A Guide for making Mars Horizon the most fun it can be, including set-up recommendations and playing techniques.
Maximum Fun while Playing on Hard / Guide for Settings, Strategies and Techniques
Like many, I really dove deeply into Mars Horizon once I discovered it (in my case through Skye Storme on YT). There are a lot of things that I wish I had known for my first play through, but discovered through 50 hours of experimentation. Most importantly: how to ‘set-up’ and enjoy the game for Maximum Fun (i.e. for a challenge but not pure frustration).
On the Achievements page it reads just .3% of players have won on ‘Hard Difficulty’ which is surprising. Here is a guide for new and intermediate players. It is a series of recommendations and suggestions for streamlining the ‘awesome’ parts of Mars Horizon, and still making it very challenging but not taking away the ability to roleplay and simply do the ‘cool’ things that are so fun about space exploration.
I) Settings: Always, Always play with the Pathfinder Science Trait
The most crucial element to creating Maximum Fun for Mars Horizon starts at the opening screen. Customizing your starting traits is simply a Must. As the current game stands, the second half of the game (especially the final third) can be a huuuge slog through the beaker requirements… The science totals (if you scroll down and look) for end game missions and vehicles are daunting. You ‘really' want to select Pathfinder as part of your Agency traits, for 25% reduction to Mission Branch Technologies (the longest, most crucial tree).
For perspective: When you finish the game’s final mission on Normal settings (let alone on Hard and Very Hard), your stats page will have over 500,000 total research, and if you meander a bit to do more outer planet missions, over 700,000. And half of your technologies will be in the mission tree. Reducing your overall research needed by 100K+ of science makes the game flow much better. Frankly, my suggestion (unless you really love a grind): do not play this game without the Pathfinder Science Trait. If you only want to play through Moon Landing (i.e. first quarter of the game) you can choose what you want.
Otherwise, you can mix and match traits as you see fit, but I recommend choosing Economical ones (reducing costs for vehicles or payloads) and also Team Player (increasing Joint Missions once you build Diplomacy Building) as these help the fun/grind balance. The most powerful trait after pathfinder science is the extra mission slot, and that’s very helpful in the first decade, especially.
II) Balance: Understanding The Cycle Playstyle
Unlike many games, Mars Horizon demands you continually cycle Accomplishments to earn its two currencies: Science and money. Buildings (which we will get to) supplement this, but do not provide independent resources. This means you ‘Constantly’ need to be planning cycles of accomplishments to make sure you do not stall yourself. And believe me, you will stall yourself in this game. You will mis-time a science mission and have no science with which to research a key vehicle, or no money to build that vehicle, and you’ll be pressing end turn for 18 months as you inch your way forward to get the resource you need. This game has no ‘loan system’ so if you do not properly hoard and properly cycle your resources, you will have long, long lulls as months tick by.
Remember this, particularly as you experiment and play. It is a fun challenge, but most ‘Fun’ once you comprehend what is expected of you. Otherwise, it’s depressing as hell to Race for a mission… and then with your fingers on the ledge, have to click Next Month ten times and lose all that advantage.
A Suggestion: It’s worth creating a Save File each January, i.e. every year. As you learn this game if you screw up (and you will screw up) the funds needed to build a vehicle, or the funds needed build a launchpad (or worse, not have researched the launchpad, not have saved any funds to do a research mission with which to then research and build the launch pad)... it’s okay to re-load and make sure you made a proper 18-month cycle plan, rather than grit your teeth and press Next Month 12 times before you can begin to catch up.
III) Managing Disaster: A Mental/Game Hurdle
This is a game where you can do everything right for 4 years to race for First in something, build something with a 97% success rate… and then simply watch it blow up, undoing all that work. I recommend establishing ‘re-load’ rules as you play.
For some? You may want to re-load any failed launch. For others? Maybe you set the re-load ‘barrier’ all the way up to 98% and above. A middle ground can be that you may only want to re-load a failed mission if you launched it at 95% or above (but keep a bad result if you launched at something more dangerous). Think on this.
This is crucial to ‘Fun’ while also enjoying the Danger of Space. If you never want to fail a mission? Okay, you can do that, but cutting corners and launching rockets with only 80% success chance while saving money or pushing bad mechanical parts? Not really the game, right?
On the other hand, do you really want to build a two-year mission payload/vehicle and spend extra money creating the safest possible launch condition and then have a critical failure explosion on a 99 of 98% Launch? Think hard if you do as you set-up the rules of your own game. Creating these rules will really help you balance The Danger of Rockets with the ‘danger’ of spending hours building a sandcastle only for someone to jog past and belly-flop on it :).
There’s so much to love about Mars Horizon, but there can definitely be some elements of Grind. And each player will have different feelings on what’s ‘good’ grind and what is ‘unfun’ grind. I hope this guide helps the crucial process of streamlining, custom-creating the right elements for Maximum Fun.
Personally, I love setting the AI Progress at Very Hard, The Missions at ‘Hard’, and then choosing resource difficulty at Hard or even Normal. I want to set-up my own gameflow and then try to play expertly with the doors I’ve left open; I prefer this to trying to make my own set-up incredibly difficult and then crushing stones into gravel through min-maxing.