Terraforming Mars appears to be one of those games.
Every year, me and 30 of my friends rent out a massive country house for a week to play board games and generally relax.
Last year, Terraforming Mars dominated the week. People played it several times over the week, often one game after another. One person even played it five times in one day!
I’ve just come back from this year’s holiday, where two people brought the game, complete with expansions and I saw both being played at once on more than one occasion.
It got me to wondering what it is about the game that inspires this kind of rampant enthusiasm.
For one, I think the card deck has a lot to do with it. There are over 200 cards, all of which are different, meaning no two games will run the same.
Then, there’s the fact that, mechanically speaking, it’s a pretty straight forward game. Even newbies to the board game world can understand and play it competently.
But the game itself is far from simple.
There are dozens of strategies, all equally balanced, and the random card draws means you constantly have to shift your ideas about which one to use (though does make any long-haul strategy almost impossible if that’s your style).
Yet, there is enough synergy within the deck that you can start down a given track and be pretty confident you’ll get enough cards to continue down that path.
The expansions came at just the right time for me. In many games, I’ve grown tired of the base game long before its expansions hit the shelves, and I was beginning to get that way with Terraforming Mars. But the new milestones and awards of the Elysium and Hellas boards completely altered the way I played, while the Venus Next expansion added in some totally new mechanic to get to grips with.
To top it all off, the theming is strong – if not always 100 per cent scientifically accurate – and I personally get a kick out of the artwork (though that might just be because I recognise half of it from the day job) and I love the visual gags on one or two of the cards.
The game does still have many flaws I’ve noticed after several plays – randomness can screw over your end game; it’s easy to knock your production track markers; and I repeatedly get into the situation where I have zero cards in hand and have no way of drawing any more (Seriously Fryxgames. How game breaking could a card buying Standard Project be?).
But as games go, Terraforming Mars is probably one of the most well balanced I’ve ever played, so I’m not surprised it’s so popular.
Now… wonder if I can get another game in this evening?