This has not happened to me for a long time. Having decided to look at a new turn-by-turn strategy for only five minutes, I came to my senses already sometime in the morning. Well, Terraformers, you’ve got my attention.

Game Terraformers
Genre strategy
Platforms Windows, Nintendo Switch
Languages English
Developer Asteroid Lab
Publisher Goblinz Publishing
Steam, GOG

Year of Mars

The stars aligned in such a way that 2023 began for me under the sign of Mars. Originally Farlanders and Colony, then Deliver Us Mars, and now Terraformers. And that’s not counting Mars Horizon, which I decided to replay after the announcement of Mars Horizon 2: The Search for Life and Rover Mechanic Simulator, which is waiting for my return. This is really “Mars Attacks!”

Although, unlike the funny and quite good parody Mars Attacks! (by the way, I forgot that this is a Tim Burton movie), all the above books and games have one important thing in common – the absence of aliens and any pop sci-fi techniques. All this is real classic science fiction, with an emphasis on the word “science”.

Red Mars

At first glance, Terraformers is a kind of Civilization Mars. You build bases/cities, increase the population, create a network of mines to extract water, titanium, and other minerals; improve food and energy production; start trading with Earth. But there is one nuance.

Unlike Civilization and similar strategies, any building in Terraformers is built instantly, the main thing is that you have the right amount of resources. And this makes the strategy of Terraformers look like some kind of board game or even a huge puzzle, a kind of Martian solitaire, in which you lay out cards of buildings, research, and projects, trying to accumulate the resources needed for some important construction, for example, the foundation of a new settlement.

Green Mars

But creating a stable extraterrestrial colony is just the beginning. Then your colonists will want more: the dense atmosphere to protect them from radiation, shopping centers, and amusement parks in the Martian domes, and on the once dead surface of the Red Planet, they want to see forests turn green and animals run around.

So, as the name of the game promises, you will have to engage in terraforming – build oxygen factories, increase the density of the atmosphere (bombing the polar caps is allowed!), spread useful microorganisms on the surface of Mars, and export CO2 from Earth. And yes, we need to plant forests and release terrestrial animals into the wild, except for a few genetically modified ones.

In fact, the only option for ending the game in Terraformers (well, almost the only one) is the dissatisfaction of the colonists with the living conditions. There are no other challenges here and it’s even a little annoying. In 10 playthroughs, and the campaigns here are not long, 1-3 hours, I only encountered the Martian mafia a few times (unpleasant, but tolerable), once the migration crisis, and only once there was a more or less serious problem – a planet-killing asteroid, which had to be deflected. And that was the challenge, otherwise, Terraformers is a very calm, measured, and stress-free game.

Blue Mars

Of course, the game will not be limited to forests. What is the colonization of Mars without the creation of seas and oceans. But before melting the polar caps and exporting water ice from the outer planets, Mars needs to be warmed up.

The appearance of liquid water will greatly please the inhabitants of the domes, but the same sea can flood not only individual mines but also entire settlements, so protective dams will have to be built. It’s not difficult, but the additional types of buildings that can only be placed on the water will help keep the citizens of the Martian colonies in a good mood.

For example, during one of the campaigns, I managed to build a real factory town/resort on Mars, in which there were metallurgical plants, oxygen factories, sanatoriums, and picturesque tourist attractions. Interestingly, long before the appearance of the Martian sea in the game, I accidentally named this city Mariupol-on-Mars.

When randomness is a blessing

Another important difference between Terraformers and conventional strategies is the roguelike elements. It would seem that randomness is the enemy of strategic planning, where you need to understand what you will get after certain decisions and be able to calculate your actions at least a few moves ahead. On the other hand, complete determinism is the key to boring gameplay, and a successfully applied element of randomness brings variety and forces the player to adapt to the situation, and to look for new strategies.

Well, in Terraformers randomness is very appropriate. First, each turn you are dealt random building cards, one of which you can keep. This number, as well as the total number of cards offered per turn, can be increased with the help of research and special buildings.

Secondly, every 10 turns you have to change the leader of the colony, choosing one of the two proposed characters, each of which has great skills, sometimes very powerful. Someone can force citizens to work overtime, someone knows how to hold festivals that support the mood, and someone receives scientific bonuses. The choice of the leader affects the global development direction of the colony for the next 10 turns.

Of course, there are other random events in the game, but these two mechanics define the main gameplay. And they are made very well.

Another roguelike element is global progression. It’s a metagame of sorts, where you level up after completing missions and campaigns to unlock new leaders, buildings, technology, animals, and more. A nice bonus for those who, having mastered the basic mechanics, want to make their game even more interesting and diverse.

Mars is waiting

Finally, the visual component. Terraformers is a turn-based strategy, so a user-friendly interface and beautiful art are much more important here than high-tech graphics. And everything is very cool with the Terraformers’ art. Random event screensavers, terrain research results, settlement screens, etc. delight with well-made illustrations even when you see them for the hundredth time.

And here is very cool music, recorded with the participation of a symphony orchestra, which is very unusual for an indie project.

Terraformers is a little indie treasure hidden among the thousands of games released on Steam every month. It’s easy to miss, but we recommend you pay attention to this game anyway. The only thing is to be very careful, this game knows how to eat time.