Terraforming Mars: Venus Next
Time: 90 minutes
Times Played: 8
Venus Next is the second expansion to the 2016 smash hit, Terraforming Mars. I was able to grab a copy from the Stronghold Games booth at PAX Unplugged. They hyped the limited release on Friday and mentioned that they would be selling copies on Saturday until they ran out. From eye-balling it, I want to say they had a little over a hundred copies and probably sold out within the first half an hour to forty-five minutes. It was our first stop on Saturday (probably fifteen minutes after doors opened) and they were already doing hearty business.
The main idea stays the same, players are terraforming the planet of Mars but now there is an additional project at hand, terraforming Venus. Due to the atmospheric differences, Venus will have ‘Floaters’, or cities/houses suspended in the air. I’m not nearly mature enough to call these objects ‘Floaters’ unfortunately. Every time a card is pulled or the action is made, a small, child-esque giggle escapes my lips.
Venus Next adds a new Venus board for terraforming, five new corporation cards and fifty new project cards.
These can be used while incorporating Venus Next into your play session or they can be used just with the base set-up. Two of the corporations, Manutech and Viron, have no ties to the expansion.
For the new project cards, the ones that deal directly with Venus have a ‘V’ tag to designate their usage.
The Venus Next board comes with four additional areas to place cities and the terraforming index scales from 0% to 30% by increments of two. With this new board is also a new Standard Project called Air Scrapping that for fifteen credits will increase your terraforming percentage on Venus by 2%.
There are also new Awards and Milestones available for players to vie over.
“This new award also works in addition to existing Awards, so that 3 out of 6 may be funded. Venuphile Award is a contest for most Venus tags in play. Place this tile so that it covers the Awards headline on the game board” (pg. 3, rulebook).
For the Hoverlord Milestone, “it works in addition to existing Milestones, so that 3 out of 6 Milestones may be claimed. To claim Hoverlord, you need a total of at least 7 floater resources on your cards. During setup, place this tile so that it covers the Milestones headline on the game board” (pg. 3, rulebook).*
*We played these both incorrectly. We did not cover the headline but covered an existing award/milestone. To be honest, we kind of like our goof as it forced us to do different things but for full transparency, wanted to alert you that what we did was incorrect.
To get straight to the point, the new board and ability to terraform Venus are not a new end-game requirement but more of a supplement to the base game. Increasing the Venus track will improve your Terraforming Rating, which grants you additional points and income. Depending on the draw of the cards, Venus might be an area that is quickly improved or could be a board that just sits unused as the game draws to a close. In our first two games including the expansion, Venus rose to four percent and six percent, respectively. This wasn’t due to us not utilizing the expansion but more because the cards never came to our hands.
The few times the cards were available to be drafted and/or bought, it became a question of whether or not they were even worth it. Since Venus doesn’t contribute to the end game scenario, would you not be better off improving something on the board and gaining the points that way as opposed to wasting money and working on Venus?
Because of this, the Venuphile Award seems like a wash. A player might achieve it with one Venus card or it might not be scored at all as the cards never come up or are used. It’s really game dependent too as it matters what other Award are you covering to use this new one. It might make people switch up their play-styles, which is nice, but it might also do absolutely nothing, which is a waste.
I could basically say the same thing about Hoverlord as I did about Venuphile. It’s a nice way to incorporate the expansion and can switch up the play, but eh.
However, these two additions do add a small amount of pre-game fun of deciding what to cover up. Some players have their hearts set on certain strategies and can really argue about covering up one of their focal points.
Venus almost seems like a way to combat the current end game situation that arises where players continue to play for points as opposed to finishing the colonization and terraformation of Mars. Venus gives you an additional route to earn points without purposefully lengthening the game.
I worry that this, and future expansions, will take what is already a fairly long game and make it borderline unbearable. One implementation to combat this (that I really like) is the inclusion of the World Government, which occurs during the Solar Phase (aka after you’ve cashed out following the Production Phase). The leader of the World Government is the player currently in possession of the First Player Marker and as this moves each round, it allows each player the ability to act as the World Government at least a few times.
Acting as the World Government, the first player can either place an ocean or improve any one of the Mars/Venus terraforming tracks by one. In doing this, the player doesn’t receive the benefit and bonuses of the improvements but it does help shorten the game and more importantly, can be used strategically to deny other players a benefit that they are gunning for. Is the next temperature improvement going to grant a player the extra heat they need to raise the temperature again? As the head of the World Government, do it yourself so they have to work harder for that extra Terraforming Rating. I think this inclusion really shines with the placement of the oceans as you can use it to block advantageous spaces on the map (such as locations that grant two cards).
With that being said, I do think the World Government makes the game move almost too fast, which is such a weird sentence for me to write as one of my major complaints is the end game length. Once you have your engine running at the rate you’ve been building for, there isn’t much left to do, which might also explain why I was so disappointed by the decision to make Venus a non-end game trigger.
I feel like the major appeal of Venus Next is not the new board but the new cards that can be used with or without the rest of the expansion. With the inclusion of the cards (and not playing the Venus board), there is an increased amount of space and Jovian tags but as of now, we haven’t seen it really sway the way the we’ve played. We’re aware of their inclusion and probability but with the base game having a little over two hundred project cards, adding another fifty isn’t *that* groundbreaking.
In fact, I will go as far to say that temperature will be one of the first tracks to max out for players as the expansion adds several cards that benefit the power and heat fields whereas there are no new ocean and only one new greenery card. For further reference, there were only three new building cards as well.
I kinda wish I had taken a more “wait and see” approach with Venus Next. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Venus Next and I have enjoyed playing it, but I honestly just feel like I’m playing Terraforming Mars with an occasional wild card thrown into the mix. Maybe if Venus was something that happened more frequently I would feel stronger towards the newest iteration but as is, it’s just alright. For other people though, they will love this. It adds just enough variability to rebalance the game and change the standard starts of most seasoned players. If you were stuck trying to decide between the two expansions or are a new player looking for the next challenge, I would highly recommend Hellas & Elysium over Venus Next. I feel like the new map is a greater and more impactful addition.
I’m also a little peeved it was not just titled “Terraforming Venus”. If you’re unsure if this is for you, the rulebook is four pages and can be found here for further reading (you will need a free BGG account to download).