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Surviving Mars - Tips and Tricks for 1000%+ Playthroughs

Written by Blake Walsh   /   May 8, 2019    
Surviving Mars - Tips and Tricks for 1000%+ Playthroughs

Turn 1000% difficulty into a walk in the park with a combination of sound strategy and a thorough understanding of game mechanics.

Other Surviving Mars Guides:

In General

This stuff is basic competence in colony management:

  • Every non-elder non-renegade colonist MUST have access to an infirmary or medical center at all times, meaning all 3 shifts should be manned, they don't have to be well-manned but shouldn't be missing. Infirmaries should have max priority.
  • Use Heavy Workload basically everywhere, but try to avoid doubling up sanity penalties (i.e. don't use Heavy Workload on Nightshift, unless it's worth driving the colonist to breakdown, which it might be...). A 1 man shift + Heavy Workload is unreasonably effective in buildings intended to use large shifts due to a quirk of how Heavy Workload stacks with worker performance.
  • Don't build stuff that requires advanced resources maintenance unless it's absolutely essential and/or you can easily afford to pay for it.
  • Don't provide gaming, luxury, gambling, drinking. Any colonist will be completely functional if provided with a Grocer, Diner, Infirmary and parks.

The Game Rules in Brief

For a 1000%+ playthrough you'll generally turn on every game rule which makes the game harder.For every game rule there are some management strategies that mitigates the pain of it:

  • Cold Waves: Build lots of solar panels and turn off night shift on your outdoors stuff during cold waves. Use heaters sparingly, but with large radius. Turn off sanity-abusing practices like Heavy Workload, Night Shift, Outdome work unless you have Medical Centers and/or proper Medics.
  • Dust Storms: During a dust storm turn off all your outdoors stuff to avoid bleeding resources to maintenance and ease back on sanity abuse (heavy workload, night shift). If you run low on oxygen or water, pulse life support once a sol, that prevents health damage. Farms (apples) and hydroponics (various) can fully oxygenate domes creating an island of good health in case oxygen completely runs out - they don't need proper staffing to provide full oxygen. Open Air Gym can repair health damage when Infirmary can't.
  • Twisters: They get deleted by domes and launchpads, even blueprints work. Also you can manually order a single drone to repair a rover, no need to risk sending out a Commander.
  • Meteors: Since they give free metal but destroy indiscriminately, focus on things that cost metal and metal maintenance (and later machinery maintenance). Scatter oxygen tanks and water tanks around - even with Cold Waves, a medium radius heater can allow very good scattering of water tanks.
  • Amatuers: Crack the whip with Heavy Workload especially for jobs that use specialists. Due to a quirk of how Heavy Workload works, 1 no-spec with Heavy Workload can often perform as much work as 3 no-specs without Heavy Workload. Basically every job that uses specialists must have Heavy Workload ticked, at least for day shifts.
  • Hunger: Research the Farm and/or Fungal Farm before landing colonists. Fungal Farms produce food continuously day and night and are the best way to recover from a food crisis. Heavy Workload. Also Open Air Gym can repair health damage even when a colonist is starving.
  • Slow rockets: Use Supply Pods instead whenever possible.
  • Inflation: Don't hesitate to spend your funds on advanced resources, prefabs and (advanced) probes, your funds will buy less in the future.
  • Rebel Yell: There's nothing you can do to stop "Rebel Yell" Renegades being generated other than having domes with high morale and very low population (15 or fewer), for every individual dome 20% of the colonists beyond the 15th become Renegades (i.e. in a dome with 30 population, there will be 3 renegades, but no more). You can choose whether to accept 20% of the population beyond the 15th being renegades, or slaughter them and rely on high birth rate for replacements.
  • The Last Ark: You pretty much need a birth rate or comfort bonus. Unduly value anything that gives extra comfort such as Vista landmarks and certain Techs, for example there's a tech that gives large comfort boost to Micro/Small/Barrel domes: unless you're more than happy with your population growth rate don't use a Medium or bigger dome. It can also be worth seeing if the tech that gives +10 passengers per rocket is available early in the tech tree.

Strong Sponsors and Commanders

There is one stand-out Sponsor and one stand-out Commander for hard game settings.

Church of the New Ark

The most important bonus the Church provides is +100% birth rate. In general if you make a reasonable yet cheap effort to make a dome comfortable, birth rate will be approximately replacement, meaning population barely grows. With Church, birth rate is massively above replacement.

Church has a second bonus: Religious Perk for all. This makes colonists significantly more productive in all roles (especially when Amateurs rule is in play), and perhaps more importantly provides immunity to suicide. It is quite easy to avoid health damage, but sanity damage is much harder to avoid. In practise, most deaths will be to suicide rather than running out of health and as such immunity to suicide is pretty close to immunity to dying. Practically speaking this means that Church colonists can be abused with reckless abandon without fear they'll start offing themselves in protest of their working conditions. For non-Church you must take more care to avoid too much sanity damage.

Basically the best criticism of any other Sponsor, is their colonists aren't superhumans unlike Churchies. In fact Church is the only sponsor with buffed colonists (not counting immunity to earthsickness, which is pointless) and both buffs are amazingly applicable to the hard game settings.

Finally the Church offers one of the highest difficulty bonuses, easily enough to get 1000%+. That's despite being one of the most robust sponsors for hard games!

The main weakness of Church is no starting sponsor research and very low starting funds. This can make the start slow, if you don't choose the City Mayor Commander to provide additional starting funds you're rather reliant on luck of the anomalies and tech RNG to actually get the game moving. You're not in any danger of losing though, it's just slow.

In general the Church will combine well with any Commander, though of course some Commanders are better than others.


Nearly the entire point of picking Ecologist is to unlock the Hanging Gardens spire. This spire provides massive amounts of comfort and requires zero workforce, in fact it provides comfort so effectively you can also skimp on other service buildings like the Diner and still have 90+ comfort in the dome. That saves several workers who can be employed doing other things.

By providing such a huge amount of comfort, birth rates will be well above replacement and that makes many Sponsors work much better than they otherwise would.

Ecologist is even considered a "hard" commander, with a difficulty bonus only surpassed by "Futurist".

The Hanging Gardens does consume quite a lot of water. But here's a fun fact: You can safely turn it off once comfort in the dome is high. Comfort only "decays" when a colonist can't satisfy a desire or suffers some other hit to comfort (i.e. from an Event). So once a colonist has 100 comfort, they can maintain that 100 comfort by visiting inferior service buildings like conventional parks. In practise, only colonists with difficult to satisfy desires like Gamers will suffer comfort decay. In short, there is very little consequence to turning the Hanging Gardens off a lot of the time.


In general, choosing a Sponsor+Commander pair other than Church + Anything or Anything + Ecologist is masochistic, not to say it can't be done, but it's going to be more tedious.

Strong and close to score-maximizing combinations (will easily allow 1000%+):

  • Church + Astrogeologist: Lots of good bonuses but the main reason for Astrogeologist is getting the deep anomalies early in the game, it typically really helps.
  • Church + Ecologist: For solving all your problems with a tidal wave of warm bodies.
  • Russia + Ecologist (especially with Space Race expansion): Much smoother start than Church due to more funds, generous sponsor research, a 2nd rocket, and most importantly the OP Driller in Space Race (the concrete extractor also doesn't hurt on concrete poor maps).

For non-score maximizing combinations:

  • Church + City Mayor: The extra 2 bil starting funds greatly smooths out the start and the reduced building maintenance is nice too.
  • China + Ecologist: Lots of starting funds and +10 extra population on the Last Ark.

The Applicants

I assume you are playing with Amateurs so professions do not enter it.

Unacceptable Traits

  • Elder, for obvious reasons (if I have to explain, because they don't work and don't breed making them useless arthritic meatbags).
  • Middle Aged, because tomorrow they'll be Elders.
  • Tourist, because they don't work (though you might consider a Sexy tourist, they do still breed!)
  • Nosex, you have no use for Attack Helicopters on Mars, everyone's gotta breed.

Acceptable Flaws

Anything the game labels a flaw is acceptable, including Idiot. Of course flaws are undesirable and all else being equal you should prefer flawless colonists, but you definitely should consider bringing along a Sexy Idiot, he or she will pump out way more new workers than a non-Sexy non-Idiot colonist (thankfully traits are not heritable, else that'd be a recipe for hilarity and disaster).

Some flaws are a bit worse than others, with Idiot and Coward probably being worst. That doesn't exclude them from consideration though.

Any flaw that causes a difficult to satisfy desire (i.e. Alcoholic -> Drinker) is less desirable because they'll suffer the odd comfort penalty for being unable to meet their desire. It's not a huge deal, but it is worth mentioning that Idiots and Cowards do actually make better breeders than Alcoholics.

Desirable Flaws

Chronic Condition and Hypochondriac are actually kind of useful as they encourage the colonist to visit the Infirmary and keep on top of their sanity losses, and you MUST have infirmaries working all shifts at all times even if you don't have colonists with these flaws.

Undesirable Perks

Gamer is undesirable because you can't afford to provide gaming and so the colonist will suffer the odd -10 comfort. It's minor though, just treat it like alcoholic.

The Perks to Pick For

Breeder Picks:

  • Sexy: What's better than colonists? More colonists! And sexy colonists make more colonists. It's the best trait a colonist can have, especially if you're using Hanging Gardens to take care of all comfort needs.
  • Hippie: They gain more comfort from parks which makes them better breeders.
  • Party Animal: They gain comfort when socializing, which makes them better breeders.

Worker Picks:

  • Religious: The morale boost is a really quite significant bonus to production especially in specialist jobs, and immunity to suicide is awesome.
  • Composed: Halved sanity damage basically means immune to breakdowns and suicide, as long as you have infirmaries.
  • Workaholic: Not only do they work much harder than a normal colonist being worth almost half a specialist in any role, they don't suffer penalties under Heavy Workloads! Since you should use Heavy Workload pretty much everywhere, these guys are great.


A Youth has a longer useful life than an Adult and will breed more replacement workers, Youth isn't as good as Sexy in terms of breeding potential, but it's definitely worth something.

And there are a bunch of perks that aren't worth selecting for because they don't enhance breeding or survivability, but are good as tie-breakers, like Nerd and Enthusiast.

Not relevant:

Survivor, Rugged seem like they should be useful, but honestly if you have basic competence as a colony administrator they are never going to come into play.

My Founders Selection Process

  • Clear all filters.
  • Thumbs Down Elder, Middle Aged and Tourist
  • Thumbs up Sexy, Hippie, Party Animal, Religious, Composed, Workaholic, Youth
  • Thumbs up Female and Thumbs Down Male and Nosex
  • Padlock the 6 sexiest and hardest working ladies.
  • Thumbs down Female and Thumbs up Male
  • Padlock the 6 sexist and hardest working men.

Random Survival Tips and Tricks

Delete leaks

When you spring a leak and can't afford to waste the resources, immediately delete the pipe or cable and replace it with a new one. As luck would have it, replacement costs 1 metal, and repair costs 1 metal: but deletion avoids loss of resources from tanks.

Delete Dust Devils

Dust Devils are Deathly Afraid of Domes, they will also be deleted when they try to cross a Launchpad. Even blueprints of Domes and Launchpads work to erase Dust Devils from existence. It's up to you whether you plaster the map in dome blueprints or use blueprints as tactical anti-Twister nukes, but I would at least highly recommend "guarding" rovers with dome blueprints.

Assuming direct control

Drones can be selected and manually ordered to do nearly any job, including building, repairing and often delivering resources. When rovers get disabled in the field you should manually order a drone to recharge, then manually order it to repair the rover (I recommend pinning the drone, so you can keep track of it). Drones do not need a controller to be able to receive direct orders, for example if you have a remote explorer in an inaccessible region that gets disabled, you could repair it by supply podding a single drone and ordering it to repair the Explorer.


Supply Pods are almost always a better choice than Rockets for delivering cargo. This is because Supply Pods arrive much faster, can land during Dust Storms and perhaps most importantly aren't subject to events that can cause the loss of the rocket and/or its precious cargo.

What? But I gave you oxygen yesterday

If your life support is running low and there is still much Dust Storm left to go, shut off a tank and pulse a little life support each sol, that will prevent health damage which requires a resource be missing for about 24 hours continuously (both the exact timing and damage is randomized, so that everyone doesn't drop dead simultaneously, to be safe pulse every 12 hours). So far as sanity damage goes, it occurs pretty much the moment the resource cuts off but there's no more sanity penalty until the next sol, so once a life support resource cuts off you can leave it off for a while with no additional penalties to sanity or health.

Token services

When a colonist is totally unable to satisfy a service, they suffer a -10 comfort hit. If they can satisfy a service, no matter how poorly, they do not suffer a comfort hit. I touched on this earlier on The Hanging Gardens, Colonists maintain their current comfort level if they can satisfy their desire at all regardless of how bad it is. In practise this means you can and should provide very shoddy, under-staffed services. Examples: Providing 1 employee for infirmary night shift, non-heavy workload to save sanity, the service sucks but it's way better than nothing, same for diner, prefer an understaffed and crappy shift over no shift. Provide parks and an open air gym in a tunnel-connected microdome, due to passage penalty colonists don't gain much benefit from visiting these, but it totally avoids the penalty for the service being entirely missing and these don't have a high service comfort anyway so probably aren't going to boost comfort.

Survival of the Fittest

Infirmaries can't heal colonists who are suffering from suffocation, dehydration or starvation. But Open Air Gyms can, and they heal a lot of health per visit. Alas only colonists with an interest in Social or Exercise will attend. Other colonists won't visit the Gym even if their life quite literally depends on it (which is disturbingly realistic). This is mainly a last resort for the desperate but it's well worth having in your bag of tricks and can prolong the life of Gym rats by several sols or even indefinitely depending on how much life support is missing.

Playgrounds are Magical

Playgrounds are basically like Open Air Gyms, but for sanity instead of health. All children visit playgrounds and each visit they gain massive amounts of sanity (and comfort too!), so even if the world is falling apart with dust storms and cold waves and life support cutting off half the time, the children are all going to be pretty much 100% sane and grow up into 100% sane youths ready to man infirmaries and help all the adults through their mental breakdowns (the playgrounds also help keep children out of the infirmaries). As if that weren't enough, Playgrounds also award random perks and almost entirely prevent your new youths having flaws like Idiot. Playgrounds are much more potent than Schools and much cheaper (though you can use Playgrounds and Schools together).

We don't need no education

Really, you don't need Schools or University. No problem can't be solved with warm bodies and Heavy Workload, though it helps if those warm bodies have passed through a Playground so they aren't actual Idiots. It's really not worth investing in education until you have an electronics factory.

Rebel without a cause

The Rebel Yell game rule inextricably converts colonists into renegades no matter how high or low their morale is. When it's time for some poor sod to become a renegade, the game always picks the colonist in the dome with the lowest morale. You may as well grind colonists into the dirt and break them, so the Rebel Yell algorithm can claim the victims of your abuse instead of happy productive colonists. The good news is Youths, fresh from a carefree existence of playgrounds are nearly 100% immune to the siren call of Rebel Yell and it mainly takes your most useless colonists, especially bitter old people.

"Broken Dome"

If you get this event, normally it's best to choose to sacrifice colonists to repair it. This will result in the death of 2 colonists. If you don't go that route, be prepared to either spend up to 50 polymers repairing cracks OR shut down and deconstruct the dome if the dome and its contents aren't worth 50 polymers.

"The Bomb"

If you get this event then take the money! You're already setup to weather the consequences.

Rebel Yell

Along with The Last Ark, Rebel Yell is probably one of the most game-changing rules.

Here is how it works:

  • Children are ignored for the purpose of the Rebel Yell algorithm.
  • The first 15 colonists are not forced to become renegades, this means very small domes offer protection from Rebel Yell.
  • For colonists beyond the 15th, up to 20% are forced to become renegades.
  • Progress towards the next renegade is at a flat rate independent of dome population, this means that a micro dome with 30 population will create renegades at the same rate as a mega dome with 300 population. This means large domes offer protection from Rebel Yell.
  • Once the dome has accumulate enough renegade progress, the colonist living in the dome with the lowest morale (regardless of how low or high that is) is converted into a renegade.

Here are some ways to manage Rebel Yell:

  • Use very small populations of 15 or fewer if you really don't want renegades in the dome.
  • Later, use large populations to limit the rate renegades are created per population.
  • You can choose to just tolerate 20% of the population beyond the 15th being renegades, it doesn't get worse than that and prevents more colonists becoming renegades.
  • Or you can send renegades off to a seperate dome to be slaughtered, this will result in new renegades being created so it's not all sunshine and rainbows but if your birth rate is high it works very well.
  • As far as I know, in the un-modded game there is only one way to cure renegades. You need to send a lot of them off to a dome and wait for that dome to declare independence (Event). Leave it for a while and eventually it will rejoin your colony (Event) and the renegades in the dome are cured.

Written by Blake Walsh.