Expansion Review – Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition – Discovery & Foundations

When Stronghold Games announced that one of my favourite games, Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition was getting not one, but three expansions, I was pretty excited.

And judging from the hits on that post I just linked, you were too!

My friend who owns that game jumped on the Kickstarter for the trio of expansions (I think they are coming to retail individually in a staggered manner, but I’m not sure) and they finally arrived!

The Crisis expansion is a cooperative one and not one that we will probably play. As I said in my April Gaming post, we don’t really do many cooperative games at our game day.

But Discovery and Foundations were definitely on the docket!

Both expansions (as well as the original game) were designed by Sydney Engelstein, Jacob Fryxelius, and Nick Little with artwork by Nio Mendoza and were obviously published in 2023 since they just arrived.

This review is going to be about both expansions since both will forever be used in our games now.

Were they worth the wait?

Let’s take a look.

I’m not going to explain how to play Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition since my review of it does that.

Let’s instead go into what each expansion adds to the game.

Discovery adds some interesting new mechanics to the whole thing that really make the game play even better, even adding a bit of asymmetry.

Many of the new cards add the ability to upgrade one of your five phase cards.

For each phase, you have two choices of what to upgrade to and both give different benefits if you choose that phase.

For example, upgrading your Phase 1 card will either give you a discount of 6 MC (instead of 3) when you develop a green card or you can reduce the cost of the first card by 3 and then play a second green card that costs 12 MC or less.

Quite powerful if you have the money and the cards for it!

Especially when you consider what else Discovery adds.

Milestones and Awards are well-known for regular Terraforming Mars players, but Discovery adds them to the Ares Expedition mix.

They work the same way as in the regular game, though Milestones only give you 3 points instead of 5 and they are both randomly drawn.

If Magnate is out, having that upgraded Phase 1 card that lets you play two green cards can be a godsend (why I didn’t think of that when I was playing this game where I took the pictures, I don’t know).

If more than one player reaches a milestone in the same phase, one gets the milestone and the other player(s) get a 3-point chip, so essentially all get the same thing.

Awards work exactly the same way as the regular game, except that you don’t have to fund them.

There are always three random awards drawn and whoever has the highest of whatever its asking for gets 5 points and the second highest gets 2 points.

Finally, the Wild tag from one of the base game expansions rears its head in Ares.

When a Wild tag is played, you choose what that tag is and place a marker on it. It is that tag for the rest of the game.

The cool thing about Wild tags is that there are times where they can be different tags, depending on what you need.

Say you use an action like “reveal the top 3 cards of the deck. Draw any plant tags and discard the rest” (not a real card, I don’t think).

If you draw a Wild tag, you can say “this is a plant tag!” and draw it.

However, when you play the card, you again get to choose what tag it is. It can be a Space tag or a Microbe tag or whatever.

It’s only permanent once it’s on the table.

Foundations adds a few minor things and a new mechanic.

First, something I’ve been begging for ever since I saw this expansion announced: a bigger scoreboard for the lower TR rating numbers!

No more crowding multiple cubes into one really small space before you get to 25 TR.

Usually by the time 25 TR is reached, there is some space between players and crowding is not an issue.

This is actually really needed because Foundations adds the ability to play up to 6 players.

Holy crap!

Finally, it adds a new Global Parameter track that must be completed before the game ends: Infrastructure

Infrastructure is a cool new mechanic where as an action, you can spend 5 heat and 3 plants to raise it one space and draw a card. Or you can spend 15 MC to do the same.

The card draw is actually really attractive, but getting a TR bump for it is nice too.

There are also some new project cards that increase it.

It can add to the length of the game, so you don’t have to use it in 2-4 player games. It’s a must in 5-6 player games, though, as otherwise the game would be over way too fast to build a good engine.

I’d say in our 3-player games, it added about 5-10 minutes overall (around 70 minutes instead of 60), so something to keep in mind. We played a 4-player game yesterday and it went to 80 minutes, but that could have just been us.

What did I think of these two expansions?

I think it was implied at the top of the post that I love them both to pieces.

The upgraded phase cards just give you amazing choices to make, and you can even upgrade from one to the other one if you find yourself needing what it offers instead.

With the Phase II cards shown, the bonus lets you either draw a card and play a second red or blue card (the basic card, you have to choose one of those) or you get to choose whether to play an addition card or get 6 MC (instead of drawing a card).

If you need the money, this one can be very helpful.

I also really enjoyed the Wild tag mechanic, and the milestones/awards are an additional way to score points and give you some goals to shoot for.

You will notice that points will be higher using these expansions.

The new corporations (for both expansions, actually, but both of my games I ended up choosing one from Discovery) give you cool new options too.

The new mechanics are just interesting and really jazz up the play of the game.

I’ve played the game a lot and it wasn’t getting old, or at least it didn’t feel like it was getting old.

Until I played with all of this new stuff.

At least one of the new corporations really isn’t that interesting (except the upgraded phase card it gives you).

Then again, upgrading the Action card can potentially let you activate the corporation’s ability twice, giving you 4 MC.

Which still isn’t that much, but it is something along with all of the other potential action cards you can play.

Like this one!

Nice and cheap to play and pretty powerful, though it does cost you MC income and points.

Don’t spend it willy-nilly as spending all of that TR may have lost me the game (but I did have upgraded phase cards, so maybe it was a wash).

I didn’t realize the milestones and awards were needed until they came into play.

I like how they are randomized (in the original game, they were map-dependent, but there is no map here!) so each game is a bit different.

Finally, the Infrastructure mechanic works really well. I don’t think it would work as well if it didn’t have the card draw with it.

And I like that you get that card draw no matter how you increase it, including from playing project cards.

I can’t really say anything bad about either expansion, unless you are wedded to the 1-hour playing time of the base game.

The Infrastructure project cards are well-marked with the “5+” notation in the bottom right corner, so you can just not play with Infrastructure (which I guess means you’re not playing with Foundations, except the bigger scoreboard).

Speaking of the bigger scoreboard…

Yep, I am extremely happy with that, and having used it three times, even more so!

It’s so nice to be able to keep things organized without bumping cubes.

All in all, I’m very happy with both expansions. Other than potential additional play time (if you don’t like that sort of thing), there’s really nothing wrong with them.

If you’re a fan of Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition, you can’t go wrong with either of these (or, preferably, both).

They just add a nice spark to the game.

This review was written after three plays with the both expansions

One Comment on “Expansion Review – Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition – Discovery & Foundations

  1. Pingback: Ares Expedition – Discovery & Foundations – Dude! Take Your Turn! - 3DM-Games

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