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Author Topic: [Mars Colony] - Venting, Sex and Failure  (Read 1486 times)
Darcy Burgess
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Posts: 476


« on: January 01, 2010, 01:26:15 PM »

On November 2, I got together with Glenn W to try out Mars Colony. I'd taken the nickel tour with Tim Koppang at GenCon'09, and I knew that this game was right up my alley. Given Glenn's love of Politics, I was pretty sure that it would appeal to him as well. I was a little nervous about whether or not the session would suffer from 'blank canvas syndrome', as Glenn and I are both prone to succumbing to the 'what nexts'.

After a quickie rundown on the basic situation, Glenn and I dove right into the game.  We ended up with three political parties on Mars: Green/Minority (Green Party), Blue/Minority (British National Party or BNP) and Yellow/Dominant (US Republicans).  As things played out, it was the Blues who drove the bulk of the political shennanigans; their agenda of freeing Mars from Earth's influence proved to be too tempting not to use again and again.

I was the Governor, Glenn played the Saviour.

We didn't spend a great deal of time fleshing Kelly out.  Our Kelley was female, and somewhat of a tree-hugger (affiliation with the Greens).  Her Sympathy was a lover attached to substantial wealth; we decided not to define the Sympathy beyond the barest terms dictated by the rules.

Our intitial Colony Health Markers were Social Unrest, Water and Disease.

I've misplaced the Fear Cards that we generated, but I remember that when we scanned over the full deck at the end of the game, I felt that their content was "typically Canadian". Both Glenn and I were more concerned with beureaucratic inefficiency than we were with abuse of power or social injustice. This is largely due (I believe) due to the fact that of late, Canadian Parliaments have betrayed their constituents not through shit policy, but through neglect and inaction.  In fact, when I play Mars Colony again, I will undoubtedly create a fear card that reads something like "Always plays it safe and refuses to make policy."

Our scenes were varied in setting and content. Kelly's arrival on Mars determined her to be a clean-cut mover & shaker, her reception was professional and she wasted little time getting down to business. One recurring setpiece/evolving situation was Sector 23. This was the home neighborhood of a blue-collar single dad and his kids. We first met them during the opening moments of a water riot, and we'd return to them again and again as we saw the effects of the (decidedly socially-rooted) Health Markers.

This is worth pointing out; I don't remeber setting any Opposition scenes in Kelly's office, with her pouring over a report of "this bad thing just happened". I do remember (on numerous occasions) playing through a focal moment of whatever problem I was highlighting. In hindsight, it's obvious that this is a more punchy technique for presenting the issue. However, it's also important to note that the rules fully support this technique, "As soon as the Savior begins to narrate what Kelly is doing to solve a Colony problem, the Opposition Scene should end and a Progress Scene should begin." (p.15) The Governor is empowered to frame an Opposition Scene; either player may end the scene, but in practice, it's more natural and effective to have Kelly cut the scene by enacting a solution!

Through play, we discovered that Kelly leaned on sex as a release. Kelly only ever got her rocks off to clear her head after a frustrating day or a major setback. In fact, as the scenes progressed, Kelly's sexual crutch culminated in her casting aside her lover, Tamara, in favour some jock she met at the gym. Kelly's indiscretion wasn't driven out of malice or lust. Kelly needed a good fuck, and Tamara wasn't available. This discovery was a direct result of the interplay of the three scene types (Personal, Opposition and Progress) and the post-roll narration rules. More often than not a Personal scene would get triggered in response to an unusual or incongruous set of circumstances coming out of another scene (usually a Progress scene).

By the end of the game, Kelly had completely fixed two of the Colony Health Markers (Social Unrest and Water were both at 40+ points), and her Deceptions surrounding Disease had gotten the best of her (she had accumulated 30-odd points on the Marker, only to have it all torn down by a scandal). Kelly left Mars better than when she arrived, but the colony was plagued by the institutional corruption that had stood in her way at every step. Kelly's exit was quiet and understated.

After play, I asked Glenn for his most and least favourite aspects of the game.  Here are his, and mine:

Glenn
"For an RPG, it was a very good model of political reality.  It's not just what you do, but the optics of the situation that matter immensely." (+)

"Kelly could be cast in any number of other roles, not just a glorified troubleshooter." (-)

Darcy
"I'm immensely pleased at how the system continually teased relevant & punchy content from the players. Once play began, I was never worried about what was coming next. Playing Mars Colony isn't just an exercise in passing time; the game grabs you by your politics and forces you to lay them bare with your partner." (+)

"Progress scenes that get cut short by a '1' roll out of the gate are very unfulfilling. There's absolutely no recourse on these rolls. The lack of an incentive for even engaging in a deception leaves the failure feeling hollow and silly." (-)

Good game, Tim.
D
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2010, 06:32:49 PM »

Hi Darcy,

Since the game is so eminently re-playable, I've been looking forward to more accounts besides mine and Tim's, for comparison.

The politics and decisions and so on, well, there's not much to say. The game's so good in this regard, I liked it, you liked it, and there's not much to analyze.

I really liked the drama of your outcome. If you read our account, then you know my Kelly actually managed to solve three problems, mainly due to some rock-and-roll 12's, but in no way did it feel like a walk or easy play. It was a real nailbiter. I think that the "almost" nature of your failure seems more satisfying to me, than my success. Tim and my story ended up having a 1960s adventure SF, maybe not Heinlein but at least Anderson, feel, in that despite horrendous adversity, Kelly did succeed. Yours is more suited to my own generation.

I like the way your Sympathy options, which seemed at the outset to be fairly non-problematic, turned into a source of tension. This is one of the most interesting aspects of the game for me, the various combinations of Sympathy options and how they turn into a primary motor for the developing plot without much elaboration at the beginning.

I do not present the next comment as any sort of criticism or rebuttal. It is that I don't fully understand Glenn's negative observation - is he raising the issue that the game really specifies Kelly's public trouble-shooting situation/role, but perhaps should have been more open regarding Kelly's societal role? And to take flight from that question, my thinking is that as an American author, Tim may be commenting on the tendency for U.S. citizens to perceive their presidential elections as man-on-white-horse plot moments in a heroic saga, rather than minor adjustments to an entrenched power structure.

Best, Ron
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Darcy Burgess
Member

Posts: 476


« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2010, 04:11:15 AM »

Hey Ron,

I agree that there's little point to you and I getting all weepy about how good the politics in this game are.  (Hey, Forge-at-large, notice the "you and I" in that sentence, OK?)

Regarding Glenn's comment regarding the troubleshooter, my take on his comment at the time was that he found it overly constraining in terms of how Kelly slotted into the Martian political system.  He saw (as I do) other options that serve colour more-or-less exclusively; most of these choices would be 'native' martian options.

I think it's also worth noting (not as a rebuttal, but serving clarity) that just because it was his least favourite aspect of the game doesn't mean that it was a huge deal.  When the rest of the game is so damned good, it can be kind of hard to put your finger on a negative.

Free Mars!
D

PS - well... hunh.  The more we get into politics the more I realize that you Yanks really are a different breed than us Canucks.  I'd never even considered Kelly's role in the game as an allegory for that of an incumbent President.  We just don't live in that reality up here.  Your founding fathers' "checks and balances" have indeed morphed into an ingrained power structure.  We just don't have post-election checks and balances; more often than not, we end up with an elected dictatorship for 4 years.
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GlennW
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« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2010, 08:38:54 AM »

Hi All:

Since my comments need clarification, I thought I would do so.  There's not much to say since Darcy seems to have hit it right on the head.  From the rules, I thought of Kelly from the beginning as a jumped-up civil servant or consultant and not as a political leader in her (his) own right.  It set guidelines in my mind for how Kelly could proceed.  Perhaps it's the seemingly endless parade of committees, boards and Royal Commissions up here in Canada.  On first impression, I thought there was opportunity for alternative options in say, an appointed hack or better still, an upwardly mobile local politician.  Upon reflection, the "outsider" is very effective and I'm sorry we didn't mine that aspect of the character as well as we could have.  In any event, it was a small detail.

That said, I found our session very satisfying.  For Kelly to achieve so much, only to have defeat snatched from the jaws of victory worked extremely well in the narrative.  While the shift was due to some poor die rolls, the resulting scandal finished Kelly off despite the hard work and sacrifice.  Her personal problems with the Sympathy added extra flavour to the story with what had been a throwaway character.  The timing was particularly good since in our session, the crisis with the Sympathy came just as the scandal was unfolding.  The victories allowed us to give Kelly a dignified exit.

I particularly like the scandal mechanism.  It leaves the man-on-white-horse with feet of clay.  In our session, the Deception came in the middle of the narrative.  Kelly had already done a lot of hard work which was about to be flushed (pardon the pun) away so the temptation was narratively irresistable.  Kelly was played as having the best of intentions but still "hung" by an unforgiving press as well as her Blue enemies.

I'm looking forward to another crack at this game as-is.

GlennW
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JoyWriter
Member

Posts: 469

also known as Josh W


« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2010, 01:21:47 PM »

I wondered if it was the way Kelly was greeted that gave you that impression, it suggests to me that if the system could use that part of the game to define the relationship between Kelly and the colony, rather than just having it come automatically from players impressions. The system might already do that, but it seems a good way to do it.
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Darcy Burgess
Member

Posts: 476


« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2010, 07:14:27 AM »

Hey JoyWriter,

Could you clarify your first phrase, "I wondered if it was the way Kelley was greeted that gave you that impression,"?

I'm guessing that you're referring to the in-fiction greeting that the character received when she landed on Mars.

Thanks,
D
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2010, 09:48:18 AM »

Darcy,

First of all, let me say thank you for taking the time to play Mars Colony and write up this report.  I'm very happy to see some feedback, especially considering the mixed reports I received from others who tried the ashcan process.  My experience has been quite positive.

Now let me get to the meat of your session...

I was very happy to see that your Canadian viewpoints made their way into the game.  While I've certainly tried to familiarize myself with international politics in a passing sort of way, I'm glad to know that the game hasn't been overly "Americanized".  Mars Colony represents my own commentary on U.S. politics, but I don't intend it to be limited to U.S. players.  It's one of the reasons I explicitly included an international committee in the setting.

To that point, you mentioned that your Fear Cards in particular raised Canadian issues.  Mechanically, did you find the cards useful?  I've had mixed reports here.  Some people have found them useful as a pre-game exercise, but not during play.  Others use them in play all the time.  Still others could care less.

Your comments about scene-framing and the flow of the game are spot on.  The rules support moving from progress scene to opposition scene in a smooth transition or as an abrupt cut.  Sometimes it makes more sense (and is more dramatic) to concentrate on one problem for a few scenes in a row.  Other times, you may have an opposition scene about one problem, and a progress scene about a totally different problem.  I don't want to force the players to tell an (artificially) linear story.  But a linear progression is probably the most common way to do things.

Your personal scenes sound great, like they really rounded out play.  It also sounds as if the personal scenes went beyond the connection generated before play?  Would you say that's true, or did they all track pretty closely to the wealthy lover?

What were your other health markers?  You said that social unrest and water were stabilized?  What replaced them?  I'm just curious.

Finally, as to your specific pluses and minuses.  I think Glenn has already addressed his concern about Kelly's specific role.  I'll simply add that it's important to me for Kelly to be an outsider.  The game isn't just about politics.  It's also about Kelly's sense of accomplishment, or lack thereof.  Kelly is dropped into a very heated situation, and despite the fact that she is tremendously skilled, has to face up to the reality that she may not be all that everyone else believes her to be.  The dynamic between competence and incompetence (and the perception of both) is sort of a sub-theme of the game.

As to your concern about the dice, right now I can only say that I haven't been able to think up an elegant solution.  I know that progress scenes are more dramatic when there is a slow build-up of points.  Each choice can be agonizing.  That's the beauty of the push your luck mechanics.  On the other hand, they can also be pretty abrupt when the first roll is a bust.  I enjoy the very serious consequences (i.e., no recourse) of a bust.  But I agree, it can feel a bit anti-climatic if it happens on the first roll.  My problem is that all of the "fixes" I come up with end up feeling like mere hacks.

(Just as a point of clarification, you can take a deception after an initial bust.  You don't get any health points, but you do avoid the consequences of a failure.)

That's all for now.  As I read through the rest of the comments, I may have more.  But thanks again to Darcy and Glenn for playing.
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2010, 03:27:30 PM »

I've been thinking about Glenn's and Josh's comments a bit more.  As the game text stands , I don't define Kelly's role as anything more than "grand consultant to the Colony", whatever that means.  I leave it to the players to define how much real power Kelly has.  The opening vignettes (where the players introduce Kelly), help to define her role.  But perhaps what I need is a bit more textual guidance.  After all, Kelly is walking into a very defined power structure.  The Earth governments wouldn't send Kelly to Mars without some sort of mandate.
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JoyWriter
Member

Posts: 469

also known as Josh W


« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2010, 06:54:46 PM »

I'm guessing that you're referring to the in-fiction greeting that the character received when she landed on Mars.

Yeah that's exactly what I mean, mechanically generating the way he/she (gender neutral name on purpose right?) is received, so as to open up the possibilities inherent in that scene for those who haven't noticed them. I'm now thinking random list with combined veto, if you think of a better one between you.

That should hopefully keep the flexibility while making it a smidge more accessible/replayable.

Game's looking good by the way Tim, I love the idea of being able to stick germany's CDP, china's communist party (in the minority hah!) and the british green party together and then having to maneuver that mess!
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Darcy Burgess
Member

Posts: 476


« Reply #9 on: January 07, 2010, 07:30:10 AM »

Hi Tim,

The fear cards were great.  The initial ones definitely coloured our play, and I remember going back for another one at least once.  Maybe twice.

Most of the personal scenes (there were three or four, if memory serves) revolved around Tamara; the predominant business of the scenes was either  Kelly's interaction or infidelity with respect to her.

Idon't remember which of Social Unrest or Water was cured first.  Regardless, the first health marker was replaced with Corruption.  It looks like we didn't replace the other with a new one.  I believe that's because the actual sequence of events was: Cure Marker 1 - Scandal on Disease - Cure Marker 2 (but on the 9th progress scene).  We should have generated a new health marker, that would have added more fuel to the epilogue.  The rules nuance regarding avoiding Consequences didn't jump off the page when we played.

Regarding the failed rolls, what if initiating a deception allowed you to bank the points from the die that didn't roll a one?

Cheers,
D
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2010, 10:05:19 AM »

Regarding the failed rolls, what if initiating a deception allowed you to bank the points from the die that didn't roll a one?

I see two obvious changes that I could make.  The first is your suggestion: giving the player a few token health points.  I'm not sure if that would make anyone feel any better, or really fix the underlying problem, though.  The result will still feel a bit unsatisfying and anti-climatic.  And of course it would only work if the player chose to create a deception.

The second option is to disallow failure on the first roll.  In other words, ones wouldn't count on the first roll (except maybe with a roll of double ones).  This still feels like a bit of a hack, and adds another rule to the game.  On the other hand, it gets the ball rolling and ensures that the player will always have something at stake during a failure.

My other concern is whether or not either change would screw with the overall math of the game.  There's a delicate balance between the average number of points generated per roll and the overall 40 point goal for each health marker.  Such minor changes would probably leave everything intact, but obviously I'd need to do some testing.
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #11 on: January 07, 2010, 10:16:37 AM »

Game's looking good by the way Tim, I love the idea of being able to stick germany's CDP, china's communist party (in the minority hah!) and the british green party together and then having to maneuver that mess!

Oh, the possibilities are endless! -- as Ron and I discovered in our first game.  Ron's been studying the middle east for some time now.  We had the Democrats mixed in with Hezbollah and Meretz.  I was a bit out of my depth, but could still see the political time bomb for what it was.
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Darcy Burgess
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Posts: 476


« Reply #12 on: January 07, 2010, 12:28:34 PM »

My other concern is whether or not either change would screw with the overall math of the game.  There's a delicate balance between the average number of points generated per roll and the overall 40 point goal for each health marker.  Such minor changes would probably leave everything intact, but obviously I'd need to do some testing.

Hrm.  What about some sort of a reroll option? One, precious reroll for the whole game that can only be used on the first roll in a sequence?

Not elegant either, but there it is.
D
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JoyWriter
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also known as Josh W


« Reply #13 on: January 11, 2010, 02:27:39 PM »

How about flavouring the re-roll as a marker of their "honeymoon period"? That way if everything goes great and they don't need to use it, everything will be pretty rose tinted, and then it starts going harsher after they first fail a roll. Of course how evocative that is depends on the odds of success, and whether it'd overshadow some of the other mechanics.
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #14 on: January 13, 2010, 03:12:40 PM »

Thanks for the suggestions.  I think this is something I'm going to have to play around with personally to determine (1) if it's really a problem and (2) if so, how do I fix it.  It's certainly something I'll be thinking about, and I appreciate the brainstorming.
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