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Terraforming Mars» Forums » General

Subject: The Political Economy of Theming rss

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Francesco Paris

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I have a question for the designer/s. Considering there is an obvious amount of love for the literature and theory that exists around the theme of terraforming mars and that within that world of fascinated speculators there is a rich wealth of ideas in conflict and play concerning the different economic and political possibilities engaged in this great transformation, given all of that, why did you pick a model that contained none of that difference, or at the least, some ambiguity involved?

I know that people will react differently given their own aesthetic/ethic/political frameworks but my game groups will be less inclined to play a game of this theme which just has competing corporations. Competing businesses isn't a problem in something like Powergrid, but in Terraforming Mars, being sci-fi, it's a projection of one economic model into the future and, within our culture, we fear it will feel like an impoverished experience for it.
 
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Stephen Lovell
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patrocles wrote:
I have a question for the designer/s. Considering there is an obvious amount of love for the literature and theory that exists around the theme of terraforming mars and that within that world of fascinated speculators there is a rich wealth of ideas in conflict and play concerning the different economic and political possibilities engaged in this great transformation, given all of that, why did you pick a model that contained none of that difference, or at the least, some ambiguity involved?

I know that people will react differently given their own aesthetic/ethic/political frameworks but my game groups will be less inclined to play a game of this theme which just has competing corporations. Competing businesses isn't a problem in something like Powergrid, but in Terraforming Mars, being sci-fi, it's a projection of one economic model into the future and, within our culture, we fear it will feel like an impoverished experience for it.


Because it's a board game and they had to settle on something mechanically solid to base the gameplay on. Honestly, I'm not even sure what you're talking about in your post. I've read the Mars trilogy and loved it, but I also think TM is a great game themed around the terrafoeming process without getting overly bogged down with political issues.
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Francesco Paris

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Well, it's a question to the designers really. I'm curious why they chose corporations as it does affect the feel of the play. You could change the theming of the entities competing to be more broad and not affect the gameplay at all.

I'm not talking about getting bogged down in anything, I'm talking about theming it slightly differently so that it has an even broader appeal.
 
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Florian Ruckeisen
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Well I don't know how much the designer(s) will be willing to chime in here, but I'd wager that when it comes to the theme of the game, the science and the technical process of terraforming was the main idea behind it. This is where the thematic strength of the game lies IMO.

But then you need to go ahead and actually build a good game around that idea (which Jacob et al succeeded in doing ) - and the particulars may need to "bend" the theme a bit. Like, unless you make the game fully cooperative, you will have competing agents/factions/companies in the game. Now, you could go all the way and dive deep into political, social, and philosophical quandaries, but that would take the focus away from the more science-y aspect that - as it seems to me - was the main idea to begin with.

The way that we play competing megacorporations which, over the course of centuries, benefit from subsidies from the World Government, yet in the end what they really want is public recognition for their terraforming efforts... it does seem pretty odd thematically, to say the least. Which leads me to believe that this aspect of the theme was "tacked on" to represent the game mechanics.

Personally, I'm glad that they made a great game and modified the theme around it (even if the details of the theme got a bit bumpy on the way), rather than an intellectually intriguing theme that may not translate so well to an engaging game.

The vibe that Terraforming Mars gives me is that it was made by someone with a passion and fascination for the science aspects of terraforming, and also infused with a good dash of optimism as to the feasibility of the whole ordeal. (Bear in mind that at least in multiplayer games, TM will always end with a successfully terraformed planet.) I can see how some might see this as "an opportunity missed" as there are many more aspects one could focus on here, but I'm quite happy with it as is.
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Francesco Paris

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I don't disagree with anything you say Florian. Gameplay must come first. I have been suckered into too many well themed games that tried to just bend a theme into a few mechanics and didn't pay attention to balance and the joy of playing the game, but then theme comes a very close second to me. It is important.

But you hit on what I'm suggesting would have been possible: competing agents, factions, etc, this could have been designed thematically to be broader without touching gameplay in the slightest. Simply by calling the entities corporations one takes a very particular economic model and projects it into this imagined future. With just a tweak it could have been broader.
 
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Jon Ben
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Perhaps the corporations of the future are very different from our modern ones.
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H-B-G
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The game acknowledges taking a lot of inspiration from Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. I've only read the first book so far, but transnational corporations involved in certain aspects of terraforming do play a part in that novel, so maybe that is the reason for the inclusion.
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Örjan Almén
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Actually, Terraforming Mars is part of a space odyssey together with Space Station and Fleets: The Pleiad Conflict in where some of the corporations in Terraforming Mars also exists. I find both other games great but very different from TM. I believe that "corporation" in their sense isn't what a earth bound corporation as we know them of today are. I think the word the designer use is to get a reasonable comparison to what we know of today.
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Greg S
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48 years from now, when I celebrate my 100th birthday on Mars, I fully expect it to be as a result of the efforts of SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and especially whichever Chinese companies arise in the next 10 years in the industry, rather than State Actors.
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Jacob Fryxelius
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Qualm wrote:
48 years from now, when I celebrate my 100th birthday on Mars, I fully expect it to be as a result of the efforts of SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and especially whichever Chinese companies arise in the next 10 years in the industry, rather than State Actors.


This.

I love this discussion!
Corporations becoming the leading space agents is what we feel is the most realistic scenario, and this is what we want - a credible story. Still, there are of course other actors as well, like UNMI which is the arm of the World Government itself, and Tharsis Republic which is the first democracy on Mars, and the Mining Guild which is much more an alliance than a corporation.

The game is really about improving your faction's image and influence, because VPs are generally awarded for creating a new home for humanity, buildning cities and greeneries, as well as developing useful technologies, caring for the environment, and expand mankind's infrastructure throughout the solar system.

And we needed to focus tha base game around the terraforming process, which forms the framework for the card effects, the global parameters and the tile laying, and around the corporate setting which provides a base for the resource management.
Although there are a few hints about other social and political aspects (Immigration shuttles, Callisto Penal Mines, Indentured Workers, negative VPs), this is something we'd like to explore more in the future... whistle

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Paul Newsham
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Mmm, corruption expansion
 
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Francesco Paris

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Yes! this is the sort of stuff I was looking for. Because there is such an obvious inspiration from Kim Stanley Robinson amongst others but it seemed to me that looking at it with just corporation written all over the board and themed in that it was missing some of the lovely potential to view the situation differently or see the different entities competing in different ways.
 
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Clyde W
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Qualm wrote:
48 years from now, when I celebrate my 100th birthday on Mars, I fully expect it to be as a result of the efforts of SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and especially whichever Chinese companies arise in the next 10 years in the industry, rather than State Actors.
We should be friends! I too hope to celebrate a birthday on Mars 48 years from now (though I'll only be 85)! We can hang out, enjoy the 4% oxygen, and play some board games!
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