Terraforming Mars: The worst cards in the game

Not all cards in Terraforming Mars are good. While most are welcome in the right circumstances, the opportunity to play some of them is too small. Be it out of inefficiency, poor design or lack of synergies there are at least six cards I’ll avoid in all but the extreme minority of games.

DUST SEALS

I love Dust Seals. Unlike other cards in this list, its weakness is not the result of poor balance. Rather, it’s an intentional trap set by the designer. By falling into it, we can learn more about the game and its strategy. Let’s start with one question: How many games have you lost by one point?

Can’t be many. In all my games of Terraforming Mars, I can’t think of more than two or three ties. Overall play and especially awards tend to separate players by a substantial amount. In other words, the point awarded by Dust Seals almost never affects the outcome of the game.

What does have an impact is spending credits to play it. Dust Seals must be played before three oceans are placed, which is fairly early in the game. At that point, spending three credits to keep the card and two more to play it is painful. We are setting back our economic development. Given the reward isn’t there, why do it?

MICRO-MILLS

Micro-Mills is more like Dust Seals than it may seem. At their core, both cards give us one point in return for taking a hit early. Micro Mills is a bit more expensive and benefits from being played alongside other heat-producing cards but its issues remain the same. It’s not worth taking a six credit hit in the early game to terraform eight turns later.

Micro-Mills also shows us the importance of tags. If it contributed to Milestones or could be discounted by other cards, I don’t think it would be so bad. In that sense, there’s just too little you can do with Micro-Mills. It’s a linear card that doesn’t improve our economy nor our board.

NOCTIS FARMING

Noctis Farming does three different things, each of them poorly. It’s too weak as an economy card, it gives too few plants to build a forest and its single victory point does not compensate for its high cost. Combining these minor effects into one card does little to aid its playability.

There’s simply a point in which cards don’t do enough to justify the cost of drawing them. It’s the issue with our two previous cards and the issue with Noctis Farming. Compare it with its elder sibling, Eos Chasma National Park. It’s inefficient, sure, but since it’s more money, more plants and an animal, it sees more play.

The salving grace of Noctis Farming is its building tag. Occasionally, we’ll find ourselves with large stockpiles of iron. If the card is free or close to it, chances are we can make use of its points and two plants to gain a little edge. Still, I would never buy it unless I didn’t have other options.

UNDERGROUND DETONATIONS

Underground Detonations has no redeeming features. It’s just bad. To play and activate it once costs nineteen credits, five more than raising the temperature through a standard project. And what’s worse, that standard project will pay off the four turns earlier than Underground Detonations would.

You can put even more money into it, making it worse than Mohole Area and Giant Ice Asteroid. Forty credits later, you’ll finally reach the point at where it becomes efficient. Sadly, that’s also the point where you lose the game.

ADAPTATION TECHNOLOGY & SPECIAL DESIGN

Inventrix is my favourite corporation in Terraforming Mars. Sadly, it’s not very good. The entire power of the corporation lies on its science tag and powering ocean-heavy cards like Algae. Opportunities to use its ability don’t come up as often as we would hope. Most notably, it’s rare for small adjustments in temperature or oxygen to matter.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that the two cards that give us Inventrix’s ability are also poor. After all, paying too low parameters by two is not very appealing when you can place a real ocean and reap its benefits. The situations in which paying 15 credits for Adaptation Technology are better than using a standard project are almost nil.

Out of the two, Special Design is the best one. Being cheaper is more important than being multiple-use. It’s rare to need to use this kind of ability more than while money always has other uses. The event and science tags also allow it to be more heavily discounted. Still, it’s one of the least played cards in the game.

After all, for all its weakness Inventrix’s ability is available from the onset of the game. We can plan for it and it ties well into a broader science strategy. On the other hand, we can’t control when we get these cards. They might come too late or too early to do us any good. The vast majority of the time, the only reasonable step is to avoid them entirely.

6 Comments

  • “UNDERWORLD DETONATIONS”

    Typo, but I really like it as a name. Should probably be a Magic card or something, though.

  • Very good article. As a more experienced solo player, I think micromills and underground detonations can have a point at this mode, but I dunno, maybe I was simply wrong about them. I think micromills as a mid-game one more heat as a cheap card can give you exactly what you need and underground detonations can be a heat-build engine core. BUT I admit Underground detonations is often a dead card in my hand, sometimes I feel its a life saver but sometimes I feel like a waste of time.

    I got here after the article of improving the solo games and then I read this one also. I want to thank you about dust seals explanation, because often I try to buy it on solo, but I will discount it completely now!

    • Thank you Euler! I’m glad you liked it. In fact, I’m glad you liked it enough to read two different articles!

      Even though they are some dreadful cards, playing them has been the right play at least a couple times. The only card I’m convinced is completely unplayable is Underground Detonations, you are better off doing anything else, including raising temperature through standard projects in all situations I’ve ever seen the card.

  • I’m devouring your TM content here, thank you very much for these articles!
    I’m “only” about 50 hours into learning (some of) the ropes against AI, having only played against human opposition a handful of times.

    Regarding Underground Detonations, I think it can be good if some of these conditions are met:
    *You get it as a free draw.
    *You’re Helion.
    *You want to play cards with higher heat requirements earlier.
    *You can play it with leftover steel.
    *The only other cards you see do not match what you’re trying to do.
    *You’re shoehorned into battling for Thermalist OR you have Insulation and can steal Banker.

    I’m very open to the possibility that I will see the errors of my ways somewhere down the line. 🙂

    • I’m glad you’ve been enjoying my articles!

      I hope you can make Underground Detonations work because I just couldn’t. I even played it with my custom corporation, Prototek, which gives you the first use for free and it still felt terrible! I hope you can play against more opponents in the flesh!

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