Terraforming Mars has been an extreme force since its creation in 2016. It has amassed a huge player base and has pumped out five quality expansions. Players are corporations trying to make a planet inhabitable and make some cash along the way. You are all working together to raise oxygen and temperature levels while creating a machine of resource generation to buy bigger and better things. Terraforming Mars is a giant well-oiled machine, with many meticulous parts that fit in perfectly. This game is all about starting small and making the right decisions to build into something great. If you have played the game, and all the expansions, and are looking for a similar game, this list is for you. This is the list of 5 games like Terraforming Mars.
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In terms of thematics, Splendor could not be more different than Terraforming Mars. In Splendor, players are gem traders in the renaissance as opposed to billion-dollar corporations in space. Where it is the same is that Splendor is the absolute distilled down to its simplest parts Terraforming Mars. Splendor is 100% engine. You can do one of four actions a turn that makes you either take gems or use them to buy something (like transportation, workers, etc) that generate bonus gems. The key is that you invest in smaller stuff to generate bigger stuff. That is engine-building. Many games have engine-building as just one part of it, but both of these games are all in.
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Wingspan is another core engine-building game on the list except, as you may have guessed, it is about birds. It is a bit more lightweight than Terraforming Mars but much heavier than Splendor. Players are fans of birds seeking to discover and attract the best birds to your network of wildlife preserves. Basically you get birds, and because of them, you get eggs or more birds or food. The key is to make the right moves and build up your stable of winged friends to get better and better things. You do not have the sci-fi aspect but the core engine and infinite roads to victory are there.
Gizmos is an engine-building board game where you build, well, engines. A great science fair is going down and players are the scientists who will make these amazing machines. A dispenser spits out a random line of marbles that represent energies. You use those energies to do all sorts of things. Gizmos is kind of like the child of Splendor and Terraforming Mars. It is a simple one action per turn game where you are buying cards, but you are also dealing with a complex level of resources to grow and deal with. There are deep strategies and a number of combos that can get going, very much like Terraforming Mars.
Everything else on the list has been lighter than Terraforming Mars, but I would say Scythe is even denser than the already dense TM. You are in Western Europa and you are trying to get the most money for your tribe by any means necessary, and there is a lot to do. You have many workers out in the field trying to build you stuff, but people are coming for them, which is why you also have giant “mech” robots. Both are very complex engines, but in Scythe, you are much more in the weeds, moving around the land trying to attack the other players.
#01 Imperial Settlers
Imperial Settlers is the younger cartoonish cousin of Terraforming Mars. Thematically it is instead about an ancient civilization, but every major parallel you could want is there. You are making many many decisions to build up an empire. There are many different types of things to buy that either help with your production or give you some of that resource, just like terraforming Mars. You are the master of a civilization and you have many development tracks to make it the best it could be. It is all about getting the most victory points to win.