Collapse! The Game: Take 3

Last February I published the second draft of my Transition game called Collapse! and several readers were kind enough to download the game materials and try it out. Others have commented both on the specifics of the game (design and implementation), and on the game’s realism (how well it depicts how crises might occur and how communities might deal with them) and value as a tool for learning about these crises.

In the interim, my thinking about Transition and resilience has evolved and some of the concepts and outcomes depicted in the game no longer seem plausible or useful. Specifically:

  • Assuming that communities will/could actually achieve self-sufficiency, sustainability and resilience on any kind of significant scale (i.e. through investments in resources and infrastructure that would be ready to replace those of the industrial growth economy when they ceased to be available) before events reached the stage where there was no alternative to doing so, seemed a bit utopian and contrary to human nature. So I’ve decided to scrap the “resource” (e.g. solar panel construction and repair facility) and “infrastructure” (e.g. local food processing plant) cards and replace them with cards that represent the capacity to create these resources and infrastructure if and when needed. The “capacities” cards will now come in a variety of “flavours”: knowledge (“know-what”), skills (“know-how”) and relationships (“know-who”); personal, interpersonal and technical. The technical ones will be more specific.
  • The game seemed too reliant on individual capacities and not enough on the selection (or realization) of who would actually be in one’s community, and on the cultivation of appropriate relationships with people with complementary skills and capacities to one’s own. So I’m introducing some “surrogate” players to make the interpersonal relationships more complex and the makeup of the community less ideal (more realistic), and to let players involve some people they know in their community who aren’t actually playing the game.
  • The use of a community playing board that depicted 13 “areas” of community formation and resiliency (food security, renewable energy etc.) seemed a bit simplistic, as did the process of “adding up” the community’s anticipatory skills, resources and infrastructure development and comparing it to a crisis severity rating to determine whether the community survived the crisis or not. So I’ve decided to make the game more scenario-response based and improvisational, and the community’s resilience “score” will be left far more to the collective assessment of the players. The primary playing board will now be a ‘map’ of capacities, so players can see immediately who has which capacities and which capacities the community is lacking.
  • Some of the crises seemed vague — it wasn’t clear how interest rate spikes or chronic deflation, for example, would actually affect a local community. So I’ve decided to create a large set of brief “scenario (story) cards” that explain specifically what each crisis might mean to the everyday life of the community. There will be four “scenario (story) cards” for each crisis, so how specifically a crisis affects the community will be luck of the draw (i.e. unpredictable, just like in real life). When a crisis is “triggered” by “external events” (the “event cards” in the game), a card of the applicable type will be drawn and the players will collectively “simulate” their response to it, and then self-assess how they think they did.
  • The way in which the game allowed for players to self-assess their community’s vulnerability to various crisis types, seemed a bit awkward and inflexible. Now there will be a specific process for the group to set the initial conditions for their specific community, so that for example if their community is especially vulnerable (or resilient) to water shortages, these types of crises will actually come up more often (or less often) during game play.

So in a broad sense the game will (hopefully) be less about preparedness and more about practicing resilience.

With that explanation of the changes, here is a look at how the game might work, take 3:

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 respond to various 21st century crises as they impact the community, applying the innate and acquired personal and collective capacities of all the players. They assess the effectiveness of their efforts by collectively setting the community’s Well-Being Index (WBI). The game continues as long as the players choose to play.


  • The Community Make-up (including 160 Capacity & Role tokens — 16 each of 10 different colours, Capacities & Roles Descriptions Sheet, and 20 Character Cards): This consists of (a) the list of community members, including the active players, the surrogates they have selected to be part of their community, and some additional characters (drawn randomly from a set of 20 Character Cards) they have no choice but to include in the community; (b) the capacities of each member, as denoted using colour-coded tokens on the Community Capacities Map; and (c) the roles each member has selected to take in the community.
  • Community Capacities & Roles Map: This map shows 144 capacities (various types of knowledge, generalist and specialist skills, and contacts and relationships) and 12 Roles that might be most useful to the community in dealing with various types of crisis. Each player denotes their top 15 capacities and one selected role on the map, so all players can see who knows what/how/who, and what the ‘gaps’ are in the community’s capacities.
  • Well-Being Index: The index (WBI – see illustration) is initially set to a score of 5 (‘satisfactory’). As events occur and as the community members develop new capacities, the players collectively and constantly reassess the community’s WBI. A WBI score of 0-2 is considered ‘unsustainable’ and a score of 8-10 ‘exemplary’.
  • Community Vulnerabilities Matrix and 18 Crisis Tokens: This matrix (see illustration) shows the probability (horizontal axis) and potential severity (vertical axis) of 18 different types of crisis that can affect the community. Ten of the crises are low severity high probability and the other eight are high severity low probability. At the start of the game, players determine the initial positions of all 18 crisis types on the matrix to reflect their perception of 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.
  • 72 Crisis Scenario/Story Cards/Descriptions: Several brief alternative stories for each of the 18 crises (72 stories in all) that explain specifically how the crisis has affected the community. These descriptions provide the basis for the simulation of crisis response during the game, wherein players discuss how they would address the crisis.
  • 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 their capacities, or acquiring new ones). The event cards include 20 ‘Black Swan’ event cards. The drawing of an event card can be said to represent the passing of three months of time in the life of the community.

Play: (Note: The game is designed optimally for 5-10 players)

  1. The Community Make-up is determined:
    • If there are fewer than 10 players, some players identify additional ‘Surrogate’ players, actual people who live in or might be persuaded to live in your community, so that the total of ‘real’ and ‘surrogate’ players is 10.
    • Five Character Cards are drawn, read aloud and placed face-up beside the playing boards. These represent additional community members whose special needs have to be considered when coping with crises during the game.
    • Each player, without speaking with other players, identifies 15 Capacities that they think they currently possess that would be useful in dealing with crises. They do the same for any ‘surrogate’ players they have identified. Each player also identifies one of the 12 preferred Roles for themselves and any ‘surrogate’ players they have identified. When everyone is ready, players simultaneously place their coloured tokens on the Community Capacities and Roles Map on the spaces corresponding to their selected capacities and roles. They do the same for their ‘surrogate’ players, using a different coloured set of tokens. You cannot change your selected capacities, so you are likely to end up with several tokens on some Capacity spaces and none on others — this is a profile of your community’s capacity strengths and gaps.
    • You can now negotiate alternative Roles if several players have selected the same role and move the tokens on the role spaces of the Map accordingly; you are not required to do so.
    • Place the 18 Crisis Tokens on the Vulnerabilities Matrix according to where you think they belong, knowing the specific setting, situation, resources, infrastructure, self-sufficiency or dependence on central systems of your specific community. Do not consider players’ Capacities in making this assessment. For example, if you have abundance local water supplies in your (real-life) community, you would rate the Water Rationing crisis risk to be low; if you don’t, you would rate this risk relatively high. Generally, the 10 white Crisis tokens are lower-severity, higher-likelihood, so they should be placed in the middle 2 columns, lower 3 rows of the Matrix (6 spaces), no more than 4 tokens per space. The 8 yellow Crisis tokens are higher-severity, lower-likelihood, so they should be placed in the left two columns, top 3 rows of the Matrix (6 spaces), also no more than 4 tokens per space. Decide the relative locations of the tokens by group consensus.
    • The Well-Being Index marker is initially placed at 5 on the 0-10 scale.
  2. 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 3 (otherwise go step 4).
  3. When a Crisis occurs, the process is as follows:
    • Draw one of the Scenario/Story cards corresponding to the crisis in question (there are 4 alternative Scenario/Story cards for each of the 18 crises). Read the corresponding Story from the Scenario/Story Descriptions Sheet.
    • Using the players’ Roles as a guide, identify by consensus which player should best facilitate the rest of the group to deal with this crisis (if it’s a surrogate, the player recommending that surrogate acts in the role of that person). Now, set a timer and spend 5 minutes simulating this crisis occurring and discussing what you would do to mitigate and adapt to the crisis. Consider which Capacities your community members have that are relevant to this crisis, and which Capacities you are lacking. Consider your ability to meet the needs of the 5 Characters in your community. At the end of the 5 minutes, assess how well you think your community would fare if it faced this crisis, and, by consensus, re-set the WBI accordingly. Assess the performance of the facilitator and other roles in the simulation, and if appropriate agree on changed Roles for the players. If you feel that the simulation revealed that you don’t really have one of the Capacities you have marked on the Map, remove the token for that Capacity.
    • Finally, move the Crisis Token for the crisis you have weathered back to its game starting position on the Matrix, or to a different square in one of the three green columns if the group feels that is more appropriate.
  4. The player completes their turn by removing one of their Capacity tokens of their choosing (capacities get rusty or knowledge obsolete if not kept current and practiced, and removing one token acknowledges this). They then ‘invest in’ a new Capacity of their choosing, placing the token just removed on the corresponding new Capacity square on the Map. If the player has voluntarily removed a Capacity from the Map in step 3 since their last turn, they need not remove one of their Capacity tokens and can simply place one of their voluntarily-removed tokens on the new Capacity they have chosen to ‘invest in’ developing.
  5. Play continues, with the next player repeating steps 2-4, until the group agrees to end the game.

That’s it for now. I am working on the list of 144 Capacities and corresponding descriptions, the 72 Scenario/Story Cards and corresponding descriptions, and the 120 Event Cards. Once that’s done, the game will be ready to play.

Comments welcome.

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4 Responses to Collapse! The Game: Take 3

  1. Mary Logan says:

    Hi, Dave,

    I’m working on my fall syllabus for a college class called “Limits to Growth” , and I’m interested in trialing your game during the last free week of my course. Your game appears to be about about building community resilience in the face of a changing dominant paradigm, which is what my class is about. The scale is focused on community, and I like the refinements you’ve made that acknowledge some of the vagaries of complexity and the need for self-organization. But I can’t use the game if it’s called Collapse?!? My students are American freshmen Honors students–they are bright and vulnerable, excited about exploring their brave new world outside their swaddled existences at home during high school. I cannot end my course with a game called Collapse. Otherwise, why bother?

    Granted your game has an emphasis on crisis scenarios, thus the name Collapse. But life at the individual or community scale is not a series of crises–it is a day to day grind of making things work, with the hopes that some enjoyment and happiness will come. I see lots of sticks in this game, and no carrots. Where are the carrots of enjoyment, happiness, living in the moment which make us human? I know it’s a tall order, but if you change the name of the game to Community Well-Being or Community Resilience, or some other words, which state the scale that the game operates at and the STATED goal, then you may find that some different mechanisms emerge in the game? If your goal is collapse, then the game focuses on crises. And yes, at the larger scale, crises will occur, and collapse will occur, too, in global trade and some national governments. But locally, life will go on in some form or fashion, in some places.

    D. Meadows said that the best way to intervene in a system is to expose the mindset or paradigm of the system, and then to transcend it. If your goal is collapse, then you will focus on the intervening impacts from the larger scale (i.e. threats of economic or environmental collapse). Those certainly need to be considered. But the goal of a community system might be to maximize for productivity, and then for resilience (Maximum Power principle says that all systems function with these priorities). A game called Collapse does neither?

  2. Hi Dave,

    Great implementation…. and I wonder how
    to introduce a version of your game.

    At the Orange County Global Warming Committee meeting last Sunday I presented James Hansen’s Climate Dice report with some physical dice I bought on for the purpose of developing a family of customizable board games and SimCity Societies like computer games. The idea was warmly received, and we have many creative and committed members.

    Some of us are working on international building codes, Dept of Homeland Security Sea Level Rise and Response, and the National Infrastructure Knowledge Base, while others are less focused on info technology/knowledge management and more on art of communication itself. PCI, ASPO, OMG, OASIS, OGC, and City Engine (ESRI) white papers all seem to be converging.

    The key semantic idea behind my project plan is Resilience – the ability of a local community to bounce back after a series of disasters and unanticipated outcomes of incomplete silo plans for water, energy, food, and knowledge distributions.



  3. Paul says:

    This is looking very good, Dave! Thanks for doing it. I think our Transition group will enjoy playing this version of the game when it is ready. (We really like your groupWorks cards, too!)

  4. norberto rodriguez says:

    hi Dave, i like your concept.. a lot ! However, i am afraid that you are making it way too complicated: 144 Capacities; 72 Scenarios and so on? just to understand the meaning of each component will be too much for any community !
    i know, Life is an interwoven of complex living systems, and this is why we are collapsing, but i wonder if you could simplify this thing. Otherwise, it will be difficult to find a community willing to participate on such a “game”…

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