Terraforming Mars: Strategy and tips for the solo game

One of my favourite parts of Terraforming Mars is the solo variant. While not as good as the multiplayer game, I like the challenge of tackling the Red Planet all by myself. In this guide, I’ll share advice on how to tackle the solo game and make it easier for you to win.

MONEY FIRST

In my previous strategy article, I stressed the importance of developing your economy before worrying about scoring. That lesson is extremely important here. The 14 income you start with is extremely low and will quickly sink your early game if you don’t do something to fix it.

Consider the following: If you buy a single card per turn, you only have 11 credits to actually play that card. There are not that many cards at that price and even if there were, playing just one card per turn is a terrible rate.

Don’t be greedy; any card that doesn’t build a strong engine or give you more income should not be part of your initial hand. You’ll have more chances to draw cities, power plants and all other luxuries. Keep only the basics.

Success at the solo game hinges quite heavily on this bump. The impact of having a working income one generation too late is huge! You’ll often wish to have one extra turn so be careful with your resources.

If you find yourself passing the second and third generations without doing much, there’s a good chance you didn’t keep the right hand. Try to use standard projects if needed and draw cards from the board to keep your options open.

SOLO TERRAFORMING

After establishing a working economy, focus on terraforming. In the solo game, terraforming is not just a good option, it’s mandatory. While Jovians, animals and milestones can get you far in multiplayer, they won’t be very good here. Remember you’ll need to transform the whole planet by yourself.

Ditch any card that does not contribute to your terraforming efforts. Cities, animals, science and card draw can all be safely ignored on your first attempts to win. Even valuable engines can be tossed aside. In my experience, most solo games fail because we get greedy and postpone our main goal until it’s too late.

Ideally, you’ll lay down oceans first, so you can get placement bonuses from forests. They may not seem relevant but they are a massive source of income. Getting money each time you lay a forest is huge and costs you nothing. With a little planning, you can get 4 or 8 extra income per turn, making the game significantly easier.

Heat is a bit more troublesome. The temperature track is long and you won’t get enough events to reach the top. Hence, you must raise your heat production early on without stalling your economy. I try to aim for at least 4 heat production as lower amounts don’t do much. By the end game, I also keep count of how many temperature increases I’ll need. Like always, it helps to run the numbers.

If playing with the expansion, Venus can be a good source of early income. There are several cards that will give you a TR every other turn and the occasional card that synergizes with them. I often aim for the bonus Tcard at 8% and just let my engine run itself until the end game, using standard projects as necessary.

THE LONG GAME

The solo game is longer than a multiplayer match. At 14 generations, there’s more time for cards to pay off. Engines and increasing your income are better than usual and getting them early becomes more important. You’ll also find some cards to be noticeably better or worse than they are in the multiplayer game.

The most reliable cards in the solo game are those that can terraform repeatedly, like Ironworks or Regolith Eaters. They benefit from a longer game, tend to be cheap and directly contribute to your goals. They might not be as exciting as other cards, but they pull off their weight.

I also try to aim for a strong engine or high-production card. Cards like Electro Catapult, Self-Replicating Robots or Strip Mine are strong economic pulls, as Algae and Nitrogen-Rich Asteroid are for greenery. The reason I pursue these cards is that they stand on their own and it’s easy to determine if their requirements will be met.

You’ll notice that card flow in the solo game is low. Without drafting and with card purchases being so difficult to justify, it’s easy to find yourself out of options. Still, try not to be greedy; place some oceans and try to get additional cards from the board. Card drawing projects, like Business Network, are key to high scores but also very expensive and difficult to justify.

A NEW CHALLENGE

After a while, you’ll be able to terraform Mars somewhat reliably. To keep the game fun, try getting a high score. Reaching 100 points is difficult, but rewarding. You’ll need to be less straightforward with your actions, my previous advice won’t be as applicable in a score-focused game. Here are some extra pointers:

Try to move into oceans and forests early. Forests are the largest source of points in the game and there are no rivals to steal them from you. Cities can be built almost at the end, in perfect spaces surrounded by a forest on every side. Thankfully, the best plant-production cards require oceans, which makes things easier.

I’ve found open-ended cards, like Media Group or Optimal Aerobraking to be particularly great. They don’t help you terraform, but they make playing other cards much easier and don’t require a large investment. I often regret playing expensive cards, but I’m always content with these smaller engines.

My highest score is 159 with Inventrix, a positively ridiculous amount which I’ve never been able to match. Most of the time, it should be possible to reach at least 100, 110 with great play. Your failure rate will also increase as you need to take more risks to reach high scores.

Lastly, keep in mind the impact of the different expansions on the difficulty. Adding Venus Next will allow for higher scores at a moderate penalty, while Prelude will make things significantly harder. Good luck!

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