Mars Horizon: “Very Hard” Difficulty Guide

A Guide For “Very Hard” Difficulty achievement.



Warning: beating very hard is all about being calculative and exploit what is advantageous in the game and push it to extreme. It is not going to be flavored as “realistic” space race.

The game have two kinds of resource: fund and research. But there is a difference: extra fund does not give any advantage as long as you have enough to execute missions while more research always get you to Mars faster. So the Mars landing race is simply reduced to:

Maximize Research Output while keep fund at sufficient level.

I rate missions in 4 metrics:

  1. [research-time-efficiency] Total research output / number of months it occupies a mission slot.
  2. [research-fund-efficiency] Total research output / fund cost.
  3. [support-time-efficiency] Total support output / number of months it occupies a mission slot.
  4. [support-fund-efficiency] Total support output / fund cost.

Ideally we fill our mission slots with research-time-efficient missions but limited by fund, we will also have to leverage research-fund-efficient missions and support-fund-efficient missions. Support-time-efficiency is not of much value.

Preparation – Agency Start Settings

Because it is not easy, you need an agency much stronger than the stock one. Here is the recommendation:

Agency Choice – China

You DO NOT HAVE TO choose China to beat very hard. It just makes it easier.

China is the best choice because of the ridiculous 8000kg moon landing payload. All other agency uses 45000kg payload. This means China could execute the moon landing mission with just medium launch pad and at a much lower fund cost. This gives Chinese moon landing the highest research-time-efficiency, support-fund-efficiency, support-time-efficiency and fairly good research-fund-efficiency.

(Telescope missions actually have much higher (almost twice higher) research-time-efficiency but its research output takes 10 years to fully realize which greatly reduce their practical value.)

  • Operation Specialist (+1 Mission Slot)
  • Pathfinders (-25% Research Costs for Missions)
  • Economical Construction (-20% Vehicle Build Cost)
  • Not Because It’s Easy (No milestone support bonus for 2nd and 3rd place)

“Operation Specialist” is the strongest perk in the game. Even when you do not have enough fund to utilize all mission slots, more slots allows you to increase training time to increase output and also allows you to choose research-fund-efficient missions over research-time-efficient ones.

“Pathfinders” is selected because mission research is going to be the lion’s share of total research spending.

“Economical Construction” is debatable and may be replaced by “Economical architecture” as I did calculate the exact gain for the two. But never the less it should be enough.

“Not Because It’s Easy”, if you choose to always load game for every failure, you could replace it with “Failure Not an Option”. But do note that you would need to restart from beginning if you do not load game at all and failed too many times.

Diplomatic Relation
  • Ally with Japan. (For the best contractors)
  • One Enemy. (+5% fund bonus)

Core Strategy – Gaming the System

The Rules

Our goal is clear – maximize research progress. The majority of research income comes from Request Missions, and these are what we want to optimize. And here is how request missions are generated:

  1. You only get a fixed number of Requests at the same time.
  2. Requests are only generated for Milestone Missions you have completed.
  3. Requests expire after a certain duration of time.

In a normal game, you would wait the unwanted requests to expire to get new ones. This, however, would usually result in empty mission slots which reduces your overall output. So in very hard you want to exploit rule #2: ONLY execute the efficient Milestone Missions which guarantee the requests you get are always efficient.

Milestones to Execute

ONLY execute the Milestones in the list.

  • RFE – Research-Fund-Efficiency
  • RTE – Research-Time-Efficiency
  • SFE – Support-Fund-Efficiency

(I will explain how they are calculated in the next chapter.)

(Optional) Artificial Satellite
Very Good
Recommend to skip due to poor RTE
Lunar Orbit
Very Good
Animal In Space
Extremely Good
Only 3 Request Missions, no refresh.
Satellite Imaging
Very Good
Commercial Satellite
Huge amount of fund.
Venus Impacter
Very Good
Venus Orbit
Very Good
Venus Impacter is a little better on everything.
Moon Landing
Extremely Good
Very Good
ONLY IF you run as China.
(Optional) The Grand Tour
Very Good
Very Poor
Extremely Good
Occupies slot for long time but worth it. Unlike Telescope / Neptune / Pluto missions. This does not come with Request Missions, which makes it more worth running. (You do not want request missions from long duration Milestone Missions because later in the game you do not have time to finish or fully realize the output.)
(Optional) 2 Telescopes Missions
Fair / Poor
Extremely Extremely Good
Very Poor
RTE is almost twice of Chinese Moon Landing on the paper but the research output takes 10 years to fully realize. Making it less attractive considering the high fund cost.
As you might notice, one additional advantage of these missions is that they do not require astronauts (except Chinese Moon Landing which is totally worth it), nor do them require Large Launch Pad. This saves you a lot of cash from building cost, maintenance and salary in middle game. (You do need both for end game Mars missions though)

Research Strategy

Because research is scarce, you want to skip unnecessary research items as much as possible. This means:

  • Give up all crewed missions research except final Mars Landing. (Except for Chinese Moon Landing)
  • Give up the whole space station research line (they are also crewed but just want to emphasize).
  • Give up unnecessary building and vehicle items. Do not research them just for Era bonus perk (Except for the Era I building research bonus which saves you a lot of fund in obstruction removal).

Execution – Devil’s in the Details


Before getting into execution details, here is some calculation which will later explain why we should do things the way we do. You can skip this section if not interested about WHYs.

Total Research output = Base Research Output * Difficulty Modifier * (1 + Perk Bonus + Building Bonus + Training Bonus + Contractor Bonus)

Mission Slot Occupation Time (MSOT) is the time a mission would occupy a mission slot.

Base MSOT (BMSOT) = Payload Build Time + Vehicle Build Time + Operation Time

Full MSOT (FMSOT) = BMSOT + Training Time + Contractor Vehicle Build Time Adjustment

(Operation Time is shown on “Overview” page of a mission, e.g. 1 month for earth and moon missions, 4-5 For Venus and 9-10 for Mars.)

Discounted Payload Cost = Payload Cost * (1 + Building Bonus + Agency Perk Bonus + Payload Random Perk Bonus )

Discounted Vehicle Cost = Base Vehicle Cost * (1 + Building Bonus + Agency Perk Bonus + Payload Random Perk Bonus + Contractor Bonus)

Total Fund Cost = Discounted Payload Cost + Discounted Vehicle Cost

Research-Fund-Efficiency (RFE) = Total Research Output / Total Fund Cost

Research-Time-Efficiency (RTE) = Total Research Output / Full MSOT

Mission Execution

As mentioned in the Prologue we will focus on increasing fund-efficiency and time-efficiency for research output. Our list already contain only the fund-efficient missions so support is of less concern.

We use these 2 contractors:

  • Astronautica [-30% Vehicle Cost] [+20% Vehicle Build Time]
  • Ito Industries [+20% Research] [+20% Vehicle Cost]

And we primarily use only Science Training for research bonus.

General Rules of Mission Execution:

  1. Maximize Science Training if there is a 100% Training bonus on payload.
  2. Maximize Science Training on missions of long BMSOT.
  3. No Training on mission of short BMSOT.
  4. Use Ito Industries on missions of short BMSOT or low Vehicle Cost.
  5. Use Astronautica on missions of long BMSOT or high Vehicle Cost.

Reasons: (Skip if not interested)

  1. This increase fund-efficiency and usually (depending on BMSOT) also increase time-efficiency because of the high bonus.
  2. This increases fund-efficiency while damage to time-efficiency is offset by the long BMSOT.
  3. Training would drag down time-efficiency too much.
  4. This might slightly reduce fund-efficiency but improves time-efficiency by a lot.
  5. Opposite of above.
Other Hints
Racing Milestones

1st place is possible for all the missions selected in the last chapter. The Venus Impacter might be a bit difficult but not too bad. The early ones are more worth it because they jump start your fund income which may form a positive feedback loop.

Mission Resolution

Manually resolve the in space execution mini-games to secure bonus will increase your chance to beat the very hard difficulty. It is of less significance once you reach mid-game, but definitely recommended for early game.

As China, it is pretty safe to start auto-resolving after Crewed Moon Landing. (With loading on resolution failure).

Event Decisions

Remember you have to maintain alliance with Japan (if you are not running as it) for its contractors.

You also have to maintain your enemy for fund bonus and try drive the other two into being your enemy for additional fund bonus.


2 Mission Control Expansion (5 Mission slots in total) should be enough. The 3rd Mission Control Expansion takes too much research but should be affordable if you like.

Robotics Research Lab is crucial to reduce your mission research expanse so get it early.

Mobile Launch Platform is useful but not necessary, I only get it after I finished mission and vehicle research.

Contractors Office is too expensive for mid-game in both fund and research. I usually do not get but if you are ahead in research and well-funded you could should consider it.

The End – Mars Horizon

Once you have unlocked all the selected milestones. The rest is just repeating the requests and proceed your mission research tree.

There are 4 optional and 2 mandatory prerequisite missions for the Final Mars Landing. The optional ones increase your payload reliability of the final mission. Only 3 out of the 4 are available to us because we abandoned the space station research line.

With a little luck + good fund management, you should have enough fund to execute the optional missions. However, with none of the optional missions executed your Mars landing payload reliability would be somewhere between 40%-60%, plus payload reliability training bonus. So it is just a little bit long short to beat the final with auto-resolve without executing any of the optional missions.

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Post Author: Robins Chew

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