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Many people find Terraformers a very difficult game. This guide is meant to help those people to win more consistently in all difficulty settings, including level 121, the maximum level you can play in custom.
Here you will find a detailed guide divided in the 3 stages the game has (early, mid and late game) with suggestions for each one regarding general actions, resource management, vital projects and good leaders, along with some (approximate) landmarks you can use to see if you are doing well in your run.
Terraformers How to Win Consistently in All Difficulty Settings and Scenarios
Let me first explain my experience: at this point I have a bit more than 100 hours in this game. After playing the tutorial and trying a few scenarios in lower difficulty settings, as I found them too easy, I decided to see what max difficulty was about. To my surprise, I didn’t lose a single game, winning all scenarios in max difficulty under 65 turns one by one. Seeing this, I decided to go for the major challenge: custom game in the max possible difficulty (121). It was a brutal fight like no other I had played, but also managed to win that one, after which I won a second 121 difficulty custom game. I haven’t lost a single game in any difficulty setting or scenario (in fact, the “lose a game” achievement is one of the few I am missing). So, after all this, and seeing that my experience differs from those of many players (as I keep seeing in the discussions section threads that claim that difficulty is “too high”), I decided to make this guide.
Let me start by saying this: if you think that you are losing because of luck, think again. Luck has a decisive role in many roguelike games, but not in this one. This game is designed to balance the moment of bad luck with some moments of relief. The classic example is, as it says in the manual: “if a sandstorm causes a lot of damage to your cities, the chance of other negative events happening is reduced for the remainder of the game”. This is true for every bad event. On the contrary, if you get good events (good luck), that means more possibilities of raising expectations during the next turns.
Also, in relation to the projects you get to choose each turn, as they are divided into 9 different decks, it is guaranteed that once every 3 turns you get to choose a project for what you need (being food, energy, population, etc.). This is especially true at the beginning, where projects that you are offered are only the basic ones, so there’s not really a “oh, I didn’t get offered an energy project in 10 turns, so I guess I lose”. Of course that it’s still very important to find ways to increase the amount of projects that you are offered each turn so that you have more consistency from the mid-game. If you don’t do that, well, it’s obviously not the game’s fault.
Oh, English isn’t my first language, so forgive me for some possible writing mistakes you could find. Let’s begin.
Early Game – Walkthrough
So, let’s start with the first thing you have to choose: the starting bonus. I have read that some players find the “balanced” one (the one you are always offered with other 2) good. I don’t agree with this, I never choose that one, as I think that there’s almost always a better option. It’s difficult to be very specific here because I haven’t found a list with all the possible bonuses, but I think that the ones that give you a rapid expansion start are definitely the best. The one that gives you an Expansion Hub (16 energy, need planetary location, expand to all explored adjacent locations) is particularly amazing, as you really struggle with expansions at first because building populations are expensive and robots cost titanium that you also need to build mines, which usually means you being short of that crucial material during the first turns.
As it is pretty clear, during the first turns it’s crucial to have some way to produce energy. If you get tritium nearby, then the Tritium Thermo Generator (9 tritium, produces 1 energy) is the obvious choice, and you get offered that project a lot. Use the 4 x spaces in the first city to build those and find asap a Resonance Station (22 silicates, +1 energy to adjacent buildings that produce energy) to put in the middle. If you don’t have any access to tritium then it is a bit trickier, but you can always find other ways, mainly via Windmills (7 titanium, need planetary location, produces 1 energy) and Photovoltaic Field (12 silicates, need planetary location, produces 1 energy or 2 if it is built on high ground). The last one is the main reason not to build any other project in any high ground location you find at the start, as 2 energy production for a 12 silicates cost project is pretty amazing. To avoid energy starvation, your goal is to be producing at least 3 energy by turn 10.
Food is less important at the beginning, as you usually expand via robots and you get food from some locations you explore. Save that food to expand to the second city. Never use it to build a population project in your main city, unless you already started with that food because of your starting bonus. Nonetheless, food is your second priority, so I usually use the 3 spaces in my first city to build farms, with a Soil Factory (22 nitrates, +1 food for adjacent buildings that produce food) in the middle.
Science is your third priority. The good thing about science is that it is the easiest resource to get lots of, so it is great to use in exchange of the resources you need first via trade routes. This is especially true for the first 13 turns, as then you are going to need those science resources to build your bacteria spreaders and other important projects and technologies.
Exploration and expansion
For the first 10 turns, you shouldn’t be using any ability of your leader other than the exploration one (there are some exceptions). Clever exploration is key during the early game. Typically, there’s always one resource you are lacking, so aim your limited exploration to get that element and find a mine to place a city nearby afterwards.
Usually, Titanium is your priority when exploring, as you will need a lot to start building those mines. Tritium or Silicates come second to start generating energy.
Try to aim your exploration towards the equator line, as you’ll find better city locations there in terms of quality of life (because of hotter climate), and, more importantly, better climate zones to spread your life forms later.
It is important to notice that it’s almost always preferable to explore before choosing any event, project card or build anything. This game allows you to do that in any order, so use the information of what cards and events you are offered that turn to make better use of your exploration. Plus, after exploring you sometimes get resources that you weren’t expecting, and that can change your plans on what to choose or to build that turn. If you build something and then explore, there’s no undo button to save you. The main exception to this is if you are already sure that you are going to build a city that turn, so if you want to explore a nearby location it is better to do it after you stablished the city, as it will cost you less energy.
Expanding to the second city (generally around turn 10) is a crucial moment to find the resources you are lacking from your initial location, so, as said, prioritize city locations with adjacent mines of those resources. In this early stage, it is always preferable a plain with no or few rocks, even with lower quality of life, instead of a cave or crater with better quality of life but plagued with rocks, as you are very limited on energy at this point and it is very inefficient to be using it to clear rocks out of the way. In addition, your second city isn’t meant to be the one that generates lots of support via population, as you don’t have the food to make that happen and expectations aren’t really an issue yet, so the heart indicator doesn’t matter very much. Your second city is usually a messy one: it’s just a city that you build because you need the resources nearby and where you put all the projects that you need to build that don’t get adjacency bonus of any type, like the Research Center, robots or the factories that give you terraforming points. The main exception is science: use a 3 or 4 spaces to build those laboratories with a University (22 silicates, +1 science to all adjacent buildings that produce science) in the middle. If you built those in your first city, put your farms here instead.
One of the most important but overlooked things are trade routes. Trade routes in this game allow you to correct your production, as to give you the ones that you need in exchange for the ones you don’t. Landing pads are a very efficient way in the early game of giving you trade routes in exchange for a planetary location. Try to build at least 1 to have 2 trade routes (you get one for free). Trade routes are essential in the early game and keep being relevant until late game. Short on titanium to build that mine next turn? Trade route. Not enough water to build that city? Trade route. It’s really that simple. It can even help you to avoid the so feared energy starvation (although if you need to do that a lot, you may already be in a bad spot).
As I said, science is the typical resource that you give for the other resources because it is so easy to produce, though it can be other one if you have an excess of it, while titanium is the one you generally want to get. And I will end this paragraph with the most important advise of all: PLAN your moves, MIN MAX every turn, think ahead at least your next 3 turns, what do you need to build asap, and aim your trade routes and exploration towards that goal. Seriously, can’t stress that enough. I think that half of the time I spend during a game is thinking about what trade routes I have to make this turn before I hit the next turn button.
What bacteria should I choose?
At turn 13 you get offered your first bacteria, along with a free bacteria spreader. You should have it built before turn 20. What bacteria should you choose? Methanogenium (the one that gives +1 heat per turn), always. The reason is simple: many of the plants and animals need warmer climate zones, so if you don’t have a good heat production, you are very limited in terms of what life you can spread over. Plus, all plants except cactus produce oxygen and atmosphere, so you don’t need a bacteria that also generates that, while you need the heat to spread many of those plants (and, later, animals) in the first place. On top of that, the factory that generates heat (CO2 factory) is the most difficult to build, as it requires a lot of energy and titanium.
Early Game – Projects and Leaders
Asides from the basic ones like farms, robots and the Tritium Thermo Generator, the already mentioned Research Center is a very important project to build asap in order to increase your choices every turn, followed by the Development Center (+1 research, +2 extra project limit in hand). This will help you to gain more consistency, as having more options each turn means that you will be more efficient, and that is all Terraforming is about, efficiency. It may be hard to find all the science you need to build these two projects though, given the fact that you also need a lot to build your first bacteria spreader and your first technology. Point all your trade routes into science for a few turns if necessary. You should have both built by turn 20-25, while during mid game you should build at least one more pair. Don’t sleep on these projects; the consequence of delaying them too much could mean entering mid-game with very few cards in hand, which will make you waste precious turns and slow you down, possibly ending your run. If for some reason you didn’t find or built them by turn 20, prioritize choosing a leader that helps you with that, such as Mustafa Orbay or Hope O’Malley.
Rover Exploration Center is certainly hard to build, as it requires a planetary location and 9 Titanium (along with 5 Tritium) which is, at this stage, a lot. But you need it to accelerate your exploration, so try to build at least one if you have the chance.
Of course that University, Soil Factory and Resonance Station (+1 to science, food or energy respectively to adjacent buildings) are extremely important. Save your silicates for building those asap.
The only space projects that matter during the early game are the ones that give you ocean in exchange for tritium, so try to pick one of them.
About Technologies, Lightweight Hull Structures is definitely one of the best ones (tritium used in space projects counts double), as it will save you a lot of time and resources. Urban Planning (every new city comes with one free expansion) is a very cheap and efficient way of expanding from your second city and build that mine right away. Advanced Land Clearance Techniques (destroying rocks cost 1 energy instead of 3) is a bit costly but can save you tons of energy in the mid-game. Smart Electrical Grid (15% cheaper regional buildings) saves you time and resources, especially when building those spreaders.
As mentioned, you shouldn’t be using many actions other than the exploration one, and as the first 2 leaders come with no bonus with that action, pay attention mainly to its passive, which will remain useful for the rest of the game. Some I like are:
– Misha Kiyama: the 33% discount on bacteria spreaders is very good and has an immediate impact.
– Jorge Dromedo: 15% discount on every regional building (including spreaders) is also very nice. Combine this with Smart Electrical Grid and you have a 30% discount on every spreader, that’s nuts.
– Beatrix Barbier: 2 support every 2 new mines is very good, as you will be building a lot of mines until late game.
– Alex Madiba: this is for me the main exception in terms of actions, as I find Breach Aquifer very good to help you get the so important 1 level rain you need without having to expand to that location. That saves you a lot of time and resources. While I turn my first aquifer into water production, if I find a second one during the early game, I value this guy’s ability very highly. Also, the +5 food ability could be used once or twice to place your second city faster.
– Antii Vanhanen: this is the other exception, as the in-depth survey ability that let you increase the size of any mineral deposit you don’t control yet is amazing. Passive is great too, as it helps you get more Titanium, the mineral you need the most at this stage of the game.
Mid Game – Walkthrough
Obviously, what early, mid and late game means is related to your difficulty settings and scenario, which can make a game faster or slower. But let’s just generalize and say that early game is from turn 1 to 20, mid game from 21 to 50 and late game from there beyond. Mid game is the part where you can actually lose. If you do, it’s probably because you didn’t spread life and terraform quickly enough.
Terraforming and spreading lifeforms
While early game is all about exploring, expanding and building a healthy economy, mid-game is the part of the game where you start focusing in terraforming steps and spreading life forms. A good indicator that you are going the right path is, as said, that you have built a bacteria spreader by turn 20 (try also to build the second one asap). Regarding to plants, there is more variety to choose. Anyone that you can spread will do, as you just need to start producing oxygen and atmosphere. They can be replaced with plants that give you more prestige later. Make sure to have a variety of land and water plants, so that you always have a valid zone for spreading.
To produce plants, first you will need some rain. The most efficient way I found for the first level is the 8 tritium space project that gives you 20 ocean plus turning a normal aquifer into the other 10 ocean you need for 4 energy. The other one is the 6 titanium and 9 tritium space project that gives you 30 ocean, although that one is slower (15 trade routes instead of 8, that is almost double the time) and needs titanium which, again, you are usually lacking. If you don’t find any of those but you manage to find a gigantic aquifer at this point, don’t hesitate to expand to it and convert it into the 30 oceans you need. Water production is not that important at this point really, with +1 or +2 you are fine. You just need 10 to build cities (which happens very occasionally), while farms can be built with nitrate instead. The support boost and the 1 level rain is much, much more important than the excess of water production. That changes around turn 35-40 when you need 30 water to start building those animal spreaders, but at that point you will surely have found other aquifers, inside city water mines or, even better, Desalination Facilities (5 science, 10 silicates, need oceanic location, +2 water production) to compensate for that.
A good indicator that you are doing well at this point is that you have spread a plant by turn 30 (that means you already have a 1 level rain, which should arrive between turns 20-30). Don’t forget that you need 30 nitrates to build your first plant spreader as soon as you reach 1 level rain, so plan into it. There’s no point in hurrying to get rain if you don’t have the nitrate and planetary location to build the plant spreader on that same turn.
The main goal at mid game is simple: spread, spread and spread. There will be a point where you REALLY need some support to stay alive, so boosts you get from terraforming and spreading life are essential in order to survive. Don’t forget the support income many plants produce if you have a city in that climate zone, so if you have a plant like tundra forest which only requires a 1 level rain, try to build a city there first (as it doesn’t work if you build it after you spread the plant). You have many turns to plan your moves and make that happen, as you usually get offered a plant much before you have 1 level rain and 30 nitrates for the spreader.
But you will also need to start paying attention to some projects or planetary locations that can provide some of that much needed support income to mitigate the insane increase in expectations you’ll have to face at this point (at least in max difficulty). Boosts from terraforming steps and plants are nice, but won’t be enough if you don’t get any support income constructions. They may be optional at lower difficulties, but at max difficulty every support income you can find at mid-game counts. A leader with support bonus with the exploration move is a good idea if you are really struggling. I tend to do better with the ones that focus on resources though.
This is a good moment to start thinking about a support city, which is usually your third or fourth one. Ideally, it will be located in a lava tube and near the equator line. By now, you should have enough energy and food production (should be close to 10 of each by turn 30) to clear those rocks and build some population projects every 3 or 4 turns, with some support facilities adjacent to them.
About animals, they are the last key in order to stabilize your income support. As with plants, keep a good variety between land and marine ones and mind the bonus some of them get if you have a city in that climate zone. Some like Birds of Paradise provides you a lot of income support if you have a city placed there. First animal should be spread around turn 40, and by that time you should be able to build a city every two turns.
By turn 50 you should have at least two animal and plant spreaders (better if it’s 3 of each), while you should be no more than 1 level and a half away of completing every terraforming step.
Mid Game – Projects and Leaders
Gene Vault (Lifeforms spreader buildings own by this city spread 33% faster): this is maybe the most important project you have to build, and it will make your game much, much easier if you plan into it accordingly. It goes like this: usually you have a city (in my case it’s usually my second one) that expands a lot, I like to call it “the octopus” city. Combining robots with stations (Train Station is amazing for this) will give you lots of expansion points with reduced support income penalty, creating the a.k.a octopus. Build all your first spreaders here and wait for Gene Vault to drop into your hand. Build it immediately. Congrats, you just entered easy mode. Keep adding the rest of your spreaders in the octopus city, win the game. The octopus looks like this:
Gas Factory (+2 atmosphere per turn) is the better of the factories if you got the heat bacteria, as it’s fairly cheap and atmosphere, despite being the less important of the terraforming steps, it requires more resources per turn to be on par with the others, especially Oxygen, as you get 1 of each from plants and other projects. It is advisable not to leave any of the terraforming steps too far behind, and Gas factory is an efficient way of solving that.
Dock: after you reach 1 level rain, you will need at some point one of this. Ocean locations are amazing for building some very cost-efficient projects, such as the already mentioned Desalination Facility (+2 water production), as well as for gaining support. I’ll talk about this in a few moments.
Applied Science Center (new technologies are suggested 50% faster): don’t sleep on this one because the duration between technology proposals increases by 8 turns every time. This project is essential to solve that problem.
Cloud seeding (+2 rain in the zone where it is built): this very cheap project allows you to spread some prestigious plants like Temperate Forest and Boreal Rainforest right away, when you usually would have had to wait until late game to do so. It’s situational, but it’s worth grabbing and holding one until you can make use of it.
Support buildings: Domed Park (+4 support and +4 support to adjacent population) is one of the best ones for your support city. Public Bath and Hospital are fine. Warehouse (+2 support income for every mine controlled by this city) can be great in a heavy mine city.
Oceanic locations to gain support
So, there are two main ways to abuse the oceanic locations for gaining lots of support (that is why Dock is very important): one is via Martial Sailing School (+1 science, +4 support income for every oceanic location owned by this city). Now, the 20 science and 20 energy cost might scare you, but believe me, it’s worth every penny. Think about it: every oceanic location up to 3 spots away from your dock is a net support positive. That’s A LOT of support. I had this one that gave me 152 support by its own by turn 63. No other building is capable of this, not even close.
The other one is the Noiseless Ship Engine technology (3 support for every oceanic location you expand). While it gives you one less support, it’s arguably better as not only is cheaper (25 science and doesn’t need a location), but also works for every dock you build in any city. This makes it the best technology you can research. If you manage to combine this with the Sailing School, well, it’s just gg from there.
Other good technologies are the ones that let you spread faster, like Leapdeer (Animals spread 30% faster). This one has a nice synergy with Animal Tracking (+8 support income per animal you spread).
Asides from the ocean ones, there are 3 that stand out: Lifeform Delivery (every 4 turns you get to choose between 2 life forms) is amazing, as it solves the problem of not having enough lifeforms to spread, and that just for 12 resources; Marsnet (+1 heart globally) gives you a very nice income boost once you have built enough population; and Exploration Satellites (+1 free exploration every 3 turns) is just a very solid way to keep up with your expansion and discover new zones to spread your life forms.
In general, don’t bother with any space project that events offer you, such as asteroids destruction or the moon ones. They cost a lot and aren’t worth the time and resources you need to spend in them.
Mid leaders are very situational. As now every exploration move comes with a bonus, I would advise you to prioritize the ones that help you solve some particular problem you might be having, such as support or project proposals. If you are doing well, the ones focused on getting more resources with each exploration should be the best choice. But now, the other actions also matter more than before, while passives keep being relevant. Because all these possible variables, it’s difficult to make a sort of tier list, so I will just list the ones I find more reliable:
– Aishe Jäger: not so good at turn 21 but very good at turn 31, as you can make better use of her abilities. The discount in animal spreader is very good and the -1 heat in one life form can help you to spread that prestigious plant or animal you have more easily.
– Mustafa Orbay: the ultimate project provider, with his passive and his exploration move. At turn 21 he buys you time for building your Research and Development Centers if you haven’t done it yet, while on turn 31 you can make use of his lifeform abilities. Very versatile overall.
– Ayesha Katri: especially great if you are short on titanium, which you usually are, and have and excess of silicates (3 silicates for 10 titanium is a pretty good deal). Passive is also very good since this is the part where you build that support city on a lava tube that is full of rocks. And exploration comes with more resources, which is nice.
– Henry Carneige: I don’t often use his abilities other than the exploration one, but his passive is very good, especially if you get him on turn 21, as you are going to need a lot of mines.
– Maryam Fayed: passive is meh, but all her abilities can be good in the right circumstances, giving you plenty of versatility.
Congratulations, you made it this far! This section is much shorter, as if you got through here you should be fine with level of expectations by now, so start heading for the scenario’s goal to close the game. Meanwhile, keep spreading your most prestigiuos lifeforms. By turn 60 I usually have at least 4 plant and animal spreaders (4 of each). Terraforming steps should be done or very close by now.
Easier games should be almost finished at this point. For the harder ones, start building the big projects. You never have enough science, energy and food. Aim for +30 food per turn so that you don’t have any more problems with support ever again. As mentioned, oceanic locations provide excellent places for some very good cost-efficient projects such as Seaweed Farm (22 nitrates, +3 food production) and Ocean Laboratory (22 silicates, +3 science production).
Space projects can be completed very fast now, as you should have more than 10 trade routes, so pick them freely.
Make use of population projects, robots should be used very occasionally now. Remember that population projects are not only a support income source, but they also give you a net boost in support in accordance with the Mars enthusiasm parameter.
Opposed to early game, now passives are less relevant, while leader’s actions tend to be more powerful. These are some leaders I like very much:
– Arthur Foster: he is just amazing if you have the spare energy, which you should at this point in the game. Helps you catch up with atmosphere if you are behind, gives you any resource you need to build a project, allows you to clean a lava tube or crater for free. All his abilities can serve you well.
– Ayokunle Ndiaye: as with the previous one, it’s amazing if you have the energy to be exploring 2 locations every turn. Not only for the resources you get, but especially for reaching those few zones that haven’t been discovered yet and spread your lifeforms there. Also, the other abilities and passive allow you to make better use of oceanic locations, which, as I said, are very powerful.
– Craig Blake: his genetic modifications are extremely solid in order to spread your prestigious plants and animals more easily.
That’s it, thanks for reading!
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