Skip to content

Terraforming Mars Two Player Review

Important Note:

All board game reviews and ratings from “A Pair of Meeples” are entirely based on the game at two players. You can learn more about our rating system by clicking below.


This post may contain affiliate links so we might receive compensation if you sign up for or purchase products linked to below. As an Amazon Associate, we can earn from qualifying purchases.

Terraforming Mars is a great board game, but it honestly shows how easy it is to become greedy and monopolizing. Clearly its just a part of being human, and that doesn’t change even if we make our way to another planet, even if it is in a fictional board game. You and your friends will be rolling in money as you shoot asteroids into the beautiful Mars, mine its resources, and maybe even drop the moon Deimos on one of your competitor’s plant productions.

Exploiting the planet for your own gains and progressing your corporation to new levels is all that truly matters, terraforming the planet is just secondary. Some may even stall making the planet habitable for as long as possible so they can make more money and watch your corporation grow to despicable levels. Sounds vile when you put it like that, but it’s so so satisfying to watch what you built churn out resources and money like there’s no tomorrow.

Terraforming Mars Review

8.5 out of 10
Terraforming Mars Two Player Review Block

Is it Good For Two Players? : Yes, but some game mechanics are impacted by this player count.

Overall Terraforming Mars is a great game with two players and as I already said it’s one of my favorites because it provides such a satisfying engine-building experience that you really get to savor, even if it is a little slow to build in the start.  While two players do make aspects like the awards and milestones feel a little odd, it does make area control and tile laying a more fun, dynamic, and significant aspect of the game.

Theme: 9/10
Replayability: 8/10
Components: 5/10
Conflict: 3/10
Fun: 6/10

Husband's Rating
9 out of 10
Wife's Rating
8 out of 10

Pros

Very satisfying card based engine building

Pretty thematic and one a lot of players can enjoy

Over 200 unique cards that are very applicable to the theme and make the game very replayable

Lots of unique starting corporations to explore that lead you on different strategies and paths to victory

Cons

It is a little difficult to teach and learn at first

Games can often be very long

Sometimes a player can get too much of a lead before the game is even close to over

The components could be a little better especially for the cost

Art could be a little better but you get used to it

Game Experience

This review has been a long time coming, Terraforming Mars is one of my favorite games of all time and is possibly the game that cemented my love for the hobby.  From the nerdy theme to the crazy extensive engine building, every aspect of this game appeals to my inner geek.

Terraforming Mars is a game that lets you build a multi-level point-producing machine and take it as far as you and your tablemates allow it to go.  It’s up to the players how quickly you terraform Mars and thus how long the game can drag out. Often you start to just enjoy what you have built and savor watching the resources and points roll in as the card combos you built start to work just as you planned.

After you get done reveling in your corporation’s success, you start to remember that the goal is to actually terraform Mars.  Now that you’ve built the perfect engine it’s a race to claim as much of Mars as possible, raise oxygen and temperature levels, and be responsible for making Mars the best planet.

Terraforming Mars Rules Summary:

In Terraforming Mars each player will pick a corporation who they will act as throughout the game and take a player board that will keep track of their resources and production.  Each of the 12 non-beginner corporations has its own unique characteristics and will often pair well with certain strategies.  Players are then dealt 10 initial project cards and can choose which to keep for a cost.

Terraforming Mars Player Boards
The cheap paper player boards are one area where the game is definitely lacking in terms of quality.

The game is played over multiple rounds representing generations.  After the first generation, each successive generation goes through a player order phase, research phase, action phase, and production phase.

  • Player order phase: This makes it so players alternate who gets to go first in each generation.
  • Research Phase: Each player draws 4 new cards and can keep whichever they want for a cost.
  • Action Phase: Players alternate, taking 1 or 2 actions until all players have passed.
  • Production Phase: Players look at the current standing of their player board and produce resources equal to their current production levels. 

Rounds will continue until Mars has been fully terraformed which happens when oxygen and temperature are raised to the appropriate levels and all ocean tiles have been placed. 

Terraforming Mars Oxygen Track
Oxygen Track
Terraforming Mars Temperature and Water Tiles
Temperature Track and Water Tiles

Throughout the game, the main action is usually to play cards. These cards represent projects and events that a corporation can take to advance their endeavors and the terraforming of Mars.  All of the 208 cards in Terraforming Mars are unique and provide various benefits when played and fall under three different categories.

  • Active Cards (Blue): Have effects that can be triggered at any point during the game or have actions that players can perform once per round.  
  • Automated Cards (Green): Have immediate effects such as increasing the rate of production of a particular resource for example.
  • Event Cards (Red): Provide an immediate and often dramatic effect or benefit and have no further effect on the game after.
Terraforming Mars Card Types
Card Types

Most cards also have various tag symbols and requirements on them that describe the cards and also relate them to each other.  Some cards require a certain number of a tag to be played while others give players discounts for cards with a certain tag.  Event tags only matter when played but active and automated card tags will matter throughout the entire game.

Since many cards have ongoing effects, playing certain cards together can produce substantial benefits as they work cohesively together.  With so many unique cards, there are countless card combos to explore with the interactions between cards sometimes being subtle or super dramatic and impactful.

The playing of cards is mostly how you will progress your corporation throughout the game. There are a few other actions players can take though such as standard actions, claiming a milestone, funding an award, using the action on a previously played card, or converting plants into greenery tiles, and heat into temperature.  All these other actions are still essential to your corporation’s overall success even if they’re not the main focus of the game. 

Terraforming Mars Awards, Milestones and Standard Projects
Awards, Milestones, and Standard Projects

Will you try to maximize titanium production to play more space cards, or are you going to try and maximize plant production in order to place more greenery tiles and claim more of Mars for your corporation, or create a terraforming machine that ends the game before your opponent even knows what hit them?

There are a lot of options for players to pursue but only one corporation can come out on top.  After Mars is terraformed, whichever corporation has the highest terraform rating and victory points combined is deemed the winner.

Conclusion:

Terraforming Mars shines because of its card play, the interactions between played cards whether subtle or dramatic make every decision seem impactful and meaningful.  With 208 unique cards, there are so many paths and card combos to explore, and every single game will lead you to a new strategic game experience, as you analyze the cards you’re dealt and decide how best to use them.

The engine building in Terraforming Mars is so satisfying and like we said earlier players get to enjoy the fruits of their labor and really get to savor the benefits of the cards they’ve played. Sometimes the beginning game can feel a little slow but in the later rounds, players start raking in the resources and can take advantage of the card combos they have played.  This is one of our favorite aspects of the game and may be what ruined other engine builders such as Wingspan for us.

Terraforming Mars Cards
Throughout the course of the game, you will play a lot of cards

Wingspan shares a lot of characteristics with Terraforming Mars but is not one of our favorite games due to the feeling that it just ended too soon and before players really get to enjoy the engine they built. Terraforming Mars fixes this by making the actions of the players determine when the game ends, and thus allows players to lengthen the game and truly gain the benefits of the corporations they have built.

Terraforming Mars End Game Production
Look at all those cubes! By the end of the game players are often raking it in.

This enjoyment does come at a cost in terms of game length though, which can be a big negative depending on who you are and also how well you’re doing in the game.  If you and other players are enjoying your corporate machines a little too much, the game can drag on as players delay terraforming Mars.  This is usually not a problem but potentially can be, depending on the particular game.

It can suck for players who may feel they have no chance of winning and have to suffer through quite a lengthy game as they watch their opponents move further and further ahead and don’t have the power to end the game or even see a definitive end to their suffering if their opponents are dragging out their victory. 

Dragging out the game in a potentially negative way is probably our biggest issue with the game but we do admit, Terraforming Mars game length can be quite long, maybe too long for many.  As we said, players stalling the end game compounded with the somewhat slow start can be a big negative for many.  So, if you’re not a fan of longer games, 2 or more hours, this is definitely something to consider when deciding if Terraforming Mars is the game for you.

Game length aside, Terraforming Mars is an excellent card-playing engine builder at its core. It does have some other interesting mechanisms such as tile placing, milestones, and reward collections that add even more depth to the game.  These other features don’t just feel like add-ons for the sake of add-ons and contribute to the overall feel of the game, with the tile placing being one of our favorites.

People new to the game usually don’t realize how impactful laying tiles on the Mars map can potentially be, but as you become more familiar with the game, the battle for claiming different areas on the map or blocking your opponent from critical spaces becomes almost as important as the card playing.

Overall, Terraforming Mars possibly does card-based engine building better than any other game we have played and also sprinkles some other game aspects on top to create a very satisfying gaming experience, and even more so if you’re a nerd and fan of the theme.

Is Terraforming Mars Good For 2 Players?

Terraforming Mars has no major rule modifications or changes for two players.  While it is one of my favorite games with two players, this player count does actually increase some of the negative aspects of the game.

First is the game length. With only two players it typically takes longer to accomplish the end game parameters such as raising oxygen and temperature since fewer people are contributing to the terraforming of Mars.  This is especially true if one or both players are strictly focusing on their engines.   As a result, this can lead to super long games, but eventually, one player will look at the clock and realize 15 theoretical generations have gone by. They’ll probably decide it’s time to quit raking in the money and call it a night and start the push to fully terraform Mars.

Claiming milestones and funding awards in a two player game of Terraforming Mars is another aspect that feels a little off.  It’s like a waiting game, as both players try to hold off spending the money on these actions until the last minute possible.  And then at some point, somebody is feeling rich and decides to go for it and uses both actions to take the first and second award spots, leaving only the third spot left for the other player, and due to its cost, it almost doesn’t seem worth it. 

It almost feels like an aspect of the game that should be left out in a two player game but even though it feels off it probably still keeps the game quite balanced.  To go after milestones and rewards players have to sacrifice other turn options so even if the other player doesn’t score high in these areas, they may still actually score more points by instead using their turns wisely. 

Terraforming Mars also doesn’t have very much in terms of player interaction to begin with, and in two player games, it is even less so in some ways.  Some cards allow you to steal, destroy, or reduce the resources of another player if possible but since there is only one other player often it’s actually not possible.  So, most of the “take-that” cards aren’t worth the cost in a two-player game and thus the limited player interaction is even more limited at this player’s count. 

One aspect of the game that we actually do think is better with two players is the laying of greenery tiles and cities on the board.  In a game with more players, you don’t have as much control over what gets placed where, but in a two player game, you can make some quite strategic plays with your tile laying.

Terraforming Mars Game Board
Tile-laying strategies are more important than newer players may realize

You can block your opponent’s cities from scoring if you have the resources and are quick to do so or you can block them in entirely and force them to change their plans entirely.  In a similar sense, you can place your own greenery and city tiles in a way to really maximize your points because you have less random interference than you would have at higher player counts.

So even though area control and tile placement aren’t as big of a component of Terraforming Mars as the card play, in a two player game it becomes more significant than it does with 3 or 4 players.  This aspect of the game isn’t as utilized with newer players but as you get more experienced with the game it’s easier to see it’s a very important strategy. 

Overall, Terraforming Mars is a great game with two players and as I already said it’s one of my favorites because it provides such a satisfying engine-building experience that you really get to savor, even if it is a little slow to build in the start.  While two players does make aspects like the awards and milestones feel a little odd, it does make area control and tile laying a more fun, dynamic and significant aspect of the game.

Once you get the hang of tile placing and its impact, two player games of Terraforming Mars feel like they have a little bit more conflict as you block and get blocked, and as a result player interaction feels a bit more adequate, since the only other source is the “take-that” cards that feel just a little like an afterthought.

Other than this alteration in how significant each aspect of the gameplay is, Terraforming Mars plays just as well with two as it does at other player counts.  It might be one of the most satisfying card-based engine builders of all time and is definitely one of our favorites in this category.

Pros:

  • Very satisfying card-based engine building.  Players get to enjoy what they built and reap the rewards.
  • Pretty thematic and one a lot of players can enjoy.  The end game parameters of increasing oxygen, raising the temperature, and placing ocean tiles that every player contributes to really tie the whole game together.
  • Over 200 unique cards that are very applicable to the theme and make the game very replayable.  The interactions between different cards are limitless and even after a lifetime of playing you still would likely discover new card combos or unique little interactions.
  • Lots of unique starting corporations to explore that lead you on different strategies and paths to victory.  There are so many options to explore in the game.

Cons:

  • It is a little difficult to teach and learn at first, but the saving grace is once you know how to play you always remember how to.
  • Games can often be very long (sometimes 3+ hours).  
  • Sometimes a player can get very far ahead, and the game can be decided before it’s even halfway over, and the loser has to suffer through the rest of the game.
  • The components could be a little better. If you’re not careful you could knock your player board and lose track of all your resource production.

We hope this Terraforming Mars two player game review has helped you and if you are interested in buying a copy you can click the orange “Buy on Amazon” button.

Our reviews are not paid reviews, but some games are given to us, we do not let this affect our opinions in any way. This post may contain affiliate links so we might receive compensation if you sign up for or purchase products linked to. As an Amazon Associate, we can earn from qualifying purchases. This helps cover our site’s costs and allows us to continue reviewing games.


Terraforming Mars Prelude

Normally we don’t like to include expansions on our review pages but in this case, Terraforming Mars Prelude is almost a necessity for this game when played with two players in our opinion, so you might want to consider also picking up this expansion if you decide to get a copy of Terraforming Mars.

Like we said, there’s no denying games of Terraforming Mars can run long, this expansion alleviates that problem a little. It comes with new prelude cards that really give you a jumpstart right at the beginning of the game.

The slow start of of building your engine is no longer an issue when you play with this expansion, you can instead get right into the action and as an added benefit games move along a little quicker.

We consider this a must-buy and we personally never play without this expansion. It also comes with a few new corporations and project cards for even more variety. You can see our full review here: Terraforming Mars Prelude Expansion Review


Terraforming Mars Ares Expedition vs Original Terraforming Mars

Terraforming Mars Ares Expedition is a standalone game. It shares a lot with the original but plays quite differently.  In a sense, it is a more streamlined version that has a little less depth but plays a bit quicker.  This shorter game length addresses one of the biggest issues most people may likely have with the original.

It also includes a cooperative mode which many might find interesting as it’s something quite different from the original.  This is the main reason we added it to our collection, but we still prefer the original Terraforming Mars for it’s deeper gameplay even if it takes a little longer to play.


If you would like, you can help others by sharing this two player Terraforming Mars review.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *