Surviving Mars Guide: Mission Sponsor & Commander Overview
The starting settings make all the difference in the world in Surviving Mars. Sure, they matter in most other city builders -- but for most, the starting settings boil down to terrain adjustment.
Here on Mars, your mission settings affect just about everything: the goods to bring with you on your first touchdown on Mars, the way your Colony is going to grow in its infancy to full-on human settlement, and what you're able to do at a given time.
Getting started with a new mission (not an Easy Start) requires that you choose your mission sponsor, the commander to head your new Colony, and the coordinates your very first rocket is to make its home. All three are important, but the first two are especially so.
This guide covers each of the mission sponsors and commanders you are able to choose from and details their benefits and detractors. It's pretty clear not every option is equal, and that's part of the fun. The differences between these options make each mission play in a unique manner, and there is certainly a sponsor + commander combination for you.
Choosing a Mission Sponsor
The sponsor you choose can make or break a mission, depending on your personal playstyle. Each sponsor caters to a particular way to play, aside from the International Mars Mission and USA sponsors. These two are as middle-of-the-road as it gets.
We're going to take a look at each of the sponsors you have to choose from, as each one's individual facets have significant impacts on gameplay at all stages.
International Mars Mission
This sponsor is recommended to new players for a reason. You will be able to bring a vast amount of items with you to start, and will be able to place huge cargo rocket orders once the time comes. The downside? There is no downside.
The International Mars Mission is labeled as "very easy" for a reason. It has minimal rocket management, your Colonists won't have any Food shortages early on if you plan a bit, and you have a very large funding pool.
I would absolutely recommend this sponsor for your first few missions while you're learning to play, but experienced city builder players will quickly find this sponsor makes the game a cakewalk.
I'd consider this to be a more moderate variation of the (frankly) overpowered International Mars Mission. You don't get the big chunk of money, four rockets, and other benefits you'd get with the previous sponsor; but you do still get that sweet 70,000kg payload.
USA is a good choice if you absolutely want to start with a few prefabs and all three RC varieties, or you just want some wriggle room to start off with. The additional funding down the line is also a pretty nice bonus, as you may get a little carried away with the big payloads.
Essentially, going with USA is similar to the International Mars Mission in that it's safe and easy, but it's not so easy that you don't have to prioritize Fuel and/or Food early on.
Blue Sun Corporation
Another easy sponsor, the Blue Sun Corporation has even fewer starting rockets than USA, and its payloads are a bit smaller (sitting at the standard 50,000kg). It also only grants 100 research per Sol.
The real draw to this sponsor is the potential for longterm profits off Rare Metals, and being able to invest in rapid but controlled growth later down the line via the purchase of applicants and rockets. You can also make up for its lack of base research via outsourcing.
The Blue Sun Corporation is still labelled as easy, but its true benefits are seen further down the line than the two previously shown sponsors.
China isn't too far off from USA in terms of benefits. It offers the same number of starting rockets and a middling amount of research between USA and Blue Sun Corporation.
The big difference between this sponsor and the aforementioned ones is the unbridled Colony growth that comes with it, from the very first Colonist rocket you order. You'll essentially have to build even your first dome to accommodate double the amount of Colonists you'd get with anyone else.
The plus side to having China as a sponsor is you can get those extractors and other buildings that require workers up and running faster than you can with other sponsors, provided you plan accordingly.
Finally, we're in the "normal" difficulty range. India fits it perfectly.
The India sponsor has a reasonable funding pool, and its building cost benefit is hard to ignore. Its one real drawback lies in the meager 100 research per Sol.
There isn't much to say about this sponsor, but you should learn to be chummy with outsourcing research if you do choose to go with India. It's easier to outsource with the Blue Sun Corporation at the start due to its high funding amount, but it's something you have to budget early with this sponsor.
If you like to rush technologies in 4X games, Europe will probably be the sponsor for you.
Europe only gives you two rockets to start, and its funding is on the lower side, but it rakes in the research and gives you double the technology choices to start.
If the above wasn't enough, the additional funding upon research completion is just the icing on the cake. All of these factors combined give you a strong tech-based sponsor with some real longevity.
You start with five rockets here? Is this a typo? Answer: No! Unfortunately your starting funding is rather low.
The trade-off for the low funding lies in the cheaper advanced resources. Paired with the additional rockets, you can ship in those pesky Polymers, Machine Parts, and Electronics early on rather than focusing on getting their production started.
This sponsor is great for slow-starting players who want to take it easy. You can just order advanced resources for quite some time, and starting with five rockets means you don't need to start producing Fuel as soon as you would for missions with other sponsors.
If you do choose to go with SpaceY as your sponsor, you may want to prioritize getting Rare Metal extraction up and running to get some income rolling in.
Church of the New Ark
You start with one rocket, and you don't gain any research. The Church of the New Ark kind of sucks -- which is why it's classified as hard.
This is a good sponsor if you want to start a mission with some real challenge. You'll have to rely entirely on outsourcing for your research, but you don't have much money to work with, and the selling price for Rare Metals is quite low. And let's not even get into your Colonists giving birth at an accelerated rate along with the stilted Food production.
All you need to know about this sponsor is that it appears to purely be for gimmicky challenge purposes. If you want a traditionally difficult sponsor, go with Russia.
The last mission sponsor is certainly not least, as the Church of the New Ark has the very "worst" position hogged all to itself. Russia is difficult, but manageable.
The initial two rockets, meager $5,000M funding, and longer rocket travel time are drawbacks -- but the reasonable 200 research per Sol, $22M Rare Metal price, and Fuel-oriented changes make this a sturdy but hard to use sponsor.
Using Russia makes the game far more Fuel-oriented than otherwise, which requires a strong system of water extraction in order to snowball into further strengthened extraction of other resources.
Choosing a Commander
Your commander decision isn't quite as important as the mission sponsor one, but it's still not one to be made lightly. You may find that some commanders will benefit the way you personally play, while the effects of some others may not help you at all.
Be sure to read these and choose wisely.
This is a very reasonable commander for most missions since drones do all the heavy lifting for your Colonies. The reductions in Drone Hub Power and maintenance costs are a big benefit as well and reduce the need for direct Power management.
This one seems underwhelming at a glance, but the high value of Fuel makes the Oligarch one of the better commander options.
The Argology spire can house up to 32 Colonists and boasts a high comfort level, but consumes 20 Power and has a 4 Polymer maintenance cost.
Water has a number of uses, whether for the good of your Domes or processing Fuel. The Hydro Engineer's benefits end up indirectly benefiting both, as the struggle for Water is far less trying with this commander.
The Water Reclamation System this commander brings to the table recycles up to 70% of the Water a Dome consumes, with a 3 Machine Part maintenance.
The Doctor commander is a good choice if you know you're going to want a heavier population of Mars-born colonists or the sponsor you've chosen isn't exactly rolling in free rockets.
Pairing this with the Church of the New Ark sponsor is an interesting challenge.
If you're worried about your Colonists losing their minds or demanding they go back to Earth, this isn't a bad commander option. This is a decent choice if you specifically want to start mass-migrating Colonists to Mars at some point.
The Sanatorium consumes 20 Power and requires 2 Polymers for maintenance.
This is simply a great commander when paired with one of the sponsors that grants little funding, especially with Europe, as that is the one sponsor that grants additional funding on completed research.
The Politician is a very middling commander. Extra funding is always nice, but there may be other aspects of running a Colony that worry you more.
My personal opinion of this commander is that it is one of the worst. Breakthrough techs are not common, and Sensor Towers only require 2 Power to run and 1 Metal for maintenance. Nearly any other option is more useful than this one.
Another commander with its focus on your Colonists rather than infrastructure.
The Ecologist paired with the Hanging Gardens grants +40 Comfort to every residence in the Dome. Just be aware it requires 2 Water to run.
This is more of a mid- to late-game commander, but its biggest benefit is clear: the 10% increase on extraction.
The worth of the Astrogeologist really depends on your playstyle, much like most of the others.
If you're worried about your sponsor's starter rocket amount, the Rocket Scientist may be a good commander choice for your Colony. Also starting with a Shuttle Hub is amazing.
The Shuttle Hub itself can house Shuttles between sections of your Colonies. It also conveniently refuels them. This isn't the most useful building early in a mission, especially with its high costs and Fuel consumption, but it becomes a lifesaver once you have to start to branch out.
Don't be afraid to try different combinations of mission sponsors and commanders to find what fits your needs best. One of the best aspects of Surviving Mars is the flexibility it provides, so make good use of it.