Terraforming Mars: The Dice Game
This review was written by Jeremy Pike.
How do you start a colony on Mars?
In Terraforming Mars: The Dice Game, players chuck dice to make Mars habitable: increasing oxygen, raising temperature, and creating oceans. The dice represent different resources players can spend to raise these terraforming parameters or play Project cards.
You can’t terraform Mars without Mars, so choose a side of the game board and place it in the middle of the table. The two sides simply offer a different layout for bonuses when you place ocean, city, forest, and special tiles.
Randomly select dice for the bonus spots on the top left of the board, and milestones for the bottom left.
Shuffle the deck of Project cards, and set up a deck of Bonus cards based on the player count.
Everyone gets five Project cards to create their starting hands. Shuffle the Corporation deck and deal two to each player. Select one Corporation and return the other to the game box.
After determining the first player, flip your Corporation card and take the starting bonus, a combination of wild tokens and resource dice. Take your resource dice, roll them, and place them next to your Corporation as your resource pool.
The first player then must give one of his or her resources to the player who will go last.
On your turn, choose to either Gather Resources or Take Two Actions.
To gather resources, first discard any number of Project cards from your hand. Then draw back up to five cards.
You’ll also discard down to three dice in your resource pool. Then take the indicated dice from your Corporation card and any green Project cards you have played; roll them and add them to your resource pool.
If you used any blue Project cards that grant special actions, refresh them so they can be used again.
If you’re happy with your current resource pool, it’s time to take actions – starting with a Support action.
Support actions change the dice in your pool. You can use these to add a new die, discard a die to turn a resource die to a specific face, or discard a die to draw two cards. Some blue Project cards also offer a Support action, denoted by a yellow arrow.
After taking a Support action, you may either take a second Support action or a Main action. Then end your turn.
Playing a card is a Main action: pay the cost (along the top), then apply the effect. Green Project cards add resource dice for the player to roll when they take a production turn. Blue Project cards give players Support, Main, or Free actions they can take in the future. Red Project cards have an immediate one-time effect, adding dice, placing tiles, or moving the terraforming trackers.
Many Project cards also grant victory points. Green victory point ribbons are immediately awarded; move your marker forward on the score track. Red ribbons are scored at the end of the game.
You can also spend combinations of die resources to directly terraform Mars as your Main action. Spend heat to warm the planet. Spend water, plants, or cities to place oceans, forests, or city tiles on the map. Or spend MegaCredits for immediate victory points.
When you hit the 5-point or 12-point milestone on the score tracker, you can look through the deck of bonus cards and take one to play immediately. These may be green Project cards to boost resource gathering or red Project cards with immediate one-time bonuses.
Continue to play until two of the three global parameters are finished: the oxygen tracker is maxed out, the temperature tracker is maxed out, or all the ocean tiles are placed. When this happens, every player gets one additional turn including the player who finished the second parameter.
Once the game is over, add your end-of-game scoring bonuses from red ribbons, any milestone tokens you claimed, and any awards for having the most or second-most of the three bonus resources.
The player with the highest score wins, and if two players are tied, the player with the highest dice production is declared the winner.
Corporate Era Expansion
Terraforming Mars: The Dice Game includes a small expansion containing an assortment of more powerful corporations, project cards, bonuses, and milestones. This expansion doesn’t substantially change gameplay, but it gives more powers to play with and more goals to work towards.
Terraforming Mars: The Dice Game also has a solo mode. You must terraform Mars in 50 turns, with only slight changes to the rules and setup.
The solo mode is incredibly tough. I’ve played it multiple times and have failed to win, but I’ve come close enough to feel like it’s certainly possible. It feels more like a puzzle to solve than the basic game, but that’s not a bad thing.
I’ve played both Terraforming Mars and Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition, so I was excited to try a new way to terraform the Red Planet. I was not disappointed. The Dice Game manages to convey the iconic theme while making it more accessible than before. Rolling dice to gain resources is fun, especially in the later game, when you can roll actual handfuls of dice.
The dice rolling does add more randomness to the game, which might frustrate those who want to focus completely on strategy. However, there are multiple ways the game mitigates that randomness, with Support actions, actions on the blue Project cards, and bonuses on the gameboard when you place tiles in certain spots.
While the main mechanic of the game is rolling then spending dice, there is plenty to do without it feeling overwhelming. My wife has never played any of the Terraforming Mars games before (and had no desire to) yet she has happily played The Dice Game multiple times. However, my son does not enjoy the randomness factor of the dice, preferring Ares Expedition.
My game group had played the other versions of Terraforming Mars and we’ve enjoyed our experiences with The Dice Game too. It fits logically inside the board game universe of Terraforming Mars, serving as a simpler introduction to the wider world.
If you’ve enjoyed Terraforming Mars but have struggled to get it to the table (either due to complexity or length), Terraforming Mars: The Dice Game delivers a simpler and shorter experience without compromising on quality or theme.
But although it’s simpler, this is still not a children’s game. Although my 12-year-old son can handle this game without issues, we think it’s best for teens and adults.
To introduce the world of near-planet terraforming to your family, find Terraforming Mars: The Dice Game on Amazon or at your friendly local game store.
The Family Gamers received a copy of Terraforming Mars: The Dice Game from Stronghold Games for this review.
This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.
Terraforming Mars: The Dice Game
Number of Players: 1-4
Age Range: 14+ (12+ for experienced gamer kids)
Playtime: about 45 minutes