Month: May 2018

Top 5 Strategies to Winning Terraforming Mars


Hey everyone, Terraforming Mars is one of our favorite games, and now that we’ve played Venus Rising several times, I thought I’d wrap up my thoughts on how to play this game well, and even more, how to win!

These are going to be my top 5 strategies for Terraforming Mars, these aren’t the only strategies, just the biggest strategies you can take with you into a game and score higher and secure the win more often!  I’m hoping people will post some of their famous combos below.

I’m assuming you’re playing with all of the expansions, but it isn’t too relevant to the strategies, but it is relevant to judging what is in the deck, which ideally you should be thinking about when you’re choosing what to pass.

First Strategy, Understand Tempo

This really applies to most strategy games, but bears exploring in Terraforming Mars.  Tempo, if you’re not familiar with the concept, is the totality of your resources in the game.  In Terraforming Mars, tempo describes the blue cards, your Terraforming Rating, the resources symbols you have on your cards, and anything else that represents your total presence in the game.

Effectively, if you’re not building up your presence as fast as everyone else, you’re going to lose, right?  I think everyone gets that at a gut level.  But logically,  you can actually assign some math to things and really get a grasp on whether each action is a good action or not.  The more you make every decision based on whether the math makes sense, the more you take control of your destiny and stop letting Fate decide whether you win or lose.

Lets break it down, for 14 money, you can use the Asteroid standard project.  An Asteroid lets you increase the temperature one step, which also increases your Terraforming Rating one step.  So until temperature is maxed out, for every 14 money you spent, you can guarantee two things, one that you’ll get back a victory point, but also that you’ll get back 1 money every turn for the rest of the game.  If you look at greenery, for 23 money, you get 1 VP at the end of the game and 1 TR.  That’s an even better ratio closer to 11.5.  You might even get a resource for placement, pushing the cost even lower.

In fact, the average cost of everything you do should be 10 or less.   Timing is important, so what might be very valuable on the first generation might not be so towards the eight generation. If the math doesn’t make sense, you’ll almost always be better off doing something else with your resources.

Second Strategy, Opening Gambit

How you start  your game can really set you up to win or lose.  A big aspect people forget, is they mentally choose their corporation first, then look for cards to match.  That isn’t how this works, you need to filter your cards to what you’d like to do, then align your corporation to match.

Here is a few tips on your cards.  Choose cards that can give you an entire game boost early on.  These are cards like Pets, Arctic Algae, Toll Station, etc.  Avoid cards with a requirement that are more than 2 or 3 turns away, you’ll pay the cost up front but won’t reap any benefit for quite a while.  Avoid science if you can get something else, as generally the science cards aren’t worthwhile at first.

The corporation you choose will depend somewhat on the skill level of your opponents.  In our group, Helion was considered the most powerful corporation for quite a while.  That’s because none of us realized that from an efficiency standpoint, heat is worth more cube for cube than money.  So just the ability to spend heat as money isn’t necessarily what you want to do.  Most of the corporations are good, but I’d avoid Saturn, Teractor, MorningStar, and Thorgate, but really you can win with any corporation, as long as you focus on getting the most out of each turn “now” and not spend money now for some distant future.

Third Strategy, Award Ceremony

Over the course of many games, I’ve noticed that people who lose frequently often miss out on milestones and awards.  You need at least one of each to reliably have a shot at winning.

You need to know which you can get, which you can’t, and which you don’t want.  For example, you don’t want Planner, something has gone horribly wrong most of the time if you can get Planner.

Personally, I don’t even like using the base board anymore, as Planner is a wasted milestone for everyone.  Hellas and Elysium both have great milestones that doesn’t hurt you to pursue.

Regardless of which board you play with, each turn, you should be looking at the other players and deciding which milestone you’re trying to get.  Milestones are a mix of happenstance and intention.  At first, you play with the cards you get, and when you notice you’re close to a milestone, that’s generally when you should push to take it.

As long as you keep tempo in mind, you can adjust the reward efficiency for actions based on a reliable milestone.  A set of actions that give you 3 greenery might not be cost efficient normally, and by my tempo strategy of no more than 10 per TR you may choose not to pursue getting a given set of greenery, but if you can get gardener as well, 5 VP for 8 should make almost any set of cards worthwhile.

Awards are another place you can get a big boost.  8 credits for 5 victory points, that should be your goal.  Not only is it efficient for you, but you’re ruining the efficiency for the second award (and even more so, the third award).  Claim an award you feel confident of early, try to get that eight for five.

Fourth Strategy, Go Green

Terraforming Mars relies on plants.  If you haven’t made your planet green by the end of the game then you’re a bunch of selfish corporations out for their own greed, good job! 😉

Seriously though, greenery makes sense.  Plant production is tough because there is so many ways for other players to mess with you regarding it, but generally, if you are placing a lot of greenery, you’re probably on your way to win.  This strategy is just to re-iterate that you need to constantly calculate the value of your actions.  Once you have cities, the reward for greenery becomes really really efficient.  Effectively you’re going to get 1 TR and 2 VP at the end of the game per greenery you place around a city.

I see a lot of players placing their greenery in open places to try and get double points placing a greenery between two of their cities.  The reality is that most players are going to struggle to dominate that much space, so you’re usually better off placing the greenery between your city and an ocean or over a resource title.

Fifth Strategy, Set the Pace

This isn’t tempo, this is how long is the game going to go for?  Is the game going to end in 8 generations or 14?  If you’re building an economic engine, you want the game to take as long as possible.  Similiarly, if you’re spending your time Terraforming Mars while the other players are expanding their corporate assets, you want the game to end as fast as possible.

What you don’t to happen, is for the other players to decide the pace opposite of what you’re striving for.  If you have an amazing engine built, you may want to hold off seizing a temperature award, oxygen, what have you, because the game can end surprisingly fast if the engine builders AND the terraformers are both pursuing the terraforming tracks.

In general, if you build your strategy around terraforming and can force the game to end early, you’ll win over the players who spent all of their effort building up an engine.   What you don’t want to happen is to get too split between an engine and terraforming.  It feels fun but then gets frustrating when you realize the players who focused on one or the other ended the game with much better results.

Ok everyone those are my five strategies.  I know some of you will be frustrated that I didn’t give specific card combos, but those are too random, what I’ve given is a mindset to reliably play the game well.  What I’m going to ask everyone is to post your favorite strategy down below, I know a lot of you have devious combos and don’t mind sharing, so I look forward to any that you want to share.




Throwing Shade – A Review of Photosynthesis

Should you tree? Thats the question we try to answer in this game by Blue Orange

So you wanted to be a meme? – LVL UP Expo Hijinks

LVL UP was a lot of fun, in the background you can see how large this once small convention has started to get!

We had a very basic premise this convention.  Ask people fandom trivia and if they could get 3 right before 2 wrong, they got a prize.  If they got 2 wrong but wanted the prize anyways, we asked them to do a dare.  Boom! Thats how this video happened.



Tzulcha the Green Flame – Independent Great Old One Cthulhu Wars Strategy


Tzulcha is awesome!  If you choose to include this Independent Great Old One in your gameplay expect a lot of tug of war action as everyone tries to either hold onto this iGOO or prevent everyone else from doing so.

On the other hand, if your players are still learning the game, this might be too much of a shakeup before everyone has really mastered the basic strategies of how to win with each faction.

Hey everyone! Today we’re exploring one of the members of the court of Azathoth, Tulzscha the Green Flame!

So today I’m going to be going in depth with another Great Old One, Tulzscha! Tulzscha is a bit unusual for a great old one because often Lovecraft would reference a being but not describe how it looked. But in this case, he described Tulzcha as this roiling green flame, but actually didn’t name him. I was unable to discern quite where the name came from, possibly from the Call of Cthulhu game, if anyone has more information, I’d love it if you posted in the comments.
Now Tulzcha is a member of Azathoth’s court, and as such, he seems to operate in more of a support capacity than an outright bruiser or threat of his own. He gives you a few more options, helps you catch up in areas that you are behind in, and can block other players from leveraging rituals of annihilation as effectively, but combat isn’t his thing.
Tulzscha is an Independent Great Old One, or as I call them, an iGOO. He costs 4 power to awaken and you must have your Great Old One at a gate you control, which is where you summon him. He has a combat value of 1, which reflects the fact that his job is not to dominate the battlefield, and in fact, you have to protect this guy as he’s going to have a BIG target pained on his flaming back.
The reason you summon him is primarily for his Gather Power Phase ability, Undying Flame. And this is what it does.
At the end of the Gather Power phase, earn 1 doom if at least one faction has more doom than you, earn 1 elder sign if at least one faction has more elder signs than you, and earn 1 power if at least one faction has more power than you.
Now how I like to think about this power is that I can totally crush one or two aspects of growth, say power and doom, knowing that Tulzscha will help me catch up with Elder signs. Also, I intentionally like to have Tulzscha help me out with elder signs because they’re worth more than doom points on average.
What about his spellbook? Well this one is rough, to earn his spellbook, as an action, you cause each enemy faction player to gain 2 power. In a worse case scenario, your enemies will intentionally wait until you’ve given them the 2 power to immediately destroy him, so make sure that the 2 power you give them isn’t too advantageous.
The spellbook’s name is called Ceremony of Annhilation, lets look to see if its worth giving your enemies a possibly huge advantage like 2 power.
During the doom phase, when you perform a ritual of annihilation, you may choose to pay nothing, and instead EARN power equal to the current position on the Ritual of Annhilation Track. Then advance the marker 1 step. You earn no extra Doom points nor Elder Signs by doing this.
Wow, this is pretty awesome, and if you can pull it off, can possibly pay to resummons a slain GOO, activate some more of the expensive abilities several times (like Dreams, Ghroth, or Dread Curse of Azathoth), or any number of possibilities. Before committing to using this ability though, keep in mind that it can potentially shorten the game, and that power is of no use to you if the other players all decide to do rituals as well and trigger the ending.
If you can hold onto this iGOO for any length of time, you’re most likely going to be gaining some serious advantages, and if you aren’t getting an advantage from holding onto him, then that probably means you’re winning anyways!
OK, How to get the most out of this iGOO?
First, as a Dancer in the Court of Azathoth, how does he interact with some of the spellbooks from the Azathoth expansion?
Well, there is really only one excellent combo with the Azathoth spellbooks, though all of the neutral spellbooks are still good like normal.
That one spellbook combo is Stars Are Right. Oh My Cthulhu! This is a sick combo, and when I say sick, I mean sanity loss inducing madness. If you turn in all of your elder signs for doom points and power, then each turn that you hold onto Tulzcha, you’ll gain another elder sign as long as other players have any remaining elder signs,. I love this combo, because it potentially forces your enemies to turn in their elder signs or yield to you continually gaining more elder signs.
Alright, what about the factions?
You need to keep Tulzscha safe. You know what they say, Save the Tulzscha, Save the world. Or in this case, destroy the world, or, actually, they probably don’t say anything like that, maybe just keep him safe and win the game, yeah. Anyways, look for opportunities to make an impregnable stronghold OR leverage the fact that your enemies will be attempting to destroy this iGOO by setting up traps.
Lets look at Black Goat.
Black Goat is already about dragging its feet and trying to take as many actions as possible AFTER everyone else, using Ceremony of Annihilation to have a large amount of available power to work with is GREAT. However, You all know that for me, I’ve never once had Groth work for me, not even once guys! So get rid of that piece of garbage and grab Stars Are Right. Drag your feet and dominate with what will feel like an immense amount of remaining power.

Ok, Crawling Chaos. This faction, just like all factions, would love to have Tulzscha hanging out, but Crawling Chaos does have a cool ability to keep their flaming buddy safe, Flying Polyps. Other than a slight defensive ability, use that extra power from CoA and pay for those expensive spellbooks!
Great Cthulhu time! Well…. You get an elder sign for summoning Tulzscha, and you have big bruisers to help keep him safe. I do think they’re a good combo, but the real reason I think they work is because Cthulhu struggles to compete in some regards and an iGOO whose primary job is to help catch up can really help Cthulhu to focus, However there isn’t any one ability here that I can see that really makes this feel “awesome”
Opener of the Way! And you were grumpy that you couldn’t compete with elder signs! Now that inability to get elder signs makes everything worth it! With Tulzscha, you should be consistently getting elder signs whether you choose to reveal them or not. And with CoA giving you extra power, he obviously gives you more access to abilities that are otherwise too expensive to do more than occasionally such as Dread Curse of Azathoth.
Sleeper Faction time. Sleeper has few ways to get Elder Signs, so almost assuredly Undying Flame will be giving you elder signs each turn. The reality is, however, that you’re very unlikely to be able to gain Tulzscha early on, due to how difficult it is to get Tsathoqua before someone else snatches Tulzscha up.
Tcho Tcho – Combine Tcho Tcho’s ability to gain elder signs with Stars Are Right and you should have an almost excessive amount of power. The difficulty is that you have few ways to protect your flaming buddy, but if you can get some more neutral units or otherwise distract your foes, you can be primed for a huge advantage.
Ok, lets be real for a moment.
Windwalker and Tulzscha are great. You can have cheap rituals of annihilation or ones that give you large amounts of power. You can block other factions who rely on doing multiple rituals of annihilation to win the game, because you’re pushing the cost of Rituals up for free (and actually gaining power). Combine that with using howl as a defensive strategy then later on with Arctic Wind to move this unit around for free, you’re really able to keep Tulzcha alive better than most factions.
Where was I going with this? Sorry, Windwalker and Tulzcha, Fire and Ice , BFFs for life! But we have to accept that getting 3 Great Old Ones out is tough, possibly too tough. Still, if you have an opportunity to grab this iGOO, I say go for it!
And finally, what about Yellow Sign? Be wary about abusing CoA too much, as getting 2 elder signs from doing rituals of annihilation is normally a key part of your strategy, but really, that extra power when combined with Third Eye, allows a ridiculous rate of elder sign accrual, we’re talking potentially several elder signs a turn. If you have that going soon enough, the game will be over before you need to worry about protecting Tulzcha too much.

So that’s Tulzcha, a great old one that if you can hold onto, will significantly tilt the odds in your favor. But, Should you play with this unit in your game?
What I’d suggest, is that if your group wants more conflict and battle, adding an iGOO like Tulzscha will really create a lot of tension encouraging battles. On the other hand, if your group prefers to play with slow build up and few battles, Tulzscha may unbalance your group and create more conflict than you like.

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Thanks everyone,