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Terraforming Mars movie or TV show would be ‘between The Martian and The Expanse’, feature original characters and involve board game’s creators

Executive behind upcoming screen adaptation offers some first ideas of what to expect.

Image: Cobalt Knight

One of the executives behind Terraforming Mars’ upcoming screen adaptation has teased some first details of what a movie or TV show based on the acclaimed board game might look like.

Christopher Kaminski is co-founder of production company Cobalt Knight, which acquired the screen rights to designer Jacob Fryxelius’ 2016 board game last year. The initial announcement said that the planned adaptation would look to explore the ideas of colonialism, capitalism and ecological balance seen in the board game as players’ megacorporations compete to adapt the Red Planet for human settlement.

“It reminds me of the stories I read about the California Gold Rush days, as well as the Age of Enlightenment when European monarchs sought to expand their influence around the world,” Kaminski told Dicebreaker. “As the old saying goes, ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.’”

Speaking about the forthcoming project, Kaminski said that the interaction between the corporations - which must work together to make the planet habitable, while also looking to one-up their rivals and score victory points by developing advanced technology - would remain central to any screen adaptation.

“There are many elements to consider [in order to keep the adaptation faithful to the tabletop game],” he said. “The first thing that jumps to my mind is maintaining the flavour of the different companies and organisations. Each of them has a different guiding philosophy that creates a unique vision for the future of Mars.

“The type of person who takes a job at Saturn Systems wouldn’t likely be happy at Interplanetary Cinematics. But it’s fun to imagine the kinds of conversations - and arguments - that people from those two companies might have when they get together. That kind of scenario provides a seed for dramatic tension that we might explore in our adaptation.”

How to play Terraforming Mars

While a Terraforming Mars movie or series would necessarily depict the player-controlled companies seen in the board game, Kaminski - a former video game producer with credits on titles including Sonic the Hedgehog - said that a screen adaptation would likely introduce original characters in order to craft a stronger narrative for viewers.

“[In the board game,] the players are routinely involved in making macroeconomic decisions that will affect broad swaths of humanity,” he explained. “However, most great stories focus on the struggles of a few individuals.

“You might notice that most video game adaptations have identifiable main characters: Sonic the Hedgehog, Lara Croft, Mario and Nathan Drake. Terraforming Mars doesn’t have that equivalent. So, our challenge is to create fascinating characters who are put into situations where the outcome reflects the wide-reaching implications that players face in the game.”

Whereas the board game portrays the evolution of Mars over several generations in a single playthrough, a screen adaptation would also need to condense the period of time covered.

“In order to tell a compelling story for television or film, we need to narrow the scope of our timeline,” Kaminski said.

A close-up image of the board for Terraforming Mars

Asked how an adaptation of Terraforming Mars would compare to the numerous films, television series and other media that have examined both the scientific aspects of human settlement and the political and economical factors involved - from The Martian to The Expanse - Kaminski insisted that the game’s setting would offer something new.

“In my mind, the story of Terraforming Mars begins in the early days of major corporations arriving on Mars,” he said. “That puts our story in a unique point on the ‘speculative future timeline’.

“This story would start decades after the first arrival of scientists as depicted in The Martian, and generations before Mars becomes the superpower depicted in The Expanse. One of the things that makes this time period so interesting to me is that we would have a generation of native Martians who were born and raised on the planet. They know how things work on an instinctual level. But now there is a massive influx of newcomers equipped with money and power who don’t necessarily appreciate the hard-earned practical wisdom of the locals.”

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While there is currently no confirmed production timeline or expected release date for the Terraforming Mars adaptation, Kaminski confirmed that the board game’s family-run publisher Fryxelius Games - which includes designer Jacob, artist Isaac and co-developer Enoch - would be involved with its transformation for the screen, big or small.

“We have seats at the table for the Fryxelius family to be involved,” he said. “While we are tasked with creating something new, we are first-and-foremost stewards of their creation. I wouldn’t dream of adapting this game without their input. The details of that involvement haven’t taken shape yet, but that’s more a factor of timing than anything else. After all, the Fryxelius family is quite busy running a successful board game company!”

Kaminski added that - if successful - the adaptation could potentially spawn a wider Terraforming Mars franchise, but made clear that making its first screen appearance as good as possible is the priority for the moment.

“We naturally have grand ambitions for the future,” he said. “It’s easy to imagine sequels and spin-offs, t-shirts, action figures and theme park rides. But it’s extremely dangerous to indulge those fantasies at this point.

“Everyone at Cobalt Knight is focused on making this first adaptation something we would be excited to watch even if we weren’t involved in the production. Once we are successful in that goal, we can daydream about what comes next.”

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About the Author
Matt Jarvis avatar

Matt Jarvis

Editor-in-chief

After starting his career writing about music, films and video games for various places, Matt spent many years as a technology, PC and video game journalist before writing about tabletop games as the editor of Tabletop Gaming magazine. He joined Dicebreaker as editor-in-chief in 2019, and has been trying to convince the rest of the team to play Diplomacy since.

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