written by Caroline
I’ve done quite a few Christmas themed story games throughout my life: Santa Kingdom (rob-Santa’s lap is too hard!), Campaign for Santa Follow (Can we get David Attenborough to voice our penguin candidate’s political ad for next Santa?), and most recently, how the Grunch Stole Follow (a heist to end all Christmases, literally). But I think we finally did it: the ultimate Christmas Story Game. It was holly. It was jolly. It was poly. And by that I mean it was political. That’s right folks:
On the first day of Christmas, my true love played with me, a story game called Mars Colony.
There’s trouble in the North Pole, and only one woman has enough tinsel and nog to find the true meaning of Christmas. Yes, that’s right, it’s everyone’s favorite Christmas mom, Kelly Perkins!
Marc and I have always loved Mars Colony. It’s delightful to play a two-player game where we can explore big issues, zoom in and out from personal to political drama, and then test our ideas against the cruel, cruel dice. It’s a true gem, and if you haven’t played it yet, I really highly recommend playing it just as written. We took it a little off the rails. In a good way.
By choosing to play in an alternate setting, we gave ourselves a bit of extra work. We started with changing our “colony” organization; the game is set up with an executive body, a legislative body, a media apparatus, and an external governing body. Our Mayor’s office obviously became the Santa Dynasty, Mayor was Santa of course (Deputy Mayor became Santa Jr, Son of Santa). We created a Cold Coalition of various Christmas creatures. The News Network Corp. became the Christmas Special, in charge of Christmas propaganda. And Earth Coalition, the group which sends Kelly Perkins to Mars, became the Children of the World. Kelly is selected because she’s the most enthusiastic Christmas mom, Jayson’s mom to be specific.
At this point we remembered that we were supposed to create a list of “fears,” things that frighten us about our real life government. We wrote some Christmas fears instead. Some highlights:
- Christmas is too material focused
- Presents aren’t good enough
- Naughty list, and
- Can’t keep up the cheerful attitude after the holiday. Woof
Next up was establishing political parties. To make them, you choose a political guide from the real world and then establish whether it’s a dominant, minority, or fringe party. We ended up with The Holiday Party (traditionalists, 34th street stuff), The United Workshops of the World (socialist), Cheer.O (the . is pronounced “point” – big tech), and the Christ in Christmas Party (conservative Christians… but like penguins so it’s fun).
I played Kelly Perkins (and yes, her outfits were extremely festive), and Marc played “the Governor”, essentially everyone else in the North Pole (You know Dasher. We also had Son of Santa, the ultimate tech bro; some cute nutcrackers; an abominable snow thing; and plenty of cookies and elves). We set up a host of problems facing the North Pole and gave Kelly a complicated relationship – a rich and ambitious lover, the Mouse King. Squeak!
In Mars Colony, Kelly describes solutions to three health markers and rolls dice to see if they succeed. If you ever roll and fail, you have the option to lie to the colony and make it seem like a success. If you roll a special kind of failure though, all those “deception” points can trigger a scandal (it’s a little more complicated than that, but you get the picture). It’s a beautiful system that pushes Kelly to compromise her ideals to at least get something done, and it leads to some pretty heavy drama.
Two hours of hilarity later, and Kelly had actually solved a lot of the North Pole’s problems: labor had been satisfied by festive parties, certificates of appreciation, a sleigh-pop performance, a day off, and permission to get back to basic toy-making. Christmas organization got under control, and Kelly managed to put the brakes on anti-Santa “the fur-trimmed devil” propaganda.
In the final scene, Christmas magic was saved by giving Santa a rotating cast of sidekick characters throughout the years. Think elf on the shelf meets the Zodiac. The Mouse King’s dreams of becoming the new Santa partially came true, and Kelly gave every Christmas parent a hell of a lot more work to do.
The dice had Kelly’s back, and she solved all of the North Pole’s problems with only two lies and no scandals. It was statistically and fictionally ridiculous, but I couldn’t have asked for a better holiday special.