Haven’t played Terraforming Mars for many weeks, but I remembered I had the Colonies expansion sitting in the box. Just sitting there. Wrapped in plastic. I have a very bad habit of snagging any and every expansion for most of the board games I have here and then letting them collect dust for weeks or months.
Terraforming Mars has been a huge hit here for a year, now. We keep written win records, for crying out loud. Baseline TM was good, but adding Hellas & Elysium was better. And then Venus Next was even better. And Prelude, chef kiss! And then Colonies last night. Phew. That’s a lot of expansions. Almost every game I’ve ever played with this many expansions (CCGs excepted) has usually jumped the shark by the third of fourth.
Basic Terraforming Mars is already a fairly complex, fairly long-play affair. Each expansion, barring Prelude, has just stretched that out even longer. Incorporating new setup steps has also made just starting the game kind of a hassle: now we need to decide which of three maps we’re playing on, and set up the Venus side board, and set up a tableau of freestanding space colonies and its side board, and finally work out your perfect starting combination of corporation, prelude pair and project cards. Getting the game rolling is like a 20 minute affair now, but it definitely starts with a bang once it does.
For the record, I adored the Colonies expansion. There’s a deck of colonies from which you’ll start with 2 + the number of players. The corp I had last night, new to Colonies, adds another colony of my choice (ye gawds, one more critical decision to make). So we had six for our three player game. Then we each get a trade fleet token (little white arrow with a cube-hole to mark it as ours). There’s a new Standard Project action, which is to colonize a moon (each player can colonize each moon once) and a new action to send a trade fleet to trigger the moon’s production. I suspect the very hardest-core TM players will have already evaluated that the colonies are dangerous distractions from the business of ripping through the terraforming process as efficiently as possible, but I got my all-time highest score in a 3p game last night and I’m completely certain it was due to the colonies.
Each round, the production of every colony (with three weird exceptions that I’ll note below) ticks up. Whoever gets their trade fleet to the colony cashes in, and everyone who established a colony there will also get some goodies. Then the tracker resets to as low as it can be set (the established colonies force the tracker cube higher on the track). Every tracker ticks up at the end of every round.
There are three colonies that don’t produce anything without a starting colony, and they’re not marked as such in any way whatsoever. Weird oversight, but they’re called out super specifically in the rulebook.
The big thing I noticed about adding colonies is that the first-player token is more important than ever because every colony can only be visited by one trade fleet. So whoever sends their fleet first gets the goodies. There’s some really great push-your-luck stuff baked into letting the colonies’ tracker cubes climb and climb and then oh gosh who will get there first? It’s also solvable and transparent, because the first player token predictably moves. So I can see if I need to go out to Pluto now to get a slightly lower batch of goodies rather than gambling that my opponent won’t go out later and get even more goodies. Classic, elegant push-your-luck game. I really loved it.
There are, of course, new corporations and tons of new Project cards. The Project deck is nearly a foot tall now, absurd. We had to break it into two shorter stacks, and we didn’t make it through the whole deck this time.
Between the prelude cards and the colonies, holy wow were we rolling in money and other resources. So many resources! It felt much less tight early on (good!) but also kind of ridiculous at the end (maybe not so good: I had nearly 20 titanium just sitting in my warehouse and not a space project to be seen). I also ran out of cards the last 2 of our 10 turns, having bought literally everything I could ever want and having enough money left over to buy Standard Projects (cities and oceans and power plants, whatever) at full retail.
I honestly can’t imagine adding even more to this game. That is probably a failure of my imagination, of course. But lordy there’s a lot to keep track of now. Fun, long, middling brain-burny now.