Review – Terraforming Mars: Prelude (Stronghold Games)

Terraforming Mars Prelude

 Jump start your terraforming process and boost your corporation engines with Prelude

Terraforming Mars Prelude with resource cube upgrades from Top Shelf Gamer.

Terraforming Mars: Prelude is the third expansion to the successful Terraforming Mars line, designed by Fryxgames and published by Stronghold Games. Prelude is a small expansion that kickstarts the terraforming. Players choose from Prelude cards that jump-start the terraforming process, or boost the productivity of their corporation engine. Terraforming Mars can be combined with any other expansion or variant. You can read my review of the Venus Next expansion from earlier this year.

The Story

As the mega-corporations are getting ready to start the terraforming process, you now have the chance to make those early choices that will come to define your corporation and set the course for the future history of Mars – this is the prelude to your greatest endeavors!


With the addition of this expansion, there’s not too much different in the basic gameplay from the original game. Each player keeps track of their production and resources on their player boards, and the game uses six types of resources: MegaCredits, Steel, Titanium, Plants, Energy, and Heat. On the game board, players compete for the best places for city tiles, ocean tiles, and greenery tiles, as well as different Milestones and Awards worth Victory Points.

Terraforming Mars Prelude
Terraforming Mars Prelude new cards

When dealing the cards during the initial setup, players also receive 4 Prelude cards in addition to the 10 project cards and 2 corporations. Players then decide which combination of cards they wish to keep to start the game. They will keep 1 corporation card, 2 Prelude cards, and however many project cards they want (at a cost of 3 MegaCredits each).

Each generation consists of 4 phases. During the Play Order phase, the first player marker rotates clockwise, and the generation marker moves up one step. This phase is skipped during the initial setup. During the Research phase, all players buy cards from four privately drawn. This phase is also skipped during the initial setup. During the Action phase, players take turns doing 1-2 actions from these options: playing a card, claiming a Milestone, funding an Award, using a Standard project, converting plants into greenery tiles (and raising oxygen), converting heat into a rise in temperature, and using the action of a card in play. The turn continues around the table until all players pass. Finally, during the Production phase, players get resources according to their terraform rating and production parameters.

When the three global parameters (temperature, oxygen, ocean) have all reached their goal, the terraforming is complete, and the game ends after that generation.

What is new?

Prelude is a small expansion that kickstarts terraforming by focusing on the early stages of Mars colonization. Prelude tells the background story of the corporations. Players choose from Prelude cards that jump-start the terraforming process, or boost your corporation engine. When choosing corporation and starting hand, each player also draws 4 Prelude cards, and chooses 2 of them to boost their corporation. The expansion opens up powerful starting combos and increases player asymmetry.

Terraforming Mars Prelude solo

There is also a new solo mode introduced, as well as a modification to the original solo mode. When using the Prelude cards, players now have 12 generations instead of 14 to terraform Mars in either solo mode. In the new solo mode, global parameters are irrelevant. The new goal is to reach a Terraforming Rating (TR) of 63 within the 14 generations (or 12 generations while using the Prelude cards). There is also a new Standard Project to help raise the TR. Buffer Gas costs 15 MegaCredits to raise TR by 1.

What is in the box?

Terraforming Mars can be combined with any other expansion or variant. It is a small box expansion, so there are no new board pieces or tracks, only new cards. There are also 5 new corporations, and 7 project cards that thematically fit the early stages of terraforming. There are also 35 new project cards.

Terraforming Mars Prelude wild tag
Terraforming Mars Prelude wild tag

The wild tag is also on some of the Prelude corporation and project cards. While not specifically new to Prelude, the wild tag was introduced in the Venus Next expansion. The wild tag represents a tag of choice (building, plant, microbe, etc.) to use in an action, such as claiming a milestone. Wild tags do not trigger effects when being put into play, nor do they count during scoring at the end of the game.

The Good

As a huge fan of Terraforming Mars, this was an immediate purchase, no questions asked. I’ve really enjoyed the added Prelude cards to help jumpstart the initial setup in the early generations of the game. And there is nothing wrong with more content for one of my favorite games. Stronghold can keep dropping expansions and I’ll pick up every one of them.

I also really enjoyed the new solo mode, as I play Terraforming Mars solo a lot. It’s a heavy game, and can take a long time to play, so it’s not one that you can easily get to the table with anyone. I think the adjustment to the win condition of reaching the TR of 63 rather than focusing on maxing out all global parameters is a better gaming experience. It’s less stressful to focus on being productive and gaining momentum with the synergy of the projects that work, instead of focusing on trying to get one or more global parameters up. Though, I feel like, in the end, you still end up using MegaCredits to buy Standard Projects to succeed. But that’s what they are there for.

The Bad

Terraforming Mars Prelude cards and artworks
Terraforming Mars Prelude cards and artwork

There’s not much negative to say about this expansion. It is a small box expansion, and there isn’t too much new content, but I still think you get your money’s worth. These small boxes always have me wanting more. But there is more coming; the next expansion, Colonies, will be releasing later this year and will have even more content.

There have also been complaints in the past about the artwork for this game. I have seen a slight improvement in the quality of the card art with this expansion. But, that is subjective. I’m sure there are still going to be people complaining about it.

Final Thoughts

Prelude is a must-have expansion for anyone that is a fan of the Terraforming Mars game. If you love the game, just buy it. You will not be disappointed.

Game Statistics

  • Release Date: Summer 2018
  • MSRP: $19.95
  • Playing Time: 90-120 minutes
  • Age Range: 12+
  • Player Count: 1-5


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About the author

Shanon Connelly

(a.k.a. “Super Muffin Girl”) is an avid board gamer, cosplayer, and all around nerd girl. She has been cosplaying for over 10 years, attending several conventions every year. She recently started a YouTube gaming channel, "Time to Play!", which previews and reviews board games. Follow Shanon on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (@supermuffingirl).

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