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Mars to Stay at Tekniska

I will be playing my story game Mars to Stay again this Thursday at Tekniska in Stockholm.

Mars to Stay is a game about humanity’s first colony on Mars. It is about the pioneers who risk themselves to do what no one has done before. There are no aliens and no faster than light space travel, it’s about as down-to-Earth as it can get. Except it's on Mars.

Would you give up Earth for good?

The main characters have made the choice of going to Mars to stay, if not for life then at least until further notice. Driven by the dream of going where no one has gone before, they sign up with a private company to build humanity’s first colony on the Red Planet.

The six main characters, Alex, Brice, Francis, Glen, Mason, Shane, all have strong personal motivations for going to Mars. They also all have a connection with someone back on Earth, some unfinished business.

At the beginning of the story, you get to see them shine, achieving what they set out to do, on the road to success. Then a dramatic change of circumstances force them to revisit their decision. So you wanted to go to Mars to stay — even if X? At the end of the story, each will decide whether to stay or whether to return to Earth. Individual choices, but of course they are part of a team and their choice will have consequences for other characters.

So by playing the game you create and tell stories that explore the motivations of highly competent and highly motivated people in extraordinary circumstances.

The game plays in 3-6 hours, depending on how many players are present and the play style of the players. The 2023 edition is available as PDF or as print on demand.

Glen takes a last long look at Earth from orbit before leaving for Mars. Illustration by Claudia Cangini.

Inspiration for Mars to Stay

The idea for the game goes back to when I first learned about the lost colony of Roanoke. In 1587, a group of colonists travelling from England sets foot on the island of Roanoke at the coast of North Carolina after a dramatic voyage. They had all signed up with a private company to establish a colony in North America. Up until this point, the only permanent presence of Europeans on the continent were soldiers in forts guarding the trade routes further south. Late in the season and not quite pleased with the designated landing spot, they are forced to work with what they have.

Its mayor left for England to request resources and manpower. Unfortunately, war between England and Spain delays his efforts. When he finally returns three years later, he finds the settlement empty — his wife, child, and grandchild, having vanished. The lost colony of Roanoke is one of the most-notorious mysteries in American history.

I was also at one point inspired by the Dutch tv-show Mars One who aimed to send astronauts to Mars by April 2023 and funded as an interplanetary reality show.

At some point these two ideas fused into Mars to Stay.

Alex oversees the construction of the colony. Illustration by Claudia Cangini.

The Mars to Stay 2023 edition

I created a version of the game that premiered at Fastaval 2017. The game generated good play and a nomination for Best Story. However, I wasn’t satisfied with this version. I had created a monster of a game that was way too complicated to run in a single play session. I had added an Apocalypse World game mechanic for crunch and a game master to pace and generate opposition. It was a sandbox with enough story ideas for a mini campaign.

So during the pandemic, when everyone was sitting at home, I got back in touch with players from Malmö and Copenhagen and revisited the game design. I created a version of the game that did not require a game master and that only has the crunch that really matters, to quantify the odds for survival at the conclusion of the story. Play tests went well and I published this version in an EPUB format in 2021 but ran out of steam so the PDF and paperback versions only happened this year. I’m very pleased with this version of the game. It delivers on the pick-up-and play promise of Montsegur 1244 and generates similar stories about hard choices and complex motivations in a single long play session or two short sessions.

So by all means, if you have the opportunity, come and play with me this Thursday at Tekniska in Stockholm. I will be bringing a few copies of Mars to Stay and Montsegur 1244 for sale as well.

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