The name “Surviving Mars” is a bit of a misnomer. Admittedly you do have to survive Mars, but when you hear a name like that, or at leadt when I first heard a name like that, it sounds super intense. Granted I’ve only played a few hours, with a pretty easy set-up, but it feels to me a lot more like Sim City Red or Cities: Marslines than the hardcore battle for the future of humanity that I was expecting. And you know what? That’s pretty cool.
When I first picked up Surviving Mars, I watched a tutorial on Youtube to prepare myself. Now, it does have a tutorial, but due to its connection to Paradox Interactive, whose tutorials I’ve never done well with, I didn’t think much of it. Which was silly, because the tutorial was amazing. Maybe because Paradox isn’t the developer? Anyway, the tutorial I watched kept reiterating the same point: do not aim for early self-sufficiency. Again and again it said that many tutorials will tell you to be self-sufficient, but that’s the wrong way to play. That Mars is an inhospitable wasteland, and aiming for self-sufficiency is a good way to create a downward spiral if something were to go wrong. You have lots of money, you have rockets to send goods from Earth, use them. I of course, scoffed at this, and my first little bit of playtime was aiming to be as self-sufficient as possible. In other colony-building games, self-sufficiency is a pretty early goal. And…it didn’t go too well. I never hit downward spiral level, but I did start running into some issues. Surviving Mars differs from most other colony builders in that, you know, you’re on Mars. The red, dusty, barren wasteland that doesn’t have a whole lot of resources, especially not in the early game when you don’t have a whole lot of technology suited to the challenges of the fourth planet. And, while I still haven’t gotten that far into things, I do think that my hubris early on has slowed things down a lot, and I’d be doing a lot better had I not waited so long to send out my fist resupply rocket. Oh well, live and learn.
Speaking of learning, I’ve made a bit of a commitment to not look at too much wiki or tutorial stuff as I progress through the game. Usually I go into that kind of thing pretty hard-core, but I’m really looking forward to learning this game on the fly. Most of my non-gameplay knowledge is coming from let’s plays, and they’re helping a lot as well. While I may not be figuring this stuff out while playing, I am still sort of learning things on the fly, because I’m seeing people like quill18 do things and thinking, “wow, that’s a really good idea.” One that most comes to mind is that you don’t need to build all that close together. At the start of the game you have a large section of the planet you can see, divided into a number of smaller sectors. As you progress in the game, you scan more sectors, revealing more resources and letting you know where to expand to next. For a long time, I was only scanning adjacent sectors, and only planning to expand nearby. Which I figured out by watching someone with much more experience, is kind of a silly move. Unscanned sectors aren’t off-limits, you just don’t know what’s there beyond a vague statement of “high in metals”. Which is actually really helpful. High in metals? Scan there! Figure out where those metals are! Expand there! Sure it’s far away, but…so what? From playing similar games (the “become self-sufficient ASAP” ones I mentioned earlier), I knew I needed to be creating redundant systems for things like water, power, and food anyway. If you’re on a barren wasteland of a planet, you don’t need those redundant systems to be all that dense. Go where the resources are, and you’ll be doing a lot better. Somewhere that already has people, yeah, you might want to stay closer together, but in a place with no one, that’s not always the best opportunity. As I write this, I’m still super densely populated, but I’ve been eyeing a juicy far-off sector for a while. I just need to get some droids over there to start prepping the area to be able to support actual humans. Eventually I’ll have ships I can use to transfer Martians from one community to the other, but it’s not something that needs to happen immediately. I built a new community from the ground up already, there’s no reason I can’t do it a second time.
As I’ve mentioned, my first run of Surviving Mars isn’t going super well. After all, I came in having played the tutorial, but still not really knowing what to do. Even the best tutorial out there will never give you what you get from actual gameplay experience. And you know what? I’m kind of excited at how poorly I’m doing. Creating the second community I mentioned earlier is going to be a lot of fun, especially seeing it grow while keeping my original community alive. I also can’t wait to start a new game, even though it’s probably not going to happen any time soon. I want to get a lot farther in my current game before I do anything like that. They’re kind of two types of excitement. This game, I’m excited to slowly learn things as I progress in my attempts to not die on this dusty, red wasteland. Next game, I’m excited to use what I’ve learned this game. Obviously I’m also using what I’ve learned right now, but I can’t wait to use that knowledge right from the beginning. No matter how much I use that knowledge now, I still handicapped myself in a number of ways beyond aiming for self-sufficiency and population density. I’ll do way better using that knowledge right off the bat than I will be using it as I learn it. Plus, I’ll be able to learn even more that I probably won’t be able to learn this game, because you need knowledge to get different knowledge. It’s a weird mix wanting to restart and wanting to continue that’s all based around learning, and it’s pretty cool. Learning a new game is always fun, but with Surviving Mars, that fun is turned way up. It’s even more turned up due to me not fully understanding what kind of game it was as I mentioned earlier. I’m a bit looking forward to the intense stuff, because even though I haven’t encountered it yet, I’m sure it is there. Even when the knowledge game slows down a bit, I think I’ll still enjoy Surviving Mars a lot. It’s quite a fun game. but I’m pretty certain I’ll be learning things for a very long time, and I’m looking forward to every new part of the game I figure out.