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E20 | Games | Terraforming Mars ft. Charles Mruz

Giant ice asteroids, pumpkin spice beer, funding World War 1, and a special return guest are all just glimpses of what is included in this exciting episode! In our main topic we discuss strategy tips for the number 4 game on BoardGameGeek: Terraforming Mars. But before all of that we discuss a few brews we're trying out, some of the games we've been playing recently, and get to talk with a return guest: Charles Mruz of Gamemaster! Hope you enjoy listening along as we dive into the realm of boardgames!


What's on our Flight (01:34)

Today we are both enjoying beers sent to us by our good friend Roberto from Shear_Boardom, who we did an interview with earlier this year.

  • Dalton’s drinking: Day Haze from Mighty Squirrel Brewing Company. A session or "hazy" IPA. 4.7 ABV, 8 SRM, lots of citrus flavors coming forward. A very refreshing IPA and a great intro for those (like me!) who do not drink many of them. 3 cheers!

  • Nelson's drinking: Pumpkin Ale from Harvest Brewing Company. A seasonal ale, very much on track with many pumpkin ales you expect. A strong pumpkin flavor up front that resolves to a spiced finish. 5.2 ABV, 13 SRM, and 2 cheers for this beer!

Thanks again, Roberto, for the beers! If you feel like checking out the interview we did with him, you can find it here:


What's On Our Tables (07:30)

Since our last episode Nelson hosted a second Gencon-style get together for several of our friends, so we have plenty to talk about in this section!


  • Imperial left a strong impression on me coming out of the weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed playing the role of a bank financing the European superpowers of WW1 (a hilarious concept, seriously). This game gave me the feeling of playing a DoaM game without the cut-throat competitiveness created in those games. The game fostered fantastic and interesting player interaction throughout our session. I am very much looking forward to playing this one again!


  • Started a new 5x5 challenge consisting of On Mars, Great Western Trail, Orleans, Brass Birmingham, and Spirit Island. There are some hefty games on this list, so Nelson has a lot of gaming ahead of him!

  • Maracaibo. Similar to Great Western Trail both in the cyclical movement through the map and some core mechanics, really looking forward to getting this one to the table more in the future!

P.S. we did successfully play Tzolk'in during the Gencon weekend. Cross that one off the bucketlist!


The icebreaker question for this episode was one of Dalton's and we are joined by a special guest! (18:54)

Charles Mruz joined us for a second time to let us know that his documentary, Gamemaster (which we covered in Episode 13), was recently included with Amazon Prime! Congrats, Charles, and thanks for joining use for a drink and icebreaker!

We had a second set of drinks with Charles, so you get 2 flights for 1 episode:

  • Charles: Pumpkin Spice Old Fashioned, the second mixed drink recipe featured on the podcast. Charles talked us through how to make the pumpkin spice simple syrup for this easy cocktail; definitely worth a try for holiday gatherings. 2oz bourbon, 0.5 oz syrup, dashes of bitters.

  • Dalton: Lee W Sinclair Straight Bourbon Whiskey. 4 grains in this Indiana bourbon, one of which is oat. The oat is interesting, it provides a real chewiness to the liquor and makes it feel thick. Beyond that there is a bit of an uncomfortable burn after the standard upfront sweetness.

  • Nelson: Creature Comforts' Loopulus. A double IPA made with Citra and Nelson (woo!) Sauvin hops. 8%ABV, ~5 SRM, this is a fairly standard though remarkably smooth IPA easily identified by the tiger stripes on the can.

What is your favorite game to play with 8 or more players?

  • Charles: Codenames. Gotta love it! Charles talked through how approachable it is for new players, both to understand and to play. It makes for a very involved and enjoyable experience for players of all skill level.

  • Nelson: Spyfall. One of Nelson's favorite games that he never gets to play! A very simple social deduction game that takes only 8 minutes to play. He also mentioned Wavelength as an honorable mention.

  • Dalton: Deception: Murder in Hong Kong. Again a relatively short deduction game, this time bringing in a "clue giver" mechanic similar to Codenames or Mysterium. There is a lot of fun and replayability available in this game, though it feels like 6 or more players are required to play.

Thanks again for joining us, Charles! If you are looking for us to answer a question in a future episode, submit your question here.


Discussion starts at 51:53 in the episode

Terraforming Mars was one of the first games we really dove in to the math and analytics of, largely due to the work provided by BGG user @JingKing. A large portion of the discussion is fueled by that analysis, as well as contributions from the community on the corporations. Here are the primary articles for your review in addition to our analysis:

Our discussion is broken in to 3 major sections with regards to analyzing the game: What to Buy, When to Buy, and Corporations. We limited our analysis to the base game, so no prelude cards or fancy corporations here. Just good, old fashioned Terraforming! Let's jump in!

What to Buy

Terraforming Mars is fairly consistent in the pricing of the cards, real benefit of the analysis provided by @JingKing is the quantification of pricing backed out based on the value of the cards. For reference, here are the values of the main things you purchase through cards:


  • 1 Terraforming Rating (TR): 10 M

  • 1 Temperature Increase: 10 M

  • 1 Oxygen Increase: 10 M

  • 1 Ocean Tile Placement: 14 M


  • 1 M Income Increase: 5 M

  • 1 Steel Production: 8 M

  • 1 Titanium Production: 10 M

  • 1 Plant Production: 10 M

  • 1 Energy Production: 7 M

  • 1 Heat Production: 6 M


  • 1 Victory Point: 5 M

  • 1 Plant, Steel, Titanium, Card: 2 M

  • 1 Heat: 1 M

  • 1 Tile Placement: 4 M

The price of a card is calculated as the total cost of the benefits provided by the card, less 3M (the cost to include the card in your hand). For example, Subterranean Reservoir provides 1 ocean tile for 11M, which is right on track with the cost of an ocean tile (14M), less 3M for the patent.

The game allows for a couple of adjustments from these prices. First, the cost of a card is discounted if the card contains requirements such as temperature or science tags. Since the card is harder to play, the game rewards you for your effort with more value from the card. Additionally, if multiple benefits are listed on the card, a "bulk discount" (we refer to this as the "Costco Discount" in the episode) is applied. This means there are times where saving money to purchase a bigger card is more cost effective than spending money every turn on smaller cards.

Another option for purchase is the Standard Projects, which are available to the players on any turn of the game, even for multiple buys. The Standard Projects are always 4M more expensive than the card equivalent price, which is a very important metric to remember. This means that any opportunity where the "overpay" of 4M is met or exceeded by other benefits of the purchase (namely tile-playing benefits, such as ocean tile bonuses or refunded resources, or benefits on the terraforming tracks) makes these project extremely competitive purchases. Especially since they are available to all players at once!

Lastly, we have Milestones and Awards. Milestones are a dominant source of victory points, defining as much as 10% of a player's final score per Milestone! As you can see above, a VP typically costs 5M on a card. Milestones provide a whopping 5 VP for only 8M!! We are not exaggerating when we say it is a race to purchase the Milestones, and the data shows that all 3 Milestones are purchased every game. Awards are similarly important and are fully purchased in nearly every game. In larger games, even taking second on an award is a valuable purchase (provided first place goes to a player who will finish below you). Figuring out how and when to purchase Milestones and Awards are some of the most important decisions players will make over the course of the game. Here is some information to help you decide which Milestones and Awards to pursue:

Frequency of Milestone Purchase per Player Count:

Frequency of Award Purchase per Player Count:

When to Buy

To understand when to buy, it is first important to understand when the game will end. In general, the game will end in 10-11 rounds, though this is influenced by several factors, namely player count:

Game Length (Generations) by Player Count:

In addition to player count, the number of players terraforming vs engine building will influence the length of the game. As seen above, 5 players actively terraforming the planet will end the game in 6 generations on average (the standard game removes the Corporate Era cards, which provide engine building tools that extend the game), where Nelson has personally played a 16 generation game with 2 players focused on engine building.

In general, the game takes place over 3 phases: the Milestone, Engine Building, and Awards phases. Each phase takes roughly one third of the game, roughy 3 or 4 generations on average. In the first phase, players should be focused on racing to the Milestones. This phase may seem cutthroat and rushed, but any player not stepping out of the gate ready to claim Milestones will find themselves behind in final scoring. The second phase is Engine Building, where players focus on ramping up both production and VP generation. Any "engine" cards which are played in the later generations of the game will be too slow to generate real value. Lastly, in the Awards phase players are focused on competing to win the Awards which are funded by players throughout the later rounds, regardless of whether they were the player to originally fund them. Remember, the game is exponential. As player incomes grow, so do their abilities to play powerful cards and quickly terraform the planet. The game will end sooner than you think!


Choosing which corporation to play is one of the first decisions a player makes, and overall one of the most important. Corporations will define the player starting positions and (often) provide an ongoing benefit present throughout the game. They provide asymmetry to the game without totally unbalancing it. A good rule of thumb is to shoot for 60M usable resources from the starting benefits provided by the corporation. The higher your starting resources, the better your position. Take in to careful account the starting cards available to you for purchase with this decision, they will often be the deciding factor between a powerful starting position and a crippled one. Below is a summary of the base game corporations and their potential starting resource values, based on the figures provided above.

Summary of Corporation Benefits:

Thank you for listening through this analysis of one of our favorite games! We thoroughly enjoyed the preparation and execution of this episode, we hope you enjoyed listening to it!


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