Why I Love: The cannibal of Tharsis

I've told you about Tharsis before, but in case you’ve forgotten, it’s a punishing dice-based game about a doomed mission to Mars. Surviving the ten turns it takes to reach the red planet is immensely difficult, given your ship’s propensity for breaking horribly, often hurting your crew in the process. Oh, and food stores went out the window, so eventually you may find yourself cooking up a crew stew to keep from starving. You have several different crew members at your disposal to improve your odds of completing your mission, each one with their own special skill. The medical officer can heal the crew, the psychologist can reduce stress, the mechanic can repair the ship, and so on. They’re all extremely useful, of course, but my favorite crew member by far is the cannibal.

First of all, how the hell is "cannibal" a job description? Pilot, ok, sure, comms officer, naturally, but cannibal? And who applies for that job? Is it the person who wants to go into space, but realizes they have no real skills and decides well, heck, I guess I could always eat people? And who the hell back at mission command thought it would be a good idea to have a cannibal on board? They could've used that weight allowance for spare fuel or, I don't know, extra food, but nah. Let's go with someone who eats people. Definitely the right call.

Whatever the thought process that put her there, Sofia the cannibal is genuinely one of the most valuable members of the crew, because she has the ability to create food. Roll high enough and she can swap a point of her own health for food to feed anyone on board. So she's not so much a cannibal as she is… dinner. Given how vital dice-restoring food is to winning the game, Sofia is great to have around, but I very rarely actually use her ability because it just seems so damn unfair.  I feel like she got stuck being the cannibal the way someone gets stuck being the bank in Monopoly; nobody else wanted to and she was just too nice to say no. She's got the least glamorous job on the ship, but she tries just as hard as everyone else. Harder even, given that none of her shipmates sacrifice anything when they use their own special skills. They fix the ship or inspire the crew at no cost to themselves, but Sofia has to hurt herself to help everyone else. Pretty raw deal, honestly.

And let's not talk about the training she must've gone through. I mean, med school is hard, and learning all the tech specs of a spaceship is no small feat, but come on. She eats people. Is that a four-year program, do you think? Is there postgraduate cannibal work you need to do? Even if she just likes eating people, she must be really, really good at it in order to have been placed on this mission. You don't just send the amateur mechanic into space, after all, or the person who's kind of good at first aid. You send the best of the best, so Sofia must be a really amazing cannibal. Whatever the hell that means.  

The crew in Tharsis has no personality or backstory, except what you can perhaps interpret from their pained expressions as they take damage or hear the ship breaking apart. But I can't help but feel like Sofia the cannibal is a plucky underdog of a space farer. There's absolutely no plausible reason she should be there in the first place (I really wonder about her job interview), and I'm not sure how her skills will improve first contact, but whatever. If I can only get one person safely down to the surface of Mars - a common outcome in Tharsis - it's gonna be her, dammit. Hopefully she won't eat anyone she meets down there.

Why I Love encapsulates all the little details of gaming life that sometimes get ignored. It arrives every Friday at 0900 PST / 1700 GMT. Follow @gamesradar on Twitter for updates.

Susan Arendt

Susan was once Managing Editor US at GamesRadar, but has since gone on to become a skilled freelance journalist, editor, producer, and content manager. She is now 1/3 of @Continuepod, 1/2 of @BeastiesLl, co-founder of @TakeThisOrg, and Apex Editor, Fluid Group.