Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium ★★★★

Hellas & Elisium is the most important expansion for Terraforming Mars. However, it’s not because it introduces any new elements to the franchise or because the shape of its two maps has an important effect on how you play. Rather, it’s the most important because it does away with the tutorial aspects that define the base game and allows players to more fully express themselves.

TOPOGRAPHY

Hellas & Elysium consists of a double-sided board, each representing a different part of Mars. Hellas, the southern side of the planet, is a dry, rough place with half of its surface being covered by a polar cap. Elysium, on the other hand, is crossed by lowlands which lend itself to wide oceans. Building alongside the future coasts or gathering minerals from the south provides different incentives compared to the original map.

Both sides are quite distinct from each other and require more thinking. The base game was fairly generous with tile placement. As long as we stuck to the northern side of the board, we were assured a steady trickle of resources. These new sides of Mars, however, present us with choices between short term gains and better scoring late in the game. No longer is placing a city good for both, there’s now a real trade-off.

For example, in Hellas one of the milestones requires us to build on the lower half of the board. Certainly it’s tempting to build there early on, as several hexes release heat when built on. Furthermore, the central hex gives us a very heavily discounted ocean to kickstart our terraforming. So why not start there? Simple: There are no plants to be gained here and the best city spots are far away in the top left corner of the map.

Similarly, building near ocean spots seems simple enough in Elysium. The coasts are littered in plants, often as many as three of them, and you can easily picture a chain of cities covering the board. But it’s tricky to get there first and the actual oceans aren’t as profitable as they were in the base map. So you must decide whether to jump in too early or risk being locked out later in the game.

This provides some interesting variety. However, the impact on our decision-making isn’t that large. After all, Terraforming Mars is mostly a card game. While building on the board is important to win, it’s not really where most of the strategy lies. In other games, these improvements would be massive. Here they are a noticeable, if minor, benefit.

MILESTONES AND AWARDS

What does change how the game is played are the new set of milestones and awards. The original set has a didactic bent to it. It rewards players for building cities, producing heat and growing forests because that’s something one ought to do in every game. This is great for new players but, ultimately, not that interesting once you have a few matches under your belt.

The milestones and awards in Hellas & Elysium are less directed. Reaching ten production in any resource, building near oceans and getting a set of eight different tags are not goals we would pursue normally. They don’t fit into any specific strategy and have fairly broad applications. More importantly, they can be achieved in several, different ways.

Consider the Energizer milestone. Getting six energy production seems simple. However, there are several ways to get it. We can aggressively seek power plants or invest into projects that give us large amounts of energy. However, it might be better to invest in science to research fusion power. Nonetheless, if we get a strong card with energy requirements, we might tempt us to shift gears and move to other goals.

In many ways, the base game’s milestones reward play patterns that are already good. The new sets, however, make us look at cards differently. And it’s not just one type of card, it’s a much broader portion of them. If we need 5 cards with requirements, our choices are going to look very different from one game to another, even if the milestone remains the same.

Still, the original awards and milestones were not the best as far as balance is concerned. Some corporations had a marked advantage with them. Tharsis starts with one city already, Helion gets four heat per turn and Ecoline was already producing more plants than anybody. This resulted in fairly simplistic strategies. The new ones have more play to them and are more heavily contested.

In the end, Hellas & Elysium doesn’t change much. But it does make the game better in some important aspects. It makes tile placement more interesting, milestones more competitive and improves both interest and balance. It’s an easy addition to an already great game and it’s the most impactful expansion for those interested in moving beyond the base set.

TERRAFORMING MARS : HELLAS & ELYSIUM (2017)
GAME DESIGN Jacob Fryxelius
ARTJacob Fryxelius
Isaac Fryxelius
NUMBER OF PLAYERS 1-4 (Best with 1-4)LENGTH90 Minutes

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