Saturday 19 November 2022

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition

The Game

Ares Expedition is the card game version of Terraforming Mars, and this is a statement you can take literally. It is basically Terraforming Mars with the board play removed. You are mega corporations participating in the Mars terraforming project. You need to create oceans, raise the temperature and increase the oxygen level. When you have done all three sufficiently, the project completes and the game ends. Whoever has scored the most points wins the game. 

Like its predecessor, Ares Expedition comes with many cards. You can almost argue that Terraforming Mars is a card game with a board. 

Every player has his own player board, for tracking production capacity and resources on hand. You start the game with a mega corporation card, which gives you some unique abilities. During the game you will play many cards before you. They will be new technologies and buildings which increase your production capacities, allow certain actions and give you victory points. 

Cards you play come in three types - red, blue and green. The number at the top left corner is the cost to play the card. Cards have various icons and they mean different things. Some abilities give you discounts for specific icons. Some abilities let you score points based on the icons. 

These are called phase cards, and they are the core engine of the game. This game mechanism is similar to that in Race for the Galaxy. Everyone has a set of five phase cards. At the start of a round, everyone secretly picks one card to play, and then you reveal your choices simultaneously. The phases which have been picked are executed in a predetermined order, and every player gets to perform the relevant actions, not just the player who picked the phase. If you are the one picking the phase, you enjoy a small bonus. One element that is different from Race for the Galaxy is you can't pick the same phase in two consecutive rounds. That creates an additional challenge. It is also additional information you can use to guess what your opponents will pick. 

Player interaction comes through guessing your opponents' intentions and making use of them. Let's say you want to play a green card and you also want to perform card actions. If you are pretty sure your opponent is going to select the perform card action phase card, you will select the play green phase card yourself. If you are right, you will be able to do both of the things you want. You also want to minimise helping your opponents. When they are dirt poor, it is probably safe to select the phase cards which allow playing cards. They probably can't afford to pay for playing cards. 

The game board is a glorified tracker keeping track of four things - the number of oceans, the temperature, the oxygen level and player income (which will be victory points as well when the game ends). The gold, silver and copper cubes are generic counters for all resources in the game. This is a clever and convenient way of tracking resources. 

As the game progresses, everyone will have more and more cards in play. Your choice of phase card can have huge repercussions. You know what your opponents can potentially do in each of the phases.  

Every time you create an ocean, you receive a small bonus, which is shown at the front of the ocean tile you flip over. The temperature and oxygen tracks are divided into four subsections. Some cards can only be played when the level is within a certain range. 

The Play

Ares Expedition at its core is a card combo game. A tableau game. You are constantly trying to make effective combos of cards you draw. You want to get cards which jive well and boost one another. When you put together a nifty combo, you try to utilise it as much as possible. All these combos exist to help you produce efficiently, and convert resources efficiently to victory points. Player interaction comes from the phase card selection mechanism. You do have to watch your opponents and try to minimise assisting them. There is a race element, and you need to get a feel of your opponents' tempo. 

You generally feel like you are building your own little empire or engine. There is little aggression. Although this is a competitive game, the setting is completing the Mars terraforming project together. Everyone is working towards the same goal. This is an efficiency game. How do you contribute more to the cause than the rest? You will use various small tactics to gain small edges. You try to build a more efficient combo than others. You adjust your strategy as you watch your opponents' engines evolve. 

Sometimes you place cubes on cards to represent specific resources as described by the card. Cubes on this Livestock card are livestock. Each cube is worth 1 victory point (VP) at game end. Whenever you increase the temperature on the surface of Mars, you get to place a cube on this card. 

This is one of the mega corporation cards. The bonus here is being able to produce plants right from the get go. When converting plants to forests, you need one fewer plant than usual. 

By late game you may have more than 20 cards in play. 

It is important to put together combinations of cards which help one another.

The Thoughts

There is a sweep of history feel in Ares Expedition. After all you are terraforming Mars over many generations, developing new technologies and completing huge projects. Despite being a card game, it is not a short game. It took me about an hour and a half. The core mechanism is different from Terraforming Mars. Ares Expedition uses the phase card mechanism. However the overall feeling is the same as Terraforming Mars. The main thing is still card combos you make to efficiently generate and convert resources to be used for the terraforming effort. I imagine if I had bought Terraforming Mars I wouldn't buy Ares Expedition, because it doesn't feel necessary to me. It is not shorter by much and doesn't deliver a significantly different experience. Take this with a pinch of salt though. For the fans of Terraforming Mars, this may be exactly what you want - a variant of a game you love. It really is Terraforming Mars presented in a card game form. 

Thursday 10 November 2022

Dancing Queen preorders closing soon


This is an exciting time for me. My first physically published game will be out soon - Dancing Queen. The whole journey took close to two years. I hadn't specifically planned for this to be my first published game. It all started with participating in the 9-Card Nanogame game design competition on I started the design process in January 2021. Dancing Queen later won the Best Overall Game. 

The actual publishing project started early in 2022. By this stage the core game mechanism did not change any more. However there was much more we had to improve and adjust. We tried out different concept art. We explored how to better communicate the card powers. We revisited and rearranged the rulebook. We still had to do more playtesting, including cold playtesting, to tease out what else were problematic and needed to be addressed. There was production planning and quality checking to do. Costing. A lot of detailed work went into the project, and I now have a much better appreciation of the intricacies of creating a good product. It is much more than just game mechanism and nice art. 

Preorders for Dancing Queen will close on 27 Nov 2022. You can preorder at Cili Padi Games. Dancing Queen will be at the Anigames convention 9 - 11 Dec 2022, which will be at GMBB Mall in the Kuala Lumpur city area. 

These are proofs using final art, and not the actual product yet. There were still some corrections and adjustment needed. The game printing is in progress now. 

I like how the colours turned out. 

We are printing on PVC - sturdy and waterproof

The rulebook is full-colour

The rulebook went through many revisions

Eventually the cards will all be die cut and have rounded edges

The whole game will be packaged into one small box that can fit into your pocket

Preorder Dancing Queen at Cili Padi Games by 27 Nov 2022!