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Author Topic: [Mars Colony] Conflagration 2010  (Read 1118 times)
Gregor Hutton
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« on: February 06, 2010, 05:00:53 PM »

So, I was back at my old university today (the University of Glasgow) for Conflagration, a small friendly convention at the Queen Margaret Union. I got some time in on our trade stand and also playing games. The first game I got to do was Tim C. Koppang's "Mars Colony" and later on we had Joe Prince's "Hell 4 Leather" (putting the 4 in helps distinguish it from Sebastian's other Two Games One Name entry).

Anyway, Mars Colony!

I was playing with Lambert, who I've known for a number of years from meeting him at cons in Glasgow. Lambert is German, which brought something interesting to this game too.

We wrote down two political groups to start: I went for the Modern US Republican party (hey, with the Iraq Inquiry ongoing in the UK I contemplated our blighted and shameful Labour Party, but went with the Organ Grinder rather than the Monkey), while Lambert went with the CDU (Christian Democratic Union from Germany, who I'm familiar with from my friends and time in Germany too) -- so we both knew what the parties were like, or at least our opinion and commentary on them. Republicans (Red) were Dominant, CDU (Blue) Minority.

Lambert had some Suspicion for Kelly to start play (The Council, and Self: Insecurity), and I knocked her NewsCorp (Fox!) rating down to Contempt. Oh yes!

The Fears we had at first were: "The Government wastes too much on foreign aid when domestic problems rise", and "An elite in the ruling party does what they want undemocratically".

The Health Markers were Terrorism, Social Unrest and Nutrition. The sympathy was Kelly's dad who had corruptly retired to Mars Colony. Kelly, played by Lambert, was a scientist who led a team that solved the Seal Crisis of 2050. It was mostly down to hard working PhD students and Post-Docs while Kelly was the face of the operation. Her insecurity was that these people were not with her on Mars. Kelly's insecurity would fluctuate throughout the game despite Lambert's generally lucky dice rolling!

Kelly kicked off with the Council trying to drive through a Nutrition bill, lowering the yield sent to Earth. It failed miserably with a roll of 1 and 6. No Deception though as it wasn't worth anything to do so.

Buoyed by this I put the boots in as NewsCorp's Republican Jase Williams on Terrorism. "Why are you trying to strong-arm the Council on food when we have more than we need? What about the TerraForming League's Terror Attacks?" Classic quote from Kelly about the suicide bomber was "I understand why the Suicide Bomber did what they did, but they're method of protest is unacceptable" -- which was lovingly rebroadcast as "I understand why the Suicide Bomber did what they did..." on the News.

Kelly started to make good progress by listening intently at the next Council Meeting and then trying to negotiate with a Council member sympathetic to the TFL. Lambert got three rolls without a one and quit while he was ahead. Good Progress was reached and Personal Pride reached Confidence. [We assumed that you could step a status up by one rather than from Contempt to Respect in one go as the text suggested -- were we right? For Personal Pride in this case it was a moot point, but we decided that if we had a Contempt it would take two improvements to get it to Respect.]

I got stuck into Kelly with some social unrest and heavy handed policing, the Mayor making announcements to politically suit him and the party on Earths, then half-heartedly informng Kelly of the policy shift, and so on. I also had the News go digging on Kelly's dad...

Kelly spectacularly failed to solve the Social Unrest (rolling 1,6 out the traps again) and so no Deception chosen by Lambert.

When Kelly switched to Terror a series of good rolls left Lambert on 47 Health Points. The TFL renounced their campaign, a promise was extracted from the Mayor if he got re-elected, and a little bit of oiling of wheels led to peace... and Lambert picked Corruption as the next Health Marker. Peace had its price!

Kelly made good progress on Nutrition and finally used Deception to tip it over to Resolved with Lies. The next Health Marker was Water (which all the farming had put a huge demand on).

We also had a couple more Fears by now: "The government is unable to take unpopular but necessary courses of action" and "The government is more interested in finger pointing than solving the issues." (Mrs Merkel take note!)

Time was running short for Kelly by now, and she'd ignored my CDU pleas for Corruption investigations. The Republicans were pressuring Kelly on other topics and Lambert decided that Kelly had no interest in outing her dad and the Republican Mayor's Office and associated corruption before an election. So Social Unrest was tackled (badly) and Water (more successfully).

When the ninth progress scene concluded we had 2 Deception Tokens, 2 resolved Health Markers (Terrorism, Nutrition) and 2 at Good Progress (Social Unrest and Water -- the latter deceitfully in violation of a UN water mandate). Reputations were Respected and Confident, except for Suspicion at the Council and Earth Coalition.

The story of her dad's corruption broke and Kelly was stood down while investigations were concluded.

The outcome? Mars Colony continued with problems, but these weren't terminal enough to end the colony. The colonists blamed the "meddling" CDU on Earth who'd tried to enforce the Water rules and returned more Republican administration on Earth and Mars. Kelly distanced herself from the CDU but stayed in the party. The party hierarchy, who had petitioned hard for Corruption investigation, felt equally distant to Kelly, their pleas of "this is bigger than Mars" (referring to their upcoming election on Earth) didn't wash with Kelly who thought "for me it is only about Mars". Kelly's dad got jail time on Earth, but the story soon passed, and Kelly visits him for awkward father-daughter meetings across a plexiglass screen. Kelly then got a job in charge of a Quango/NGO responsible for water on Mars, semi-corruptly backed by Republicans happy to see the political status quo preserved.

Good fun and we both had a good time. Nicely political too. We didn't get around to the final fears of corrupt expenses scandals and governments that will do anything to stay in power, though I'm sure there was some of that general disdain making its way into the fiction anyway!

I pencilled some notes in the book as we went:
* the note about improving Reputations
* Lambert would have liked a scene to go on after lying (perhaps at great risk), though I think it's fine as is
* as Lambert only got Deception later in the game it lessened the chance of Scandal. I guess this just comes from failing on the first roll twice early, which precludes Deception being an option
* The sympathy character was there in the game (maybe more from me bringing it in that Lambert), and Lambert wondered whether they could provide an incentive to a roll at a cost/risk?
* the doubling I was a bit worried about in the maths from reading turned out to be easy, the one time Lambert rolled 5|5 we jumped for joy as we realised that was an instant 20!
* framing and adding fiction before the roll and just after worked fine.
* we didn't use all of the characters on the grid, maybe about half of them?
* Oh, we added a Yellow party during play for the TerraForming League as it came up in the fiction. We modelled them on Sinn Fein (as a political wing to a terrorist organization that we are familiar with, though not in agreement with). Perhaps we should have added them at the start, but we hadn't thought of them then, they come up in response to the Health Markers in play. Worth advising on that?

Anyway, good fun game and we didn't have any big issues with your ashcan at all.
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Gregor Hutton
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« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2010, 05:09:31 PM »

Oh, I forgot to tell you the Corruption Health Points at the end of the game: 0.

I think that influenced my CDU frustration with Lambert! He didn't have Kelly try a progress scene on it at all. Good stuff!
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2010, 07:42:21 AM »

I love the choice of parties: Republicans and Republicans!

Bringing in the Yellow Party via play is familiar to me - we did the same with the Blue Dog Democrats at one point in our game. I think it's pretty reasonable to amend or add to the initial groups. And in your case, given your two initial parties, it seems as if something had to be introduced to provide a whiff of a genuine political spectrum.

Best, Ron
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Gregor Hutton
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« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2010, 05:31:01 AM »

Yes, the third party did provide a more sympathetic part of the political landscape for us.

We each came up with our political parties on our own rather than amending our choices based on the first to declare or whatever. That worked out fine for us, and it was nice that we had two right wing parties. As the Governor it meant I got to twist and poke Kelly from two decidely different parties, but from similar directions. For the beat reporter at the NewsCorp I picked a different affilaition from the Republican Jase Williams. Jase, while a hoot to play, was a pain in the ass for offering any constructive way for Kelly out of any crisis or for getting a message out there.

It was good to see Lambert have Kelly avoid Jase and then I'd use Jase to call her on it! Ah, so much like reality!
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2010, 09:34:16 AM »

Gregor,

Awesome.  Thanks for the feedback, and I'm glad you had a good time with the game.  It sounds like you created a wonderful political mess.  Believe it or not, I'm just happy to hear that a couple of non-Americans connected with the game.

I am working on a lengthier response to some of your questions, but wow, Lambert really rolled well!  The game plays differently when the dice are going your way and the threat of scandal isn't looming.  From your description, though, there was still some definite narrative tension.  That's been my experience as well.  The feel of the story is different with solid dice rolling, but still good -- especially when Kelly is trying hard to hang onto a sense of decency.
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #5 on: February 11, 2010, 07:21:57 AM »

To address your specific comments, Gregor:

We assumed that you could step a status up by one rather than from Contempt to Respect in one go as the text suggested -- were we right? For Personal Pride in this case it was a moot point, but we decided that if we had a Contempt it would take two improvements to get it to Respect.

By the Ashcan rules as written, no, you're supposed to jump right to Respect.  My intention with this rule was to keep the middle rating for Deception related activity only.  Honestly, I see no good reason to keep the rule so strict.  I was probably over-thinking the whole thing.  If you want to step up to Suspicion from Contempt, that's fine (and probably appropriate in certain circumstances).

Quote
Lambert would have liked a scene to go on after lying (perhaps at great risk), though I think it's fine as is

Eh?  I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at here.  Could you clarify for me, please?

Quote
as Lambert only got Deception later in the game it lessened the chance of Scandal. I guess this just comes from failing on the first roll twice early, which precludes Deception being an option

For the most part, you're right.  If you roll well, there won't be much opportunity for Scandal.  Statistically, this won't happen very often, especially if you're being aggressive with your dice rolling strategy.

There is a subtle point to be made here, however, that isn't very clear from the rules.  You can take a Deception even if you roll a one on your first roll.  You won't gain any health points, but you will avoid losing any reputation.  It's a minor point, but a viable option if your Kelly is concerned with saving face.

Quote
The sympathy character was there in the game (maybe more from me bringing it in that Lambert), and Lambert wondered whether they could provide an incentive to a roll at a cost/risk?

This was something I wanted to ask you about.  Did you guys have any personal scenes?  How did they work out?  I've had a few play-testers suggest a mechanical incentive for personal scenes.  Generally, I'm opposed to the idea as unnecessary.  I think it would bog the game down.  Thoughts?

Quote
the doubling I was a bit worried about in the maths from reading turned out to be easy, the one time Lambert rolled 5|5 we jumped for joy as we realized that was an instant 20!

Yes, awesome!  I love that you were both cheering.

Quote
we didn't use all of the characters on the grid, maybe about half of them?

Perfectly fine.  From a designer's point of view, I only intend the players to use about half to three quarters of the information available to the players (including the grid, fear cards, everything).  I always want there to be something else the players can use as inspiration if they get stuck.  I also think it helps add to a feeling of a larger fictional world beyond what Kelly is able to interact with during the game.

Quote
Oh, we added a Yellow party during play for the TerraForming League as it came up in the fiction. We modelled them on Sinn Fein (as a political wing to a terrorist organization that we are familiar with, though not in agreement with). Perhaps we should have added them at the start, but we hadn't thought of them then, they come up in response to the Health Markers in play. Worth advising on that?

Again, as written, the Ashcan rules specify that you should only create political parties during preparation.  That's crap.  What you did if perfectly fine.  I'll be adding a sentence or two to the rules to make sure this is clear.

Thanks again for playing.  Your feedback is very helpful at teasing out some of the finer points that need correcting before publication.
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Gregor Hutton
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« Reply #6 on: February 11, 2010, 09:32:52 AM »

-----
>>Lambert would have liked a scene to go on after lying (perhaps at great risk), though I think it's fine as is
Eh?  I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at here.  Could you clarify for me, please?
-----
OK, you only get 9 Progress scenes and Lambert "lost" his first two Progress scenes with rolls of 1 on the initial roll each time (ha!). So he was working with only 7 scenes (which in my book makes his rolls even better). Lambert's tactic was to try three rolls on a Progress scene before quitting, and generally that worked well for him. However, on one of his later Progress scenes, when he was really feeling the pinch for Kelly, he got about 14 and then rolled a 1. He fobbed off the Failure using Lying and, of course, the scene ended. He wanted to keep going with the roll after the Lying (maybe one more throw?).

As I see it the Lying got him to keep the score rolled before the 1. If he wanted Kelly to keep on going, she would do so on the next Progress scene, which would be fictionally built on the lie. Of course, Kelly was short of Progress Scenes by then, which is what made an extended existing scene more preferable to Lambert.

I can see his point: you roll, you fail, so you Lie and either quit with the Lie (keeping what you had up to the 1 was rolled) or roll once more hoping to that total but risking Scandal as the Lie is exposed.

-----
There is a subtle point to be made here, however, that isn't very clear from the rules.  You can take a Deception even if you roll a one on your first roll.  You won't gain any health points, but you will avoid losing any reputation.  It's a minor point, but a viable option if your Kelly is concerned with saving face.
-----
Yes! Lambert started pretty well with most things at Respect, so the initial rule for me to grab one of his Respects and throw it down to Contempt was great. Interestingly, while Lambert could have tried to keep things his Respect from the Council with a Deception he thought the loss of face was deserved and so didn't take a Deception. But, I can see that if he felt he'd rather Deceive to keep face it is a valid option (even if you don't get any Health Points out of it).

-----
This was something I wanted to ask you about.  Did you guys have any personal scenes?  How did they work out?  I've had a few play-testers suggest a mechanical incentive for personal scenes.  Generally, I'm opposed to the idea as unnecessary.  I think it would bog the game down.  Thoughts?
-----
Lambert had his only "Personal Scene"-type of thing when he described the relationship between Kelly and her father as the Sympathy.

I'm sure I framed two Personal Scenes in the game (and we liked both of them). Each time it was Kelly meeting her dad at his house, and they were getting further and further apart as the scenes went on. On the first scene as Kelly got out the robo-cab at her dad's house I had NewsCorp take a candid photo of Kelly with her extravagant gift (I followed up on this in a future Antagonism Scene with the publication of the photo on a FOX news type of show). Her dad had a imperfectly functioning Robo Butler and was initially pleased to see Kelly (despite the fact she didn't visit him for the first three weeks she was on Mars) and especially her holo-gift (showing his old house back on Earth with his wife and a young Kelly -- he sat and marvelled at it all night after Kelly left). The next time she saw him he was burning incriminating documents and asking for her help, as we were now later in the game and Corruption was up on the plate. Lambert had Kelly help her dad burn the evidence! Once she'd closed the curatins! Oh my! But she didn't do anything about the Corruption (which may or may not have helped her dad!)

I think Lambert would have gone to a Personal Scene if he'd have gotten something (even a risky something) to help out on a following Progress Scene. Otherwise he was pretty much locked into Kelly's fight and that meant going for Progress each time Kelly had a scene.

Now, I could see that I couldn't make anything worse for Lambert by him taking a Progress Scene "off" to do a Personal Scene. The Health Markers don't drop, Deception and Scandal don't get worse, and so on. So, unless the Savior does a Progress Scene it all stays pat mechanically. So, you should find time for Personal Scenes, right? But, still, Lambert felt that Progress was what Kelly was here to do and so he stuck at it, without taking in a Personal Scene. I wanted Personal Scenes so I put them in.

Incentive? For Lambert it would have made him take one, but what can you offer? An improved Personal Reputation? Some fiddly dice bonus (best two of three?)? Ughh.

The purist in me cries out for people to take them when they fit the mood and fiction. With, perhaps, an onus on the Governor player to drag them in? Or maybe a sidebar to explain to the Savior clearly why things won't get worse while they take one. (Fictionally the Governor can stir shit with an Antagonism Scene while you don't Progress, but they can't mechanically fuck around with anything.)

So, enjoy them. Fill them and play in them. Some people will do that for free. If you offer an incentive then some people will be there only for the bennie.

-----
Yes, awesome!  I love that you were both cheering.
-----
Our only double all game was a 5+5 and we were indeed both cheering.

Oh, if you need Lambert's full name it's Lambert Behnke.
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