Ares expedition no longer requires placement but rather revealing of tiles to fulfill one of the 3 required goals to win the game. Those still remain: Formation of oceans (9 Tiles total), raising the temperature in Celsius, and generating oxygen through forestation to a habitable level.  


This streamlines the process of focusing on your corporation’s combinations to achieve the aforementioned 3 requirements to ending the game. These strategic combinations come through a very generous supply of project cards (208!) broken out in the same original Green/ Automated, Blue/Active, and Red/Event. I am not quite sure how automated and active was the descriptors that best described their play features but each provide means of maxing a strategy associated with one of the “tags” or resources within the game. (Note: this version  also has the same symbols and descriptives as the original)  

They include: Mega Credits (MC), Heat, and Plants as the main with animal, with microbes, science, earth, and other planets as supporting roles in achieving victory. 

The mechanics of card pay-and-play is the main focus now of the game given that it has  shifted most of its play around the researching, developing, constructing and putting into action the effects of your combinations on the table. This along with production represents your options in each round that differs a bit from its Big Brother game of the past. (The use of  Steel and Titanium continue to play a role in leveraging cards and minimizing credit (MC) costs of a card to play and are also kept track of on the player boards as before.) 


The big difference in round play comes in 2 specific areas: 1. Phases are chosen each round and each play secretly picks ONE of them within a set of Phase cards they hold dearly to their chest until all ceremoniously reveal them to each other. Development (Phase 1) allows for green card play, Construction (Phase 2) allows for blue and/or red card play, Action (Phase 3) triggers resource and credit spending to move the needle in one of the two temp and oxygen meters or establishes an ocean from the remainder of the unflipped 9 ocean tiles on the board. Production (Phase 4) helps you replenish those resources collecting your totals from your  player board counters. Lastly, Research (Phase 5) gives players the way to replenish their card  inventory to continue to strategize and combined like resources together to build the strongest  Corporation that will pick up key victory points along the way to completing the 3 required  goals subsequently ending the game. No longer do you have to go through each phase to see if a player can or wants to partake in that segmented task of the game.  

This leads to the second difference of streamlining the game and creating a much faster pace  once you learn how the game is played. The new rule is “simultaneous” play by all players. This makes each phase chosen by the players, which can be all the same, go much faster with generally all players taking actions. If your attention span is that of a squirrel or you easily loose interest the moment your turn is over then this IS the game for you. You are constantly working your company and the mechanics and only if you can not do anything during a phase do you  stand down for a short moment while the others partake. This change definitely speeds up the  game play and gives the game more table play for those with less than a full days worth of  game time to finish like you will find again with the original Terraforming Mars base game. Its  the difference of roadrunner and the coyote except ACME Corporation is NOT one of your options! 

I do however, find this new component of the game holds a strategic flaw when you  come close to the end of those meters and the person who throws the cubes from their  board to the reservoirs of the MC cube holder and gets to finish off the temp meeter  procuring the remaining victory point. This is often not due to some form of strategy but  rather for have Michael Jordan like dexterity to fingernail pluck those cubes from their  resting spot onto the game board while shouting It’s MINE, MINE, MINE, MINE! (We are  considering setting a house rule that the last 2 slots and 2 tiles have to go in order of  who chose the phase that round and then rotate clockwise in the action phase. If you  have a better way – leave it in the comment section below after you give it a go.) EDIT: A  Clarification was pointed out in the rules that allows all to take actions on the last phase  that the meters reach the top or the last tile is flipped so it removes this misplayed issue.  If you have a better way – leave it in the comments  section below after you give it a go.) A quick note that there are variants in play for a two person  coop. However to win seems to be a feat achievable only by a Beth Harmon from Queens  Gambit level forward thinking strategist or the luckiest of Lottery winners. It is that hard! Also, there is a solo mode that plays to a similar maximum number of rounds to complete the three goals and pitch your victory flag atop the precipice of a Martian mountain range for all to  admire.


Overall:


Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition landed as well as one of NASA’s Rovers in real life  and is often providing a picturesque moment in time at our family’s game table. This is a great  example of a strong idea that was well thought through to help introduce NEW players to the  game that doesn’t require them to have a PHD in Analytics for it to be enjoyable. It’s the David of the Goliath story that easily tackles the space on the shelf that was once held by its  predecessor collection dust like the atmosphere of MARS. No longer awaiting that fateful day  where you might have 8 hrs available and the patience to teach players resource management  on an expert level. Now you can suit up, launch this one, and terraform your gaming table into  a fun filled evening with family and friends.





Check out TERRAFORMING MARS: ARES EXPEDITION and Stronghold Games on:





          



Shane “Bogue” Bogardus- Reviewer


Born and discarded to the wolves of the great Northern Planes, Bogue grew up a nomad. His recluse behavior landed him in the penitentiary of the Witchic County Municipality with a population 2 -A man and his dog. Life was always a game set on hardcore until he met a mild mannered digital publisher who took him under his wing and showed him the miracles of game design and play testing.  Now he is a thriving member of the Everything Board Games review team and lives with his long lost mother and his pet ferret named Meeple in Austin, TX. (Translation: A retired broadcast television and radio broadcaster turned financial planner.  Bogue is an entrepreneur at heart owning multiple businesses including the latest www.Meepology.com dedicated to growing and maximizing the gaming experience 

for current and new gamers to the hobby. He and his son hosts the monthly joystickshow.com podcast on video game reviews heard anywhere you get your downloads. Bogue lives with his wife, two teenage boys and his dog “Pepper Potts” in Austin, TX.)



See Shane “Bogue” Bogardus reviews HERE.


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2 Comments

  1. hahnarama
    August 6, 2021 / 12:37 pm

    Hey I want to make sure I understand your last comment about end of track scoring. In my example let's say there's two spots left on the heat track and three people are able to raise it. The rules say all three people are able to raise the heat but then if there is another round after that happens no one can raise the heat track. same goes for oxygen and ocean tiles in the ocean tile whatever the last ocean tile that is flipped any additional players afterwards it would do an ocean towel action we get the benefit of that last tile

  2. sbogardus
    August 6, 2021 / 11:04 pm

    Hi hahnarama – (great name:) – YES! Thank you for that. I went back and re-read it and YOU are correct. I will edit the review and move my rating from 8.2 to 9.0. I read it and played a few games as after you do the phase and the first player not all move up to the top of the meter the next player can get trees but not the Terraforming Rating. I see the full description. Thanks very much for the contribution. This is an excellent game.

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