Review – Terraforming Mars: The Dice Game

Terraforming Mars: Abridged

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Designer Jacob Fryxelius

Artist Isaac Fryxelius

Publisher FryxGames, Stronghold Games

Category Resource Management, Tableau Building

Length 45-60min

Release Date 2023

Player Count 1-4

Would you rather terraform Mars with cards or dice? Why not both? Terraforming Mars: The Dice Game tries to retain the best parts of Terraforming Mars and trim some fat to create the best terraforming experience yet. But does it succeed? 

Interested in the original Terraforming Mars? Check out our complete guide.

Review

The goal is simple: terraform Mars! Each player will control a corporation intent on scoring more points (doing more terraforming) than the other corporations before Mars is sufficiently terraformed. Players can score points by terraforming (via trees, cities, and lakes), building certain cards, claiming achievements, and spending resources. The game ends when 2 of these 3 things happen: O2 level is maxed out, the temperature is maxed out, and/or all water hexes have been placed. 

To begin, each player will choose from 2 dealt corporations, which determine their starting bonuses and resources. Players will also receive 5 cards. There are 3 different types of cards players can build: blue ones, which provide powers; green ones, which provide more resources (dice); and red ones, which provide 1-time bonuses. The dice in Terraforming Mars: The Dice Game act as the resources. There are 5 different colors of resources. When players gain a resource, they take that color of dice and roll it. There are common, uncommon, and rare resources of each color, which have 3, 2, and 1 faces on the dice (for example: you have a 33% chance of rolling an uncommon resource). 

On your turn, you’ll either choose to produce or take actions. If you choose to produce, you’ll discard down to 3 resources (dice) and then gain all the dice shown in your resource pool. You’ll also be able to discard as many cards as you want and draw back up to 5 cards. Finally, you’ll flip your blue power cards (when you use these, you turn them sideways, so you can only use these once between production turns). The production turn is more of a gearing-up for future turns. 

If you choose to take the action turn, you’ll get to choose from quite a few different actions. The most common are: taking any resource die and rolling it, discarding 1 of your resources so you can turn another one to whatever dice face you want, and building a card from your hand. In order to build a card from your hand, you’ll need to pay the resource cost. Sometimes, building cards will let you terraform and place forests, cities, or water hexes on the map, gaining points and bringing the game closer to its end. 

The gameplay is fairly similar to Terraforming Mars, with the main difference being the factor of not knowing what resource you’re getting when you gain resources. You know what color you’re getting, but you don’t know if you’re getting the common, uncommon, or rare resource. This can be frustrating as you’re trying to gather specific resources to build cards, but designer Jacob Fryxelius built in the fix: the action ability to discard a resource and turn another resource die to whatever side you want. This provides luck-mitigation so you don’t have to roll a ton of dice to try and get that rare resource you want.

I really enjoyed Terraforming Mars, but it was far too long for me to want to play it over other games like Race for the Galaxy or Everdell. Terraforming Mars: The Dice Game can be played in under an hour, unless it’s your first time teaching it, and you still get to experience the terraforming, the strategy, and the card-building, even if it’s on a less grand (and shallower) scale. The Dice Game doesn’t offer as high of a skill ceiling as the original does, but there’s still a lot of room for strategy and growth as a player.  

The components are really good. The custom dice are super fun and tactile, and the double-sided game board is a great way to increase replayability. Some of the card art is really cool; some of it looks like mediocre stock photos. There’s 159 cards in this game, and having a unique illustration for each one is a challenge, so this is less of a knock and more of a “it’s noticeable.” 

After your first play, you’ll want to include the cards from the Corporate Expansion, which is bundled in the main box. The cards the rulebook suggests starting with don’t provide enough variety to hold up after multiple plays. This is a game where deck bloat is not a concern because the cards don’t combo or play off of each other, so the more cards, the merrier! So long as they don’t add unneeded complications, which the Corporate Expansion cards don’t. 

Terraforming Mars: The Dice Game takes much of what I liked about the original and removes the unneeded marathon playtime. I still got the feeling of building my terraforming company with cool cards and hexagonal placement, I enjoyed racing other players around the scoring track, and I got all this in under an hour. A great game in its own right, and especially enjoyable if you wish Tarraforming Mars was more accessible. 

FyxGames and Stronghold Games kindly provided a review copy. 

The Bottom Line

Trims the long playtime of the original and retains much of the fun, corporation-running and terraforming gameplay.

 

8.5

spencer
Author: Spencer Patterson

I'm a teacher, writer, and board game reviewer. I especially love board games that pull me in like a good book. My wife is my favorite gaming partner.