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Surviving Mars: Guide to Sanity

There will be challenges to overcome. Execute your strategy and improve your colony’s chances of survival while unlocking the mysteries of this alien world. Are you ready? Mars is waiting for you.


High and Low Stats

  • A stat is high if it is 70 or higher
  • A stat is low if it is 29 or lower

These are game constants and are used to determine what color a stat displays as and whether bonuses or penalties are applied. For example Whiner trait causes sanity penalties at low comfort, that means comfort less than 30.

Other Surviving Mars Guides:

Breakthroughs, Events and Traits
For the most part I’m not going to be mentioning the effects from Breakthroughs and Events, for they are many and often aren’t encountered in any given game. Also I won’t mention all colonist traits, but I try to mention the more important for gameplay ones.


Sanity Bonuses
Colonists can gain sanity from the following sources:

  • Resting at home. Usually +5 sanity.
  • Visiting a medical building. Usually +10-30 sanity depending on the building performance.
  • Visiting a playground, usually +10 or a Temple spire, usually like +150 (which is completely bizarre).
  • Recovering from the Stressed Out status +50 sanity.
  • Living in a Geoscape dome or with a certain breakthrough (applied when resting).
  • The Gamer trait awards sanity when gaming.

Sanity Penalties
There are three main classes of sanity penalties:

Sanity abusing work practises

  • -10 Heavy Workload (overtime)
  • -10 Nightshift
  • -10 Working outside a Dome


Cold Waves and Dust Storms inflict regular small sanity penalties, usually about 10 per sol in total. This occurs regardless of how well you are managing the disaster.

Missing Life Support

Also known as management disasters, when an aspect of life support is missing even very briefly colonists suffer a randomized sanity penalty. They will not receive another sanity penalty for that particular aspect of life support until the next sol, this is defined as midnight, so if life support cuts off just before midnight they can get two sanity penalties in rapid succession.

Also when a colonist dies, other colonists in the dome suffer a -15 sanity penalty.


Certain traits afflict sanity penalties under certain conditions. Those conditions are usually very easy to avoid.

The effects of high and low sanity

  • High sanity awards +5 Morale.
  • Low sanity inflicts a -10 Morale penalty and the colonist will aggressively seek Medical Checks for so long as they are in low sanity.

When a colonist falls to 0 sanity a series of things happen:

  • First they have a 1% chance of committing suicide. Basically they roll a d100 and if it comes up 1, they swallow it and choke to death.
  • If they are still alive, they have a 30% chance of developing a new flaw (reduced to 9% with Supportive Community).
  • Whether or not they gain a flaw, they gain the Stressed Out status which prevents them from working and lasts 3 sols, when it ends they gain +50 sanity.
  • The Stressed Out status completely protects against gaining new flaws, but does not protect against suicide.
  • As long as sanity remains at 0 the colonist has a 1% chance to commit suicide every time they idle (decide what to do next), this won’t occur more than 24 times per sol, but usually much less as the colonist will spend large periods of time in a service building or resting and not rolling the d100.

Sanity in Practise

Sanity management involves balancing sanity abuse with sanity healing.

Medical Care vs Sanity Abuse
It is important to provide medical care to all working colonists, there is no real need to provide medical care for colonists who don’t work, such as Elders and Tourists as by not working they take very few sanity penalties and they still regain +5 sanity per rest.

The need for medical care depends on how much you use sanity abusing work practises. Colonists naturally regain 5 sanity per night when they rest, and they lose 10 sanity per sol when doing sanity abusing work. This means that effectively the first sanity abusing practise causes a loss of 5 sanity per sol. After 20 sols without medical care the colonist will have a breakdown. 2 sanity abusing practises cause the loss of 15 sanity per sol, and 3 practises the loss of 25 sanity per sol.

Medical buildings tend to award 8 to 30 sanity per visit. A basic infirmary employing wrong-specs will award about 10 sanity per visit, with medics it’ll award about 15. Medical Center can easily award 30 per visit. A colonist can visit multiple times in a row (in fact without even leaving the building) and will in fact do this if they are still at low sanity after the first visit.

This colonist suffered a series of sanity abuses, once they fell to low sanity they sought medical care. Then they got hit by -30 sanity at work, they visited the infirmary repeatedly to restore their sanity to above 30.

We can crudely estimate how many medical buildings we need. If the infirmaries have medics, a colonist doing one sanity abusing practise will need to visit the infirmary every 4 sols. An infirmary can see about 30 colonists per sol, so at a low level of sanity abuse an infirmary could service around 120 colonists.

When two sanity abuses are combined, colonists lose sanity 3 times faster and need to visit the infirmary nearly every day, as such the Infirmary would only be able to keep about 40 colonists sane.

When three sanity abuses are combined, now colonists have to visit the infirmary every sol or even multiple times per sol, and a single infirmary will only handle about 25 colonists. Because colonists don’t seek sanity-healing until their sanity is already low, losing up to 25 sanity in a day means that colonists are living on a knife’s edge in terms of sanity, while a low sanity colonist WILL very aggressively seek medical checks, if the infirmary is permanently full that colonist will have a breakdown the next sol. Also these severely abused colonists will almost certainly have breakdowns if they suffer an extra +10 sanity penalty from disasters.

The proper amount of sanity abuse
If you don’t abuse your colonist’s sanity at all, they will remain at high sanity and get a +5 morale/performance bonus. This is quite a small bonus compared with nightshift which makes buildings 33% more productive, and Heavy Workload that makes buildings somewhere between a little and a lot more productive depending on how poor the performance is (Heavy Workload adds +20 shift performance, so if the performance from workers is 150 it’s only a 13% bonus, but if the performance from workers is 7 it’s a 285% bonus). And outdome work is often not optional, as you might absolutely need to mine rare metals or produce polymers.

So ideally, you want to take advantage of the +5 sanity regen, by applying 10 sanity abuse to all colonists. That is, set Heavy Workload on in-dome day-shifts, activate nightshift in in-dome jobs, and for outdome work only run day shifts. At this level of sanity abuse infirmaries are barely stressed at all.

The trickier question is whether to double up sanity abuses. On average:

  • For single sanity abuse you need 1 medic per 40 population.
  • For double sanity abuse you need 1 medic per 13 population.
  • For triple sanity abuse you need 1 medic per 8 population.

Even for triple sanity abuse you only need 12.5% of the population to be medics, so if you can boost worker productivity by 20% that can be acceptable, especially if the building you are boosting is harder to provision than an infirmary, you can build as many infirmaries as you like since they’re just concrete and have negligible power requirements. But other buildings can have higher costs and maintenance, much higher power use and limited placement options. You might prefer to run a Rare Metal Extractor at maximum abuse and build more infirmaries, rather than building a second Rare Metal Extractor and less abusive practises.

In short. Single sanity abuse is great and you should pretty much always do it even though you miss out on the +5 morale for high sanity. Double sanity abuse and triple sanity abuse should be considered, but make sure to provide sufficient medical care!

Personally I use universal single-sanity abuse except where it really doesn’t matter (some service buildings aren’t going to give comfort bonuses anyway). I also use double-sanity abuse quite a bit, but mostly avoid triple-sanity abuse because it leaves colonists too vulnerable to spontaneous breakdown if they suffer a 4th sanity penalty. My rule of thumb is 1 infirmary per 50 population, or 1 Medical Center per 150 population.

Natural and management disasters
Sanity losses from a disaster is about equal to a single sanity abusing work practise. It’s pretty much always worthwhile turning off most of your sanity abusing work practises during these disasters so that colonists can maintain average sanity. Also make sure infirmaries are operational, by setting them to maximum priority.

Achieving High Sanity
There are really only two ways to achieve high sanity:

  • Don’t abuse your colonist’s sanity, they will naturally regenerate to high sanity by resting.
  • Lure colonists to buildings that boost sanity. For example Playing > Playground, Relaxation > Infirmary with Rejuvenation Treatment or Relaxation/Social > Temple.
Other sanity mitigation strategies

Some perks are very helpful and are good to select for.

  • Composed halves absolutely all sanity penalties. These guys need infirmary care a lot less than other colonists and manage disasters much better.
  • Workaholic prevents penalties from Heavy Workload and as if that weren’t enough, also awards +20 work performance! These guy are great and a top pick.
  • Religious prevents suicide and also awards +10 morale/performance. Breakdowns aren’t great because you lose the worker for 3 sols, but suicide is worse.
  • Hypochondriac and Chronic Condition causes colonists to visit infirmaries more often, thus potentially healing their sanity more often than they otherwise would and maybe achieving High Sanity.

The Gamer perk is not useful. Buildings that provide gaming also tend to get filled with other riffraff seeking shopping or social or whatever and tend to be expensive with low capacity. And gamers aren’t smart enough to deliberately seek gaming when their sanity is low.

Sponsor and Commander
The Psychologist Commander provides an extra +5 sanity when resting. This means that a single sanity abusing practise doesn’t cause sanity loss at all and that greatly reduces load on medical buildings and means most single-abuse workers will have +5 performance from high sanity. It has less impact on double or triple sanity abuse.

The Church Sponsor gives all its applicants Religious trait for free, so they’re all immune to suicide. In Space Race they get the Temple spire which is Bonkers, Broken, OP and everything in between. It appeals to Social and Relaxation which is basically all colonists and can award well over 100 sanity per visit. With this broken Spire you can go nuts abusing your colonist’s sanity while skimping on medical care.


Provide a Diner, Grocer and Infirmary per 50 population. This keeps people in middle to high comfort, keeps them healthy and is cheap.

Use Heavy Workload and Nightshift liberally to increase building performance and productivity but be aware you need to keep a close eye on medical capacity if you are stacking these abusive work practises, and turn these practises off during Dust Storms and Cold Waves.

When life support is missing, colonists suffer sanity damage immediately but won’t suffer it again until the next sol, on the other hand health damage requires around 24 hours of uninterrupted absence of life support. Use this knowledge for evil.

Open Air Gyms can stave off death by starvation indefinitely for colonists who like Exercise and Social and not much else. This is not typically useful but is hilarious.

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Written by Blake Walsh

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