We’re gonna need a bigger… board?
When Terraforming Mars was released what now seems a long time ago, it caused a huge splash in the gaming world. It completely sold out at Essen Spiel and has since crept up the Board Game Geek charts and currently sits at a nice and cosy #5 in the favourite games of all time of geeks at large. No small feat considering the amount of games which are released on a weekly basis. One of my illustrious colleagues has even done a review for it where he was quite nice about it too, and probably for good reason. It’s a solid game; if occasionally a little brain-burning.
For me, I really enjoy both the theme and the gameplay for Terraforming Mars. It can be a little pot-luck about whether you can execute the strategy that you’d like on each play as you’re at the whim of whatever cards your draw, but overall I find it a really enjoyable game.
The problem with it is that if someone gets to know most of the cards and some of the exploitative strategies which can be used in every game then it loses its appeal quite quickly. After all, nobody really likes being exploited every game they play.
With this in mind, game fans started clamoring for more content like the ever parodied Oliver Twist, and Fryx Games listened to their fans and followed up with 2 expansions the following Essen: Venus Next, and the subject of this review, Hellas and Elysium.
A moment of honesty
Let’s get one thing out in the open right now. Hellas and Elysium is just a new board which expands Terraforming Mars. It shows the 2 sides of Mars which you couldn’t see when attempting to terraform Mars on the original board. As such, this review is likely to be a fair bit shorter than the extensive prose of mine which you may be used to. Let’s face it, I can talk for England; but there’s only so much I can say about a game board. Also, if you’re new to Terraforming Mars, then this review probably isn’t for you. Go and check out Nick’s review and then come back and see if this could be worth grabbing once you’re a few games in.
Great, so with that out in the open, what is there to say about Hellas and Elysium?
Welcome to Hell(as)
Let’s start with Hellas. This is the Martian South pole and puts a very different spin on how you need to pool your resources to terraform. The spaces for the ocean tiles are very odd, but having done some research on Terraforming Mars itself, I suspect there’s a very good reason for it.
Because of where the bonuses you collect from placement are (with the plants at the top) this adds a massively competitive element to getting yourself on the board at the beginning of the game; assuming of course that you’re wanting to collect free plants. Also, unlike the original, there are heat bonuses on the Hellas board. Thematically, this is because the crust of the planet around the Hellas Sea being thinner apparently. And who said board games weren’t educational? But this also puts an interesting spin on how you use your strategy to the best effect.
As well as the map being completely different, Hellas also comes with 5 new milestones and 5 new awards to further diversify the game for those which have found exploitative ways on the original board.
The milestones are: Diversifier (have 8 different tags in play), Tactician (have 5 cards with requirements in play), Polar Explorer (have 3 tiles on the two bottom rows), Energizer (have 6 energy production), and finally Rim Settler. Before I give an explanation of this, I’d like to point out my maturity about not making any jokes about this in my review. I don’t offer any such promise during gameplay though. Hellas’ Rim Settler is completed by having 3 different Jovian tags. Sounds like a bit of an anti-climax now doesn’t it?
The awards available on this half of the expansion are: Cultivator (have the most greenery tiles), Magnate (most green cards in play), Space Baron (have the most space tags), Excentric (most resources on cards) which I know is spelt wrong, but is their words not mine; and lastly Contractor which you gain for having the most building tags.
As you can see, for one side of a game board Hellas does a lot to shake things up. Does Elysium bring as much variety too?
Now for Elysium (not the sucky film)
Elysium is the martian equivalent of the Alps. It’s the mountainous region of Mars. I had no idea before writing that this review was going to be so educational!
Elysium, unlike Hellas doesn’t have a great deal in the way of placement bonuses or much exciting to say in the way of how the map is laid out. But what it lacks in every day placement, it definitely makes up for in milestones and awards. The 10 Brucie Bonuses you can net yourself from Elysium are:
Milestones: Generalist (increase all productions by at least 1), Specialist (have 10 production in any one resource), Ecologist (Have 4 bio tags), Tycoon (have 15 project cards in play) and Legend (play 5 red cards).
Awards: Celebrity (most cards in play which cost over 20), Industrialist (most steel and energy resources), Desert Settler (most tiles in the bottoms 4 rows of the board), Estate Dealer (most tiles near water) and Benefactor (Highest TM rating).
Elysium is definitely my favourite half of the expansion because it’s different enough to shake things up, but it’s not so different that it would alienate new players to Terraforming Mars. I have actually brought in new gamers with the Elysium expansion in play. However, the Benefactor award did cause some controversy between my fellow players as they felt it was a little unjust that the person who is already in front in the points running, gets even further in front from funding an award. Generally, I would agree, but I was the person in front benefiting from it, so I’ll remain on the fence about it for now.
Yes, yes… but is it worth having?
So now the really big question! Is Hellas and Elysium an essential addition to Terraforming Mars? I suppose when posed like that, it entirely depends how much you have played the base game. I think that Terraforming Mars prime has quite a lot of play in it, but as mentioned before, there can be some strategies which can be exploited, spoiling the fun for other players. Hellas and Elysium mitigates that a little bit and that can only be a good thing.
I think that Hellas and Elysium is the same as most expansions where it will only make the game better once the base game needs some freshening up. That being said, it could easily fit in with the base game to new players if you were so inclined.
From my point of view, for being able to breathe a new lease of life into Terraforming Mars for me, Hellas and Elysium really deserves a solid 8 out of 10. Not essential to the base game by any stretch of the imagination, but more a sight for sore eyes after some extensive Terraforming.
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.