Terraforming Mars: Prelude
Time: ~100 minutes
Times Played: 6
Terraforming Mars is a game that I have a love/hate relationship with. There are some things I do not like about the game (mostly the component quality) but it keeps drawing me back in. I own all the expansions. I’ve hunted down the promo cards. I even own the Broken Token organizer for Pete’s sake (Of note, this is probably the last expansion to fit in that organizer unless they release an updated model). Needless to say, when Prelude was released there was never a question over whether or not I was going to purchase it…it was only a matter of when (which, for the record was one day after my local game store got it in stock. I sometimes hate myself).
Prelude consists of thirty-five prelude cards, seven new project cards, five new corporations, and one new solo card.
The biggest addition offered by Prelude are those thirty-five cards. When a game begins and players are choosing their corporations, they are dealt four Prelude cards. Of those four, they keep two. What these cards do is provide a jumpstart to the engine building by providing production or some other bonus.
Some cards also feature a tag which can be used for bonuses during the game and scoring (such as awards and milestones).
As far as I can tell, the Prelude cards don’t feature any one card that outshines the others. The variety of the cards is strong and the ability to have four and keep two mean that you’re not pigeonholed into doing something you don’t want to do. I like that it can force a player into strategies they don’t normally take or consider cards that are typically played during the opening rounds. It’s enough spice to give Terraforming Mars that initial hype and honeymoon status that permeated the first few times we opened the box.
I have concerns about integrating this with new players though as this may seem daunting and could even set a new player up for failure if they choose incorrectly. If a new player isn’t quite sure of what they’re doing over the course of the game, how are they going to know which Prelude cards to choose? I would only introduce this variant with seasoned players but once people are comfortable, I see no reason to not use this expansion every time Terraforming Mars is played.
The solo card has players attempting to reach TR 63 in 14 Generations. This is two less than the standard solo mode introduced in the base game. The solo card also introduces a new standard project for solo players. For the cost of 16 credits, the player can increase their TR 1.
Terraforming Mars might be my benchmark for solo gameplay as it’s just heavy enough to keep my mind occupied and entertained and it also plays quick enough that I realize halfway through that if I don’t want to play anymore, I can speed through the last few generations and be done.
The new solo card offers a different solo challenge (which I’m surprised they haven’t rolled out more of) and it only makes sense with the Prelude cards being used to start your engine faster. I feel the standard project that’s introduced is a little under-costed as once your money machine starts flowing, spending sixteen credits to get closer to your goal is nothing. This is entirely dependent on the corporation and Prelude cards that are dealt though.
Cheung Shing Mars: Begin with 45 MC, plus 3 MC production. When you play a building tag, you pay 2 MC less.
In my opinion, the best starting corporation from this new deck. If playing with all expansions, the game has seventy-three (73) cards with building tags on them. With a draft, players are likely to see a fair amount of these cards and the discount will pay for itself. It’s also a money machine if handled properly due to the initial boost in production and high starting amount.
Point Luna: Begin with 37 MC, plus 1 titanium production. When you play an earth tag, draw a card.
I’m indifferent to Point Luna. The starting credits are tied for lowest among the new cards and while the titanium production can be beneficial, it’s not necessarily an immediate boon. I also found that the Earth tags only incorporate such a low amount of cards in the deck and they tend to be rather expensive.
Robinson Industries: Start with 47 MC. As an action, spend 4 MC to increase (one of) your lowest production one step.
The highest starting credits of any of the new corporations. I feel like this corporation takes a little more finesse and strategy than I have had time to devote to it. Increasing your lowest production for four (4) credits is a worthwhile trade off and helps mitigate not being able to receive/afford the cards you want. I think in the right hands this card could be incredibly powerful but I don’t think that makes it overpowered as you have to know when to use it. I personally felt like I may have over-relied on its ability when I had it as opposed to the situational aspect it should have been. Using this ability as opposed to that of the cards means you’re neglecting tags and keeping those truly valuable cards out of reach as you can’t afford them.
Valley Trust: Start with 37 MC. As your first action, draw 3 Prelude cards and play one of them, discarding the other two. When you play a card with a science tag, you pay 2 MC less.
Grabbing an additional Prelude card is helpful, especially as you get to look at three (3) as opposed to just drawing one randomly off the top. The discount is also helpful due to the amount of science cards. I like this one as it’s very simple and there isn’t much to keep track of like some of the other new corporations.The only downfall is that your three Prelude cards could pull you into multiple different directions which wouldn’t really provide much of a benefit at all.
ViTor: Start with 45 MC. As your first action, fund an award for free. When you play a card with a non-negative VP point icon, gain 3 MC.
Funding an award is a nice concept but it can tie you to a particular strategy so that award isn’t wasted. I also feel like the special ability changes the game slightly for the player. Before, you’re extremely focused on building your engine and terraforming your planet but now you’re trying to bank as many victory point cards as possible, which will inflate your score. It feels like the Viticulture strategy of giving tours and selling grapes as opposed to making wine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it definitely made me rethink my strategy and my normal card drafting.
The cards are pretty standard fare. They feel like cards that were already included in the base game, which is good as they don’t stand out for any one reason. I will give a shout out to Research Coordination, which includes a wild-card tag that allows it to be used as whatever you want for future cards. I think that’s a great implementation and something I don’t remember seeing before.
The art is same mixture of photography/digital illustrations. It also keeps with the futuristic theme as one card, House Printing, features the three-dimensional printing of homes.
I really wish they would just sell these things in a deck of cards. I know the box is larger to stand out on the shelf and catch shoppers eyes, but this isn’t a game people are perusing and pick up. The purchasers of Prelude are doing so because they’re already invested in the Terraforming Mars mythos. This is an entirely selfish rationale but I store everything in the base box (for now…one more expansion and I might hope they release a Big Box) and throwing away the expansion box pains me each time.
Before Prelude, my favorite expansion was the new boards brought by Elysium and Hellas as it kept the core of the game the same and just offered a different experience to play (with new awards). Prelude has since surpassed that expansion as my favorite in the Terraforming Mars line as it’s so easy to implement and streamlines the game while creating entirely new opening rounds and strategies. I honestly don’t know that I’ll play this game again without incorporating Prelude. I thought the World Government from Venus Next was a good implementation to speed up what could be a long game but the inclusion of Prelude cards does what that module attempted even better in my opinion.
Prelude basically takes the beginner route laid out in the rulebook and puts it in card form. Instead of every production starting at one, players must now choose via the cards they’re dealt how they’re going to terraform the planet. What was once a slow, prodding start to every game has now been streamlined to help players get to the meat of the game faster.
I think the most important aspect of Prelude is that it doesn’t necessarily shorten the game length as it kickstarts the engine for a player. Going in, I thought this was going to be another way to shorten the game significantly (similar to the World Government introduced in Venus Next) but our games lasted a similar amount of time. There was a variation of one or two generations compared to previous plays. We could definitely see and feel the difference in regards to what we normally tried to do. This gave us clearer guidelines as a path was already partially carved out.
We play Terraforming Mars almost strictly as a two-player game and I feel like at that count (and solo), Prelude isn’t as worthwhile as it appears. The game is already fairly quick and with two-player drafting, it’s somewhat easy to get what you want. At three and more though, it felt much more beneficial.
Prelude is what I like from an expansion. It adds to the core game without overly complicating anything. After what I thought was a dud with Venus Next, I’m incredibly thrilled with Prelude and I am back on the bandwagon of looking forward to what’s next.