ars ludi

if you asked Ben's brain about gaming, this is what it would say

Mars Colony Triple-header

“I start a campaign… a totally _fascist_ campaign.”
–brand new gamer, solving the problems of Mars

I love Mars Colony. It’s hands-down the best game I picked up at GenCon 2009. That’s not even considering that it’s technically only an ash can release, not the final version, which is coming out at GenCon this year.

The trick is that it’s not a game you would normally whip out and get your group to try, because it is for exactly two players, an entirely interesting and largely unexplored gaming niche (ask Ping). But I was determined to get more people to give it a try, and some of my fellow gamers were a) curious and b) tired of hearing me rant what a great game it was, so we bit the bullet and got a bunch of folks together — six as it turns out, but any even number works. I explained the rules and then we split into pairs and played.

Three simultaneous Mars Colony games, all in the same room at the same time.

“So… you haven’t really done anything since the Council blew up.”*

The rules of Mars Colony, as written, are tremendously clear. Crystal clear. But this was me walking everyone through it verbally, explaining the concept and all the rules from scratch. The system isn’t complicated, but there are concrete mechanics that push the drama and must be understood for the game to work. Was I nervous? Was I braced for confusion and big disappointment? Oh yeah.

Keep in mind, one of our players had never gamed at all. One had played traditional games but no story games. Everyone else had a mix of game experience.

When you’re introducing people to a new game, you are usually in the game, so you can gauge how things are going, provide helpful hints if things are going off the rails, etc. In this case, not so much. I’m playing in my own game, but I’ve got one ear cocked to hear if the other players sound miserable, confused, or just plain bored.

“Let’s see if they all start chanting and calling my name…”

So given all that, what was the verdict? The red planet is made of win, and the gamers in that room rocked. When you overhear brand new players launching fascist regimes an hour into their first roleplaying game ever… well that’s a success in my book.

After everyone hit their last progress scenes and were ready for the endgame, Susan (our fabulous hostess) had the bright idea of doing the epilogue sequences one group at a time, so the whole room could hear how Kelly Perkins had fared in her efforts to save the colony. We did quick summaries of what the different Kelly’s were like, what the issues confronting the colony were, and the roller coaster ride that ensued. There were some glorious victories and some bitter defeats. Some games had both.

Right when we were first setting up, one of the new players asked something along the lines of “could you really play this game more than once,” meaning, once you’d played out saving (or failing to save) the colony, would it be interesting to do it again? Just going by how different every game I’ve played has been so far, and by how extremely different the three games we had in that room were, I’d say the answer is an unreserved yes.

In addition to just being, y’know, super-fun, it was also a great test run of my plan to have a big group of people play parallel games of Mars Colony at Go Play NW. Lessons learned, refinements brewing.

* yeah, literally blew up, like with bombs. Nice one, Caroline.


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