I have not yet had the pleasure of playing Terraforming Mars, designed by Jacob Fryxelius and published by Stronghold Games. But I have noticed that in addition to looking like a great game, Terraforming Mars seems to have arrived at the right cultural moment.
There are actually several games about Mars out this year. Portal Games has developed First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet, which is based on Ignacy Trzewiczek's already-successful island survival game, Robinson Crusoe. Martians: A Story of Civilization is another game in which humans/corporations work to develop resources and survive on Mars. Games with less buzz include Mission to Mars 2049 and Project Mars. These games all simulate survival on Mars and/or corporate involvement in making the planet habitable.
Why are we suddenly, collectively obsessed with games about colonizing the Red Planet? One possible explanation is the popularity of Andy Weir's 2011 novel, The Martian, which was turned into an also-popular film starring Matt Damon last year. More recently, Elon Musk's space colonization ideas have been all over news headlines and science blogs. Resource generation and management are already highly developed concepts in hundreds of games not set on Mars, so we may just be seeing a timely union of popular subject matter with popular mechanics.
I haven't played any of this year's Mars-themed games yet, but I also wonder if we're starting to use games about Mars to contemplate deeper issues. Just as talking about zombies makes us wonder what would happen if life as we know it fell apart, games about Mars may push us to think about what we would really want to bring with us if we had to leave home and rebuild. (I saw an image of the "pets" card from Terraforming Mars the other day and thought that it really wouldn't be the same without them!) In a world full of continued pollution, animal extinction, and vicious political battles about climate change, playing games about Mars may be a way for us to confront what really matters here on earth.
As for me, there is no way I am interested in going to space for real. Shots of ships moving through space in sci fi movies make me feel mildly uneasy. Watching Sandra Bullock in Gravity was so stressful that I will never repeat the experience. I'll just keep waiting for Terraforming Mars to come back in stock so I can hang out on Mars from the comfort of my own home.