Terraforming Mars: Six commonly overrated cards
Evaluating cards and knowing when to play them is the most important skill in Terraforming Mars. Depending on the situation, some cards get better and worse and it’s our job to decide by how much. In this article, I’ll cover six cards that are often thought to be better than they actually are and why they are not as impressive as they seem at first glance.
As a one-card solution to our economic woes Electro Catapult is certainly worth playing, but its requirements are high. It’s an expensive card that requires both energy and a source of iron every turn. Furthermore, it needs to be played early. The situations in which it’s great are less common than those in which it’s a trap or middling.
Consider the following: Since steel is worth 2 credits, the income gain from Electro Catapult is +5. How much better is that compared to playing Acquired Company for +3 and then raising temperature or playing an ocean? If you manage to jump through all the hoops your reward is one extra income and one point. Which is good, but hardly groundbreaking.
Electro Catapult is situational and, in fact, that’s what I like about it. I enjoy the challenge of squeezing value out of the card and trying to fuel it with iron from the board. It’s a good design, just not as powerful as commonly believed.
Don’t expect to play Lake Marineris. It looks great at a glance, it’s four points in one card! But ,as players get better, oceans start to hit the table faster and faster. By the time the temperature track reaches 0ºC it’s unlikely there are any left and the entire value of Lake Marineris vanishes.
Some players like to keep it around, hoping to play it for two points. Sadly, it’s not worth it. For a similar cost you can sneak in another forest or city, which is bound to give you those points or deny them to someone else. The situations in which 21 credits cannot get you 2 points are rare, making the card moot. I only buy the card if there are oceans left and I can play it on that very turn.
Drawing cards is one the strongest effect in games but Terraforming Mars seems to be an exception. Random projects are unlikely to be useful but they are priced by the game as if they would all be. AI Central suffers heavily from this fact, resulting in an onerous project that is hard to make the most of.
At 21 credits plus 3 for the purchase, AI Central is expensive before even taking the three science tags and the energy source into account. And unlike Io Mining and other behemoths it doesn’t give you resources, only more opportunities to spend them. It’s huge investment that will take a long time to pay off.
The last nail in AI Central’s coffin is the fact that it needs to be played as soon as possible. The more we delay it, the less cards we’ll draw. The earlier we play it, the less resources we’ll have to play our cards. It’s a powerful card in the right hands, but rarely the best play.
Robotic Workforce looks strong but it has a surprisingly small number of targets. Copying Fusion Power, Mohole Area or Open Pit Mine is strong, but they are the exception. Most buildings are cheaper, less flexible or otherwise not as good targets and hence not worth copying.
The biggest limitation is energy. Many of the cards you could think of copying require you to have energy available, which makes Robotic Workforce less profitable and weaker. While it’s a solid card, I normally only draft it if I have a clear target. Do keep in mind that not being able to use it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t deny it to your opponents!
Research Outpost is often listed alongside Earth Catapult but it’s a much worse card. A discount of one is much less exploitable than two and the free city doesn’t make up for it. Most of the time, it proves comparable to one income per turn, which most people wouldn’t rave about.
Run the numbers. How often will Research Outpost be better than the three credits per turn provided by Acquired Company? And like AI Central, it’s one of those cards that must be played as early as possible but don’t do anything until we spend more money. Our best hope is to play it in the early mid game through iron.
The city itself is surprisingly mediocre. Not being able to place it near oceans will often prevent us from getting the best tile. In the mid-game, when we are best suited to play it, we might be forced to the corners of the map. It doesn’t allow us to steal or protect forests. I’ve always been a bit disappointed by it.
Immigrant City looks like a money-maker but isn’t. Its energy cost makes it as expensive as a standard city project but won’t match its small economic bonus until two more cities are placed. After all, cities are meant to score points, not to produce money. Building cities with the goal of making cash is barking up the wrong tree.
I believe Immigrant City should be played only when we already have plans to build a large number of cities. It’s the payoff, not the enabler, for that kind of strategy. Focus on getting iron and plants and, if everything works out, then play it. But don’t go thinking it will pay for itself or that it will raise your economy to stratospheric levels. Leave the city-building to Tharsis.