Terraforming Mars on Steam

So a certain publisher rep referred to me as the guy who complains about apps. Maybe that’s why I didn’t get a Terraforming Mars key. With that in mind -- this is NOT a paid review. I bought this myself because I like the game. I was away on a road trip and wanted something to do in the hotel restaurant while alone, so I downloaded it and played it the day it was released.

I was pretty excited at first and I did a tweet storm of shots on my phone….

This is not going to be a post about how great the app is. You can go read a post by someone who was given a key for all of the favorable things about the game. I’m here to point out what they could have done better and should have gotten correct in the first place. This isn’t the first app Asmodee Digital has put out.

After a dozen or so plays, I’ve started to get frustrated with the app.

  • As I noted in the tweet about the cards, you can click on the cards to get a larger version to better read all of the fine print. But it still isn’t all there! Then you have to click on the little “I” again to get even more text.

  • I turned off all animations and questions to speed things up. The animations were fun, but even when set to the fastest speeds tended to slow things down.

  • Like just about every app, I’m frustrated that there is no undo. I’m still not sure why. There have been times where I thought I was buying a card, but didn’t select it properly and had no way to go back.

  • Either I figured out how to turn it on, or they eventually added an advance your turn automatically with a patch.

  • Admittedly, I’ve played this game a ton in real life before the app came out, so I’m probably better than the average player. But I found the AI, even at the hardest level, against one player, to be too easy. I’ve found it a challenge when I added a second player. Adding more would take too long due to the animations.

  • Minor gripes that I’d like to see fixed: Why can’t we pick our own colors, and assign our our own names, and when are we going to get drafting and the expansions?

Other things that would be nice:

  • I have a hard time counting the number of cities on the map when I’m reading a card that says get X points per city, etc. It’d be great if it just had something like the Suburbia App that shows you next to your tile what the net result would be.

  • I’d be nice if it highlighted WHY a card was unplayable rather than just shading it. Is it because you don’t have enough money, or the oxygen level is not high enough? At least the shading is nice.

  • How about having this on something other than steam? This does take up a bit of screen space, I’m not sure it’d work on a phone, but it would work an a tablet just fine.

I’m not the only one here -- my buddy Isaac Shalev posted a similar tweet, re-posted here with permission.

Played Terraforming Mars app 5x. The game works just fine, but it's got no polish. No undo, even mid-action. Blue actions are hidden away and easy to forget. Can't see your hand when choosing how to pay for a card. Fine for experienced players, but not a good intro to the game.

Lots of absent features that are common in digital games like high score list, achievements, and challenges also reduces the stickiness. Some obvious hacky stuff in the programming too. Again, not bad if you love TM, but well short of Through The Ages, for eg.

Things I’ve not tested yet:

  • I’ve not used the tutorial. At about 50 plays of the board game going in, I didn’t bother.

  • Solo mode. If I was going to do that - I’d play the cardboard version, since I have more map options and expansions to include.

  • Online modes. I’m not aware of that many people who have it. Many people balked at the high price when it first came out and are waiting on a sale. Others are waiting for it to be on something other than Steam.

So as a recap, should you get it? Probably only if you are a hard core Terraforming Mars fan and enjoy killing time playing a game while watching TV. Maybe when they’ve added some upgrades, patches or expansions I can take another look for you.