Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium Review – More Martian Scenery

Hellas & Elysium is the first expansion to the hit strategy, card drafting and tile placement board game Terraforming Mars; from designer Jacob Fryxelius, artist Isaac Fryxelius and publisher FryxGames. This expansion is a double-sided game board which depicts two new regions of Mars, both of which can be played by 1 – 5 players. Elysium is the opposite side of Mar’s equator to the original board, featuring the highest peak in the solar system Olympus Mons. Hellas features the southern pole of Mars and the large Hellas crater. However, does the change of Martian scenery improve the experience? Let’s find out!

In terms of setup, there is nothing different about either side of the new game board compared to the original. The same global parameters feature, each parameter has the same ranges, players still start at a Terraforming Rating of 20 (or 14 for a solo game) and the same deck of cards is used. A couple of cards are affected by the new maps, regarding Lava Flow and Noctis City placements, however these are easily circumvented. For reference, with no designated location Noctis City simply follows the regular city placement rules. The Lava Flow tile, which must be placed on volcanic locations on the original, can be placed anywhere on Hellas; though on Elysium, which features four volcanic locations, simply sees these become the new placement points.

The two maps present an opportunity for players to move away from the commonly selected tile locations of the original board, such as the ocean tile that provided two free cards. However, this in no way means that some great new placement opportunities don’t become available. Take the aforementioned Lava Flow tile which players will undoubtable try to place onto Olympus Mons if possible, as it offers a colossal 3 free cards in return.

The Hellas board is particularly unique as it offers heat resources from specific locations, a number of which congregate around the South Pole of Mars. The exact South Pole is in itself and interesting placement opportunity, enabling the player to instantly place a water tile (claiming the Terraforming Rating point as normal) whilst requiring the player to pay 6 Megacredits. Neither of these special bonuses appear on the original or the Elysium side of the expansion boards, giving Hellas a placement twist. The Hellas crater itself can also be completely flooded to make a large hexagon ocean not seen on the original board, with it’s strip of ocean placements.

Aside from the jaw dropping 3 free card opportunity of Olympus Mons, Elysium has a few unique traits of its own; including a total of 6 locations that gain the player a free card. Elysium also features a large band of plant resources along the middle of the planet, similar to the original board but with a slightly higher return of resources. The concentration of resource opportunities and water placement is certain concentrated on the top half of the map, leaving a much more desert area below, prime for uninterrupted city/greenery building combinations.

While the changes to the map of Mars alter tile placement, it is the differing Milestones and Awards that truly change how people play. Milestones shake up the early part of the game as players no longer strive to get 3 greenery tiles onto the planet’s surface first. A key battleground that players rush on the Hellas side is Polar Explorer; for controlling 3 hexs on the bottom two rows of the board which almost replaces players urgency to build specific things. On Elysium two almost opposing milestones of Generalist, increasing production of all 6 resources by at least one, and Specialist, having 10 production of any resource, seem to divide playstyles early on. However, both milestones do see a lot more production increasing cards enter play early on.

When it comes to consequences due to changes to Awards, one distinct change is that temperature becomes a more neglected end game requirement. No longer is it beneficial to have an excess of heat resources at the end of the game for the absent Thermalist Award. As with any game of Terraforming Mars only a slight alteration to how quickly one of the parameters rises can affect what cards can be played, thus changing the direction the game takes. On top of this a few of Elysium’s awards can almost force players into sub-optimal tile placements. Desert Settler for example, where players endeavour to place tiles in the bottom four hexagon rows, causes the more baron area of the board to be fought over. At the same time Estate Dealer, for controlling hexagons adjacent to bodies of water, sees ocean tile placement become as key as other tiles. By having awards based upon placement the points earnt from map placement is often reduced, though it is recuperated via awards if you win them!

For all their greatness it is somewhat of a shame that the new milestones and awards cannot be applied to the original board. A selection refer to specific features of the maps, such as Polar Explorer, but with some adjustment it would have been nice to get that extra touch of variability from the expansion: an expansion which is at the end of the day only a double-sided game board. No new corporations or cards are included, not even Hellas & Elysium specific reworks of Noctis City and Lava Flow. This could have easily rectified the tiny issue of players having to double check the rules for these tiles, without adding significant cost to the expansions production.

Terraforming Mars Hellas & Elysium is an expansion aimed directly at the fans of the base game, that are at least on the cusp of double figure playthroughs. As usual, the cards that come out and how the global parameters are affected can shape the way a game goes. This isn’t to say players won’t want to or have to adapt their playstyles to hit the new awards and milestones, which are the real crown jewel of the expansion. These boards add in a decent variation from the base game that make it worthwhile for those that continually play, spicing up the game rather than drastically changing it. Therefore, those whom thought of the base game of Terraforming Mars as an epic experience you’ll enjoy the Hellas & Elysium expansion, otherwise it won’t do enough to alter your mind.

[Editor’s Note: Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium was provided to us by Asmodee UK for review purposes. The game is currently available on 365 Games for £18.99. It is also available from local UK board game stores, find your local store here]