This is a copy of a post I made on Tumblr on using Mars Colony in a classroom as a multiplayer story game. Tim Koppang, the author of the game, actually referred to it on his website. Might be interesting to read here.

For the class in Design Fiction I teach at the Willem de Kooning Academy, we decided to incorporate story games as an alternative means for classical design fiction with objects. I use a different definition of story games than most other people, allowing Interactive Fiction, Choose Your Own Adventures and even story cubes and games like Once Upon a Time incorporate the essential characteristics for me to be a story game. For me, A story game is a game which creates a story. In other words, story is a part of the game mechanics instead of just being colour.

For this purpose, I needed to have a story game able to tell a story ideally dealing with governmental issues regarding decision making, also incorporating different stakeholders. Mars Colony by Tim Koppang (see the link) is ideal for that. However, the role-playing game is meant for two persons, while I had an estimated twenty students. I considered two different methods: let the students play the game in ten groups of two persons or redesign the game to be played by twenty persons. Since most players players had nil experience in role-playing games, I opted for the latter, which actually turned out to be quite an interesting game.

For those who do not know Mars Colony, you can find a great review by a good friend of mine, Victor Gijsbers, on his Gaming Philosophers blog (higly recommended!):

After discussing with the original author, I adapted the original game in the following manner:

1. I’m going to assign two Saviors and the rest are Martians. I myself will play the role of the Earth council to keep the pressure on.
2. Each player will belong to one of the political parties. Furthermore, each one of the Saviors has a Personal relationship with one of the players.
3. Each player has an appeal, which he or she can use to re-roll one die after it has been cast. However, that person should be able to explain that narratively.

Beforehand, I decided upon three health markers and upon the political parties. The health markers I used were Disease, social unrest and corruption. I partly based these upon the political parties I assigned to the colours:

Yellow (Majority): People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (Dutch: VVD, Conservative Liberal Right Wing

Blue (Fringe): Party For Freedom (Dutch: PVV, Geert Wilders party, Populistic Coservative Extreme Right Wing with Left Wing economical policies,

Green (Minority): GroenLinks (trans GreenLeft, Progressivistic Leftwing,

I ended up with thirteen students in my class. Of those thirteen, I chose two of them to be a Savior (Tamara and Rosan). The rest was split up evenly on the political parties (with one less for the blue group). After explaining the basics of the rules, I turned to the political parties and asked each of them to think about a slogan for their party (which I wrote down on a sheet visible for everyone) and to think about an agenda for each of the health markers. Meanwhile, I explained Rosan(Green) and Tamara the idea behind the personal relationships. Tamara(Blue) chose Mariëlle (Green) to be her politically succesful daughter and Rosan chose Saskia (Blue) to be her drug addicted daughter.

While the Saviors decided upon their relationships, I noticed two things:

The personal relationship didn’t have any mechanic, while I had, save a few, only gamist players. Therefore, I decided that the Saviors also received an appeal, but they could only give it away to their personal relationship when their relationship was sufficiently fleshed out (i.e. the problems were addressed).
The political parties (i.e. Martians) asked whether there was a method for them to win. I argued that, effectively, if it was their own solution which was adopted by the Saviors. This had an enormous impact on the way the appeals were applied.

Furthermore, I decided upon three different associations for the Martians, of which the party members should decide who was responsible. These groups were The Martian News Network, the Minng Company, the Council and the Majors office.

I (Yellow) started the game as the Earth council, urging the Saviours to do their utmost to solve the problems so that Earth could claim their rightful Martian resources. Afer this prelude, play continued as normal, except the role of the Governor, which was played once per political party, who would put forward a spokesman.

In the beginning, players needed to get accustomed to the whole system. On one hand, there was some confusion about whether they were telling facts or fiction, since the students were feeling quite in character in that sense. Questions like “Am I allowed to talk about that in my role?” and “That what I am saying, is that the truth or is it a lie?” were confusing in the beginning, but as the game continued and I explained that it should be clear from the context whether it was fact or fiction, the game went quite smoothly.

The players did use far more appeals to re-roll a 1, because they wanted their ideas to succeed. This meant that during the course of the game, only one deception was introduced, which is quite a pity, since it introduces a core mechanic.

One thing I did like about this version was the seemingly frustrating effect for some players that their ideas weren’t valid anymore due to the story elements introduced by the other players. Part of creating a story together is the fact that not all of your ideas will be part of the story.

The players from the political parties found the deception system confusing, since they found that deceiving information extremely useful to introduce via their News Network person. However, due to the nature of the Deception system, this is knowledge unknown to the Martians. The difference between in-character information and meta-game information now became quite apparent.

Afterwards, I discussed with the students their experiences. In general, they found it quite a cool game, save for the part after a break, which ruined the atmosphere. They thought it would add to the experience if we would introduce a win-lose condition for the political parties. One way could be to think about some hidden agendas beforehand and hand them over to the political parties. If those hidden agendas would be satisfied by the Saviours, it would count as a win for the political party. Another option would be to mix hidden agendas and open agendas.

A second point is that there should be much less appeals. It influenced the result far too much, but that was to be expected I guess. It clearly needs some finetuning.

Overall, it was quite a joyful experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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