📗 Design Diary 2 – Antagonists and Impacts
3 days ago
Hello Daybreak friends,

Matteo here for the second episode of the Design Diaries! Today we'll explore how the game models global warming and its impacts, with a focus on how we designed the game board, crisis cards and planetary tipping points.

Where does one even start making a climate game?

After Matt and I agreed on the type of game we wanted (see our design goals) we stood in front of a potentially overwhelming next step: where does one even start making a game about “solving” such a wicked problem as climate change?

It made sense to start by defining and modelling the problem that players would try to solve. The science of global warming is solid, so we could begin by translating that into a simplified, playable model. Once set in motion, and without any “solving” done, that model would loop into worse and worse conditions, and eventually cause a loss for everyone.

At first we didn’t quite know how it would work, but we could imagine a non-linear growth of emissions, which players would experience viscerally as tokens piling up on the board, triggering all sorts of disasters.

Modelling the carbon cycle

We learned that the world emits around 50 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases each year. Roughly half of those emissions are absorbed by our planet through natural sinks like forests, soil, and oceans. The remaining net emissions accumulate in the atmosphere, and drive up global temperatures. The increased temperature, in turn, causes planetary effects, such as the loss of natural sinks like the Amazon rainforest (meaning less emissions are absorbed) or the melting of ice caps (meaning more heat is trapped).

This game board from June 2020 exemplifies our early attempts at creating a playable model of the emissions cycle. At the top is the Atmosphere, where all players dumped their emission tokens each round. From there, an arrow pointed down to Natural Sequestration, where green squares with trees represent land sinks and blue squares represent ocean sinks.

Players would put these tokens on top of the world map to track the state of natural sequestration. There would be a starting amount of sequestration (related to the current state of natural sinks) and the possibility for actions like “reforestation” to increase that amount.

On the world map we also represented some planetary effects: white squares are ice caps, lime squares are permafrost areas, and sand squares are desertification areas. These would be covered with double-sided tokens, at first all face-down.
From the Atmosphere, another arrow points to a giant thermometer, where emission tokens are converted into red temperature cubes. As the thermometer fills up, it will trigger the random flip of planetary effect tokens on the world map.

For instance flipping any of these lime tokens (melting permafrost) would release extra emissions to the atmosphere. We originally represented emissions as carbon dioxide (the most common greenhouse gas): one atom of carbon and two of oxygen.

Setting expectations

Notice how the thermometer goes up to 3.0ºC in our early board. We quickly learned that was too lenient, and the runaway loop of climate breakdown too gentle and unrealistic. So we chopped the thermometer to about 2.0ºC and intensified the growth of planetary effects to be flipped.

For a long time we resisted setting game-over conditions at specific points of the thermometer or of the round track. We were (and still are) convinced that when the game ends in a loss, it shouldn’t be due to an arbitrary number, because the world won’t end in 2050 or if global warming reaches 2.0ºC. Therefore, a loss should happen if players lose control of the system, when its conditions have become unbearable.

However, we observed that the lengths of both thermometer and round tracker would set strong expectations, and often false ones. “We have 10 rounds to fix this” was a comment we often heard from playtesters at the beginning of games that would end after 3–4 rounds. While some players felt relaxed about their time and temperature allowances, others were concerned about how long the whole game might take. 

We needed to adjust players’ expectations, and instil a sense of urgency. We also wanted to communicate that the higher the temperature, the more future generations will suffer. So we chopped the round tracker and thermometer even further and defined two hard-stop points: if the temperature ever exceeds 2.0ºC, or if players haven’t won by the end of the sixth round.

Another question we grappled with was how to link game-time with real-world time. At first we imagined each round would represent 4 years, the first one being set to Today. But what would happen when people play this game in a few years, and Today is the date of the second or third round?

We gradually removed any reference to years from the game board, but I still like to tell players that each round is about 5 years in real-life, so you have about 30 years from now to stop climate change! It seems to help them tell a better (more grounded and vivid) story of their game.

Divisions and delays

Playable does not automatically mean fun, especially if there is maths involved. This became particularly evident in the procedural step when players convert emission tokens into temperature cubes. It’s a relatively simple operation, like 34 (emission tokens) divided by 3 (players) equals 11 (temperature cubes), but it’s definitely not fun and it’s error prone.

On top of that, a direct conversion between emissions and temperature was scientifically a BIG flaw, as our advisor Pablo Suarez from the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre pointed out after a playtest. Our prototype didn’t model the real-world delays between emissions and temperature changes. As Pablo explained:

The change in temperatures is not determined by current emissions but by current concentrations, which result from past, cumulative emissions. More or less emissions during this decade will have a near-negligible impact on temperatures this decade. Even if we magically stopped all emissions tomorrow, there would still be about the same change in real-world global average temperature by 2030.

We didn’t want to include extra steps to simulate delays, because the added scientific accuracy would only make the game slower and increase the room for errors. Instead, this gave us the opportunity to fix the emissions→temperature conversion problem too, by removing that conversion step altogether.

Emission tokens are now added directly to the thermometer to demonstrate the rising concentration of greenhouse gases in addition to rising global temperatures. When emission tokens fill up a row in the thermometer, a 0.1ºC of global warming gets locked in, as a red temperature band.

Impacts on the planetary system

All this modelling of the carbon cycle would remain rather abstract, if it didn’t lead to consequences for players. These will be felt in two different ways: first the impacts on the planetary system via planetary effects, and then the impacts on people via crisis cards (more on those below).

For several months we represented planetary effects as random flips of tokens. Those would be sitting on top of the world map in contextual locations (the ice caps over the poles, etc.) while their triggers would be embedded in the thermometer. This turned out to be quite inflexible. First, the size of the tokens restricted the amount of information and effects that we could put on them. And their triggers were not only cluttering the thermometer, but also making the impacts predictable. For example, you always knew that at 1.2ºC of warming you’d lose a tree sequestration token.

When we redesigned the thermometer to fill up with emission tokens and temperature bands, we took the opportunity to reskin and expand the planetary effects as mini cards.

This allowed us to give more flavour and detail to existing effects like “lose a tree” and introduce new effects that would increase the uncertainty of the post-emissions phase, with Tipping Points mixed in for extra cascading potential.

Thermometer v2.44 (left) and sample planetary effect cards (right)

We sliced the thermometer into three sections, so that the higher the temperature, the more planetary effect cards for players to draw each round. After a virtual playtest with Jon Perry and Wolfgang Warsch, we modified the rules so that you draw a number of cards equal to the number of temperature bands.

This made every 0.1ºC really matter. But it also doubled the number of cards you’d draw, so that it started to feel “tedious to flip that many cards, especially late in the game” as our publishers Alex Hague and Justin Vickers reported. Could we compress the planetary effects phase into a more tense and powerful experience, while possibly keeping the elegance of “one draw per temperature band”? In other words, could we have fewer card draws, with each card being more powerful, but also keep the same number of card draws to make every temperature band matter? Clearly not. But we might still achieve both goals if we used a different system than cards.

If we made each planetary effect more powerful, we should also let players see them coming, otherwise they would feel unfair and arbitrary. This means we should render the build-up of each effect more visible/predictable, but keep the exact moment when it triggers uncertain. Visualising the build-up of effects pointed towards tracks, and their uncertain triggers suggested some randomised draw. But instead of drawing cards, players draw tokens from a bag. They add them to their corresponding tracks, and only when a token lands on a “tipping point” the effect triggers.

With this system we were able to maintain the “one draw per temperature band” rule, and at the same time increase the tension players felt, as they could see the planetary effect tokens building up towards tipping points, but they were never sure when they would detonate.

It worked a treat, but our sustainability advisor Ruth Meza then informed us that the cloth bag from which players draw all those tokens would add a significant carbon footprint to the game.

What about using dice instead?” suggested Alex. So we started experimenting with a D6, on which each side is mapped to a planetary effect. Players roll once per temperature band, and advance the corresponding token on its track. When a token lands on a “tipping point” the planetary effect triggers.

It turns out this maintains the mounting tension of the “tokens from the bag” system, with the extra drama that die rolls bring. The dice also resonated with our advisors as a good metaphor for the uncertainty associated with these planetary systems. And we use fewer, more sustainable components.

Impacts on people

While planetary effects make life harder for players, but don’t inflict direct damage, we also needed to model the direct impacts of global warming on people.

Crises span from extreme weather events like storms or heatwaves that cripple communities and infrastructure, to shocks like crop failures which can lead to recessions and famines. In a broader sense, a crisis can be any major event or force that gets in the way of climate progress, like an international treaty that blocks a clean energy transition, or pretty much anything the fossil fuel industry does (from their core business to the disinformation they fund), as Bill McKibben reminded us on a memorable post-COP26 videocall.

Thermometer v1.10 (left) and early crisis card prototype (right)

Back to our early game board. On the left side of the thermometer, notice a scale from 3 to 6. That is the Crisis Rate: the higher the temperature, the more crisis cards players will resolve at the end of each round.

The “Sea Level Rise” crisis card is an early experiment in linking temperature to damage, which then became a standard pattern for crises. Not only does a higher temperature trigger a higher number of crises, but each of those crises will cause more damage. So at 1.2ºC you’d have 3 relatively harmless crises, but at 1.6ºC you’d have 5 of them, and each would be three times more damaging.

The double escalation of both crisis quantity and severity allowed us to simulate the non-linear dynamics of climate breakdown, and let players experience how even a tenth of a degree in global warming can make a huge difference.

When we playtested our first deck of crisis cards, we observed that losing resources like “Financial Capital” or “Political Power” didn’t quite have an emotional punch for players. Talking to the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre helped us realise the game should represent the human suffering and loss caused by the climate crisis, and that the challenge was “not merely a war on carbon.” So we gave each player an equal number of people tokens and introduced a new loss condition: you would lose the game if players collectively lost N people.

We then sketched out a mechanism for players to reduce the damage from crises. This would act like a shield: when a crisis strikes, the actual damage is the total damage minus the shield strength. For example, players who have social policies in place to protect vulnerable people will be able to reduce the impacts of a heatwave. Or if a hurricane hits, a player that has invested in infrastructure will shield their people from the worst effects. As Pablo said in our first meeting “it’s not a disaster if people don’t suffer”.

The climate community refers to shielding people and places as adaptation. If adaptation is a process, its key property is resilience. We decided to experiment with three different forms of it — social, ecological, and infrastructural — which would help protect players from different types of crises.

Crisis cards from prototype v1.19

We gradually simplified the cards, to make them easier to read and quicker to resolve: one effect per card works best. We also enlarged them to tarot size so they could both support an illustration and be more readable across the table.

Crisis cards from prototype v2.46

Crisis cards from prototype v4.36

Notice how the language around human suffering evolved from “losing people” to “endangering communities”. This highlights the societal scale of climate change impacts, which span from the most dire consequences (such as people dying) to displacement or the deterioration of health and living standards. Also, one too many playtesters confused the “people” icon for a gendered toilet sign!

Over time we’ve remixed the crisis card deck with a variety of effects. Most crisis cards, more than half of the deck, will directly impact the loss condition by endangering communities.

Some cards will weaken players, forcing them to lose resources.

Crisis cards that weaken players.

Other crises will worsen the game state, by cutting or burning down trees and releasing extra emissions.

Crisis cards that worsen the game state.

A few cards will have ongoing, uncertain, or cascading effects.

Crisis cards with ongoing or cascading effects.

Can players even see them coming?

Crisis cards can unleash a combination of devastating effects on either one particularly vulnerable player, or all of them at once. But apart from increasing resilience shields as a preventive action, can players proactively interact with the crisis deck? 

In the early iterations of the game players had no foresight on crisis cards. Each round, after their collective emissions had pushed the temperature up, players would draw and resolve a number of cards equal to the Crisis Rate. This made playtesters feel like crises were “random slaps on your wrist” and the only viable strategy was to try and build as much resilience as temperature bands.

We then introduced some degree of advanced knowledge. The logic was that one can forecast future events, but never be certain that any of them will happen. In game terms: at the beginning of each round, players reveal 3 crisis cards. They then play actions, produce emissions, and finally get to the point when crises take effect. But it won’t be those 3 cards revealed earlier. Instead, you shuffle those with a growing number (equal to the current Crisis Rate) of hidden cards, and then resolve a number equal to the current Crisis Rate. So for example during the first round you’d see 3 cards, then shuffle those with another 3 cards (initial Crisis Rate) and then resolve 3 out of those 6 cards.

This made sense as a model of forecasting in the real world, but players didn’t like it. Many told us they stopped paying attention to the forecast crises, even though they knew they were likely to happen. “Too much information, and it’s not even certain, so why should I bother?” This reveals quite a lot about human psychology and our perception of risk, especially in relation to climate change.

For the next iteration we reduced the forecast cards to 2, to be topped up with unknown cards until you reach the Crisis Rate. This meant players would always know for sure those two forecast crises would trigger.

That eventually proved to be too much information. It was too much to discuss at the beginning of a new round and so much advanced knowledge that it tended to deflate tension during the Crisis step. So we simplified further to have only 1 crisis previewed when a new round starts. This focuses players’ attention, lowers the amount of information to process and makes proactive forecasting much more tempting.

A visual journey

The many iterations and changes described above were reflected directly on the game board. We created a 2-minute time-lapse for you to see this progress over time. Enjoy!

That's all for today 

In the next episode, we will examine how we used real-world data and input from our advisors to design the player boards and help players track resources.

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Stretch goals!
4 days ago
Hi all,

Daybreak is already bursting at the seams with content, but we have some even more ambitious stretch goals for the project! 

And over the weekend, we already blew by our first goal 😌

Check it out:

🪩 Free web edition of Daybreak (5,000 backers)


The team has been testing Daybreak remotely for most of its development cycle. We want to share it with all of you—but as a a polished final version with the full art and components. 

All backers will have access once the game has shipped!

This will probably be hosted on the site Tabletopia, but still TBD.

🌊 Screenprinted tokens (6,000 backers)

We really want to add nice printed details to the wooden ocean and tree tokens, but it has always been a “nice to have” since we’re already pushing the production budget of the game to the max. 

We’re still creating the final versions of these tokens, but will be sharing out visual updates for those and other components after the campaign has wrapped. 

🛟 2x crisis cards (7,000 backers)

We want to DOUBLE the size of the tarot-sized challenge card deck, from 24 cards to 48. This will give each game even more of a unique puzzle to solve. 

And of course, we have our incredible illustrator Holly Warburton lined up to do more hauntingly beautiful art for all of them!

Art by Holly Warburton

💪 Challenge card deck! (8,000 backers)

Here’s the big one that we’re REALLY excited about…

We’ve created a deck of 42 (!) cards that let you scale, adapt, and customize Daybreak depending on what kind of thematic or difficulty experience you'd like.

Want to try a game where the world runs low on materials for create solar panels? Or a world where victory means staying under 1.5°C warming? 

There are all sorts of fascinating, challenging scenarios like these that you can mix and match. For example, here’s a raw screenshot of our database of card effects:

A few examples of challenge cards

Those are all our stretch goals! I think they're going to be really achievable given the response to the campaign so far.

To get there, could you share the page to help spread the word? 

If so, here's the link:

Sharing anywhere would be helpful, whether it's Facebook, Twitter, or even just telling a friend who would be interested in the project. Whatever makes sense for you!

Thanks so much,

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📗 Design Diary 1 – Why We Made Daybreak
8 days ago
Hello Daybreak friends,

Matteo here :) 

Over the next few weeks, we'll share with you the story of how we designed Daybreak. What we learned, what we experimented with, what we kept, what we parked. Are you sitting comfortably? Let's begin.

When a real pandemic hits start a new project!

Matt and I started designing this game in Spring 2020, after the word “pandemic” had suddenly taken on a whole new meaning.

Around mid-March I wrote a blog post about the COVID-19 pandemic and what we can learn from one of my favourite games. Then I discovered Matt had written an op-ed in the New York Times about Pandemic too. I didn’t know him at the time, but that op-ed gave me the impression we were on the same wavelength, and the courage to reach out to him on Twitter.

I was quite surprised when Matt messaged back:

Thanks for your really thoughtful piece […] I spent some time looking over your work and writing. I’ve started doing some research for a cooperative game on the climate crisis that I might pursue. If you’re interested, I’d love to have a conversation with you about that.

Why the climate crisis?

The 2019 youth strikes brought the climate crisis in the public spotlight, and left many of us with an urgent question: what can I do about climate change?

On our first call, Matt told me about how he had been toying with the idea of designing a climate game, but he kept oscillating between fear and hope, overwhelmed by the scale and complexity of the crisis. At the same time he knew he couldn’t ignore it. Those feelings really resonated with me. I also had been dipping in and out of climate books for years, but had not yet found an outlet for my questions. 

The problem with the question “what can I do about climate change” is how it implies climate action is like a single-player game, with you alone fighting against this huge invisible enemy. As Mary Annaïse Heglar wrote in April 2020, while “it's true that you can't solve the climate crisis alone, it's even more true that we can't solve it without you. It's a team sport. [So] do what you're good at. And do your best.

So we could team up, do what we’re good at, and make this climate game together.

Design goals

We started our collaboration by agreeing the game we wanted to design would be:

  1. about systemic solutions
  2. realistic – but not “educational”
  3. cooperative with individual autonomy
  4. empowering

Let’s dive into each goal.

1. A game to explore systemic, high-impact solutions to the climate crisis

We both find it frustrating when climate action is promoted as a matter of lifestyle choices: eat less meat, #flyless, maybe don’t have kids? We didn’t want to design a game that tells players that reducing your personal carbon footprint is enough to match the severity and urgency of the climate crisis.

The very idea of a “personal carbon footprint” was first popularised by oil company BP as part of their “beyond petroleum” media campaign, to shift responsibility for global warming away from the fossil fuel industry and onto consumers like you and me. So, framing climate action as an individual carbon diet would be playing the enemy’s game.

Instead, we agreed our game should frame the climate crisis as a global problem, and encourage players to explore collective action and systemic solutions

2. A realistic but not “educational” experience

So what exactly is the global problem that players would try to solve?

Climate change is caused by the accumulation of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. Gases like carbon dioxide (CO₂) and methane, mostly emitted by burning fossil fuels, which turn the atmosphere into a greenhouse. This is driving up global temperatures and making the weather worldwide more extreme and unpredictable. The effects of greenhouse gas emissions impact everyone on the planet, especially communities in the Global South who are least responsible for them.

The direct causes of global warming are therefore emissions. And the root cause is a global economy built on extraction and exploitation, which produces all those emissions, and disrupts the fragile planetary balance on which life on Earth depends.

We decided the game would be based on real-world data, and while we knew that a board game cannot afford the complexities of an accurate scientific model, we wanted players to viscerally experience the emissions piling up on the board and their knock-on effects.

We also agreed we didn’t want the experience to feel preachy. Games with an educational focus aim to teach players the “right” thing to do. Of course all games teach players something, their rules and reward systems at the very least. But there’s a difference between teaching and preaching. We wanted to design a game where players make meaningful choices, instead of one that preaches the “right” ones. 

A game that people actually want to play and enjoy, and not chocolate-dipped broccoli, as Matt likes to say.

3. Players act in total cooperation while maintaining individual autonomy

We know there are powerful economic (and therefore political) interests against systemic change, so one could make a game in which a player represents the fossil fuel industry, for instance.

Matt and I started from another perspective. What if we (as in “collective we”) had pressured our leaders to take the climate crisis seriously? What if they worked together (as our current ones pretend to be doing) to solve it? Climate change has been so marginal to the political debate for so long, that we’ve not allowed ourselves to even imagine what can possibly happen, when a coalition of interests that actually wants to tackle the crisis has taken power. Maybe the game could help players explore the challenges ahead.

That means total cooperation between all players. No traitors, no overlord, no single winner. It’s a big leap from the current state of climate (in)action, but not an unreasonable one: what seems politically unthinkable today might become common sense in a few years, and we aim for this game to play a role in accelerating this shift.

Total cooperation sounds great, but even in coop games it can enable problematic behaviours, such as one “alpha” player taking control of the game and directing everyone else. One could argue that it’s a personality issue (“just tell them to stop playing the dictator”) but we shouldn’t wave our designer hands, because the rules we design can make this behaviour more or less likely to emerge. 

Before this could become an issue, Matt and I decided to experiment with unique player abilities, and give each player ownership of one slice of the bigger problem, so that they shouldn’t be tempted (or have time) to control others.

4. Players feel empowered

Empowered as you play Daybreak because your individual contributions are unique, powerful, and specialised.

And empowered after you play it – whether your team is successful or not – because you’ve had a chance to explore climate science and real world solutions. You’ve learned that reversing global warming is an incredibly hard challenge, but that it’s possible, and you’re inspired to choose leaders who will take decisive action on it.

These four design goals became both our compass, setting our direction, and a high-level checklist to return to each time we found ourselves in the weeds!

That's all for today 

Next week we will dive into how we have modelled the problem: global warming and its impacts, with a focus on the evolution of the game board, the crisis cards and the planetary tipping points.

Thank you so much for supporting this project. We've been blown away by the response so far and we appreciate each and every one of you!

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We're funded! Thank you!! 🎉🌍🎉🌎🎉🌏🎉
9 days ago
Hello Daybreak friends,

Wow that was fast—we're over 200% funded in under 24 hours! Thanks to you, Daybreak is officially going to be a Real Thing.

We'll be sharing stretch goals, design diaries, and such with you soon. But for now, we just wanted to thank you for supporting the project and for all your uplifting and kind words of encouragement 😌

And if you're interested, Matt and Matteo are on Reddit *right now* doing an AMA, if you want to check that out:

More soon!


HifuMiyo's art for the card Wellbeing Budget.
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