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[Mars Colony]`

Started by Gregor Hutton, October 26, 2010, 06:48:26 PM

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Gregor Hutton

Last night was Glasgow Indie Gamers night, where 18 people met up for a night of Indie Games. It's the last Monday of the month in the Drum & Monkey in Glasgow for anyone interested.

I was down to play a game of Mars Colony with Shona, who is a big fan of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books and was keen to play the game.

We got through 15 scenes last night (1 Prologue, 5 Progress Scenes, 5 Opposition Scenes and 4 Personal Scenes) and I have to say that Shona had some amazing luck, which created a very interesting twist on what we were expecting.

Kelly Perkins is a man in his mid to late 40s, married to Dave who is also in his mid to late 40s. There was an affair years ago that is forgiven and not entirely forgotten, when they were both much younger. Kelly solved a crisis in Taiwan stopping it escalating into a nuclear conflict. As such he has been sent to Mars Colony to deal with the issues of Poverty, Social Unrest and Air Quality.

Our political parties are Red (New Labour: Dominant), Blue (Soviet Communist: Minority), Yellow (The Senior Citizens Party -- a single issue party, in our game they're obsessed with Air Quality: Fringe), Green (Green Party -- who in the UK now have an MP in Hove, actually: Dominant). So it's a two-party system for the most part between Red and Green, the Blues are a Minority with some representation and the Yellows don't have any official representation on the Council or the Earth Coalition.

Kelly and the Mayor are Greens, while the Earth Coalition President, the News Network Chief and Lead Anchor are Red. The Chief of Security in the Mayor's Office is a hard line Red, while the Chief of Staff Dirk Spaniel is a quiet Yellow.

We ended the session with 4 Progress Scenes left. Kelly has stabilized Social Unrest completely (42) and made significant progress on Poverty (26) and Air Quality (22). Corruption has just reared its ugly head and sits at 0. Kelly's Admiration is riding superhigh at 9! The Chief of Security Lloyds has just been fired (and retired on a good pension, of course) and replaced with another, younger, stooge of the President on Earth. The new Chief of Security Alice van der Beek has made it clear she is going to do things the way President Fletcher wants them done.

The Progress Scenes were crazily successful:
(9) Dealing with with Social Unrest by appealing for Calm: 4, 7, 6 = 17 with no 1s.
(8) Improving Air Quality by redistributing good air from rich areas to poor areas (Free School Air For All): 6, 6, 10 = 22 with no 1s.
(7) Info gathering on Poverty to get a consensual action plan, including treating the former terra-forming miners with more respect: 8, 8, 10 = 26 with no 1s.
(6) Solving Social Unrest for all time by proposing a Police Charter: 9, 8, 2(!) = 0 ending with the Humiliation of the Ares Park Massacre.
(5) Talking with families, attending finerals and de-arming the police to curb Social Unrest: 9, 7, 9 = 25. Restoring the Contempt point back to Admiration.

We're going to finish the game next month, and it's on an edge. So far Kelly has ridden his luck and enthused the youth on Mars to buy into his mantra of "Believe in Better". He's privately worried that it's all going to slide away. Now he's faced with the Corruption in the politics on Mars and Earth. I'm not sure if he'll face up to them, maybe just concentrating on solving Poverty and Air.

At each turn we were ready to twist the knife on a bad roll, but each time Shona threw the dice down there was not a one to be seen. And then (!) on the cusp on solving Social Unrest the double 1 that couldn't even be lied away with Deception. Just great!

I've had a ball playing the incidental characters from the asshole that was Chief Lloyds to the quiet dignity of Winston Drake, an impoverished terra-former who "won" a lottery to stay on Mars but is now in miserable poverty whose only concern on meeting Kelly was to thank him for clearing the air for the poor.

I can get into the Fear Cards if anyone is interested?

Erik Weissengruber

Tim C Koppang


That sounds fantastic.  Thanks for writing this up.

You're right, those were some lucky rolls.  With numbers like that, there's a strong chance that Kelly will actually walk away from Mars a success (not as common as you might think).  I'd actually be very happy to hear about an idealistic and successful Kelly.  On the other hand, probability is an ugly thing, as you can see with the double 1s Humiliation.  With even one or two bad rolls, I've found that a bit of desperation can turn the game quickly.

I have two questions:

1.  What were your personal scenes like?  Typically, Kelly has had to face up to much more failure by the time he reaches the point you have in your game.  I'm wondering if Kelly is more idealistic after that run of good luck?

2.  Has Kelly's high Admiration score fed back into the fiction?  I can see all the conflict swirling around him (Lloyds, Beek, etc.). How has the Admiration score affected Kelly's interactions with enemies, citizens, etc.?

Also, Winston Drake sounds like a wonderful minor character.  On a similar note, I played just last weekend.  Mars was faced with a severe sanitation problem.  Kelly randomly met an average citizen during a street protest.  The character was very sympathetic, and quite fun to play.  Of course our Kelly was much more manipulative and turned this citizen into a political tool (i.e., a Martian version of the Republicans' "Joe the Plumber").  I find that playing the workaday folk of Mars to be one of the most enjoyable experiences when in the Governor role.

Anyway, I'm anxious to hear more.  And yes, if the Fear Cards fed into play, I'd love to hear about them as well.

Gregor Hutton

Sorry for the delay. I've not been online much this week.


The first one was framed by Shona (and was her first scene -- she wanted to play Kelly and set the scene before making attempts at Progress). Kelly arrived at the Hotel Metropole on Mars Colony and set up a "Command Centre" nearby giving prominent roles to young eager staffers. The private room prepared for Kelly was instead turned over to his staff as a break room. Shona had Kelly set up a vibrnat open-plan centre to get things done. The older staff were more doubting over this change of (their) plan while the eager young staffers were enthused. They soon had "Believe in Better" pins on.

The second one was our sixth scene and was framed by me. I had Kelly come home to the Hotel Metropole to find three of his staff (Richard, Susanne and Delaney) working late into the night in his room. As Kelly was talking to them about their work I described a familiar clink of ice in a whisky galss, framing in husband Dave. He had two tickets to the opera but figured that Kelly wouldn't want to go hearing him talk to his staff. Dave was drunk and alluded to the affair years ago (Richard was said to resemble someone from a long while back). Dave is an on-off alcoholic and had been dry for the trip to Mars but has fallen off the wagon. Kelly politely sends the staff home, giving two of them the tickets to the opera, and stays in with Dave. We fade to black, but we'd found a compilcated for Kelly and Dave. They played "that game" with each other of pushing each others buttons, while the other tries not to react. And they seemed very affectionate for each other under it all.

The next personal scene was our 10th and was also mine. I had the eager staffers beg Kelly to come to Command Centre for some late-night troubleshooting. I said it had been a long tough week for Kelly (it was on the back of a very successful series of rolls on solving Poverty) and I wanted to see if Kelly looked after himself for once. He didn't. He popped a couple of caffeine pills and went to the Command Centre, which was great. I then dropped the real reason on Kelly when he got there. It was a surprise birthday party for him with a (sober) Dave there too. They danced the night away and Richard and Susanne were seen heading off together at the end of the night. This, as it turned out, was right before the humiliation scene. We described it as being like the Flletwood Mac "moment" when Clinton became President.

The last personal scene was the last scene of the evening and was framed by Shona. Kelly skype-calls Dave worried and doubting about the job. This was in response to an Opposition scene of mine where the media and Red party are starting to brief against Kelly -- threatening to out the affair from years ago (part of the new Corruption problem Kelly is faced with). So Shona got to be an honourable and fearful Kelly, while Dave in my hands became the voice of confidence, his rock, telling him to "look at what you've done" and "the job will be done and we can retire to Arizona". Kelly worried that it "was going to be like California again" -- obliquely referring to troubles in the past.

So, everyone around Kelly is more idealistic after the rolls. Kelly is riding the wave, but becoming more fearful of unfulfilled promises. The expectation on Kelly is high now, and he has achieved a lot. Even if the rest of the rolls tank, it's the council that's getting the blame. Though Kelly's rep can only go down from 9.

Yes! Citizens are in admiration and this has helped push through the de-arming of the police. The President of the Earth Coalition had to let it go through (through gritted teeth) owing to the high regard and results that Kelly's bringing. Kelly reminds me a bit of Hans Blix, maybe. Bush and Blair wanted him out of the way, which was hard when he was doing his job. (So taking my cue from that I have to figure out how to make the job impossible... I guess that's what I'm trying with the Corruption.)

Some NPCs give me the opportunity to show the Admiration. Winston Drake, for example, was brought in to praise Kelly for tackling Air Quality but to highlight Poverty. So when I played him he didn't complain about his terrible lot in life. The eager staffers are another example, and I even have the initially reluctant old hands now buying into "Believe in Better".

It made the loss of that Admiration in the Humiliation tougher too.

And when Kelly won the point back by going to funerals, meeting the victims of families, going on "46 minutes with Jase Williams" to get pretty much torn apart, it made the Admiration feel earned. Even kelly's enemies admire him.

I've also used the high Admiration to temper how I play Kelly's enemies. Lloyds hated what Kelly did, and his replacement van der Beek told him to his face that she was going to oppose him, but they are having to acknowledge that they can't just shoot him down the way they are used to. He has too much political will and public faith behind him at the moment.

These have been super-interesting.

"The principle of the The Market Is Always right leaves people vulnerable to being unable to afford to live" -- fueled Poverty as an issue
"The members of the party posion intellectual debate with hyperbole" -- has been used a lot by me in Council Meetings and in media coverage

"Seeking to govern the most private and personal parts of life" -- we pulled that out and it has come in with the relationship between Kelly and Dave, and the threat of revealing scandal. There's more to come on this one with failure I think.

I pulled a Fear card for Lloyds and said "he embodies ... this" flipping it over:
"The state exists to help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" -- Wow! That was a great hook to hang a character on!

We have two Fear cards un-exposed!

My notes of scenes are
1: Prologue (prol)
2: We Want Air! (oppo)
3: Command centre (pers)
4: Council meeting riot (oppo)
5: Appeal for calm: Social Unrest: 17 (prog)
6: Dave and Opera (pers)
7: Free school air: Air Quality: 22 (prog)
8: Winston Drake (oppo)
9: Stolen generation: Poverty: 26 (prog)
10: Birthday (pers)
11: Police charter: Social Unrest: 0 and Humiliation (prog)
12: 46 minutes with Jase Williams (oppo)
13: De-arming the police: Social Unrest: 25 (prog)
14: Scandal in the papers (oppo)
15: Skype with Dave (pers)

Admiration: 9
Deception: 0
Contempt: 0
Progress Scenes to Go: 4
Colony Health Markers:
Social Unrest: 42
Poverty: 26
Air Quality: 22
Corruption: 0

Erik Weissengruber

Thanks Gregor.

I may integrate some sort of "What do you fear most about the rival species" concept into my space opera game.

Gregor Hutton

I think the Fears have definitely done two things: (i) they've informed the tone of the game, and (ii) they've got Shona and me on the same page about which problems (as players) interest us -- where our disgruntlement lies, so what it interesting for us to bring in, face up to and roll dice on.

We've both been waiting for the dice to drop, and they really haven't apart from the Humiliation roll. I couldn't have asked for a harder kick in the nuts at that point. The dice really through you twists you don't expect (and sometimes the twist is success after success).