Terraforming Mars: Six frequently underrated cards
Not all good cards seem great at first. Some projects in Terraforming Mars are stronger than we give them credit for. Hidden synergies, potential discounts or simply being better in practise than in theory can turn a card into a hidden gem, waiting to be exploited.
Do you like free money? Turns out not paying your employees is the best way to get it. Indentured is pretty much five free credits at the illusory cost of one victory point. Illusory because it’s extremely rare to lose by such a small margin. Out of the hundreds of games I’ve put into Terraforming Mars, I can’t recall more than a couple that were so close.
Not that it matters. Thanks to the power of money we can pull ahead and make sure it isn’t close. Sure, it’s just five credits, but that’s a significant amount. At the beginning of the game, when resources are scarce, it can let us play one more project than we normally could. And, like all events, it synergizes with Media Group and Interplanetary Cinematics.
Indentured Workers does not have a large impact. You may not lose by one point, but you are not going to win by five credits, either. But if you see it, there’s little reason not to draft it. Try it out. I play it almost every time I have access to it.
Card draw is surprisingly weak in Terraforming Mars. The effect is priced very conservatively and it’s unlikely a random card from the deck will be useful to us. Between cards we can’t meet the requirements for, combo pieces and overly expensive projects the issue is rarely quantity, but quality.
Mars University lets us find the right cards at a very low price. Discarding is not a real cost, as we’ll always have a useless card around, and it’s surprisingly easy to pile on science to filter every turn. It also provides science itself and can be cheated into play with iron. It’s hard to go wrong with it and easy to spot when it won’t do anything at all.
Investment Loan is similar to Indentured Workers. Like our previous card, its benefit is small, to the point its drawback seems quite onerous. Indeed, losing one income per turn seems downright painful. But it’s still money here and now and the economic loss can be compensated by playing a better card earlier.
Still, what makes Investment Loan shine are its tags. On its own it’s playable, but middling. But if you can bring its price down, it’s downright fantastic. Like Indentured Workers, it’s an event, so it synergizes with Interplanetary Cinematics and Media Group. But it’s also an Earth card, so it draws you a card with Point Luna and is three credits cheaper for Teractor.
In other words, Investment Loan is good with cards that are already good. It’s very likely we’ll end up with a card that synergizes with it. So, while it might not be the most impressive, it’s a good card. It fits in strategies that are already great. It’s very much worth playing.
Greenhouses is so underrated it might have deserved a spot in my list of the best cards in Terraforming Mars. You can easily place two forests thanks to it. Even when played too late to raise oxygen, that’s still four points. And if you do increase oxygen, well, nothing in the game comes close to it.
At 6+3 credits, it’s cheap and they don’t even have to be real credits. You can use your leftover iron to pay for it. And while it might not buy two forests outright, the placement bonus of the first can help pay for the second. It’s downright undercosted for its effect. It took me very long to notice how good it is. Don’t make the same mistake and snatch it up.
This little microbe from Venus Next is one of my favourite cards. It looks janky but you might be surprised at how many microbes you can drop on it. Imported Hydrogen, Aerobraked Ammonia Asteroid and many other cards have hard-to-use microbes that we normally forget about or jam into whatever we have available. Sulphur-Eating Bacteria turns those microbes into actual money.
Because microbes are ok, but money is always useful. Getting two microbes off a card means a six credit rebate, nine if you wait a turn. That’s a great rate! Despite its awkward appearance, Sulphur-Eating Bacteria is very similar to Media Group. It costs the same, requires specific cards to function and provides a nice economic boost. It’s not as nice, of course, but it’s good enough.
Because, unlike Media Group, the bacteria can feed itself. You don’t need that many cards to go along with it. You may not play 12 events, but you can play 4 microbes and feed it three times to gain 12 credits over the course of the game. That’s enough money to justify its awkwardness and initial cost. And if you get Extreme-Cold Fungus, you are off!
Acquired Company is such a simple card that it’s hard to realize how good it is. We put so much energy into finding synergies and combos that we assume a plain effect isn’t going to be as great. But it takes effort to beat Acquired Company. It has no requirements and the income it provides is quite significant.
Think about it. Acquired Company is not cheap, but it’s not expensive either. It’s fantastic in the opening hand and the Earth tag is useful. How many combos can beat that? To me, Acquired Company is underrated because it’s forms a baseline. If we want to do well, we have to make sure out efforts compare well to a standard. To me, Acquired Company is that standard.