Eric and I played Mars Colony. We hadn’t ever played anything together; we set the game up on the Adept Play discord. I played the Savior Kelly Perkins, and Eric played the Governor role.
I’ve played Mars Colony once before, about a decade ago, at a convention. My memory of that game is dim, but I recall play being more difficult than I expected from reading the text.
That was my experience with this instance of play as well; we had difficulty in making the situations local, physical, and concrete, as opposed to abstract–we often had characters phoning one another, or chatting online, interacting in a virtual space, video calling, etc. Prep, along with figuring out the technical issues inherent in me making a video for the first time (which didn’t work out; I only found out after getting ready to edit the video that I managed to somehow not record Eric’s voice at all, so the video is useless as an example of play), took about an hour, and as the book says, generated quite a bit of inspirational material. I was very interested in not only my own but Eric’s political fears and felt they provided a lot of good grist for exploration.
But we had a hard time incorporating that inspirational material in concrete ways. We used it, for sure, giving characters political parties that affected (somewhat) their relationships and opinions and letting the Fear cards color interactions and description. But when it came time to frame a scene, from my perspective it felt like mostly having to come up with situations ex nihilo. It was a lot of heavy lifting, and we discussed afterward how we felt that the game kind of foists this on the players without much support, telling us, basically, to frame a good scene, which isn’t much help. That heavy lifting wore on me a bit as the game went on, and by the time the game ended, I was pretty ready to be done.
The game starts off with a vignette, narrated by the Savior player (me), about Kelly coming to Mars Colony. Whether because the game starts this way and primes us, or because we were a bit lazy in rigorously following the rules, we found ourselves slipping back into vignette mode often when framing scenes. I noticed this and called out that we should define a place and a time and people in the scene, and we got better about actually framing scenes and not pre-describing conflict. However, it was still difficult to make scenes that felt concretely grounded in a place, and in an ongoing situation.
We did have a few of these, and they always felt like breaths of fresh air — describing the sandstone-ish, reddish concrete made up of reconstituted planet surface (a nice detail that Eric introduced with a question and then politely attributed to me the rest of the game); the walks that Kelly would take on the outskirts of the city, looking out past the dome; the poisonous gas that would fail to be filtered out by shoddy systems, causing the populace to shamble around sleepily. But they were few and far between, and for my part it often felt like the material generated in the beginning of the game, before the play of scenes began, never helped us very much in this regard.
Additionally, since the game is about politics, it was hard to come up with varied scenes; it felt like opposition and progress always had to boil down to Kelly convincing someone in power to do something, or trying to come up with legislation, or doing a backroom deal. Essentially, every scene was two or three talking heads in a boardroom, although the boardroom may have been a cafe or a phone call or a chatroom or a walk around the dome.
Okay, though, so what about play examples? I was hoping the recording could do the heavy lifting for me, but no such luck. Here’s a little bit, and if people have questions, we can get into more examples:
In the second scene of the game, I framed a Progress Scene, trying to get the Earth Coalition and the Mayor’s Office together to help solve Mars Colony’s funding issue. I accumulated 21 points on my first two rolls, making great progress: the Mayor’s Office was going to (if I recall) sell some requisitioned property, and the Earth Coalition could squeeze the World Bank for money. I figured I was rolling; why not keep on? Of course, on my next roll I rolled a 1, and lost everything. This early in the game I chose not to create a Deception, opting for the loss of points and the point of Contempt. Eric turned this into a very cool bit about how Kelly found out the funding from the Earth Coalition was, essentially, drug money, and I had Kelly refuse the funding, worried that if she accepted it, it could cause scandal later (which, mechanically, it very much could).
Kelly had a druggie son who we had some personal scenes with but who didn’t become a large or consequential part of the story — she met him at his drug den; they were both standoffish (she didn’t seem like much of a mother), scene over. He got arrested for public disturbance (found naked in a fountain with a couple of ladies), she tried to keep it off the news and had him stay at her place, scene over.
Speaking of Personal Scenes, but I think also Opposition scenes, we discussed after the game the feeling that we had little support for when to end scenes. Thinking back, I don’t know that this was really an issue — we always came to a clear spot and were able to agree on cutting a scene pretty easily, every time. I think the real issue we may have been misdiagnosing was finding the compelling conflict in a scene.
>When the game ended in scandal, me having one point of Contempt and Three in Deception, then rolling a (1, 3), causing a Scandal, I immediately gained one point of Contempt, then all my Deception became Contempt, which meant I had five Contempt, triggering Endgame in the middle of the sixth progress scene (out of the max of 9, after which endgame is automatically triggered). In this scene Kelly was trying to do a deal with the Communist powers of earth, going around the Earth Coalition in a backroom deal to get them to support her education initiatives. It, of course, blew up in her face, and she left in disgrace, unsure if she was going to be arrested or brought before Congress when she returned to Earth. We saw a brief flash of her son at the end, as the paparazzi waited at her apartment; he was passed out in her apartment; he had been living with her and his dissolute ways were unchanged.
The Colony itself was failing, with profiteering manufacturers not much interested in using their fat contracts to upkeep the atmosphere systems which were constantly straining, causing the populace to be always breathing thin air, tired, undereducated, with little will to effect change.