30th May 2017

While we were waiting for  food to arrive, we decided to play a quick game of the “nasty card game we finished with last time“, 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!.  This is a nasty little variant on one of our old favourites, 6 Nimmt!.  It doesn’t have the simultaneous play and there is a little more strategy or at least, there is more of the same “illusion of control”.  The idea is that there are three rows of cards, zero to thirty, thirty to sixty and sixty to ninety.  On their turn, the active player chooses a card and adds it to the appropriate row.  If there are five cards in the row the active player must pick up cards: if the card added is the highest card in the row, the active player takes the card with the lowest number, otherwise they take all cards higher than the card added by the active player.  The cards all have a colour as well as a number, and the aim of the game is to get as close as possible to two of each colour, while three is one too many…

3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!
– Image by boardGOATS

The rules state that each player starts with eight cards and a face down deck of twelve cards.  After six turns, each player has two cards remaining and restores their hand to eight by taking six from the deck, which happens a total of three times.  The game plays a maximum of four, so there are a number of cards left unused.  We started with three players, Pink, Blue, Burgundy, but then Green & Violet turned up, so we fiddled the rules to make the game play five, by reducing the number of cards each player had in their deck, such that each player would draw six, five and four cards, rather than six each time.  This worked quite well, though Pink felt that it made the game much more difficult to play. The game was quite tight in the early stages, with different players trying different strategies, but in the final accounting it turned out that Pink had more pairs than anyone else as well as both ten point bonuses giving him a sizeable winning margin of twelve, pushing Green into second place.

3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!
– Image by boardGOATS

With the food and the “gaming starter” over, it was time for the main course, our “Feature Game”, Terraforming Mars.  Almost everyone was really keen to play, so, since we had two copies available, we decided to split into two groups and play two parallel games.  This began a big debate about who would play in each group. It made sense for Green and Violet to play in the same group, but Blue wanted to play with Pink as she doesn’t see much of him.  There were also gaming considerations as we wanted to make sure there were people who knew what they were doing on both tables but nobody wanted to move about too much. In the end Black swapped seats with Violet and we were ready to start, though since we were nearly all new to it, we had to go through the rules first.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

The idea is that players take the role of giant corporations, sponsored by the World Government on Earth, to initiate huge projects to raise the temperature, the oxygen level, and the ocean coverage until the environment on Mars is habitable. Players then buy project cards into their hand and later, when they have the resources needed, they can play the cards and ultimately place tiles on Mars itself.  There are three different types of cards:  Red cards provide actions that have an instant effect and are then discarded until the end of the game; Green cards have a one-off effect but their “tags” are retained, and Blue cards have an ongoing effect and/or an action that can be activated once per round.  It is building these card combinations that is the interesting part of the game, but also the part that some players struggle most with.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Each round (or Generation as they are called in the rules) begins with drawing four cards.  In order to keep these cards, players must pay three M€, the currency used in the game.  Next, players take it in turns to carry out one or two actions and continue to do so until every player has passed.  At the end of the round everyone gets resources according to their Terraform Rating and production ability.  Everyone starts with the same Terraform Rating which increase when players raise one of the three global parameters (temperature, oxygen level, and ocean coverage) – this forms the basis of players’ end game scores as well as their income at the end of each Generation.  Each player also has their own production track for the six key resources, M€, Steel, Titanium, Plants, Energy, and Heat.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Each resource has a primary use in addition to any uses that project cards may make of them.  For example, M€ are generally used to buy cards into players’ hands and then to pay to activate them.  On the other hand, Steel and Titanium can be used to activate specific types of cards in place of M€; although they can be much more efficient than the currency, their use is much more restricted.  Plants can be used to provide greenery on the surface of Mars which in turn gives oxygen.  Energy can be used by in conjunction with projects and all residual energy is turned into heat at the end of the round which in turn can be used to warm the planet.  The guts of the game are the actions. Players take it in turns to carry out one or two actions and continue carrying out actions until every one has passed. In this way, players can ultimately have take as many actions as they like, though they will be limited by the resources they have.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The actions are:  play a card, paying any costs and carrying out any associated actions if appropriate;  use the action on a Blue card played previously, or carry out a standard action.  The standard actions mostly involve paying for things at a very high rate.  Typically it is much more efficient to do these actions by playing cards, however, sometimes it is worth paying the inflated price because of the way the actions combine.  In the introductory game, every player starts with the same amount of money and project cards, however, despite the lack of experience, both groups decided to play with the Corporation cards. These have delightfully imaginative names like, “Interplanetary Cinematics” (Green), “Inventrix” (Violet) and “Republika Tharsis” (Burgundy). These potentially give players a bit of a steer as to what project cards to buy and later, hopefully, play. With almost everyone new to the game (though several had struggled to read through the rules), it was a steep learning curve that started straight away when we had to choose which cards to pay to keep from our starting hand of ten. This is one of the big challenges of the game as keeping cards costs money and money is scarce.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Ivory (who had played before, albeit solo) got his table going first, but fairly quickly, they discovered it was generally better to do one action at a time, unless a second relied on a first and there was a chance it might not be possible to play it if someone else got there first.  This was slightly counter to the other table where players started out trying to take both actions, though they also quickly decided that since the last player can keep going at the end, sometimes it is better not to force that second action.  One standard action is to claim a Milestone.  Claiming these costs M€, but can be a good way to add points.  Players can also pay to activate Awards which will give points to the most effective players in certain fields. On Ivory’s table, the Milestone and Award points were fairly evenly spread and it was the Terraform Rating that had the largest influence on the placings, with Ivory finishing three points ahead of Green.  On the other table, the opposite was true with players’ Terraform Ratings very even and Milestones as the key battle-ground.  Burgundy just pipped Blue to almost all of them so she countered funding a couple of awards and winning them.  It was the cards that made the difference though, and Blue picked up a massive fourteen points leaving her seven points clear.  The battle for second was more interesting though, with Burgundy and Pink finishing level.  On reflection both players felt they had missed scoring points on the table with Pink certain he had forgotten to add to his Puppy Farm on at least one occasion.  We let the points stand though and Money-Bags-Burgundy took second on the tie-break.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bkunes

We all felt that the game has high potential for “Analysis Paralysis”, particularly at the beginning, in deciding which cards to keep (a problem made worse for on the first play which is why the Beginner Corporations give players ten cards drawn at random). The game could be won or lost on decisions about which cards to keep.  Miscalculations like paying for that extra card that then didn’t leave enough money to play that one really important card that had been saved for can also prove critical.  There were some nasty actions, too.  For example, Green got caught out in his penultimate turn when two of his plant cubes were snatched which left him short of plants to terraform a tile.  Thus he was unable to gain the additional Steel he needed to pay for the next card he was planning which would have given him more plants for another end of game terraforming tile, as well as extra points.  Since this happened to Green just before his turn, he then spent far too long trying to work out whether he could still do it a different way and if not, then what should he do instead!

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

The game is full of such enjoyable but difficult decisions, which perhaps explains why it has been the subject of a lot of chatter online, culminating in its recent nomination for this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres.  It also explains why everyone was concentrating so hard that nobody could really remember what they had been trying to do, what had worked and why.  All that said, the game is a long way from being perfect and bears a lot of the hallmarks of a crowdfunded game, with very difficult rules and variable production values (some over-produced pieces while others could be improved).  In actual fact, the game was originally produced by the Swedish company, FryxGames, a small family run company primarily consisting of four brothers with the rest of their substantial family helping in designing and testing, illustrating and translating.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Although the rules are very difficult to get to grips with and arguably could be better written, the folks at FryxGames have made some exceptional online teaching material available.  One of the other not insignificant issues is the number of small cubes on the individual player boards.  These mean that it is pretty much guaranteed that at some point the table will take a bump and everyone will have to try to remember where everything was.  Unfortunately, these issues and the difficulty producing the game in sufficient quantities to supply the demand it would lead to, probably mean Terraforming Mars won’t actually win the Kennerspiel des Jahres.  We mostly really enjoyed it though, and almost everyone was keen to give it another go.  In fact only Purple wasn’t keen on playing it at the start with and playing it probably didn’t really change her mind, as it’s just not really her sort of thing.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Difficult decisions almost inevitably lead to Analysis Paralysis, but sometimes it is worth it.