Terraforming Mars has been a favorite with my weekly gaming group since it first came out. To help keep the game engaging, I’ve also bought most of the expansions for the game and, for the most part, appreciate the additional components and new Project cards each expansion has brought to the table.This review will only discuss the Terraforming Mars: Prelude expansion (referred to hereon simply as Prelude) and not the base game nor the rules to that game. If you’re interested in learning how to play Terraforming Mars or curious to know my thoughts on the digital version of the base game, check out my review of the digital Terraforming Mars here on Meeple Mountain.
These days, due to COVID, we’re each staying in our respective homes on game night. Thanks to the digital version of Terraforming Mars, the game still hits the virtual table on a regular basis. Until recently, we’ve been restricted to just the base game. Now, the first digital expansion has been released: Prelude.
On the surface, Prelude is a pretty simple expansion — only adding a slender stack of 47 playable cards. When you consider that the five Corporation and seven Project cards aren’t anything all that new and that nothing in the expansion changes the way you play the game, you’d be forgiven if you wondered what all the fuss was about.
The fuss turns out to be about the 35 Prelude cards.
After purchasing the digital version of Prelude, you need to be sure to verify that Prelude is activated within your game.
Scroll down in the Variants window. Under Corporations you have two options: Standard Draw and Highlight Draw.
The Standard Draw will mix the new Prelude Corporations into a single deck with all the standard Corporations from the base game. When your Corporations are dealt to you, you may or may not get one of the five new Corporations to choose from. Highlight Draw will deal you one Corporation from the standard deck and one of the five new Prelude Corporations to choose from. If you’re looking to explore Prelude fully, I recommend you try this option.
The Prelude Cards
After you receive your starting Corporation cards to choose from, you’ll be shown four Prelude cards to review. You may choose two to keep and use at the start of the game.
As with the Project cards during the game, you can click on any of the cards to learn more about them. For instance, here are the details on the first two cards of the four in the screenshot above.
Some Prelude cards give you a permanent boost to your corporate economy as with the Metals Company:
Others provide you with an initial, one-time boost to help you with various aspects of your corporate economy, as with the Acquired Space Agency:
Other examples of Prelude cards include ones that allow you to place two Ocean tiles, place a Greenery tile (which also increases the Oxygen level and your Terraforming Rating), or give up five Megacredits for an increase of two Titanium production.
Balancing Your Corporation with Prelude
If you were playing the physical game, you would receive the two Corporation cards and four Prelude cards to choose from all at once. That way, you’d be able to plan a strategy for the game based on the combination of those cards.
Even though the digital version has you choose a Corporation first, once you see your available Prelude cards you’re able to go back and change Corporations if you so choose. Just click on the handy “Change Corporation” option in the upper left corner of the screen.
Working to match the right Corporation with the right Prelude cards is well worth your time. The right combination can set you up for a solid strategy throughout the game.There doesn’t appear to be a way to view your Corporation options alongside the Prelude options in the same screen. I hope the programmers will fix this in a future update.
Thoughts on Prelude
Prelude is rare amongst game expansions. Not only does it not alter the gameplay, but it actually makes the game shorter.
I’ve read other comments about Prelude that say it jump starts the game by two generations. I don’t necessarily agree with that. The increase in resources, production, and/or Terraforming Rating, not to mention possible City, Greenery, or Ocean tiles added to the board are far more than I’ve ever seen developed in two generations.
Instead, Prelude takes the drudgery out of those initial four to five generations. Without Prelude, the opening generations always felt to me like a frustrating series of turns where I never had enough money to do much more than make minor steps to build some kind of Corporate economy. Prelude gets you into the heart of the game — the fun part of the game — faster, without compromising the way the game is played.
The difference Prelude adds to the game doesn’t end there, though. Where the base game would often take us 12-14+ generations to create the conditions for human life on Mars that signals the end of the game, with Prelude we’ve ended several games in the 9th generation. Fewer overall generations means fewer turns where your economic engine is running well to score Victory Points and increase your Terraforming Rating. Chances are good Prelude will force you to rethink how you play the game.
Prelude is one of those rare expansions that create a lot of positive impact on the game with only a few subtle changes. My weekly gaming group played the base game of Terraforming Mars many times before Prelude came out and were dubious about what an expansion to the game might bring. One play, however, and we were unanimous on our approval for Prelude.
While Prelude may not be an essential expansion, in that it fixes any broken mechanics in the base game, that hasn’t precluded us from including it in every game we’ve played since adding it. It’s that good.