terraforming mars

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.