I played Terraforming Mars again this weekend and my impressions of it weren't much changed from the first two times. The game is well themed, well made, and has some stuff in it that bothers me. I still don't like the way a lot of the cards punish other players because they so often have no choice in who they attack. Letting players punish the leader is one thing, but having lots of cards that will usually only be able to attack one target means that the game feels really capricious.
I am not going after the game's balance here; I don't have enough knowledge to do that. I am just talking about enjoyment and feel. The cards that destroy stuff suck as far as I am concerned but I am sure if they all went out of the game the balance would massively shift. My best first guess is that plants would become completely the dominant strategy if the meteors that blow up plants were removed and I don't think that is a good thing.
The other thing that bothered me was the drafting element. Lots of the time I would open a pack of four cards and see nothing much interesting for me so I would simply hate draft the the the next player needs. I would often see two good cards I couldn't use so I would make sure to take the one the next player needs so that they would hate draft against the player after them. This honestly isn't much fun. Having players talk about the great cards they took from you while you go turn after turn not seeing the stuff you need is crappy. They usually aren't even using the cards either, just tossing them away into the trash.
The drafting part of the game also adds a lot to the duration. With quick drafters it wouldn't be much of an issue but in all the games I played I am sure the draft added on most of an hour to the game time all in all.
I thought of a couple ways to address these concerns. The simplest way to speed up the game is to simply not draft and just deal each player four cards. That reduces the skill component a little but would definitely speed things up so overall I think that is a better way to play. There is another solution though which doesn't speed the game up but which does mean that each player would be more likely to get cards they want and you would be a lot more likely to find the big payoff cards for the strategy you are employing. The idea is that you pay for cards as soon as you draft them rather than waiting until the end of the draft and tossing cards out if you don't want them.
Right now you draft one card from each pack and usually pay to keep 1-2 of them. The rest go in the garbage. I would rather a system where you must pay for any card you draft at all. Each pack would still go around the table once and you could only take 1 card from a pack when it passes you but you don't have to take a card, and if you do take one you must pay your 3 bucks for it. This would mean that hate drafting would have a real cost, and while it sometimes would be worth it to spite people out of their cards you wouldn't end up just spiting everything by reflex. I don't think we need to eliminate hate drafting completely, I just want to tilt the game towards positive drafting that builds your own strategy and away from constant hating.
I suspect this alternate game style would inflate scores. You would have some money that just gets thrown out of the game when people draft and pay for cards they can't use at all but people would get their big payoff cards substantially more often and would end up with higher scores overall. More relevantly though I think you would see new and/or weaker players actually get to have their strategies work out. They wouldn't be so penalized for not knowing exactly what their opponents are doing (because hate drafting has a much larger cost) and they would end up with their cool stuff more often.
I really like the idea of people getting to finish off their strategies more and I am completely willing to give up some skill emphasis to achieve this. I also think it would be a better game to teach and people just starting would enjoy it more.
I guess it says something that I have so many issues with the game and yet I am invested in trying to improve it; Terraforming Mars certainly does some things right, just not quite enough things.