The Ares Expedition: Discovery, Foundations, Crisis Expansion arrived at my house Feb 12th, 2023. This was on Kickstarter back in April 2022. The Kickstarter promised delivery of the expansion in December 2022, and just delivered to me: so about a month and half late. That’s actually quite good by Kickstarter standards! This is an expansion for the card game called Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition which came out about two years ago (which we reviewed here).
This expansion adds three new modules/sets to the game:
- Discovery: Adds new card mechanics, Awards, and Milestones
- Foundations: Adds enough resources for a 5th and 6th player and a slightly new mode of play
- Crisis: Adds a solo and cooperative expansion
This review will concentrate on the solo and cooperative modes with the Crisis module, but we will take a look at the other modules as well on our way there.
Something weird happened on the way to my unboxing:
I got Astro Knights AND Ares Expedition: Discovery, Foundations, Crisis all in the same box! And yes, they were Kickstarted completely separately! I think Stronghold games owns Indie games, so they consolidated the shipping to save some money. I had been hearing that Astro Knights has been out for a while and I was surprised mine hadn’t arrived yet … now I know why!
I think to appease me for making Astro Knights so late, they gave me the Sherlock Files demo deck!
Ares Expedition: Discovery, Foundations, Crisis is bigger than the base box.
One thing about this expansion is that it’s very daunting up front.
There are three expansions is here … what goes for what? It’s really not clear … until you look at the rulebooks for the individual modes. Each rulebook (there are three: one for Discovery, one for Foundations, and one for Crisis) has a very clear list of annotated pictures of components describing what’s in each. However. You do have to spend some time sorting through this.
Discovery mode is the most “just add new stuff” expansion to the game: it adds mechanics for Awards, Milestones, wild tags, and upgraded Phase cards.
There are multiple sets of phase cards which “look upgraded”. There are multiple versions of upgrades and you can choose.
There are mechanics for upgrading your phase cards in the new expansion. These phase upgrades are also used in Foundations.
There are two sets of upgrades, and you can choose between them when playing.
The Foundations expansion is mostly about adding a 5th and 6th player (and components) to the base game, which only takes 1-4 players. It adds more sets of phase cards, players boards, player aids, cubes, and a new supplemental infrastructure board. The infrastructure board add a new resource that needs to be upgraded before Mars is considered terraformed. From a gameplay perspective, the infrastructure board just gives the 5th and 6th player other things to concentrate on. Otherwise, it’s essentially the same game (modulo the new upgraded phase cards).
Crisis Mode Components
The Crisis mode adds probably the most new components for a new solo and cooperative mode.
There are some components that cross all expansions: there’s 4 new trays. Why? So each module can store its own components!
There’s a bunch of extra cubes, which works with all modules … although arguably they are a necessity for the Foundations module (5/6 players) so there’s enough cubes for 5 and 6 players.
There’s also some oversized boards.
One complaint from the base game was that the Terraforming Rating track was always too narrow, as the first column was just wide enough for one cube! They’ve now widened the track! See above. This new board, with wider track, will make it easier to play Foundations and Discovery. Crisis Mode has its own board, but it also has the wider track.
There’s a lot of stuff in this box.
Crisis Mode Rulebook.
The Crisis mode (and the others) were all very good rulebooks. They had lots of good, annotated pictures, super nice paper (linen paper), and easy-to-read fonts.
All rulebooks gets an A on the ChairTest: it easily fits on the chair next to me. See the nice pictures of set-up above.
My only complaint about the Crisis rulebook was that the Detriments were poorly explained. When do they go into effect? How long is that effect? Does the effect happen immediately when the oxygen.oceans/temp changes to a yellow/red zone?
We think the detriments only take effect during the “check metrics” phase, but we just needed one or two more sentences to elaborate.
But overall, this was a good rulebook for this expansion. The pictures in each rulebook were CRITICAL to unboxing this thing!!!
Crisis Mode Gameplay
Congratulations to Ares Expedition: Discovery, Foundations, Crisis for following Saunders’ Law and having a solo mode for this cooperative expansion (Crisis mode).
Solo play and Cooperative play are intrinsically linked in the Crisis expansion. The rules are about the same for both mode, which a few minor changes.
The key to the Crisis mode are the Crisis cards: see an example above. They are essentially the “bad news” cards you see in most cooperative games: they come out at the start of the turn, and (usually) cause bad things to happen. These cards will persist, with continual bad effects, unless you remove all the crisis tokens from the card. Each Crisis card describes the instant bad news, the continual effects, and what’s needed to banish the card.
The other interesting thing about Crisis mode is that the Teraforming is turned on its head: At the start of the game, Mars is already terraformed! Some meteorite has crashed into the planet and is causing the terraforming to revert! To win the game, you must keep Mars terraformed … but Crisis cards will conspire to dry out oceans, lower oxygen, lower temperature, and many other bad things.
At some point, the Dwindling Supplies Crisis card will come out, and you have just a few turns left to get Mars back to fully terraformed, or you lose!
This solo/coopeartive game still feels like Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition! Each player is still building their engine, figuring out which phases to play, and trying to get most resources to get stuff done! The core gameplay doesn’t change that much.
But now, you cooperate together. You figure out what phases to play as a group!! The victory points become a shared resource to eliminate crisis tokens!
If you like the base game play, you will like Crisis mode adds. You may prefer the competitive or the cooperative mode, but the game, at its core, still feels the same: build the best engine you can can, and choose the best phases for you.
The solo mode worked well. It gave a me chance to learn the game so I could teach my friends. I generally felt like I had a lot choices, but I did feel just a little at the mercy of the cards I got (see more discussion below). My first solo game was a loss: I couldn’t keep the oxygen level up. After losing, I realized that the solo player really needs to do a little bit of everything to make sure he wins. My second solo game was much more balanced and I was able to secure a victory.
In many ways, the solo game reminded me of Agricola! Why do I say that? Because to do well in Agricola, you have to do a little bit of everything well: cattle, sheep, carrots, plots, house… everything! You can concentrate one one thing, but you will probably lose: the scoring system in Agricola is structured in a way that the best scores comes from doing a little bit of everything.
In the solo Crisis mode, the solo player must make sure to do pretty well in everything: oxygen, oceans, money, temperature. All must kept under control, or the solo player will lose. Just like Agricola. I hate to say it, but that makes the solo games a little samey: you must always played a balanced game to win.
Cooperative Play: Crisis Mode
Cooperative play went surprisingly well. Sara had never played Ares Expedition before, but she was able to jump in to the cooperative Crisis mode without any previous experience. From Sara: “The cards were well labelled, and I had very few questions as a I played. The text on the cards was easy to read and understand”.
Andrew had played the two-player only cooperative mode from the original base game Ares Expedition with me about 2 years ago: see our review here. Recall that the base Ares Expedition has a very limited/very simple 2-player only cooperative mode built-in: it kind of works on victory points but just doesn’t seem very thematic. According to Andrew: “This new cooperative mode is significantly better!”
Basically, the new cooperative mode is much more thematic: the Crisis deck really adds to that theme, as you are “dealing with things” (oxygen lowering, temperate lowering, etc) as you try to keep Mars terraformed. It feels like the things you are doing fit much more the idea of the game (as opposed to some generic victory point goal for the co-op mode of the base game).
The rules don’t change too much from the Crisis solo game to the cooperative game: instead of the Crisis solo mode dummy hand (where you get two cards per turn AND you get to choose which side you use), you get the Crisis Dummy Cards (where the number of cards you get depends on the number of players). See above.
The other thing that changes is that the Crisis decks are built differently for the number of players: see above. Basically, the more players, the harder the Crises are to dismiss. The balancing for the number of players seemed to work very well: I appreciate that the decks are very different for different player counts. It really feels like they went out of their way to make the cooperative game work well for ALL player counts!
Cooperative mode was a big hit! In the three player game, we collaborated to figure out many things: how to get the Crisis cards under wraps, how to get the most useful phases for everyone, what things we can do to help each other, and generally discuss how to move forward. At the same time, each of us had our own engine that we were building! So, we all felt engaged in our own board AND with each other! This is something we struggled with when we tried to add a cooperative mode to Arc Nova: how do you keep each person engaged with their own tableau as well as everyone else? By using the “everyone plays during the chosen phases”, Crisis mode seems to have solved that problem! Turns move quickly enough, because everyone is engaged, but at the same time we are still building our own tableau AND collaborating!
Our first 3-Player cooperative game took 2 hours and 15 minutes, but nobody cared about the length. Everyone was having fun the whole time.
Solo vs Cooperative
The Crisis solo/cooperative mode reminds me of Roll Player Adventures in one way (see our review here): hear me out.
The solo game of Roll Player Adventures doesn’t work very well: you frequently don’t get enough cards to do what you need to do. The solo play is much more at the mercy of the cards you draw for dice mitigation. The cooperative mode works better in Roll Player Adventures because more players means significantly more cards! So, someone will typically have the right cards to get something done. The number of cards in play (over all players) really changes how much you can do! The solo player just doesn’t have enough cards.
The solo player in Crisis mode has the same problem, if less pronounced. My first solo game was lost because I never got enough cards to mitigate the Oxygen issues. I was at the mercy of the cards to a greater extent, because the solo player brings out fewer cards in play (compared to a 4 player game which would have 4 times as many cards moving through the system). Now, as I said, this phenomenon is much less pronounced in Crisis mode vs Roll Player Adventures, but it still causes me to ding the game a little. I like the solo game, and I would play it again, but the game is better in cooperative mode … because there are significantly more cards in action to mitigate the randomness that comes out.
Ares Expedition: Crisis Mode had an astoundingly positive reception by my group. They all like the game, the theme, the choices, the cards, the components, the gameplay. Andrew and Sara are talking about buying their own copy. They would both give it a 7.5 or 8 out of 10.
I’ve played a few more games, so my score is slightly more nuanced: I’d give the solo game a 7/10 and the cooperative game an 8/10. I like the solo game and would play it again, but this game is better played cooperatively (with each player building their own tableau).
Is it worth getting the Ares Expedition Expansion: Discovery, Foundations, Crisis for just the cooperative mode in Crisis? Yes, I think it is. Is it worth starting from scratch and getting the base Ares Expedition Terraforming Mars game and then the expansion JUST for the cooperative game? I almost think so, if only because you get so much other great content at the same time.
And finally, the cooperative mode in the Crisis expansion blows away the lame 2-Player-only cooperative in the base game: Crisis mode so much more thematic. You’ll never play that lame mode again (but you might play the solo mode from the base game).
4 thoughts on “A Review of Ares Expedition: Discovery, Foundations, and Crisis Expansion (Emphasis on the Solo and Cooperative Modes of Crisis)”
Thanks for heads up. Cannot wait to get my copy!
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