Aug 21, 2018

[Games] Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium Review

Terraforming Mars proved to be a pretty amazing strategy game with a lot of great ideas for a compelling strategy game worked into a single play experience. Opting to go for completely unique cards and a diversity of ways to score points provides for highly distinct and unique games every time you play.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the game's first expansion, Hellas & Elysium, as it does feel like a bit of a cop-out to just give us an alternate board and call it an expansion.

But in practice the introduction of two new game boards made for quite a number of new play options and new experiences. So yeah, it was a good call and this is still a legitimate expansion for an already great game.

Synopsis: Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium is the first expansion for Terraforming Mars. It was also designed by game designer Jacob Fryxelius and consists of a new double-sided game board that feature new parts of Mars to terraform.

As the title of the expansion specifically states, the expansion allows players to explore and terraform the Hellas and Elysium parts of Mars. Each side of the board provides a unique view of Mars with a different mix of terrain from the original game. In addition, not all the named features from the base game are visible in the new areas so some of the special placement rules for cards and related triggers no longer apply when playing with these boards.

In addition, the game boards also feature a unique mix of new Milestones and Awards that change things up significantly, and are the bigger change that these boards bring. The milestone Polar Explorer can be achieved when you build specifically near the south pole of Mars while Generalist needs you to have at least one income across all production types. New awards like Celebrity focus on high value cards instead of Mega Credit income or Cultivator is achieved by having the most greeneries.

What I Liked: The new Milestones and Awards certainly make things a lot more interesting and can be enough to disrupt players who already have a steady rhythm for playing Terraforming Mars with the base game board. Combine that with the new game play area in itself with a new mix of possible resources to gain when you place cities and greenery tiles on the planet and it feels like a very different game. It just stresses how every aspect of the game was so well thought-out that they determined how to play with the individual aspects to change the whole gameplay experience.

The new objectives do make for a more challenging game experience even for veteran Terraforming Mars players not only because the objectives are different but they're also a little trickier to achieve. Plus when you lose focus, you will find players who end up developing their card base in a way that may more support the old rules. And that can make for a lot of fun as you go through your games.

What Could Have Been Better: I do wish that there were other changes made to the game to continue to push things. With the focus on providing a new game board, it would have been fun to include more diverse terrain spaces maybe or even new standard projects specific to these other parts of Mars.

Also with the changes to named features, it might have been more fun to tweak the rules such that cards that are tied to specific features would accommodate the new boards better. As it stands the rules simply ignore features that were on the original game board but not present here, which felt a little lazy as a rule shift.

TL;DR: Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium may not feel like that big a change to the game at first glance but actually playing through will help you appreciate just how different the game becomes. It's a brilliant expansion that provides new game play and new challenges. Thus the expansion gets a good 4 new configurations of oceans and other resource tiles out of a possible 5.

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