Unsure whether to focus on plants, keep the comet card you drew, or perhaps just working out which milestones to go for? Each game of Terraforming Mars can be quite different – starting with random companies for each players. They are not perfectly equal, but learning how to use them is all part of the game and not in my view a player choice. Here’s my tips for new players looking for ways to score a couple of extra points!
During The Game:
Use Standard Projects; This is probably the most forgotten option I see players use – in other words, I hear a lot of “I should have done that” two turns later due to not using these. They are printed in the bottom left of the board, but it’s easy to forget, and when you are trying to build a city / further a card / gain terraforming points, these are expensive but valuable tools at your disposal. For example, don’t use them to just build a terraforming point, but do use them to sneak that bonus terraforming stage (the one that gives you two terraforming for one!)
Watch the Board; You can play a strategy predominantly in your hand and with points on the cards. However, the reality is that each forest gives you one point now (for oxygen) and one point later for occupying the space. This, especially early in the game, is significant. The second element of the board is to look for opportunities to pick up cards / resources and other benefits from building in certain location. Lastly, the map also allows you to force players to build in a direction / build in a way that gives you points (forests next to cities) or to limit their development. Watch out for corners (especially those created by oceans / special zones) and watch out for the opportunity to drop a city in the middle of that other corporation’s forest!
Ocean Money; The last thing to be said for the board, is the interesting use of building next to an ocean to sneak those extra couple of megacredits. Two megacredits next to one ocean is good, but more likely you will get 4 from two tiles later in the game – this can really boost your money and get that extra card down!
Grab Bonuses – and watch out for others; Some terraforming projects get you a bonus – manage your turn carefully to get those; sometimes that means waiting a turn before playing the terraforming point, and sometimes it means playing two of one type even if that requires a standard project. Grabbing these points can be really effective and once they are gone – they are gone.
Awards / Milestones; Using these is key to a good final score. Focus your energy to grab one milestone from the start. Keep your focus, and then make sure you don’t miss the chance to grab it and allow three other players to go ahead of you in taking those (or even the other of the five). I have seen players waste energy to go for one, but not take it before 3 have been claimed – just because no-one else could grab that one. Of course the reverse is true – squeezing a player out by claiming that last (third) of the five to be claimed in that game can be a big points swing! On the awards, don’t rush to these a it will give away your plan, but once you have the cards to go and a small advantage – take the early award. I would say it’s unlikely that the final award is worth purchasing except in that final or penultimate turn – before this, gaining the income / playing other cards is more beneficial to your score.
Terraform First; At the start of your turn you will have plants and heat ready to terraform and in most cases you should do it immediately! You need to do it quickly because “take that” cards exist, and the potential in later turns for the benefit to be run down is also key – get the most you can from your resources per turn, but do wait if it will hand a bonus to your opponent and you would otherwise have gained it.
Search for Life; I won’t comment on any other cards, but just watch out as “Search for Life” which requires a random draw action to search for mircobes – it is quite alluring but quite limited. Despite being cheap I have never seen this pay off for a player. Watch out for hope value being applied – a big score is possible, but it’s completely out of your control.
The Meta Game; Lastly this is a game where you may find a lot of table talk going on. Why? Because it’s easy to miss the points on the board, the milestones that are shown, the cards that have scoring conditions – all this means that there may be quite a debate about who is winning during the game but it can always be calculated. Watch out for players pushing attention on you – particularly if you are drafting those cards!
In a two player games, there is one strategy that works so well it’s disgusting to play it or play against.
The main goal is to get everything that gives you income. If the game lasts long enough and you’re at 50+ in the income (that’s not counting the Terraforming points). You will end up in a state where you can buy every card and play them all on each generations. You’re deff in no rush to finish the game because you can play every +Points Cards and when needed, put down cities and forests like it’s nothing at all.
Since this is the only viable strategy to the game for 2 players, I think it’s rather boring and luck-based.