Terraforming Mars Colonies is a small box expansion for Terraforming Mars, which I reviewed in 2012. (You may also want to check out my review of Prelude, another recent small box expansion for the game.)
Terraforming Mars was a huge hit on its 2016 release and has been well supported since. It sits in the Top 5 games of all time on Board Game Geek, winning a number of awards.
In the base game you manage a hand of cards, playing them into your own tableau to trigger effects. It’s very much an engine building game. Players compete to efficiently create plant life, oceans and raise the temperature on the planet. A game takes about two hours, and there’s quite a bit of luck of the draw. But its strong theme and varied strategies mean it has earned its plaudits.
What does Terraforming Mars Colonies bring to the party?
In the box are 49 project cards, 5 corporations, 13 cardboard tiles and 16 plastic markers. Around half the new corps and projects are connected to the new colony rules, so you’d want to remove them if not playing with the expansion (they’re clearly marked with a triangle).
The only real surprise was there were no additional Prelude cards, as it seems an easy (and cheap) addition to throw a few of them in. The main bulk of Colonies though is, well, the colonies. There’s a Trade Fleets tile on which each player places their initial starting colony ship (you place one of your coloured markers neatly into it). Next, you randomly take three to seven (depending on player number) of the 11 colonies and place them next to it.
The trade fleet tile neatly explains how the ships/colonies work. And there’s a handy matching reference tile for those languishing at the other end of the table. This adds two new turn options: build a colony, or visit one. Players can build one colony on each (to a maximum of three per tile, regardless of player count). Building one gets you an immediate benefit, plus income when any player later visits it. Colonies each produce a different resource, which ticks up each round. Only one player can visit each colony each round, taking all available resources (and giving any player there their bonus).
As you’d expect, many new project cards break/alter these rules. Some allow you to have extra trade ships (there are eight in the box), while others let you build a colony in a place you already have one. There are also quite a few ‘floater’ cards, which will confuse players who don’t have the Venus Next expansion. They can still be used, but it should’ve been explained in the rules for those who skipped that expansion.
How much does it change the game?
Terraforming Mars Colonies adds an interesting, rules-light new dimension to the game. It can be explained to experienced players in about five minutes. So you could equally add it to a game for first-time players with very little extra rules overhead.
In terms of game play, each colony is essentially just another way to get a particular resource. However, the difference is that resource is both guaranteed and contested. Can’t get your plant engine going? Maybe there’s a colony for that. Struggling for money? Take a trip to the right colony for a little cash boost.
But once a ship has arrived at a colony, it stays there until being placed back on the Trade Fleet tile at the end of the round. This can make turn order important. You could leave that colony alone this turn to let it get slightly more valuable. But if you do, will someone nip in before you next turn?
I do also need to mention the rules ‘sheet’. The four-page attempt at rules is woefully inadequate, to which the 59 threads (and counting) of rules queries on BGG will testify – almost one per component! Annoyingly, the official tutorial video adds pretty much nothing useful. We muddled through, but had to check quite a few things per play during the first couple of games.
Is Terraforming Mars Colonies value for money?
At around £20, Colonies seems reasonable value for money. It’s a pretty standard expansion box price and most experienced players will appreciate what it adds to the game. Much like Prelude, it partially addresses a problem some found with the base game: being locked out of particular resources due to luck of the draw.
But while I like a modular expansion, much like Prelude this is essentially just one module. You’re either going to add this in or not. I thought Prelude was a rip off at £15 and, frankly, I see no reason why they couldn’t have added £5 to this and put Prelude in the same box with Colonies – making it an insta-buy. But in terms of game play value, again like Prelude, I think Terraforming Mars Colonies is a solid investment.
Changes to the solo game
There are no significant rules changes to the solo game with the addition of the Colonies expansion. You use either the base game or Prelude rules for winning, picking four random colony tiles and choosing three of them to use during set up.
The fact you don’t contest for them makes them a healthy freebie.With more players the base value they come down to after being visited can slowly increase, so you miss out on that. But overall I find they make winning solo a little easier, becoming a stable part of your engine.
Is Colonies essential?
Absolutely not. However, experienced players will get a kick out of the new competitive element and the new way to get resources. I’ll be including Colonies in all future plays of Terraforming Mars, both with experienced and new players. However, unlike Prelude, if I didn’t now own it, I’m not sure i’d invest in it. Yes, it’s a fun addition – but would I miss it hugely if you took it away? I’d certainly miss Prelude more. I think this is more an expansion for those who play very regularly, and who may be needing fresh impetus. For them, this is going to be a winner.
… and does it fit in the original Terraforming Mars box?
I have both Prelude and Colonies in the base box and the extra components fit very easily. I’ve thrown away the expansion boxes, but they’d probably just about fit even with the boxes intact.
* Thank you to FryxGames (via Asmodee UK) for providing TM: Colonies for review.