The Fall of Empire – Terraforming Mars: Colonies (FryxGames/Stronghold Games, 2018)

Terraforming Mars (FryxGames/Stronghold Games, 2016) is probably the RockyMountainNavy family’s favorite Eurogame. That said, I had shied away from larger expansions like Terraforming Mars: Venus Next (2017) because of time issues. We liked the 2018 Prelude expansion as it solved a (minor) issue we had with the game; game length. After the real success of Prelude, I ordered the most recent expansion, Colonies (2018), in a hope that it could find a sweet spot between Venus Next and Prelude. Our weekly Game Night found Terraforming Mars using the Corporate Era variant and Prelude and Colonies expansions on the table this week…

…and it was dissatisfying.

One of the reasons the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself like Terraforming Mars is the narrative it builds during play. The game shows how different Corporations, each with a different way to build their empire (game engine), use them to bring a lifeless planet to life. The added bonus for us is the ability to play out this drama in less than three hours.

Our game this weekend took 3 hours 15 minutes to play (setup/breakdown was extra) – by far the longest Terraforming Mars game we have ever played. I see two major factors in this slow down; a bit of Analysis Paralysis as new Project Cards were encountered and a very slow engine build for all of us, even with the Prelude “jumpstart.”

Some people like “heavy” games with their longer playtimes. Games like Twilight Imperium (4th Edition) with a playtime rated up to 8 hours! Heck, even one of my favorite wargames, Fifth Frontier War (GDW, 1981), is rated at 6 hours. But for the RockyMountainNavy Game Night we prefer to keep game time in the 90-150 minute range so that with setup/breakdown we go no longer than 3 hours.

The second disappointment was the lack of game narrative. I just don’t feel that the Colonies expansion with its combination of new Corporations, Colony Tiles, and Project Cards, added meaningful dramatic narrative to the game. In other games I feel like my Corporation is my own littel empire I can build; in our game this weekend my Project Cards really felt more like “luck of the draw” rather than “building my empire.” The Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy pointed out that the many Project Cards actually seems overwhelming – too many cards leading to too many choices which actually threatens the gaming narrative.

Now, it is very possible that we simply got a bad draw of random Colony Tiles and Project Cards and failed to make the best of what we got. I personally was trying to maximize my Actions and was running away on the Terraforming Rating as I tried to terraform. Maybe my problem is I actually “played” Terraforming Mars for the first time rather than “experience” the game.

By far the largest change Colonies brings to the RockyMountainNavy Gaming Family is a change in how we think about Terraforming Mars. I feel like Colonies may be the last expansion we buy for the game. If the game is played in the future, I think it may be the Corporate Era variant with the Prelude expansion; what we think about as the best fit in narrative and time.

Empires rise and fall. Terraforming Mars has a solid, respected reputation in the RockyMountainNavy household and has deservedly earned a lofty spot our pantheon of games. Unfortunately, Colonies highlighted one of the major reasons some games don’t fully earn our greatest accolades.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

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