Collapse! The Game: Draft #2

Back in December I posted the first draft of a new collaborative/cooperative game I have been designing for use in community-building, transition planning and resilience-building. I am pleased to present a second, more refined, somewhat simplified, and more complete draft. You can download the entire 30-page game package (rules, tables, community ‘story’, crisis descriptions, game boards and one of the two 128-card decks) in PDF form here. Following are the updated rules and some of the graphics from the PDF:

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Community Map for Collapse! The Game, showing the 12 ‘Aspects’ of resilient community. Players (community members) take on roles, and ‘invest’ time and energy in different types of Infrastructure (brick wall icon), Resources (leaf icon), Specialized Competencies (person-with-wrench icon) and Generalist Competencies (person-operating-machine icon). These investments determine how well their community copes with a variety of crises encountered during the game.

Purpose of the Game: To enable those concerned about coping with emerging economic, energy and ecological crises to learn about and practice, through game simulation, building resilient and sustainable communities.

Game Objective: The players work cooperatively to build a new self-sufficient, resilient community, and prepare for and deal with various 21st century crises as they impact the community. The effectiveness of their efforts is reflected by changes in the community’s Well-Being Index (WBI). The game continues until the WBI either falls below the ‘unsustainable’ threshold (game is lost) or rises above the ‘exemplary’ threshold (game is won).

Equipment:

  • The Community Story: This is the background story behind the creation of your community. This reflects the culture of the community, what led it to be created, and the particular advantages and vulnerabilities of the specific place where the community is located. A generic story is provided, but players are encouraged to modify the generic story to better suit the situation of the particular place where they live.
  • Community Map: This map shows the 12 Aspects (food security, energy self-sufficiency etc.) of an effective community (see illustration), and tracks the ‘investment’ of members of the community in (a) infrastructure, (b) resources and (c) acquired competencies, relevant to each Aspect.
  • Well-Being Index: The index (WBI – see illustration) is initially set to a score of approximately 60 (‘satisfactory’). Events, activities, investments and crises all affect the WBI. The lowest WBI levels shown on the index is 30 (‘unsustainable’); the highest level is 90 (‘exemplary’).
  • Community Vulnerabilities Matrix and 22 Crisis Tokens: This matrix (see illustration) shows the probability (horizontal axis) and potential severity (vertical axis) of 11 different types of crisis that can affect the community. Each crisis has both a ‘mild’ version (low severity high probability, crises A1 through K1) and a ‘severe’ version (high severity low probability, crises A2 through K2). A suggested starting position for each of the 22 crisis tokens is provided, but players are welcome to modify these starting positions to better reflect actual vulnerabilities in their community. The position of crisis tokens on the matrix is affected by various event cards that are drawn during the game; some events will push a crisis ‘over the edge’ at which point players must deal with it as a crisis occurring in the community in real time.
  • Crisis Descriptions: A description of each version of each of the 11 crises is provided, but players are welcome to amend the descriptions to better reflect the situation in their specific community. These descriptions are used to assess the impact of an occurring crisis on each Aspect of the community, and to provide a context for the Strategy Discussion among players on how to address the crisis. Note that crises are not independent — increases and decreases in risks of some crises will automatically increase or decrease the risks of other crises.
  • Investment Cards: Infrastructure, Resource and Specialized Competency Cards: 36 cards of each of three types (Infrastructure, denoted by a brick wall icon; Resources, denoted by a leaf icon, and Specialized Competencies, denoted by a person-with-wrench icon) identify alternative investments that can be made in specific Aspects of the community. An additional 20 cards (denoted by a person-operating-machine icon) describe Generalist Competencies that can be useful in any of the 12 Aspects of the community. Players must decide collaboratively which of these to invest in, which involves risk and personal preference trade-offs.
  • Investment Tokens: 40 small tokens of each colours, used to mark which Aspects of community the members’ investments in infrastructure, resources and competencies pertain to.
  • Role Sheets: A piece of paper for each player to record their selected Role(s) in the community, the Aspect corresponding to each Role, and decisions on which Aspects of community the player’s Generalist Competencies are focused on.
  • Event Cards: 120 cards describe various events that are drawn at random and which govern the progress of the game. Some events are beneficial; others are not, and increase the risk of crises occurring. Some events are personal (e.g. they may entail a player losing his/her competencies, or acquiring sudden wealth that can be invested strategically in the community). The event cards include 10 ‘Black Swan’ event cards; suggested ‘Black Swan’ events are provided on these cards, but players are welcome, before the start of the game, to secretly write their own alternative ‘Black Swan’ events which, if these cards are drawn, override the default suggested events. The drawing of an event card represents the passing of 3 months of time in the life of the community.
  • Investment Options Master List: This chart shows all 128 Investment Cards, by type, with the Aspect each pertains to. These are listed numerically by Aspect. This List also shows the Role that pertains to each Aspect.
  • Crisis Impacts Table: Shows the impact of each version of each of the 11 crises on each of the 12 Aspects of the community (see illustration), and the interrelationship of the Crises. This table is used by the community in assessing its vulnerabilities and deciding what investments of infrastructure, resources and competencies to make in each Aspect.

Community Vulnerabilities Matrix and Well-Being Index (WBI) Tracker for Collapse! The Game. Event cards affect the likelihood of occurrence and the severity of various economic, energy and ecological crises. When a crisis moves into the red area, it becomes a reality and the community’s investments, and their collective capacity to address the crisis strategically in the moment, determine whether the WBI for the community rises to the ‘exemplary’ level (a collective win) or falls to the ‘unsustainable’ level (a collective loss).

Play: (Note: The game is designed optimally for 4-6 players)

  1. Set-up: The players read out, and if desired, amend the Community Story to suit their local community’s situation.
  2. Each player can choose to write one alternative, secret Black Swan event, containing the same information as the Black Swan cards in the deck. They assign it a number from 1 to 10, also secretly. If that Black Swan card is drawn in play, they announce the replacement Black Swan event they have written. (If two players have written a replacement for the same Black Swan event, the event written by the player who is next to draw an event card prevails).
  3. Each player, starting with the youngest, chooses 1-2 community Roles, each of which corresponds to one of the Aspects of the community; these are listed on the Investment Options Master List, and note these on their Role Sheet. Players filling Roles are expected to take leadership to ensure the Aspect(s) that correspond to their Role(s) are appropriately invested in, so the community can cope with crises as they occur.
  4. The 128 Investment (Infrastructure, Resource and Competency) cards are shuffled together. Ninety of them are dealt at random to the players, who turn them over so all players can read them. In turn, each player, in consultation with the group, discards one of their cards until only 65 cards remain. Investment Tokens are each placed on one of the 48 icons of the Community Map (corresponding to the Aspect the investment relates to and the type of Investment). Players holding Generalist Competency cards must choose and write down on their Role Sheet which TWO Aspects they elect to apply those Generalist Competencies to. Depending on the number of Generalist Competencies of the community, the number of initial tokens on the map will vary from 65 to 85, with an average of 75 (about 6 per Aspect).
  5. The Well-Being Index marker is initially placed at the number corresponding to the number of tokens on the Community Map minus 15 (i.e. approximately 60).
  6. The 22 labelled Crisis Risk tokens are placed on the Community Vulnerabilities Matrix at the initial positions suggested in the illustration. The community members then discuss whether they wish to adjust these Crisis Risk token positions to better reflect the specific vulnerabilities of their community. Each token can only be moved one space in any direction, with the proviso that when any token is moved, another token must be moved in the opposite direction.
  7. The 22 Crisis Descriptions are passed around for players to familiarize themselves with. By consensus, any of the Descriptions can be amended to better reflect the specific situation of the community in which the players live. (The game includes printable electronic versions of the Descriptions, should players want to permanently customize the Descriptions to suit their specific situation).
  8. Now, each player in turn draws an Event card, and follows the instructions thereon. If the Event card drawn results in a Crisis, proceed to step 9 (otherwise go step 10).
  9. When a Crisis occurs, the process is as follows:
    • Refer to the Crisis Impacts Table. For each Aspect of community that is affected by the crisis, compare the investment in (resilience of) that Aspect (total number of tokens on the four icons for that Aspect) to the severity of the crisis (number shown on the Community Vulnerabilities Matrix).
    • If the investment is greater than or equal to the severity, remove one token (which one to remove is determined by consensus) from that Aspect of the Community Map, and have the player with that investment discard it (it goes back to the pile that may be drawn again in future turns); reduce the WBI by one point to reflect the energy expended dealing with the crisis.
    • If the investment is less than the severity, an emergency meeting of the community is convened. The Crisis Description card is read out. The various (but inadequate number of) investments in Infrastructure, Resources and Competencies for that Aspect are read out. The group now collectively discusses what their Strategy might be to deal with this crisis if it occurred with this level of severity in their community. This requires honesty, debate and imagination. After this discussion, by consensus (unanimous agreement, though players may ‘stand aside’ if they are not in agreement but don’t feel strongly enough to ‘block’ consensus), the community assesses the adequacy of its in-the-moment Strategy. They can choose to remove any number of tokens from one to all of the tokens in that Aspect, to reflect this consensus on the effectiveness of the crisis strategy. (Note: If there are NO Investment Tokens in that Aspect when the crisis occurs, or if the severity is more than 3 greater than the number of Investment Tokens for that Aspect, NO strategy will be adequate and the game is lost, regardless of the community’s overall WBI score.) For each token removed, a corresponding Infrastructure, Resource or Competency card is returned to the discard pile (exception: if it is Generalist Competency card, it is only returned to the discard pile if it has been eliminated from both Aspects where it was applied), and for each token removed WBI is reduced by one point.
    • Continue for all 3-5 Aspects affected by the crisis. When you are finished, note the Related Crises for this crisis (shown on the Crisis Description, Crisis Impacts Chart. and on the applicable Crisis tokens). For each Related Crisis you must now move the TWO Crisis tokens (e.g. if D – Food Security is a Related Crisis, tokens D1 and D2 must be moved) either one space right or one space up (decide this by group consensus).
    • If you move a token to the right and this moves it into the red Crisis Occurs area, you now have another crisis — repeat this entire step for this new crisis.
    • Finally, move the Crisis Token(s) for any crises you have survived back to their game starting positions.
  10. The player completes their turn by drawing 2 cards from the unused Infrastructure, Resource and Competency cards and selecting one to ‘invest’ their time/energy in, adding a token to the appropriate square of the Community Map and moving the WBI index up by one point accordingly.
  11. Repeat steps 8-10 as applicable for each player in turn until one of the following occurs: (a) WBI rises above 90 to the Exemplary level (game is won — congratulations), or (b) WBI falls below 30 to the Unsustainable level, or there is an inadequate number of tokens to deal with a crisis in point 8 of someone’s turn (game is lost — but you learned a lot about resilience, sustainability and consensus, right?)

Examples of Investment Cards for Collapse! The Game, clockwise from top left: an Infrastructure investment for the Sustainable Energy Aspect of community; a Resource investment for the Food/Water Security Aspect of community; a Generalist Competency that can be applied to any Aspect of community; a Specialized Competency for the Physical/Mental Well-Being Aspect of community. The complete draft deck of 128 Investment Cards is included with the download package (link at the top of this post).

Work still to be done:

  • Write the Event cards (just beginning this process, but expect to be finished by end of April)
  • Test the game out with various numbers of players to ensure that the Event cards make the game challenging but not impossible
  • Field test the whole game with people familiar with sustainability, community and resilience, to improve the realism of the stories, vulnerabilities, crises, events, and strategy processes of the game etc.

How you can help now:

  • Download the 30-page PDF using the link at the top of the page. Read through it and let me know what really appeals and what’s really annoying. What important aspects of game play are missing? Is it too random or not random enough? Do the Roles appeal to you? Are there any glaring omissions in the Investments in infrastructure, resources, or competencies?
  • I know the game is complex, but our civilization is complex and so are the crises we are going to face. Short of computerization, how can some of the complexity be ‘put under the hood’?
  • How can the game be ‘personalized’ more? For example, should we have blank infrastructure, resource and competency cards so that people can define their own? Should certain competencies be automatically ‘attached’ to certain Roles, rather than dealt out randomly? Should people be able to swap competency cards so that the set of ‘investments’ that they bring to the game is a better fit for the ‘real’ them?
  • I deliberately avoid the use of money in the game, both to simplify it and because some of the crises we are likely to face may make our money worthless. Was that an appropriate decision? Should we have money, inflation/deflation rates, currency fluctuations etc. to teach people as part of the game what is going to happen to our ‘wealth’ when the economy collapses?
  • I also deliberately avoided tracking global population or GDP or energy consumption, because I wanted the game to be focused on the local. It seems to me that no matter what happens to these global/national metrics, the outcomes will not be substantively different. I felt they would be a distraction. For the same reason I chose not to include scenarios of a civil war affecting the local community, or issues like the geoengineering of our atmosphere. Just makes the game too complicated, don’t you think?
  • I’m working on the final game ingredient (the 120 Event Cards) now. Plan is to have a mix of ‘events’ that affect the whole community and that affect individual players. There will be about a 60-40 split between ‘bad’ events (those that increase likelihood or severity of crises) and ‘good’ events. Some will be both good and bad because of the feedback loops in our modern systems. Some events will be contingent on the community’s investments in specific infrastructure, resources or competencies (i.e. preparedness and resilience). Some will be contingent on some random determinant such as the roll of dice. Some will be contingent on real-life facts about the players (e.g. their blood type, age, knowledge, skills or diet). Some events will be directly ecological, economic or energy-related, but others will be sociopolitical, military, technological, scientific, educational, social movements, or extraordinary individual events with major repercussions. ‘Black Swan’ events might include earthquakes, new diseases (or disease cures), new food inventions, new good and bad technologies (nanotech, family planning, energy, nutrition, weapons, surveillance, power dissemination or concentration etc.), runaway glacial/ice-cap melt, internet virus or other sabotage, rise of charismatic national leaders (good and bad), new water purification and building technologies, bioterror risks etc. I welcome your thoughts on the Event Cards.
  • What clever tweaks borrowed from other games could we introduce? The game Coopoly for example has Pictionary-type drawing challenges that determine the effectiveness of your ‘collaborative work’ in that game.
  • Once the Event Cards are complete, we’ll have to play quite a few games to see whether ‘winning’ (remember, everyone wins or everyone loses) is too easy or too hard, and whether having the focus being on coping with crises is too negative. Any informed guesses or suggestions on that are also welcome. If anyone has experience at taking a game from this point to final testing and commercialization, I’d love to hear your ‘next steps’ list.

Thanks for the substantive and positive feedback on the previous version. Hope you feel as positive about this second draft.

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One Response to Collapse! The Game: Draft #2

  1. Vinay Gupta says:

    You do know about The Game Crafter, right? Web site that will do boardgames much like Cafepress does t-shirts and mugs. They do boards, cards, tokens and so on. I’ve heard they’re lovely people and do really good work, it might be just what you need for a few test sets!

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