Terraforming Mars Strategy: A Beginners Guide

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Part of the reason Terraforming Mars has held fast as one of the top strategy games, and one of the top games overall, on the Board Game Geek Top 100 and for so long is because of just how complex the strategy in the game can be. It also makes it extremely difficult to build out a strategy guide that covers both the beginner and advanced strategies to the game.

Nevertheless, this should get you off the ground on everything there is to know about the complex tactics in this game. This guide will begin with some basic strategy for new players and slowly build to a deep strategy toward the end of the article.

This won’t cover all the specific strategies for the expansions but these overall strategies will still apply.

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Beginner Strategies

A lot of the beginner strategies for this game are more qualitative than quantitative. Overall, these are going to be more general strategies that are good guidelines for at least competing against a really good Terraforming Mars player.

The more advanced strategies that are discussed further in the article are more qualitative and, although difficult to follow for newer players, more consistent at putting players in a great position to win the game.

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Part 1: Building An Engine

At its core, Terraforming Mars is an engine-building game. Engine building games involve a couple of key steps:

  • Gather resources (money, land, etc.)
  • Use these resources to get better resources
  • At some point transition to gaining points instead of more resources

Ultimately, your success hinges on how well you can build your engine compared to your opponents. The faster you get your engine running, the quicker you can transition to gaining points and actually winning the game.

Here are the important things to remember in regards to building an engine in Terraforming Mars:

  • Play production cards early
  • Conserve money by using action cards first
  • If you have no good actions, draw first

This should give you a good start to the game and a chance at building a better engine than your opponents.

Part 2: Prioritizing Actions

This is a key concept in a lot of strategy games that is easily overlooked. Deciding to use actions that grant an immediate benefit to you is important but it isn’t always the best move. This leads us into how you should prioritize actions: focus on what your opponents could do.

For instance, claiming a resource that is key for your opponent or a milestone that someone else could easily pick up are easy ways to swing points in your direction. Not only are you gaining momentum but you’re also stealing momentum from your opponents.

Here is a full list of the actions that you should keep an eye on for easy points:

  • Claiming resources your opponents could exploit
  • Hitting milestones your opponents could claim
  • Grabbing easy rewards on the temperature/oxygen tracks
  • Placing tiles at optimal times

In particular, placing tiles can be a great move when done at the right time. However, holding off on placing them can be a fantastic way to remain flexible when the board is still developing.

Overall, prioritizing what actions to take based on the situation on the board is a central strategy for winning the game.

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Part 3: City Placement

Placing cities is not only a high priority action that can be a game-changer. Most good city placements will not only help your efforts in the game but also hamper or even straight up destroy another player’s tactic.

Unfortunately, this also makes city placement one of the hardest strategies to actually write about. Since good city placement strategy varies widely based on the situation and opponent’s tactics in the game, the best advice is to just pay attention to how their tactics change based upon your placements.

However, there are a few great cards that synergise with city placement:

  • Greenhouses
  • Immigrant City
  • Immigration Shuttles
  • Martian Rails
  • Rover Construction
  • Zeppelins
  • Pets

These cards either give you something each time a city is placed or based on how many cities are in play.


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