Collapse! The Game: Early Draft

Some of you are aware that I have been working on a cooperative board game called Collapse! designed to help people learn and practice grassroots community-building and preparing locally for the various crises that may precede civilization’s collapse. I’ve finally got a first outline draft of the game, and decided to share it with the world before I go any further. Here are the rules and some images of the game equipment that I have developed thus far, along with a list of what I still have to do to complete the game’s development. You can download larger PDF versions of the illustrations on this Google Doc. I welcome your comments.


Collapse! 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).


  • 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.
  • The Community Map: This map shows the 13 Aspects of an Effective Community (see illustration 1), and tracks the ‘investment’ of members of the community in (a) infrastructure, (b) resources and (c) acquiring competencies, relevant to each Aspect.
  • The Well-Being Index: The index (WBI – see illustration 2) is initially set to a score of 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’).
  • The Community Vulnerabilities Matrix and 22 Crisis Tokens: This matrix (see illustration 3) 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’ (low severity high probability) and a ‘severe’ (high severity low probability) version. A suggested starting position for the tokens for each version of each crisis 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.
  • Infrastructure, Resource and Specialized Competency Cards: Forty cards of each of these three types suggest investments that can be made in specific Aspects of the community. An additional 20 cards describe General Competencies that can be useful in any of the 13 Aspects of the community. Players must decide collaboratively which of these to invest in, which involves risk trade-offs.
  • 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.
  • Crisis Impacts Table: Shows the impact of each version of each of the 11 crises on each of the 13 Aspects of the community (see illustration 4). 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.


  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. The 140 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. Tokens are placed on the respective hexagons of the community map to show which Aspect these 65 ‘investments’ in the community apply to. Players holding General Competency cards must choose and write down which two Aspects they elect to apply those General Competencies to. Depending on the number of General 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).
  4. The Well-Being Index marker is placed at the number corresponding to the number of tokens on the Community Map minus 15 (i.e. approximately 60).
  5. The 22 labelled Crisis Risk tokens are placed on the Community Vulnerabilities Matrix at the initial positions suggested in illustration 3. 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. For crises moved up or down on the Matrix, make a note on the Crisis Impacts Table — all non-zero Crisis Numbers for that row of the table need to be adjusted up or down by 1 accordingly when a crisis occurs.
  6. 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).
  7. 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 8 (otherwise go step 9).
  8. 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 hexagons for that Aspect) to the Crisis Number on the Crisis Impacts Table.
    • If the investment is greater than or equal to the Crisis Number, 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.
    • If the investment is less than the Crisis Number, 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 tokens in that Aspect when the crisis occurs, or if the Crisis Number is more than 3 greater than the number of 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 General 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 Aspects affected by the crisis. When you are finished, note the Related Crises for this crisis (shown on both the Crisis Description and on the applicable Crisis Risk tokens). For each Related Crisis you must now move the two Crisis Risk tokens either one space right or one space up (decide this by group consensus). If you move the token to the right and this moves it into the orange Crisis Occurs area, you now have another crisis — repeat this entire step for this new crisis. If you move the token up, make a note on the Crisis Impacts Table — all non-zero Crisis Numbers for this row of the table will go up by one when this crisis actually occurs.
  9. 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.
  10. Repeat steps 7-9 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, community and consensus, right?)

Work still to be done:

  • Write the 140 Infrastructure, Resource and Competency cards (I’m about 1/2 way through this process)
  • Write the Event cards (just beginning this process)
  • Write the generic Community Story and Crisis Descriptions
  • 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.
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12 Responses to Collapse! The Game: Early Draft

  1. david jones says:

    I put a game prototype together 15 years ago – and there it sits in my cabinet. It was (in my view) the next (more sensible and fun) phase of Trivial Pursuit (TM) but I never really worked at promoting it. Maybe i should – a la D Pollard – publish the concept and see where that goes??

  2. Derek says:

    As an amateur board game designer, its always interesting to see other people’s ideas and approaches. Some of the modern designs for co-op games feature elements of competition (or the need to be selfish) as well… Do you plan to include such elements? I think they add a level of “realism” – in the sense that humans are a competitive species as well as cooperative one – and also add interest/challenge to the actual game play.

    @david_jones: you could use Kickstarter if you are looking to actually publish such a game…

  3. I would love to field test this with some of my multi-variant communities, Dave.
    Thank you for all the work that is going into the process.

  4. Ingrid says:

    Great idea! I have talked to people involved with game development about creating games around environmental scenarios and games like this, but got the response there is no money in it. However, I believe games are the perfect tool to make people think and interact, and if layout and game design is made really nice and attractive and it reaches out I think it will be a hit!

  5. Mr. Kim Gyr says:

    Thanks for the great approach – we learn quickest when it is fun to learn! As a former instructor at the Swiss campus of Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, I have been developing my own design for the world’s first 100% sustainable global infrastructure for the provision of energy, food, transportation jobs, etc. without petroleum/coal or the production of greenhouse gases. Please consider that the 2012 years back to the Year Zero are only 20 times the 5 generations, grandparents to grandchildren, that we will meet in our own families, and that it is equal to the time forward to the Year 4000. What will the components of out genes, which have survived in different combinations and recombinations ever since life first appeared on Earth, do in the Year 4000 if we run out of fossil fuels within the next 20 – 60 years?
    Please view my suggestions at
    Thank you very much, on behalf of the components of YOUR genes!

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  8. Blacksmith says:

    Bravo…Great teaching tool.
    You might consider a YouTube video of a group involved in playing this. Include a hyper male in full camo and ammo belt, a tree-hugging gal with long hair full of flowers, Mr Professor with suspenders and bow tie, Ginger and MaryAnn and Gilligan.

  9. Jack from Silver Spring says:

    Wow–what a great idea. I realize that you have some more work to do before you finish it, but it looks like an amazing teaching tool. What I think would be interesting would be if there were some way that you could get detailed comments from people as they play this game (particularly during the prototype phase), describing what they were thinking and why they made the decisions they did. Also, if you could gather some kind of systematic data on the outcomes of the game as played by various groups, that could provide you with some useful feedback that you could use to tweak the design in the future. (Sorry, I work as an evaluator, and cannot help viewing the world through that lens.)

  10. Dave, when you’ve got those cards sorted and the game is playable, let us know – we will get a bunch of volunteers together, play it and feedback to you.

    Best wishes

    Marc Hudson
    co-editor Manchester Climate Monthly

  11. Jan Rufer says:

    Hallo Dave,

    I shall introduce the game to Corporate Risk Managers here in The Netherlands.

    Kind regards,

    Jan Rufer

  12. Rob Paterson says:

    I like the idea of playing the game on video too

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