Some expansions deepen a game while others broaden them. While neither is inherently better than the other, the latter is difficult to pull off well. Yet in spite of some missteps, Venus Next does it well, delivering more Mars (well, actually Venus) without disrupting the core marsy goodness that you love.
Venus next adds a new sideboard, a few new corporations, a new award and milestone, and a metric boat load of extra project cards (we use metric to be precise about these things). The new Venus board adds a fourth track to pump up and get sweet, sweet Terraforming Rating, though the Venus board is totally optional as it’s not required to trigger the end of the game; after all, this is still Terraforming Mars - Venus is just like a tantalizing extra nugget for your corporations to gobble up for their exploitative economic and political dominion.
While Venus’ Terraforming rating can be increased by a new standard project, the majority of the action comes from the huge amount of cards largely involving the new “V for Venus!” tag and the unfortunately named floaters. Floaters are resources akin to microbes, though they tend to have more direct synergy with one another, causing them to add, remove, and trigger all sorts of floater-y goodness for a wide variety of effects. These Venus tags and floaters are also the metrics by which you can earn the new milestone and award, which rest upon cardboard tiles added to the Mars board, though the same limitations of funding up to three of each still applies.
The last new thing is the world government phase, where the active player gets to raise one global parameter per round before handing off the first player token for the new turn. This keeps the pace of the game going quick even with the fourth pillar of development, though the player gains no benefits from this form of terraforming.
Is it bad that I want to start with the look? I complained in my otherwise-glowing Terraforming Mars review that the game’s graphic design was kind of ugly and the color scheme could be appropriately titled “Disco Thanksgiving”. Well, I’m pleased to say that the yellow and blue color scheme just works really well, and the artwork on the cards is pound for pound much better and more consistent than the base game offerings.
Additionally, I really like the cards that interact with Venus. It feels like the Fryxelius really leaned into the thematic resonance between complex real world science and sensible-yet-intricate mechanical impact on the board. The vast majority of the cards seem useful, synergistic with multiple strategies, and fun. I especially like that many of the venus tag cards have pre-requisites of other venus, earth, and sometimes jovian tags; hinting at some cool interstellar exploration, connection, and diplomacy.
I also really like the world government phase as it presents some really interesting choices. If you think your opponents are about to snag a bonus for increasing the temperature, raise it up before they can cross that line. Or maybe you are likely to be the only one playing a forest next turn; put the slider one step closer to the temperature bonus on the oxygen track. Or maybe your cool new corporation gives you bonus cash for increasing the venus track, sounds like you should bump it up! Or maybe you just need one or two more notches in a parameter increased so you can play an important card in your hand. I dig the control and simple-yet-interesting strategic options that this new phase presents (and keeping this long game from becoming longer is a bonus, too).
Should you get it
Here’s where we get to the caveats with Venus: Next. Mechanically, it’s sound, but you have to consider consistency. The project deck in Terraforming Mars is already big, and even more so if you are including the corporate era stuff. Add in nearly 50 new project cards and the odds of getting the cards you are used to are drastically lower. So you have to ask yourself, what is it you like about Terraforming Mars? Do you dig sculpting the perfect engine by being able to count on a pretty consistent set of cards seeing play throughout a game, or are you more of the type that likes reacting to what you have and making the best tactical choices given what’s available?
While I appreciate both aspects of the game, I more so fall into the latter camp. The new project cards are useful and diverse, containing many familiar tags and mechanics that we’ve all grown reliant on, while still presenting a few new strategies. And besides, if you don’t want certain cards, you don’t have to buy those projects, which is how Terraforming Mars has always worked. But I have a feeling that some players will argue that more cards dillutes the deck; fortunately drafting, (if you are up for a longer playtime) eliminates the majority of this problem.
What it doesn’t eliminate is poor component quality, though. Apparently a sizable portion of Venus: Next’s early run suffered from some quality control issues, resulting in numerous players complaining about cards being miscut by the manufacturer, slightly smaller than the base game cards, and this is true of the copy sent to me. If I’m being realistic, it doesn’t bother me in practice, but it's still a bummer. The moment I shuffled the venus cards into the main deck, I could feel something was amiss, which led me to the BGG post linked above.
Fortunately, the co-publishers of Venus: Next have come up with a solution where you can mail in proof of purchase in the form of a select card and receive a replacement deck free. It’s not the most elegant solution, but an honest one, and I’m happy to see that gamers are able to get the correct width cards.
That said, if you are affected by this and you don’t want to go through the replacement process, sleeving your cards will eliminate the problem, or, do what I do, play anyway. You may be able to tell that there is a tiny variation in width, but it’s not so much that you can easily tell from feel where cards are placed or if the card on top of the deck is from this expansion or the other content.
So, back to the question of “Should You Get It?”. For me, it’s worth it. I love Terraforming Mars, and the good stuff that Venus Next adds is flavorful and creative, while being overall unobtrusive (albeit unnecessary) to the main game. If you had to get one and only one expansion, I’d recommend the awesome Prelude first (which I happened to have just released a video review for that today as well), but in truth I really love the experience of all the existing content together.
So if you are hungry for more Terraforming and the projects on Mars are getting a little bit stale, or you want to add the strategically interesting world government phase to the game, or you just want this game to be the biggest sandbox that you can possibly get your corporate megalomania thing on, I recommend you check out Venus: Next, an expansion to Terraforming Mars.
A review copy of this expansion was provided by the publisher.
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