Weekly PnP: Tinyforming Mars

  • Designer: Michael Bevilacqua
  • Artists: Michael Bevilacqua and Cheryl Leon Levy
  • Publisher: N/A
  • Where to Find It: The BGG Forums

Luke: The BGG Golden Geek this year were slightly lopsided in terms of representation this year. With Wingspan winning a majority of the awards, fans were left with a much less diverse pool of games to discover.

Phil: Which is why the PnP section was easily the most interesting of the different categories for us. Three games we had never played, let alone heard of? We had to give them a go. And sitting at the very top was Tinyforming Mars.

Luke: I’m not shy about the fact that I am by no means a fan of Stronghold Games’ crown jewel Terraforming Mars, so I went into the experience hesitantly. Sure, there were far fewer components and a drafting system that seemed both more unique and less punishing, but I didn’t expect much.

Phil: Yet here we are, talking about it, so it must have done something to pique your interest.

Luke: In Tinyforming Mars, you are trying to establish the wealthiest cities on the red planet before you and your opponent use up all the resources it has to offer. Players will earn points based on the greenery next to their cities, any water or greenery that you border and your opponent doesn’t, and the heat that your cities generate.

Phil: You know what they say, you are what you heat.

Luke:

Phil:

Luke: … Anyway… Each round, players will alternate drawing a card from the top of the deck and putting it in play until there are 3 cards available. How a player orients the card will determine what actions and resources each player has access to.

After this, you’ll alternate turns, taking either one of the actions on the cards or a single common action that is always available. Each action costs credits, limiting the number of things you can do in a round to only a handful of things. Additionally, you’ll need to have different symbols to legally activate most actions, meaning you may orient a card for the symbols it contains regardless of whether or not you can do the action on it.

Phil: There’s certainly a good amount of hate-drafting at play as well. Preventing your opponent from ending the game or placing a token in an inopportune location for you is often something you’ll take into consideration. There’s a surprising amount of thought and depth that goes into how each card is set.

Luke: After both players pass, you’ll earn income based on your cities and the water adjacent to them, discard all cards in play, and start a new round. This continues until 2 of the 3 resource types (greenery, heat, and water) are completely exhausted; whoever has the most points wins!

Phil: To me, this retains a lot of the depth and tough choices that Terraforming Mars has while making it less overwhelming.

Luke: This game has a smart core loop that makes players carefully consider how they place their cities, how many credits they’ll have access to next round, when to place that one water cube that will get them a bonus, and so on. Plus it’s waaaaaaaaaaay shorter, clocking in at around a half an hour.

Phil: For a game its size, it can feel like a little much at times, with some choices feeling overwhelming, only when you have a handful of options to pick from.

Luke: That and the terminology can feel a bit obtuse. Most of the game is explained through iconography, yet many of the terms feel like they don’t line up with the images they are associated with, making some instructions awkward to understand.

Phil: That being said, the iconography is very nice and works well to inform players of what’s happening in a given situation.

I personally really enjoy how the area control elements work, giving players access to certain symbols at all times if placed correctly, but in order to get the most points, you’ll want to be placed in the center of the board away from those buffs.

Luke: Ultimately, this game wasn’t for me, but I can see why it was so beloved on BGG. It packs a lot of game into a single package and creates a tense back-and-forth that leaves you invested until the final cube is placed. I just found it to be a little too heavy and dry for a game of this size.

Verdict: This is the way to play Terraforming Mars 2-player. We wouldn’t recommend the solo mode, but the strategic choices and careful area control elements make this a strong title, especially when you can get it for free right now.

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