My first game of Mars Colony

Lately, I’ve been reevaluating role-playing games a lot for two players after trying out S\lay W\Me. This time it’s Mars Colony by Tim C. Koppang.

I played two games, once as the Governor and once as the Savior. I’ll report the first one here, which I consider one of the best games I’ve played this year. (I’ve played as Governor and my girlfriend as the Savior). The second one will come later, but I anticipate that it impressed me a little less.

In the first game, I played as the Governor, and Kelly Perkins was a female character.

We started by filling out the fear cards, which help introduce prompts during the game, and we followed the guidelines in the manual. The result was as follows:

  1. The government doesn’t take responsibility for deaths during migrations and lets people die in the sea.
  2. The recent decree on labor liberalization is another example of how my government disappoints people.
  3. Government members hide racism behind the facade of the need to reverse birth rates.
  4. Government members are willing to spread fake news for their own benefit.
  5. This worsens things when they cut taxes at the expense of public finances.
  6. This government is concerned about the well-being and health of children only when they are unborn, after which it disregards education.

We shuffled and drew cards 1 and 5. These inspired two of the game’s indicators. (Later, we drew 4 for inspiration.)

We chose Funding, “The Others,” and Population as issues for the colony.

We played three parties and chose:

Dominant: Blue Party, guided by the Sweden Democrats.
Minority: Yellow Party, guided by the Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement, an Italian populist movement).
Fringe: Red Party, guided by “Potere al Popolo” (extreme left-wing Marxist Italian party).

In this game, Kelly was an expert sociologist specialising in demography. She moved from the far-left to the centre of the political spectrum, transitioning from the Red to the Yellow party.

The Savior determined that their Sympathy was Spouse, Politically Powerful. They named themselves Jan Walghram and decided that they were on Mars as the Savior because Kelly’s husband recommended using them as a puppet under his command. The excuse was that Kelly, in this game, belonged to a minority party and, therefore, was a good figurehead. Kelly married this man for convenience: she supported him during his doctorate and helped him secure a university position through her political connections. At the beginning of the game, everyone underestimated her for this reason.

I won’t summarize every event, but I’ll focus on three emerging issues:

Mars Colony worked when Kelly’s personal dilemmas merged with her political efforts.

Mars Colony is extremely educational in showing the complexity of politics—there are no simple solutions to complex problems.

I felt Mars Colony working when Kelly sees the impact of her choices on people and takes responsibility for them.

Regarding the first point, the game took off for us when Kelly decided to take a stance. Initially, she tried to reconcile all interests, but then she had to take a more left-wing position. The game forced her to make decisions to achieve something concrete and led to a realisation.

In particular, she initially tried to remain neutral but eventually sided against her husband’s party. Through personal scenes, we explored how Kelly emancipated herself from the man who had given her everything and manipulated her throughout her life. In the final personal scene, Kelly asked for a divorce from Jan Walghram, and in the subsequent progress scene, she made a speech to the Mars nation against rampant racism (the indicator “The Others”). It was gratifying to see how Kelly’s emancipation from Jan went hand in hand with her radical stance.

Regarding the second point, Kelly facing the complexity of politics: the game worked when, in each progress scene, the solution dissatisfied someone from the Colony Organization map. Two examples:

Kelly created a Support and Integration Fund to integrate irregular immigrants on Mars (the indicator ‘The Others’). This angered the Blue Party, who demanded tax cuts in return to avoid blocking the rescue mission.
To resolve the Funding problem, Kelly had to privatise essential services. This angered the Red Party representatives. All these actors made Kelly’s life more difficult by following their own agendas. In this way, we managed to involve a significant part of the Colony Organization in the game.

The third issue is taking responsibility. The crucial moment was Kelly’s most spectacular failure in solving the Population indicator. The overcrowding of the colony and poor sanitation conditions forced the Savior to order the creation of temporary domes outside the colony as a temporary solution. Unfortunately, the roll failed, but the Savior avoided using Deception to advance the indicator through Lies. So, we established that everyone inside the temporary domes died because they weren’t built to withstand Mars’ radiation. (My partner asked me to use the veil to describe how everyone died from radiation without going into detail.) The next personal scene was emotional: we depicted Kelly after the press conference taking official responsibility for what had happened. Her right-hand Council Member Stuart informs her of the suicide of Council Member Hadar from the Red Party, responsible for the district where the tragedy occurred. Hadar couldn’t bear the guilt of using substandard materials to expedite the deployment of temporary domes.

Again, the game satisfied us when Kelly took responsibility for her decisions instead of resorting to lies. Using lies too often (as I did in my Savior game in the subsequent playthrough) prevents these moments from happening.

At the end of the game, Kelly resolved two indicators: Funding and “The Others,” scoring just over 40 points. However, Population (11 points) and the fourth indicator that emerged shortly before the end, Healthcare (0 points), failed to be resolved. The colony didn’t solve all its problems. However, Kelly managed to create a sense of national unity beyond the irregular immigrant/regular citizen dichotomy; thus, creating a single cultural identity. Additionally, she saved the project from financial disaster by reducing public debt through a series of cuts and concessions to banks and corporations. Kelly voluntarily stepped down from her role as a consultant but decided to remain on Mars to witness the future of the colony flourish.

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2 responses to “My first game of Mars Colony”

  1. I appreciate a lot of the points you’ve made, especially as a contrast with Mars Colony: Talking Heads. The discussion there provides enough detail so I won’t repeat it here.

    Did Kelly lie at all? The game is pretty unforgiving regarding raw success rolls, so if she didn’t, her progress is admirable and fortunate.

  2. Kelly dind’t lie. It is true though that my partner had A LOT of luck with the dice (something like two twelves (12) in a row with 2d6s during a couple of Progression Scenes).

    What I really liked about my partner’s Kelly is that she (the player) decided to NOT lie at all under any circumstances. Whatever it would have happened, her Kelly won’t lie to the community and take full responsibility for her actions. The answer would simply “That’s is what I would expect from a politician I’d consider in high regard”. I liked the answer.

    In our couple of games we’ve had a “normative” stance on Kelly: we’ve projected what we’d like to see in a politician that we’d consider a “good” politician.

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