I finally got to try Terraforming Mars Colonies and my first experience was terrible.
I gave this expansion a second chance and ended up playing Colonies twice this past week. Once with Deanna and a second time at The CG Realm on Saturday. It was at the CG realm that I also played Tiny Towns and finally got my copy of Brass Birmingham off my pile of shame and to the table. So you all can stop bugging me for not playing it yet.
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So far I have mixed feelings on Terraforming Mars: Colonies
Last week was Deanna and my anniversary. Deanna got me a copy of the Terraforming Mars: Colonies expansion to celebrate, and the first game I played using it was a two player game, just her and I.
Now everyone knows how much I love Terraforming Mars. Colonies was the only expansion I didn’t own and one I had heard good things about. So far I’ve been pretty happy with the other expansions. To me me Prelude is a must own expansion, and one I plan on using every game of Terraforming Mars I play. Hellas & Elysium is a nice to have expansion. I don’t love it and I don’t actually mind using the base map, but it’s nice to toss in a variant map now and then, especially when playing with people who have played the game many times. Venus Next is my least favourite expansion but I still dig it. The thing is, a few people in my group don’t like it at all, one of them being Deanna.
So for our first play of Terraforming Mars Colonies we used the base map and kept in the Preludes expansion but took out Venus Next. This two player game took us almost four hours! Not only was it long but it was also a slog. After the first hour, I was pretty much certain I had no chance of winning. Deanna had way too much income and had some combos going with colonies and bacteria that I just couldn’t compete with. As it played out, I was right. We probably could have called the game an hour and a half in and saved two hours of me just watching her rack up a massive score while I did almost nothing. I almost suggested this but thought she was having fun so didn’t say anything. After the game she pointed out that I should have said something because from her side, it was boring already knowing she had pretty much won the game but still going through the steps.
There were a few things that led to this disparity in score, and pretty much all of them came down to luck. Deanna kept getting project cards that accumulated cubes, and these all happened to need cube types that matched colonies we had in play. She just kept using the trade action to get more and more of those cubes. For example; by the end of the game she had 28 Ant cubes, worth a big 14 points. Another problem was that she got every single one of the projects that provide additional fleets. So by the end of the game she had four fleets and I had one. This meant she got up to four colony bonuses a turn while I was stuck with only one.
Another problem with Colonies came up during that game. Due to the amount of things we needed to put our coloured cubes on we actually ran out of cubes. That’s a serious problem. With colonies added in, at least with two players, there are no longer enough components for the game. That I found highly disappointing. The final problem we both saw is that a lot of the colonies projects seem to expect you to have the Venus Next expansion and be using it. There are a ton of “floater” cards in Colonies that are only really useful when using Venus Next. The rulebook even adds in a new phase if you are using Venus Next. I get that for marketing reasons they probably didn’t want to put “Requires Venus Next” on the box, but I think it’s pretty strongly implied.
Overall, after that first play, I was unimpressed with Colonies as a whole. Based on feedback I’ve read online, most people seem to really like this expansion and I didn’t really see anyone who had found the same problem I had. So I wonder if the problems we saw were due to playing with only two players.
I got to test out that theory on Saturday, where I played Colonies again. This time with a full five players. I also insisted on mixing Venus Next back in with my set and using those rules too.
This time Colonies played much better. With this many players, fleets were more evenly spread out and there was actual competition to build colonies. The actual colony rewards actually had time to build up and weren’t taken every turn. We didn’t have any crazy card combos leading to anything like 28 microbes. Having Venus in play also seemed to help quite a bit and I really appreciated the new rule where the government steps in each turn and helps terraform mars.
The one problem though was that we, again, had a bit of a run away leader problem. Really two players out of five were in contention but the rest of us were well behind. While those two players were generating over 80MC a turn, the rest of us were still in the 30s. That gave them a huge advantage. It seems to me that with each expansion added to the game the luck factor of getting the right cards at the right time keeps getting bigger and bigger. I do think this luck problem would be greatly mitigated by drafting, but the one time we actually tried drafting it added another hour to hour and a half to the game.
So right now I have mixed feelings on the Colonies expansion for Terraforming Mars. I strongly recommend against it if only playing two players. As for playing with more, I need to give it a few more plays to see if that run away scoring problem was just a fluke or not. Plus I really should try it with drafting. For now, I think I actually prefer Venus Next.
Brass Birmingham lives up to the hype, so far
Every single time I share a picture of my piles of shame I have multiple people yell at me for having Brass Birmingham in the pile and not getting it played. When I see these I usually point out that I have played the original Brass quite a few times and even played the new Lancashire edition a few times. This is usually met with a comment like: “But Birmingham is better than the original” and more admonition for not having played it yet.
All of that can stop now as I finally got my copy of Brass Birmingham played on Saturday. I played in a three player game with two players who had played before. This was nice as I didn’t have to teach the rules. I’m not used to playing a game where I don’t teach the rules.
I’m not going to go into detail here on the rules of Brass or the differences between editions. What I will say is that every version of Brass is excellent. They are all combined, my favourite games from Martin Wallace, and continue to be just as engaging and rewarding as my first play of the original Brass. The new editions are just better versions of the original, completely replacing it and making it better.
Now as for comparing Lancashire (which is basically the original game with very minor tweaks) and the new version, Birmingham, I haven’t made my mind up. The games are surprisingly different, at least to me. The basic system and most of the rules are identical but the the addition of two new types of industry and a new consumable resource really changes up how Birmingham feels. An even bigger change is the demand counters at the ports. That was something I need some time to get used to. Multiple times during Saturday’s game I would build a production building, and then go to sell goods only to realize that I wasn’t hooked up to a port that wanted those goods. I would go so far as to say that’s the main thing that lost me the game.
While it was only my first time playing Birmingham it felt like there was more on my plate. There were more things to think about and more options to consider. That made it a heavier, harder game with significantly more thinking required to play well. What I’m not sure is if that is a good thing or a bad thing. While I would never call Brass Lancashire light, I think I might prefer the slightly more narrow decisions space in that original game.
Overall both of the modern Brass games are excellent. Some of the best games in my collection. I’m just not sure which one I like better at this point.
My initial thoughts on Tiny Towns
Every time The CG Realm puts on a tabletop game night, they feature one game. In addition to having copies for sale, they have one demo copy and someone on hand to teach that game. This past Saturday that featured game was Tiny Towns from AEG.
Between playing Brass and Terraforming Mars I played one quick game of Tiny Towns and I was actually really impressed. The last couple of years we have seen a growing number of these quick to teach, easy to learn games with surprising depth in them. Games like Azul, Sagrada and Planet. I would toss Tiny Towns into this group of games.
While I haven’t read the rules I don’t want to try to explain the game for fear of missing something, but I will give a short summary. Players are given a player board with a grid on it. Each turn the starting player calls our a resource. These are represented by cubes. Players must take the resource that was called out and place it on their grid. Only one resource per square. Then the next player calls our a resource. At any point if these cubes are in the right pattern, players can remove the cubes and replace them with a building. For example a well requires one wood and one stone next to each other. A hour requires one glass and next to that a grain and a brick. Eventually your grid will fill with buildings forming a tiny town.
Each of the different building types scores different at the end of the game. Wells get points for being next to houses. Churches double the value of houses but only if there are enough farms to feed those houses. Taverns are worth more the more you have, and so on.
Tiny Towns combined elements of the mobile app game Triple Town (highly addictive and strongly recommended), Tash-Kalar, Between Two Cities and Railroad Ink. Like Railroad Ink, one of the best parts of this game is the fact that everyone is working with the exact same resources, yet everyone’s town ends up very different from every else’s by the end of the game.
I really enjoyed my one play of Tiny Towns. We played with the basic introductory buildings and didn’t use the monument rules and trying those as well as some random buildings is something I hope to do in the future. While I didn’t feel I must own this game, if I had some spare money in my gaming budget right now it’s definitely a game I would consider picking up.
#WhatDidYouPlayMondays is here again. Four different games for me, not a bad week at all. How did you do? Let me know in the comments!
I don’t fully understand your Terraforming Mars comments. Do you play without drafting? It seems pretty unlikely to continuously just get cards which exactly fit her engine if you are drafting the 4 project cards each round. And if she is building up a huge engine were you not going full aggro on terraforming? I know sometimes it can be hard to see a way out of a hole, but it seems pretty rare in our games, so am just curious how your meta is.
Also, the thing about floaters seems odd, most of the floater cards don’t require venus at all, there are loads in colonies that are completely standalone.
We’ve yet to really dig into those expansions but for us the floater cards (admittedly we played with the corps that pulled floater cards out up front) led to a lot more moving cubes around cards which can get a bit boring towards the end.
4 hours seems llike a lot, but its more if you enjoy the time or not I guess. We take 2-3 hours, now its mostly 2 hours (sometimes under) without Venus/Colonies/Turmoil so we play a couple of games every weekend and love it. The time taken is never a problem, we are fully engaged the whole time. And we’ve seen all kinds of so called huge leads evaporate at the end, if one is doing a points engine the other is aggressively terraforming and grabbing milestones and awards. But there are blowouts of course, still, we enjoy the game so much we don’t mind when the scoring turns out to show a huge disparity.
Remember that these were our first two plays using this expansion. For these games we didn’t use drafting as the expansion was totally new to us and it would have made the game length even longer. As for going after terraforming, this was now so long ago I don’t remember at all. I just remember feeling there was no chance to catch up. Again these are thoughts after two games, both learning games with totally inexperienced plaeyrs, we hadn’t figured out a meta yet. As for floaters it did seem to be better with other floater cards in the deck from other expansions, even if there are “enough” in just Colonies. You even note yourself in all the games you play there are blowouts now and then, maybe we just got lucky and it happened twice in a row. In general though TM isn’t great with only two players as it can be hard to play catch up.
This wasn’t meant as a review or even close to my final thoughts on the game and expansion, these were initial thoughts and impressions after two learning games. I had planned on doing up a full review but then COVID hit and we haven’t gotten to play much Terraforming Mars at all. As it stands I’ve yet to actually play another game with Colonies since this article was published.
Thanks for the comment,