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.

ELECTRO CATAPULT

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.

LAKE MARINERIS

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.

AI CENTRAL

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

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

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

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.

15 Comments

  • I think the fact that four of these cards can be paid for with steel should raise their esteem somewhat, especially the two that are cities (can’t use steel on the standard city project). I’ve played several games where I’ve ended with large steel or titanium reserves for lack of the right cards, so being able to use my steel on these cards is a plus in my eyes.

    Additionally, Research Outpost is cheaper than the city SP. Playing it early gives you the benefit of many card discounts (and the placement restriction is less of an issue), and playing it late means you’re not missing the 1MC production granted by the SP, so I think this is a better card than you’re giving it credit. 🙂

    • Hey Gregg, thanks for the comment!

      I agree a good amount of steel makes some of these cards better. If you get a good source early on or are playing as the Mining Guild, I would be more willing to give these cards a look. After all, they are not bad cards, just overrated.

      Regarding Research Outpost I just think it’s too expensive for an early play and too awkard to get forests later on. At 18+3 credits I need to follow it up with a lot of cards to feel happy about my purchase. After all, a game is about 10 generations long, sinking your whole economy on the very first ones is not very appealing. Still, like you mention, if you do have the steel it can be much cheaper than a normal city project would.

      One of the nice things about Terraforming Mars is that even weaker, more conditional cards are playable if the situation is right. So one should always keep the idea in mind

  • If you write this to make other (new) players to pass you this cards in draft and win – then good job.
    All of those cards are great and with correct cost (agreed that Lake Marineris is a gambit if you want to but it early – but u usually don’t by it at first hands), Immigrant City is always great city:
    early – cheap and bump money production if used correctly;
    late – just cheap city :D.

    Omg, others – no comment :).
    How many players do you usually play? 5? 6? 8? 😀 Maybe then those cards are over priced, but then – all of producing cards are.

    You have to change opponents and your meta :).

    • Yes, my blog is an all elaborate ruse so I win more often, you got me.

      Like I say in the article, they are good cards. I just don’t think they are as great as commonly thought, no matter the player count. The point is to help other players evaluate them better, not trick them.

  • do u play on steam version? what is your ranking elo? how many games have u played?

  • On most comments on the cards I agree. Some of these cards are situational and require you to do extra stuff to make it work out.

    However, I would like to comment on what you stated for Research Outpost. I think in your description, you’re not giving it enough credit.

    First of all, one income per turn? This suggests that you play one card each generation, and that you do not play another card the generation that you play Research Outpost. This might be true for you, but certainly not anyone I play with. It might have to do with the meta of course. We play with all expansions, except for turmoil most of the time. For me, at the end of a game, I have played around 30 to 40 cards. This makes it a way better investment than a city giving 3mcr for 1 energy production.

    Then your comment about the placement. It’s true that leeching from greeneries is not possible due to the placement restrictions, just like next to an ocean. This makes the card not that fit as an end game card. At the beginning of the game, however, cities are mainly put down to reserve the area next to it for future greeneries. For that use, the restrictions don’t matter.

    The city tile placement, together with the discount on every card AND the science tag thrown in there, makes this card one of the most perfect early game cards for me. Later in the game, the value slowly falls towards being nearly useless at the end, but which cards that does not provide points doesn’t?

    • Hello Ace, thanks for the comment!

      I agree comparing it to one income per turn is too conservative. It will eventually provide more, so it’s not accurate. That said, I’ve found it pretty comparable when the game starts. Early turns tend to see few cards played and Research Outpost isn’t great if you must follow with other expensive cards or standard projects. Also, as I’ve played more Terraforming Mars I’ve found it less necessary to play that many cards. Colonies, particularly, allows for a very card -light playstyle. For example, I’ve found that placing an Ocean will give you more money than Research Outpost will until several generations have passed. That’s quite noticiable!

      Still, I just don’t like placing cities too early in the game. Each turn you wait is one less turn for your economic cards to pay off and I like to invest in milestones and awards from pretty early on. Still, I don’t think Research Outpost is a bad card! It’s a good one and I’ll go for it if I have some combo potential, iron or if the placement is great. But for me, it’s just a good card not a truly great one.

      I really appreciate reading your thoughts on the card. The more perspective and discussion on it, the better!

  • Paul M Griffin

    There’s one other combo to Robotic Workforce not mentioned. If you happen to be playing as the Mining Guild and get a lot of Building tags out, you’ll definitely go for the Builder Milestone. Now, if luck favors you and you get Medical Lab, then the Robotic Workforce copying the Medical Lab can give you an incredible Mega Credit boost.

  • It’s all situational I guess, but at least when playing with an experienced group of players AI Central belongs into the A tier of project cards. Due to the sheer number of decent cards with science tags (and the science tag value itself), it’s usually not a big investment or hurdle to get 3 of these cards by Gen 3-4. Admittedly, the energy production can be a bit of a pain without card luck. Of course there might be games where you’d cripple your production too much to play it that early, but more often than not it will be an absolute game changer. The value of opportunity is really high in TM. And especially late game, it’s much more common to lack cards rather than the resources to pay for them. Also, don’t forget that you can just sell shitty cards, not only getting you some financial return out of AIC, but also extending your turns (which can be valuable in itself).

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