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Terraforming Mars

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See aggregated Terraforming Mars reviews and ratings here.

Terraforming Mars mobile board game app

Overall Rating: 8/10

Critics’ opinions on the mobile adaptation of Terraforming Mars — whose original tabletop version consistently ranks in the overall top 10 among board game enthusiasts — are wide-ranging. We’ve seen everything from a perfect score to nearly the lowest rating of all games a critic has ever reviewed, and everything in between.

That variety in viewpoints is probably explained by the fact that Terraforming Mars is beautifully implemented for 99% of the game, but has major flaws in the other 1% that can ruin a game. Your (and critics’) experience with the game depends on how often you encounter those flaws, and how much you care about their impact. In general, we recommend this game, but caution especially the more serious players that it will sometimes be frustrating to play.

Why we like this adaptation

We promise we won’t always start with cosmetics, but Terraforming Mars is another looker of a board game app.

The "board" rendered as Mars in space, and clear iconography from the original game along the bottom left | Terraforming Mars mobile board game app
The "board" rendered as Mars in space, and clear iconography from the original game along the bottom left

Beyond just rendering the original game’s beautiful artwork, Terraforming Mars takes full advantage of the digital format by adding (tasteful) animation and audio — as you place ocean tiles, for example, you actually see a growing ocean on Mars, rather than simple blue hexagons.

Terraforming Mars also does quite a good job of fitting all of the information you need onto the screen, especially impressive for a mobile version of a game that normally takes a large table. Just about everything you need to know is right there, and the digital game makes it much faster and easier to keep track of things that are tedious in the physical game (such as the number of science tags you have, the victory points on cards you — or others — have played, all players’ progress towards milestones and awards, and so on).

With a few exceptions, Terraforming Mars plays quite smoothly. Your hand can sometimes contain many cards, and the game offers helpful options to organize them (especially “playability”, which highlights those you have enough resources to play). When playing a card, the app logically guides you through all of its decisions (do you want to pay with regular currency or steel? where do you want to place that city?).

"Playability" is one of five hand sorting options | Terraforming Mars mobile board game app
"Playability" is one of five hand sorting options

Game modes include what we consider the standards: online multiplayer with friends or with matchmaking, local multiplayer (“pass and play”), solo play against AIs, and a solo play “challenge”. The AIs will not challenge advanced players, but other game modes generally work well.

What could have been better

The main drawback that even casual gamers will probably dislike is that Terraforming Mars offers no undo button. We feel strongly that this is a mistake — unless any secret information has been revealed (like drawing a new card), a player should be able to change their mind during their turn. Coupled with the fact that it can be difficult to place tiles in the right place on Mars on a phone screen, this can ruin a player’s turn or even a generation.

More advanced players will notice other flaws. The AIs make obvious errors and will not provide a challenge to strong players (we recommend, instead, the solo challenge based on the physical game’s solo mode). It’s hard to plan your next move during others’ turns, as it is sometimes difficult to view your hand when it is not your turn and there’s no way to designate what you’ve planned to play next (even sorting your cards by “playability” works only during your turn). While tallying your and others' scores is much easier than in the tabletop game, it’s still unnecessarily tedious when making end-game decisions. There’s no reminder to play your blue card actions before passing for the generation. None of these are deal-breakers alone, but they do detract from the enjoyability of the game.

Closing thoughts

Most players will enjoy the mobile version of Terraforming Mars most of the time — and we expect some will love it. If you’re the type to get especially frustrated by occasional bugs (that might make you lose when you would have won), this is probably not the game for you.


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