Terraforming Mars: The best cards in the game

Cards are the heart of Terraforming Mars and understanding them is the key to win. But each one of them is unique and they interact in subtle, different ways. It’s often difficult to gauge exactly how good a card will be in a given game and often cards we thought would be standouts end up not panning out.

But there are some cards that I know I can always count on. Cards so versatile or so useful that will make a game easier or give me a much needed boost. They are the nine best cards of Terraforming Mars:


Extreme-Cold Fungus turns any microbe card into a powerful combo. It’s that easy, you pair it up with the likes of Regolith Eaters and you get 1 TR per turn. No requirements or complex interactions needed, just another microbe and you are set.

And that TR per turn is great. It’s about 10 victory points at the end of the game and an average of 3, perhaps 4 credits per turn. That’s absolutely fantastic and good enough to have an easy time for most of the game.

One might run the numbers and think Extreme-Cold Fungus is not that different from Soletta, which is a fairly mediocre card. After all, the cost of Extreme-Cold Fungus and another microbe is about on par and they both give one TR per turn.

But Extreme-Cold Fungus has strengths where Soletta has drawbacks. It and the microbe it works with can be played over two turns, reducing the economic hit. It can feed more than one card, making it useful even if one of the parameters is maxed, and even gives you plants at the end of the game. It has little counterplay, unlike Soletta which entices your opponents to raise temperature through space events.

Quite simply, if I have a good microbe and Extreme-Cold Fungus comes along, I’ll always take it. There’s no reason not to.


Strip Mine may very well be the most expensive card in the game, even more than Io Mining, once you factor its energy cost. At 25 credits plus a minimum of 11 in power plants and another 6 in card purchases, there’s nothing that really comes close in raw cost at the beginning of the game.

But its huge cost is compensated by the fact that it sets you up for the whole game. Nothing comes close to its 9 income per turn, even better, more streamlined engines can’t compete in raw gain.

While it undeniable puts you in a hole at the beginning of the game, it quickly pushes the player out of it that hole. It’s not like Soletta, Earth Catapult or the Jovians, which don’t pay off until late in the game; Open-Pit Mine pays off right at the next turn and allows you to keep playing well despite its huge cost.

And it’s important to keep in mind one thing: Some corporations, like Thorgate or Interplanetary Cinematics have a very easy time paying that huge cost. Strip Mine may not always be a great card, or the card that you should draft. But when it is, it’s brutal and that gives it an incredible amount of power.


If you run the numbers you might be surprised to find that Advanced Alloys isn’t that different from Acquired Company. Both are economic cards and both have an expected payoff of about three credits at a cost of ten. And yet, despite their similarities, I often find myself drafting the former away from other players. Why’s that?

The thing with Advanced Alloys is that it does not have an upper bound. It will give exactly as many extra credits as steel and titanium you can spend. Most of the time this will be a low amount and the card will be similar to Acquired Company. But there are many games in which its payoff goes through the roof. Five, six, eight credits per turn are all possible and I’ve seen many games in which it has lead to a very nice snowball for its owner.

And for some Corporations that snowball is much more within grasp than others. Interplanetary Cinematics and Phoblog get an immediate pay-off out of it and Mining Guild can turn it into a monster. It’s a dangerous card whose main drawback is greed: It’s often possible overinvest and never get that big payoff, be either for a lack of minerals or a lack of cards to spend them on.


Most players are aware of the importance of milestones and awards. They are the cheapest source of victory points in the game, being three or four times cheaper than any other source, and amount to a good chunk of the total score.

But there are only three milestones and only three awards and chances are they’ll be evenly divided amongst different players. Haven’t you ever wished you could get one more?

Well, there’s a card that’s a little bit like a seventh member of that category: Pets. Like milestones, it must be played early and generates no income, but assures a significant amount points (6-7) at a heavily discounted cost (13 credits). It’s very much worth it! The only question is, can you get both a milestone and Pets without stalling your economy?


This little promotional card has the highest potential payoff in the game. Under ideal circumstances it can rack a return of at least 64 credits, far more than every single card of a similar cost or even of any cost.

But Self-Replicating Robots is not a strong card because of that highly unlikely scenario. It’s simply a good, generally useful economy card that, with some work, can outshine the competition.

Consider the following. Acquired Company gives a return of 21 credits over eight turns. Self-Replicating Robots gives a return of 32 credits in that same time frame if you stop at 16 each time. That’s 11 credits more! Even if you must play a bit slower to accommodate the science requirements, chances are you are going to have a great economic engine going. And hey, you might be able to get a bigger discount on one of your cards.

Think about it this way: Would you draft Cartel when you have three Earth tags? You sure would! Well, Self-Replicating Robots is like that, except that instead of needing three Earth tags and, hence, at least three cards, it only requires two science ones.

Don’t think twice about it, if you have at least one science and it’s early in the game go and get it.


Great Convoy has the highest, most reliable point potential of any single card, at seven points. That’s a game-winning amount, enough to take a player to first place or consolidate a lead. And it can be played on the very last turns of the game.

That’s no small benefit. One of the interesting things about Terraforming Mars is the way the value of victory points and credits changes through the game. Early on, when credits scarce, investing into victory points is a waste of valuable resources but late in the game, when credits abound, you might not have enough cards to get those same points. Great Convoy fits right in, not forcing the player to take an economic hit at his most vulnerable.

And it’s not as much of a hit as it seems! While the card is certainly expensive, it’s also much more efficient than late-game cities, which are often built for just 2 or 3 points. Being an actual card also opens Great Convoy to discounts such as Media Group and allows the player to spend leftover titanium to play it.


Forests win games and Arctic Algae is the best card to produce them. No other card gives as many plants. Played early it can produce up to 19, enough for two whole forests and more than even Designated Microorganism would. At a mere 15 credits, it could qualify for this list on sheer efficiency alone. But what pushes it to the highest echelons of this list are two subtle benefits.

The first is that it prevents its own plants from getting killed by asteroids. The moment you have a few plants you can simply plop down an Ocean, get 4 plants between Arctic Algae and placement bonuses and safely grow a forest as your next action.

The second is its raw speed. If you play Designated Microorganisms it will take at least 4 turns for it to do anything. That’s half of the game! So you are actually playing at a handicap until you can recoup its cost in Victory Points. But oceans are played fast and the Arctic Algae player push for them, making forest hit the table much earlier than any other plant-producing card. It can often lead to a new forest being placed turn 2, which gives valuable TR and placement bonuses. All in all, a superb card.


How many events do you play over the course of a game? Eight? A dozen? Ten? Well, Media Group gives you three credits for each of them. Think about how much money that is, and how much money other cards give you. How many of them have a return of up to thirty credits? And how many of those require as little setup as Media Group does?

You are not going to find a more well-rounded economy card. It works for all strategies, it requires no setup and has a useful tag. It pays off immediately upon playing an event. It doesn’t make you wait for the next two or three turns in order to recoup its cost, as soon as you play the event, you get the money.

There’s also a subtle, but extremely important benefit: It makes all events much more viable. With it, draw events go from overpriced to lean, asteroids become extremely efficient and take-that cards go from luxuries to being practically free. Normally players avoid cards like Virus or Sabotage because spending four credits to make another player lose seven is not an attractive proposition. But one? Of course they would pay one.

The craziest thing about Media Group is that it stacks with all other discounts. You can end up playing space events by 5 or 8 credits less than their printed cost. Absolutely insane.



What makes Standard Technology so strong is the flexibility it provides. By making the normally overpriced standard projects almost as efficient as cards, it massively reduces the number of them you need to win a given game.

Even better, it reduces the kind of cards you need to win. Need energy? You can use Standard Technology to get a cheap power plant. Need early-game income and want to grab that first heat bonus? Raise temperature with Standard Technology. Want cheaper cities by the end of the game? Standard Technology provides.

It may not seem by much, but it’s incredibly powerful to be able to play Asteroid, Power Plant and Subterranean Reservoir on demand. And it’s even more powerful to use it to rush the game out and deny your opponents of all those Terraforming points they intended to get.

The thing with Standard Technology is: It’s always useful. There’s not a single game where it doesn’t recoup its cost, for every game sees repeated use of Standard Projects. And from there, it’s pure control. Standard Technology would qualify for this list on it alone. But what turns it into such a monster is the way it interacts with certain Corporations.

Thorgate already has a discount of three credits on power plants, take away another three and you get energy for five credits a piece. That’s so cheap you can use it as heat and match the efficiency of Mohole Area. With Standard Technology, Thorgate can dominate the whole game on the back of Ironworks and raising temperature.

And then there’s Credicor. I’ll be honest, this is the only combination in the game that I consider to be broken. Here’s the thing, you can wait until the game is halfway over to play Grass at a cost of 14 and get a forest five turns down the line. Or you can use Standard Technology and place it this very turn at 16. Ah, and you also get placement bonuses. I have seen games in which Credicor dropped half a dozen forests on the last turn which is insane.

Even the humble UNMI, often considered one of the weaker corporations, becomes a monster when given Standard Technology. It can rush the whole game through, never stop to build, and close it out with a few greeneries to secure its lead. Hands down, it’s the best card in the game.


  • And what about the Insect card which gives you as much plant production as many plant cards you have played? I think its better than the arctic algae as both value and price so it should be #3 instead of that

    • It’s a nice card, but I haven’t found it particularly strong. After all, it needs at least two plant cards before it’s worth playing, which means it requires a substantial investment in credits and time. Time is particularly important because the longer you take to play a plant production card, the fewer rounds it will have to give you forests. Artic Alage may cost you three credits more, but it requires no support, is assured to pay out before the game’s end and can give you plants incredibly fast.

      • There’s a difference between cards that should be played early and then provide a bonus (or discount) for later cards, and cards that need to be saved until later because they give a massive bonus for each tag of a type. They can be fantastic, but it’s hard to predict in advance how good they will be, and they’re taking up space in your hand during that time. And it’s not always easy to predict when the best time to play them is. So you end up playing them too early, or you play them too late.

      • Sorry you are just wrong. Check any of the competitive play on steam and that hang out in hodgepodge discount channel, insects is absolutely S tier

        Also strip mine is considered one of the worst cards by the top players

        • Insects is a good card, I just haven’t found it particularly compelling. And while I think it’s reasonable to be colder on Strip Mine than I am, I think calling it “one of the worst” is a stretch when both Underworld Detonations and Noctis Farming exist!

          Either way, these are just my picks. It’s natural for others to have different thoughts, particularly in the three years since I wrote this article!

  • I’m not that huge a fan of Great Convoy as it’s 7 points only if:
    a. You get fish or some other card that gives you 1 vp per animal AND
    b. Usually by the time you finish that usually all the water is over. So you wouldn’t even get that either.

    On its worst I’d rather put it as 4 points (for water 5 plants + 2 more with placement bonuses the 2 points and possibly 6 coin for getting two cards).

    Also Pets is worth 6-7 points? You build 12 cities in a game?? Average 4 player games I’ve played only have like 8/9 ish cities though that is highly dependant on the cards. Don’t feel it’s worth spending that 10 so early in the game rather than building your engine esp when it’s not confirmed 4 points and dependant on other players

  • I think that at least two strong cards are missing here: Electro Catapult and Research Outpost.

    I know that power of these cards diminishes with the course of the game but there are definitely the ones you wish to draw in your starting hand.

    • Hey Lebkoslav! Thank you for your comment.

      While I like the card, I haven’t found Research Outpost to be very good. It’s a lot of money upfront for little income. Often, I’ve found it didn’t give more than 1 M€ per turn, perhaps two. Sure, int he long-run it will pay for itself, but I’m happier with Adquired Company or terraforming events most of the time.

      Electro Catapult is strong. It’s a good card to start with, specially in the solo game. However, it’s expensive and requires both energy and steel. It can be difficult to meet all of its requirements or it can be too expensive to do so. For me it’s a good card. Sometimes you just jam it on the table as Mining Guild or Interplanetary Cinematics and it feels insanely good. But I think it’s a bit too narrow to make the list. It’s now easier to trigger with Prelude, though 🙂

  • Viral Enhancers is an amazing card that contributes so much to the ground game as well as the Animal-points game.

    Even late game it can get you the last plants you need plus extra animals on cards for points.

  • very unconvincing ranking…I do not see electromagnetic catapult anywhere…

    • Electro Catapult is a good card, but I don’t consider it to be great. It’s expensive, has a long list of requirements and its effect can be easily duplicated by any other economic card. Nothing wrong with it, it’s just not as strong as the cards I included on the list.

  • Great list!
    I would just add Nitrite reducing bacteria! It is definitely top 3 early game cards!

  • Insulation should be considered.

    Properly used, you hold insulation until it becomes obvious that the temperature points are no longer much of a factor. Then you play it and convert all your useless heat to income. (This can also win you the “banker” race)

    I will hoard this card all game long if necessary.

  • Here are some cards (in no particular order) I’d consider top-tier, differing from most in the above list because they will not dictate your play-style:

    Toll Station. Pay 12mc to gain money production for every space tag your opponents have played. This card is *guaranteed* to pay for itself, and its going to be even better if the Triton colony is in play.

    Earth Catapult. ALL your cards are 2mc cheaper. Must-buy if it’s in your opening hand (even though it’s likely to be the only card you play that turn) coz it’ll save you 40+ money over the course of the game. Even bought late-game. it’s worth 2 TR.

    Adaptation Technology. Granted, this card is somewhat situational, but any card that lets you ignore/alter game-state requirements gives the player a HUGE advantage.

  • My list (when you play with all available extensions except fanmade):
    1. Spin-off Department
    2. Pets
    3. Toll Station
    4. Terraforming Ganymede
    5. Mars University
    6. Space Port Colony
    7. Venusian Animals
    8. Earth Catapult
    9. Green Houses
    10. Meat Industries

    • These are all very good cards! Sadly, I’ve never played with Spin-off Department. I’ve wanted to but I haven’t came across it.

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