Terraforming Mars

Game review by
Neilie Johnson, Common Sense Media
Terraforming Mars Game Poster Image
Strategy game marred by faulty interface, connection issues.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

No specific message beyond corporations competing to make the surface of Mars livable.

Positive Role Models & Representations

You don't play as a specific character. You're essentially a corporation initiating different tasks to make Mars inhabitable, presumably for profit and for exploration.

Ease of Play

Confusing interface and complex rule set makes it difficult to understand what's happening.


No profanity in game, but unmoderated player chat could contain bad language.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Terraforming Mars is a downloadable space strategy game for Windows PCs. The digital game is based on the popular tabletop game of the same name. While it has no inappropriate content in the game, it contains an unmoderated chat room where kids could be exposed to inappropriate comments on any topic. The rules and interface are also complex, which could frustrate some players. Both local and online play requires online registration and an account with publisher Asmodee Digital. 

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What's it about?

TERRAFORMING MARS is a turn-based space strategy game where players compete and work cooperatively to make the surface of Mars habitable. This requires raising the temperature, water levels, and oxygen content of the atmosphere, and players do this by sending asteroids hurtling down, establishing oceans and lakes, and planting greenery until conditions reach Earth-like standards. Players start by choosing a corporation to represent them (each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages) and a collection of action cards. They then take turns spending resources on basic actions or unique cards to alter the planet's surface. Competition comes from using actions and cards to undermine your opponents' terraforming efforts; co-op play comes from global perks that benefit everyone. The game ends when planetary conditions reach humanity-supporting levels, and the winner's determined by the final tally of points. Players can boost their scores by achieving specific objectives (building the most cities or planting the most greenery, for instance) or betting on their ability to do so. Solo mode lets players practice their strategies against AI, local multiplayer lets them take on friends on the same machine, and online multiplayer lets them challenge players from around the world.

Is it any good?

Turning board games into video games is becoming popular, though some transformations are more successful than others, and this strategy game doesn't work too well. The strategy board game Terraforming Mars was the sleeper hit of 2016 and as such, promised greatness when it was translated to the digital realm. Unfortunately, thanks to an uninformative interface, rampant bugs, and problematic online multiplayer, that promise remains unfulfilled. 

Turning tabletop to digital isn't easy, and much of Terraforming Mars was lost in the translation. "Drafting" (where players strategically select their cards) is a big part of the tabletop version, and it's missing entirely here. Players can select up to 10 cards from a small starting array, but they aren't given the chance to choose from the whole deck. Tabletop players are also used to being able to see what other players are doing as they do it, and that's also missing. The information is there (somewhat), but the overcomplicated interface requires you to dig a while to find it. That means new players will really be in the dark about what's going on -- how other players are progressing, when objectives have been reached, and awards spoken for. The turn-based animations are overdone, creating more confusion regarding whose turn it is and slowing down gameplay. Even with these issues, solo play flows fairly well. Online multiplayer's another story. To start, the player base is small, so it's difficult to find anyone to play with. If you do find people to challenge and then one or more bail out mid-game, the game grinds to a halt, because you can't kick them from the game and you have to wait for their timers to run out. There currently appears to be no method of handling mid-game quitters, which is nuts since it's such a common problem in online games. The developer has responded to complaints about this and other issues, promising to address them, but until it does, your kids are better off with the tabletop game.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the best medium for different games. Do some games work better as tabletop games than video games? If so, why?

  • Do you need games to have online play against other people? Why? 

  • What can game-makers do to discourage people from quitting mid-game? 

Game details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love space strategy games

Themes & Topics

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