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Alex Hague
8 days ago

Project Update: Slight delay ugh

Hey all,

We received what we were hoping was the final sample of Daybreak last month. While all the game components look and feel *great*, we ran into an issue with—of all things—the storage trays.

Basically, there was a miscommunication with the factory and the trays were created using a different material than we specified: they made something out of thick cardboard rather than the thin bagasse fiber we needed for them to seal properly.

What we got:

What we need:

As you can probably tell, the current tray was super prone to opening and spilling components everywhere, since they don't really have any sort of friction fit to them. We don't want to deliver your game with this issue—and with our commitment to no plastics, that also means no quick fix measures like rubber band or nylon straps or anything like that. 

So unfortunately we're delayed briefly to redo these trays to make the best possible game for you. Worst case, we lose a couple months, but it really will be worth it. 

In the meantime, we'll keep the backerkit shipping address and add-on page open, if anyone needs to change anything. And we'll give you a few days notice before locking those, probably next month.

Huge apologies for the delay and the pre-weekend bad news. Otherwise though, everything is so beyond our expectations and I'm so excited to get copies to you once we've fixed this.

Then finally, on a better note, this week we had this really nice ABC News piece about Daybreak's development:

Have a great weekend!

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Alex Hague
about 1 month ago

Project Update: Shipping surveys coming soon! 📦

Hi friends,

Quick update for the weekend: you're getting shipping surveys over the next few days! As you check out, you'll be able to add extra copies and such.

In terms of shipping prices, we worked really hard to get those rates to be as painless as possible for you all. So to that end, and to thank you for believing in our project from the beginning, we're covering 50%+ of the shipping costs ourselves. Which is *checks notes* $100K+ (yikes).

I'll have more info on specific delivery dates and tracking info soon, but we're basically done with production, so it's just a matter of getting copies on boats and to your region of the world now. Long story short: assume the boats are all on time, we'll be shipping to you in late June-ish, within a month of our original estimate! 

Here's the final packout, which is extremely satisfying to me, a hater of air:

Have a great weekend!

Alex + the Daybreak team
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Alex Hague
2 months ago

Project Update: Getting CLOSE

Hi friends,

Some great news: Daybreak is about to go into production!

We received our pre-production samples, and everything is looking SO good. I was absolutely floored when I saw the sample.

Here are some preview shots:

The Europe player board, with some tokens and cards (look at those colors!!!):

And the Global Project cards to the left of the central board:

Once everything is in production, we're going to pivoting over to creating a great how to play video for you, and finalizing the Daybreak website, which will have individual pages for thematic and gameplay details for every. card. in. the. game.

And if you're curious to get started early, here's the rulebook:

What's next? In April, we'll be sending out the survey where you can give us your address, add copies of other games if you like, and complete shipping.

Hope you're as excited about this milestone as we are!!!!

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Alex Hague
4 months ago

Project Update: Sneak peek

Hello Daybreak friends!

This month is crunch time for finalizing all the game's components: cards, tokens, pulp trays, player boards, etc. Everything is starting to feel *very real* which is always my favorite moment of creating a game.

I know I've mentioned this before, but working on all these art files really underscores that Daybreak is absolutely STUFFED with incredible components. And we're really sweating the details of getting the most stunning, polished version of the game to you.

Here's a quick screencap of the WIP deck of local projects alone:

All 158 local project cards!


We're still looking good to deliver on schedule, so after this update, I'm going to transform right back into a squinty Adobe Illustrator goblin.

But before then, I wanted to share a recent writeup of Daybreak from the Guardian:

And I'm happy to say that this goes against Betteridge's law of headlines—assuming we do our job right, you'll absolutely learn a thing or two from the game 😅 

OK, that's all for now! I'll be in touch early next month to get the pledge manager up and running: you'll be able to update addresses, add on games, and all that other good stuff.

Talk soon,

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Alex Hague
6 months ago

Project Update: Quick update

Happy holidays Daybreak friends!

It's been a minute, so I wanted to give you all a quick update on Daybreak:

• We were featured on BBC Sounds! You can hear Matteo interviewed starting at timestamp 01:11 here:

• We're working with Schultzschultz to redraw all game's icons and tokens to be as legible, clear, and visually consistent as possible.

Progress is about 90% finished, but this should give you a sense of our progress:
Old versus new card tags

• We're 99% done with all the illustrations in the game! Phew. That was a lot of work.

We just got the near-final batch of Global Project cards from Denis Freitas, which were the last big chunk of art.

The Global Projects represent huge social, technological, and political innovations at a global level, so we wanted to them to look more futuristic and speculative than the rest, while still in the realm of the possible. 

Here are a few we love:

• We're aiming to have the main board, player board, and all components finalized by the end of this month, then onto completing the rules!

And yes, we're still right on target in terms of delivering Daybreak to you on time :)

Happy holidays and talk soon,

Alex (& Matt & Matteo & Justin)
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Alex Hague
8 months ago

Project Update: 🎊🌎🎊🌍🎊🌏🎊 THANK YOU 🎊🌎🎊🌍🎊🌏🎊


The campaign is officially over, so I'll keep this sort and sweet: thank you so much, from the bottom of our hearts, for backing Daybreak. We're so thrilled to be on this journey with you—and this is just the beginning!

We're going to go silent for a bit while we put the finishing touches on everything, but if you have any burning questions, definitely post them in the forum! We'll be hanging out there the entire time.

OK, time for us to get back to work! But first, some of my fav new art we've gotten in:

Kento Iida


Ojima Abalaka
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Matt Leacock
8 months ago

Project Update: 📗 Design Diary 6 – Replayability

Matt here for the sixth and final episode of the Design Diaries. In the previous episodes we explored the design goals, antagonists, resources, players and powers, and how the game is won and lost

Since we've hit our 8,000 backer goal (Yay!), we're here today to share a bit more about the challenge card deck and how it makes the game even more replayable.


Say you survived your first game, but can you do it again while keeping temperatures lower, while avoiding certain solutions, or while creating an even more resilient society?

For a long time, we didn’t give the question of replayability much brainspace, as we were busy developing the core game. We just imagined players could make the game harder by starting with a higher temperature, or resolving more crisis cards each round.
Early versions used a variable thermometer to increase difficulty

While this effectively made the game more difficult to win, it was also a very limited system. So Alex suggested we take inspiration from The Crew’s mission deck and think about how we can present players a scalable set of new challenges and narratives over time.

We immediately liked the idea, and developed a deck of about 40 challenges and advantages, which players can combine to make the game easier or harder, either for individual players or for the whole team. 

Group Challenges, Advantages, and Modifiers

The challenges span from starting values modifiers (eg: one player starts with less resilience, more emissions of a certain type, or more communities in crisis) to additional victory conditions (eg: in order to win, we have to also keep global warming below 1.5ºC, or have 100% clean energy generation, or have no communities in crisis) and rule modifiers (eg: if one of my stacks has more than 4 cards, I must discard the excess cards).

Sample team challenges

The advantages can also modify starting values, rules or win conditions, in order to give players an easier journey.

Sample team advantages

Rule modifier cards allow players to explore counterfactual scenarios. For example, who is responsible for the emissions “embedded” in all the products we buy in the Global North, but are manufactured in the Global South? What if we used a framework that doesn’t just take into account the emissions produced within the borders of a country (aka territorial emissions) but also those that are imported (aka consumption emissions)? How does that shift the game balance?
A sample team modifier

Individual Challenges and Advantages

In addition to the challenges, advantages, and modifiers that affect the whole team, we added the ability to adjust the game by handing out challenges and advantages for individual world powers. You can use these on their own (for example to make the game harder or easier for a specific player or each of the players) or you can combine them with the cards that affect the whole team.

The result is a rich landscape of options for adjusting the game. You can make the game different, harder, or easier – or even harder in some ways but more difficult in others. And you can do this for each player or for the team.

Sample challenges and advantages for individual players

Wrapping Up

As our design diaries come to a close, we’d like to leave you with this quote from Parable of the Sower:

“There’s no single answer that will solve all of our future problems.
There’s no magic bullet.
Instead there are thousands of answers – at least. 
You can be one of them if you choose to be.”
– Octavia E. Butler
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Alex Hague
8 months ago

Project Update: Final stretch goal + small favor + new art!

Hi internet friends,

We're 95 93 backers away from hitting our final stretch goal! 

Thank you so so much for believing in Daybreak—creating it has been a huge labor of love for us, and it's so thrilling to see that you're all as excited about it as we are.

In these final few days of the campaign, we want to get the word out as much as we can to folks who would be interested. So if you have a second, would you be able to help? For example:

  • Do you have a social media following? If so, could you post something about it?
  • Do you have a someone in your life who cares about climate change? Or just loves coop games? If so, could you pass along the link to them?
  • Are you on any mailing lists, Slacks, Discords, Facebook groups, etc. that might be interested in climate or boardgames? If so, would you share this with them?
  • Do you know anyone else who has a big audience who could help us share the project with folks? If so, would you mind connecting me with them?

You can just share this link if so:

Thanks so much in advance!

In other news, we just got all of the illustrations from Jia-yi Zoe Liu in, and they are *stunning*

Nutrient Management

Green Building Codes

Clean Energy R&D

Clean Energy R&D

OK that's all for now—thanks so much again for helping to share the campaign!

Goal: 8,000 backers reached! — We did it! This project reached this goal!
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Matteo Menapace
8 months ago

Project Update: 🤔 How does it feel to beat Daybreak?

Happy weekend Daybreak friends!

Today our guest Amit reflects on his experience playing Daybreak a few times over the last year. How does it feel to lose? And how does it feel to win?

It was only on my fourth try playing Daybreak that we won this punishing game.

How did we do it? We collectively decided on a couple of strategies out of the gates and doubled down on them throughout the game.

Bez (left) and Amit (right) discussing how to ramp up clean energy production in China.

Of course, we were taking on some risks where if the right card hadn’t turned up at the right time, it could’ve meant us losing the entire game.

But we had luck on our side and a stellar mid-game turn that turned the tables in our favour against our dirty energy production!

We managed to stick largely to the plan we set out at the beginning of the game, with all of us developing very specific roles that worked in sympathy (more or less) with the strategy we decided early on.

And there was such sweetness in the victory. We saved the f*cking world! We got to carbon neutral and managed to mitigate (or avoid) any serious disasters.

Lyn, Amy and Bez celebrate the win.

There was an overwhelming feeling of shock, elation and relief, with big fist pumps in the air and high-fives all around.

It was only after we’d finished patting ourselves on the back for saving the world and said our goodbyes that the victory started to feel more appropriately bittersweet.

Because Daybreak is just a game. And you can win and lose in a game, and no one gets hurt either way. No matter how many communities were put into crisis, win or lose, we can reset the board, turn back time, and it’s all ok again.

But this game is about a very complicated problem we’re all facing, and this particular play-through really stressed the importance of global consensus and collaboration.

I started to reflect on previous attempts.

They were also a ton of fun but we never won. Probably because all of us played with individual approaches. Each of us trying to develop really good strategies that weren’t in harmony with each other. The thinking was fair — if we individually do the best we can to reduce our carbon emissions, we’ll chip away enough to win. But add some bad luck, some unfortunately timed disasters and… we sunk, never managing to save the world.

It made me wonder if that’s where we really are with climate action. Everyone just trying to do their bit without any real long-term strategy to rally behind? It makes a lot of sense to me. We can’t really skip through time to see how effective any of our individual strategies are. We’re moving forward through time with as much hope as we can carry.

As an individual I’ve been put off by the sheer volume of noise that is out there on climate change (even between friends), but I’ve always tried to be environmentally conscious in private ways, trying to make better decisions around the way I live, eat, commute, deal with waste, shop, etc.

Since playing Daybreak multiple times as it was being designed, this has been coming more to the front of my mind. And whilst I’ve been wondering more and more if I’m doing enough, the game encouraged me to be more active and investigate through the noise and find out more.

I don’t claim to be entirely green, well-read, or politically aware, but I am way more engaged than I’ve ever been , and that is because of playing Daybreak!

It’s not just about the game, which whether you win or lose, it’s a definite ride, it’s about the curiosity it left me with. Or perhaps the curiosity it reminded me of.

We’ve all been little children who wanted to save the planet.

I remember when I was 6 or 7, our end of year play was to do with global warming and all the actions we could take to protect the Earth. It was our choice as a class to do a play about this.

One could take a very cynical view and say that was just what we were learning about that week or month, and children can get emotional about cake (who doesn’t?) but I remember the strong feelings I had towards the disruption of ecosystems and animal extinction. I remember feeling sad for the planet.

I see it in my younger family members now as they go through school — there’s often a project to do with recycling, saving water, food sustainability, alternative energy sources, and when we talk about it I can see that they care.

We all cared, quite deeply at one point, about our little blue ball.

Over time we end up caring about so many things and life is such that we can’t help but get occupied with the immediate rather than the far away future. Those strong feelings I had as a child, I suppose they never really went away. They just got covered by all the other things.

In a pleasantly odd way, Daybreak reminded me just how much I actually do care.

And through playing the game I found some old thoughts and feelings that I’ve missed. This, and so many other things that playing Daybreak has left me with.
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Matteo Menapace
8 months ago

Project Update: 📗 Design Diary 5 – Winning and Losing

Happy weekend Daybreak friends!

Matteo here for the fifth episode of the Design Diaries. In the previous episodes we explored the design goals, antagonists, resources, as well as the players and powers that make up the game. Today we'll dive into how we designed the winning and losing conditions.

Daybreak has one way to win and three ways to lose 

In order to win, players need to cut their emissions until they have reversed global warming

At the same time, players have to protect their communities from a crescendo of crises, so that they can win before it gets too hot, it's too late, or too many communities are in danger

Endangering too many communities is the core loss condition (more on this below). The other two – too hot or too late – are ancillary, but worth exploring first because they are tied to the question of when and how the game ends.

When is the game over?

Often one resource in a game acts at the clock. It gradually depletes and when it runs out, the game ends.

In cooperative games like Pandemic and Onirim, the clock is the player deck. In Daybreak, we have a large deck of opportunity cards, from which players draw each round to build their solutions engines. Since we encourage players to mine the deck in search of good cards (aka R&D actions), it wouldn’t make sense to make the game end when players run out of cards. It would also send a strange message, as if opportunities for climate action emerged at random and then expired if they were not immediately seized.

What about running out of time? 

For several months we resisted setting hard stops in the game. It felt wrong to tell players they have X rounds to solve climate change, because the world won’t end in 2050 (the current horizon of many governments’ plans).

However, we observed that the length of the round tracker would set strong expectations, and often false ones. Some players would say “we have 10 rounds to fix this” at the beginning of games that would end after 3-4 rounds. While some felt relaxed about their time allowance, others were concerned about how long the whole game might take (“if the first round took us 30 minutes, we’ll be still here past midnight!”).

So to guide players' expectations and instil a sense of urgency, we progressively shortened the round tracker (from 12+ to 6 rounds) and defined a hard-stop point: if players haven’t won by the end of the sixth round, then it’s game over and you all lose. In all likelihood though, if players haven’t won by round 6, they have already endangered too many communities and triggered the core loss condition.

What about running out of carbon?

You can think of the thermometer in Daybreak as your carbon budget. Since (carbon) emissions are directly linked to global warming, in our early prototypes we set a cap to the total amount of carbon players can emit before the game is over and lost.

But just like with time, we know the world won’t end if global warming reaches 2.0ºC, although we also know that at those levels the conditions for humans (and many other species) to thrive will be severely impacted, and many places on our planet rendered uninhabitable

So while setting a loss condition at 2.0ºC might feel arbitrary, or “disturbing” as Oliver Morton once told us, it helps us communicate that the higher the temperature, the more future generations will suffer. And like with the other ancillary loss condition, we tuned the game so that it’s rarely triggered. Normally players win or lose way before that point.

What is the core loss condition then?

When we started playtesting our initial prototypes with family and friends, the (only) loss condition was set at 2.0ºC. 

At the time we also reached out to the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre to seek their advice on how the game was shaping up. On our first meeting, Pablo Suarez made the unforgettable comment that climate action is “not merely a war on carbon”, which was a good summary of our game at that point. We realised that while the game was modelling the emissions cycle and energy transition, it didn’t include the human suffering and loss caused by climate shocks. And we didn’t have a way to represent the efforts to protect people and places from the impacts of those shocks.

We had to include these dimensions in the game, so we gave each player a set of people tokens and introduced a new loss condition: you lose the game if players collectively lose N people. This centred protecting lives as a core climate goal.

We didn’t want to map people tokens to real population numbers. Doing that would have forced us to give each player a ton of tokens, especially to the player representing the Majority World. We also didn’t want the game to suggest that their entire population could be wiped by climate shocks.

Instead of trying to model populations, we wanted to focus on a threshold of suffering and loss, beyond which the consequences are unbearable or unacceptable.

Setting that threshold as a collective number would indicate that people are equal, no matter which part of the world they are in. If people in the Majority World are suffering, it doesn’t matter how safe people in Europe or in the US are, because the game will be lost by everyone when that collective threshold is reached.

Each player’s people started on their player board, surrounded by resilience tokens.

This is how it worked. Each player would place an equal number (10) of people tokens in the middle of the resilience “doughnut” on their player board. Then, when a crisis would cause some people to become “lost”, the tokens would be transferred in a coffin-shaped area on the game board.

When people were lost, they were piled up in a coffin (in the upper right corner) of the game board.

It was a rather macabre metaphor, and it turns out also a misleading one. As our Climate Centre advisors pointed out, people don’t have to be dead in order to be in trouble. It’s much more common for people to be displaced as a result of worsening climate and living conditions, than to be killed. To reflect this reality, we changed that state from being lost to being in crisis. This opened up the possibility of people recovering, either being rescued by humanitarian interventions or improving their conditions thanks to socio-economic policies.

Still, when “people” became “people in crisis” they were moved from the centre of each player’s attention to the game board. That distance was both physical and psychological: once over there, it was harder to track how many tokens were in the crisis zone, and it felt like they belonged to nobody.

We realised we wanted players to feel attached to their people, both when they are safe and when they are in crisis. So we changed the loss condition: everyone loses the game if any one player has N people in crisis.

This shift meant changing the boards too. People in crisis would now fall through the cracks of the resilience doughnut, sitting unprotected outside of it. We noticed players would care much more about their people with these rules and layout, but it was still hard to grok how many tokens were in the crisis zone, i.e. how close each player was to triggering a loss for everyone.

The resilience “doughnut” showing people at risk and in crisis.

We then experimented with a more conventional track, in which each token in the crisis zone would occupy a designated space, and the danger level is very easy to read.

At that point we changed language and icons from “people” to “communities”, to highlight the societal scale of climate change impacts. Also, one too many playtesters confused the people icon for a gendered toilet sign 🚻

We wondered how granular we could go in representing the human suffering dimension of climate change. One experiment was a sliding scale, where communities could move from safety, to risk, to crisis and (hopefully) back.

This proved too complicated for players to operate.

Another experiment was to peg the number of communities in crisis to the number of cards people would draw each round.

This works really well.

Every additional community in crisis can have a meaningful impact on players, and make it harder and harder for them to win.

What is the win condition then?

The victory condition defines what players should strive for, and therefore what really, ultimately matters in a game. So when it comes to climate change, what does it mean to win? What is the ultimate goal of climate policy?

Our planetary climate system is breaking down because for centuries, certain human activities have been generating more greenhouse gas emissions than our planet can absorb

To prevent catastrophic levels of global warming, cutting those emissions at source is imperative. 

In Daybreak, each round all emissions from all players are dumped on the game board. Some of those get absorbed by carbon sinks on the world map. Then the remaining net emissions drive up global warming on the thermometer. This causes a cascade of crises, from extreme weather events to global crop failures and political shocks, which if left unchecked will overwhelm players (to learn more on how we modelled this feedback loop, see Design Diary 2 - Antagonists and Impacts).

Dumping emissions on the board (left), absorbing some (centre) and shifting the rest onto the thermometer (right).

Each player starts with a vast amount of emissions, based on the real-world emissions of the world power they oversee. Round after round, they are challenged to reduce their own emissions, while preserving and boosting collective carbon sinks.

We decided the win condition would trigger the moment emissions stop accumulating in the thermometer, and start to decline instead. In other words, when the planet, through its carbon sinks, can absorb more emissions than human activities generate. That moment is called drawdown.

Drawdown represents a vital milestone. It means we have stopped global warming and reversed the dangerous trend of the last couple of centuries. In the real world, drawdown doesn’t mean the job is done. In order to make our planet habitable for future generations, we must continue to bring down greenhouse gas concentrations to pre-industrial levels. We decided the game won’t model that phase, but instead will focus on the urgent, existential challenge of stopping emissions levels (and therefore temperatures) from rising.

What’s the difference between drawdown and net zero

Net zero was originally used by climate scientists to describe the moment when globally, the sum of all emissions produced by human activities is equal to the amount of emissions absorbed by carbon sinks. Since then it’s become a rather abused phrase, as many governments and corporations have been dressing up their emission accounting tricks as net zero pledges. Indeed, we found players tend to be more familiar with “net zero” than “drawdown”. That meant our definition of net zero could well be different from what some players might have heard in other contexts. Drawdown allows us to avoid any potential confusion (which is rather important when it comes to evaluating a win condition). It also feels more evocative and ambitious: instead of min-maxing their carbon accounting to reach neutrality, we encourage players to cut emissions as deeply as possible.

And how does it feel to win?

In our early prototypes the game would end immediately after players achieved drawdown. While this made for a clear and explosive moment of joy, it also meant that crises (which come after emissions in the round order) could be ignored by players when they felt they were close to drawdown. This rule was sending the misleading message that once we reach the drawdown milestone, everything will be solved, no more extreme weather events, no more suffering. It also drained a lot of tension from the end game.

We therefore moved the victory check after the resolution of the last round of planetary effects and crisis cards. To recap, when players reach drawdown they know this is going to be the last round. But it’s not over yet, they still need to survive one last crisis step. Will they make it? 

If any player’s resilience is low or if they have a dangerous number of communities in crisis (as it often happens in the late game) then the tension is high and you bite your nails until the last crisis card. To use a football analogy, it feels like a 3-2 victory when your team has scored the last goal ten minutes before the end, and relief comes only with the final whistle. 

Playful Activism 

Designing a game about the climate crisis feels like trying to photograph a rapidly moving subject. Both hopeful and terrifying news keep erupting. So we could tinker on this forever. But we also can’t wait to share this labour of love with the world, and see what you make of it. 

As we chased this subject over the last couple of years, we started to filter news articles and net-zero pledges through the lens of Daybreak. We realised what we’ve built is an interactive model that helps us make sense of what is happening (or not happening) on the climate front, and to have deep conversations with our friends about the future of our planet.

We were over the moon to hear from many people that playing Daybreak changed how they understand the problem and its potential solutions. 

Playtesters told us that while the game doesn’t shy away from the loss and destabilisation ahead, it’s empowering to play out the rapid and far-reaching transformations required to stop global warming. To build a sustainable future where everyone can thrive as well as survive.

Daybreak, in its playful blend of climate science, tech, policy and internationalism, reminds us that all this is possible. If we can imagine it, we can make it happen.

Climate change is here, and it won’t go away if we ignore it. But getting involved in climate action doesn't always have to be serious. We can be playful activists. Taking part in social change can be fun! 

We hope playing Daybreak helps you zoom out from the chaos, understand the climate crisis, and join the conversation.

That's all for today 

We're putting the finishing touches on the challenge cards, which you'll be able to mix in many different combos to make the game easier or harder, either for individual players or the whole team. Say you survived your first game, but can you do it again while keeping temperatures lower, while avoiding certain technologies, or while creating an even more resilient society?

We can't wait to show you what we've been up to!

user avatar image for Matt Leacock
Matt Leacock
8 months ago

Project Update: 📗 Design Diary 4 – Players and Powers

Matt here for Design Diary number 4! Today, I'll be sharing more about how we decided who the players would represent and how we untangled and presented all the many different types of actions you can take to take on the climate crisis.

In our previous journal entries we described our goals, the antagonists of the game, and the resources in play. In this entry, we look at who the players represent in the game and what they can do about the problems at hand with the resources that they have.

Who Should the Players Represent?

We agreed the game should have a global scale so it made sense to first explore the idea of each player taking on the role of a government. Each player would be in charge of a country, or group of countries (in a realistic or imaginary world, we weren’t sure at the time), using political will and financial capital to roll out policies and technologies from an opportunities deck.

Players would have individual agency over their economies but their emissions would be added to a common pool (the atmosphere), which would tie everyone to the same global engine of doom and create a strong incentive for players to cooperate.

Given the practical requirement of a 1–4 player game, we needed to work out a list of world powers for the players to represent. But splitting the world into four is not simple! We wanted to include as much of it as was reasonable, giving players meaningful options and agency without reproducing the Western idea that only wealthy “developed” countries had a role to play.

Our list was heavily influenced by the book The 100% Solution which outlines four major players in the struggle as the United States, China, Europe (plus other “developed” countries), and India (plus other “developing” countries). We wanted the Global South – not a country, but a block of countries with broadly similar trajectories – to have a seat at the table. Those are the countries that are the least responsible for the climate crisis yet are the most affected by its consequences. So we expanded India to include all of the Global South and then renamed it to the Majority World, which better reflects its scale and highlights that it represents most of humanity.

We didn’t want to perpetuate the myth of a level playing field sustained by many games, so we imagined that the players would have asymmetrical starting values and abilities. We also figured this would add variety and texture to the game and potentially give each player a kind of role to play – similar to the roles in Pandemic.

What Can the Players Do About the Problem?

We began with the premise that there would be a collection of standard actions that the players could do along with special actions that would be printed on policy and technology cards. Players could put these cards into play by spending two currencies: financial capital and political power.

In the very first iteration of the game, this menu of standard actions was pretty simple:
  • Add energy capacity
  • Buy and sell energy
  • Exchange ideas

Players could produce energy, sell it to the other players, and hand their cards to each other.

By version 1.17, this list had blossomed into a much bigger menu:
  • Buy Dirty Energy Plant
  • Buy Clean Energy Plant
  • Decommission Dirty Energy Plant
  • Give Foreign Aid
  • Share Opportunities
  • Buy or Sell Energy
  • Reforestation
  • Sequester Carbon

This was a pretty heterogeneous list. And since some of these actions took place during different steps during the order of play or adjusted certain values, the player aid began to look pretty complicated. 
An early player aid. Numbers in yellow circles referred to financial capital; numbers in pink squares referred to political power.

This was functional but a bit awkward and certainly not something you’d describe as elegant or easy. The complexity of this system and all of the resource manipulations that were required meant for a much longer play time than we wanted.

In February of 2021, we embarked on an experiment to simplify the game by entirely removing its two main currencies: financial capital and political power. We moved to an economy that used cards as currency instead. Players spent opportunity cards, and as a result, each action now had an “opportunity cost.” In a sense, this was like turning Terraforming Mars into Race for the Galaxy.

Standard Actions Become Starting Projects

Around this time, we also decided to move all the standard actions of the game onto a set of starting project cards for each player. In doing so, we were able to eliminate the menu of standard actions altogether. If an action wasn’t on a card in your tableau, you now simply couldn’t do it. These starting project cards were also the perfect surface for differentiating the players. All we needed to do was give each player a different set of starting cards.

Here’s an evolution of the starting cards for the U.S. player:
Here, we’ve moved the standard actions onto the starting cards but have not yet abandoned the two currencies (the yellow circle was financial capital and the pink square was political power).

In this set, all of the costs have been converted to cards (the number in the blue rounded rectangle).

Here you can see the 5 starting cards for the United States from the final prototype.

And here are the 5 starting cards for the Majority World. These cards share some common patterns with the United States (“Clean Electricity Plants” and “Dirty Electricity Plant Decommissioning”), but while the U.S. is better at R&D and can pay off climate debts by passing cards to other players, the Majority World is set up for growth if it invests in its societies (“Youth Climate Movement”). It also has more potential for adaptation by building resilience (“Women Empowerment”) and developing Early Warning Systems.

Fostering Communication and Cooperation

In our early prototypes, cooperation was limited to swapping cards and buying and selling energy. Once we started to lean into our new design that featured a starting tableau of differentiated player powers, we found lots of new opportunities for players to assist each other, right from the start of the game:
  • The U.S. is good at R&D and can discard cards to go “fishing” for solutions that might benefit another player. They can then pass that card to the other player using their Climate Debt Repayments card.
  • China starts out with the ability to export clean energy technology which can help other players meet their electricity demand.
  • Europe can help by giving other players resilience tokens and can help pull the other players’ communities out of crisis.
  • The Majority World can forecast upcoming crises that often affect every player.

We did notice one issue crop up repeatedly in playtesting: once players received their initial hand of cards, they suddenly got tunnel-vision – it was difficult for players to propose ideas to the group since players tended to get hyper-focused on their own hands, tableaus, and player boards. This came up in several post-game debriefs: players expressed frustration with an inability to make proposals to the group. It was like the opposite of the “alpha player'' problem. Players had so much autonomy that they found it difficult to talk about the big picture.

We solved this by creating the Conference step. In this new step, players could forecast upcoming crisis cards, debate global project cards, and generally talk strategy together. Crucially, this step occurred before any player had their new hand of playing cards. This gave everyone some time to focus on the bigger picture together. Thematically, it resonated: it gave the feeling of the world coming together at a COP conference where they could make plans and promises that they could try to fulfill but (since they didn’t yet have their hand of cards) couldn’t do with 100% confidence.

Making the Players Feel Powerful

Once we changed our currency system, we identified another benefit. In the old design, cards were typically purchased and their effect was recorded on the player board – and then the card was largely forgotten. In our new design, cards could be put into play for free but players would need to pay a cost in order to activate the action on them. This meant that we could design recurring actions.

This, in turn, led to experiments where we tinkered with different ways the cards could scale using the tags printed on them. Prior to this, the tags were more like passive categories – sometimes they mattered, but that was the exception, not the rule. With the new card design, we could let players put a new card into play quickly (but fairly inefficiently) and then let them really scale it up into something far more powerful. Here’s a comparison:
The card on the left is from an early prototype. It cost 5 financial capital and 4 political power. When it was played, the player would increase their clean energy production by 3 and their political power income by 1 each round. The card was then put in a loose tableau of cards that the player had rolled out, where it could essentially be forgotten.

The card on the right is from the final prototype. It can be played for free on top of any stack. Once played, the action on it can be used if a player discards a card from their hand. This will gain 1 clean energy plant for each solar tag in that card’s stack. Since the card already has a solar tag, the player can discard 1 card and gain 1 clean electricity plant right away.

On the left is a more extreme example. Here the player can gain 2 clean electricity plants for every solar tag in this card’s stack for each card they spend. In this example that’s 6 plants per card! And the only limit to the number of times a player can do this is the number of cards they have to spend.

We also let players play cards on top of existing stacks. The example on the right shows what would happen if a player placed a “Clean Energy Portfolio Standards” card on top of their “Major Solar Program.” This card lets the player remove 1 dirty energy plant for each clean electricity tag in the card’s stack each round. In this case, 4 dirty plants, for free, each round.

This ability to add cards on top of other cards led to an understanding that your new solutions could be built on the foundations of your older solutions and also conveyed an exciting feeling of momentum.

A Diversity of Solutions and Tradeoffs

As we worked through the design of these cards, we wanted the game to make it clear there is no single solution to the climate crisis – that many different solutions, all working together at the same time would be required. 

More than Just Decarbonization

We wanted to get across a key lesson from our research – that many climate solutions aren’t just tied to decarbonization and energy. While we decarbonize the world, it’s equally vital to build resilient communities, restore ecosystems, improve infrastructure and bolster international cooperation. For instance, expanding access to healthcare means vulnerable people will be more protected from the impacts of climate change (think heatwaves, fires, storms, as well as food shortages and epidemics).

A sampling of the many different types of projects in the opportunity deck not directly related to decarbonization.

Here’s a small sampling of cards that look beyond decarbonization and energy:
  • Women’s Empowerment, Rewilding, City Greening, Regenerative Agriculture, Universal Access to Healthcare, and many more that build resilience.
  • Environmental Movement, Social Movement, and Community Wealth Building projects as well as various climate finance projects that increase opportunities to roll out future solutions.
  • Community Recovery Policies and Climate-smart Immigration Policies that pull communities out of crisis and care for them.
  • Indigenous Peoples’ Forest Tenure, Mangrove Restoration, and Peatland Protection and Rewetting that increase land-based sequestration.
  • Foreign Aid, Climate Debt Reparations, and Patents Regulation that help players share opportunities with each other.
  • Adaptation Programs and Early Warning Systems to help predict and mitigate upcoming crises.

All told, we came up with over 130 different opportunity cards and two dozen starting projects!


But these solutions couldn’t all be equally valid at any given time. We also wanted the players to make difficult tradeoffs! Through many rounds of playtesting, we were able to hone these and worked to increase their importance in the game through the design of the actions on the opportunity cards. Some key tradeoffs included:
  • Perfect the enemy of the good? Should you design high efficiency projects that will take longer to mature, or do as much early action as you can – even if it’s less efficient?
  • Mitigation or adaptation? Should you focus on mitigation (reducing greenhouse gasses emissions) or adaptation (build resilience)? Both are needed; what’s the right balance?
  • At home or abroad? When should you help another player achieve their goals or protect their communities when it would mean less investment in your own economy?
  • How much risk is right? Do you invest only in technology, hoping the crises this round will be mild and spare your communities? Do you start a project which requires a lot of future investment that you may not be able to afford? Will this geo-engineering project work? Should you invest in R&D even if it might not pay off this round?

We noticed that we started to read climate news articles with the dynamics of the game front of mind. Just about anything, it seemed, could be turned into an opportunity card (or a planetary effect or a crisis card). By the time we finished, we had a huge suite of opportunity, global project, and crisis cards on our hands.

Managing Complexity

The new play patterns and the diversity of options made the players feel far more powerful and creative. Over the course of development, we found that the problem space needed to be bounded, however, to prevent players' “heads from exploding.” (We have footage of several people using this exact phrase before we solved this problem.) 

Natural Restrictions and Simplifications

We found some helpful and natural restrictions and simplifications helped bound the problems into a more human-manageable size:
  • We introduced a limit to the number of stacks of cards that a player could manage (at first 4, then 5) and ruled that only the topmost card in each stack was available. When we started, all of the cards in each player’s tableau were spread out in a large pile and the player might need to evaluate every one. We also tried limiting each stack’s depth but found that this was unnecessary.
  • We didn’t allow players to move cards around in their tableaus. Doing so would have meant players would have to re-evaluate every card and its position. Far too time consuming!
  • We severely limited the players ability to exchange cards, making it a special action they had to unlock in order to use. This felt wrong to me, initially: I figured this would be an essential component of cooperation. Initially we let players hand cards to each other at the cost of 1 political power. Then we let players simply swap cards whenever they wanted. But this often meant that players would attempt to internalize the entirety of each others’ tableaus in order to best min/max the potential of each card. This obviously led to much longer play time and a tendency for some players to attempt to direct the action (the “alpha player” syndrome). When we added the card passing restrictions, these problems disappeared, play time became much more manageable, and there was still plenty of cooperation.
  • We reduced the number of ways you could play a card. We experimented with cards that had “instant effects” (that were played and then discarded) and cards with rollout costs that you’d have to pay in order to add the card to your play area. We removed all of these exceptions in favor of a single, easier-to-understand system.
  • We moved global project cards out of the opportunity deck. The global project cards used to be mixed in with all of the opportunity cards. Players would draw them into their hands and then have to try to make a case to the group for rolling them out – while everyone was focused on improving their local economy. We pulled these out of the opportunity deck and into their own deck when we introduced the Conference step.

Abandoned Ideas

We also tossed a number of ideas from the game to reduce complexity and better model what was going on. Here are some of the many ideas that got the ax:
  • An elaborate model of battery technology which attempted to model how intermittency could be mitigated. We scrapped this after discussions with Justin Vickers for a much simpler system that also made for a better model.
  • Clean energy storage. Turns out, you can’t store electricity (at least in these quantities) for 4–5 years anyway.
  • Buying and selling energy. Early versions of the game allowed players to buy and sell dirty energy (and with some technology cards) clean electricity with each other.
  • Financial capital and political power. These currencies bogged the game down and were presented with a level of fidelity that was largely just made up. We replaced them with a system that used opportunity cards as currency instead.
  • Dirty energy demand. This represented the fact that legacy systems that run on fossil fuels can’t run on electricity. We ditched the idea of “reducing dirty energy demand” in favor of representing these sources of emissions directly with different tokens. We were then able to model electrification by removing these tokens in exchange for increasing electricity demand.
  • Innovation checks. In earlier versions, many of the cards that used speculative technologies had a system where you’d pay for the card and then draw further cards to see if you were successful, using a system similar to 7th Continent. We simplified this system considerably and limited it to only the R&D cards.

An abandoned concept. This track gated the reduction in cost of new clean electricity plants by the number of battery tags (in aggregate, across players) that were in play. One of four different tracks was used, depending on player count. It was inelegant, awkward, ugly, and incorrect.

A Long Evolution

Here’s a visualization of how some of the starting actions evolved over the course of Daybreak’s development.
In the next post, we’ll look at how we designed the winning and losing conditions for the game.

user avatar image for Matt Leacock
Matt Leacock
8 months ago

Project Update: 📗 Design Diary 3 – Models and Resources

Matt here for the third episode of the Design Diaries! Today I'll be sharing the journey we took as we designed the resources in Daybreak – both what they would be and how we would to present them to the player.

We started meeting in April of 2020 to discuss our goals, the central challenge, and the solutions that would make up the game. One of our first projects was to come up with a simple model for how the game operated.

A Toy Model

Our initial concept was a game where the players could convert money and political power into technologies and policies that would help them decarbonize their economies. If players could accomplish this before global temperatures rose too much (triggering a loss) they would win the game.

To get started, we needed to figure out what resources the players had and what attributes they’d need to track and how they affected each other. In order to guide the game’s design, we sketched out an early model to summarize this:

A sketch of the key resources and attributes of the game from 8 May 2020. Early versions of the game let players store, buy, and sell dirty energy and synthetic fuel from each other.

We sketched out the resources that players would need to track: financial capital, political power, dirty energy, clean energy, and carbon. Players would also need to track quite a few other attributes for themselves including their rates of income, how much energy and carbon they produced each round, their energy demand, and how quickly their energy demand and income grew.

Early Stats

We didn’t want to over-engineer the first prototype of the game but also wanted the values involved to have some basis in reality. (Our initial aim was to get roughly within an order of magnitude.) We pulled some values from The 100% Solution (emissions and sequestration) and Wikipedia (financial capital was loosely based on GDP) to plug into the first prototype:

A “napkin sketch” from our design journal from 15 May 2020. We had big napkins. (All of these values have changed in the final game.)

Our first player boards were set up to track all of this information. Here’s our very first player board:
If you’ve played Terraforming Mars, you’ll likely see the influence of that game. Each box on this board tracked both income (the number written down) as well as the player’s current balance (represented by the tokens).

We also tracked Financial Capital Growth and Total Energy Demand Growth and how much clean energy a player could save each round.

It was… a lot.

But, we were able to get a functioning game out of it! It was a bit long and fiddly, but was up and running.

Our next version used a whiteboard arranged with the goal of making accounting a bit easier. Dirty energy cubes could be dragged downward from a supply box to meet demand, and then dragged downward again, to join the “other carbon” the player generated, in order to become the emissions generated for that round. We thought this was quite clever: the same tokens that were used for a resource could be converted into waste simply by dragging them across the board.

This design was also functional but complex. It was also hard for other players to read from across the table and not terribly accurate. The concept of “dirty energy demand” was hard to understand and a weird way to model the problem. And players had to handle a lot of tokens — they needed to collect and spend a good number of financial and political capital tokens each round, and the time needed to count and collect all of those tokens really added up.

Despite all of these issues, we used variations of this overall design from May 2020 to February 2021 while we iterated on other aspects of the game.

In February of 2021, we challenged ourselves to make the game “less about stats manipulation.” Overall play time was longer than we liked and a lot of game time was spent on bookkeeping — adjusting all the numbers and token counts on the player boards. One prompt that came up in a design discussion really intrigued us: what if we removed the financial capital and political power resources from the game entirely and instead used cards for the game’s currency? In hobby game terms, this was akin to transforming Terraforming Mars into Race for the Galaxy. A big change (which we’ll dive into in the next design diary).

Resources at a Glance

After we took that big leap, players no longer needed to track financial capital and political power. They still had to track energy and carbon however. I took a stab at how players might keep track of those resources with the aim of making their counts easier to read across the table. One experiment resulted in this physical sketch that used puzzle pieces:
An early experiment with a physical player board using puzzle pieces from 20 February 2021.

The pieces here represent dirty and clean energy plants (first row), dirty and clean energy demand (second row), “other” carbon (third row), and dirty energy storage (fourth row).

The dirty energy demand puzzle pieces could only fit into dirty energy plant tokens, which was meant to make it clear that the needs of legacy infrastructure could only be met by dirty energy sources (fossil fuels). I even experimented with making the clean plant tokens wider to communicate how they were more efficient. I thought this was all quite clever. In practice it was weird, fiddly, and confusing!

We didn’t have the ratios right at this point, either. Greenhouse gasses produced by sources other than electricity generation (transportation, industry, buildings, agriculture and land use, and so on) make up a much higher percentage of total emissions than we were initially playing with.

But one thing this design did get right was to break away from the whiteboards in order to “embody” the electricity plants and carbon sources on the table in a more physical way. We saw a lot of advantages to this: it was easier to track what other players were doing at a glance and calculations could be made by adding and subtracting pieces instead of writing and erasing numbers. It also promised to be a more sustainable solution since we wouldn’t have to include consumable pads of paper or use plastic whiteboard markers that would dry out.

After quickly abandoning the puzzle pieces, we tried a board with an extendable channel to hold the plant tokens next to a pegboard number line to track energy demand. The best feature of this design is that players wouldn’t need to do sums — they could simply physically rack up their plants to see if they met their demand.

This board let you quickly see at a glance if you were meeting your electricity demand.

This was the last design that featured the concept of “dirty energy demand.” We abandoned that concept after conversations with Justin Vickers of CMYK (who is an energy transition lawyer by day and a game publisher by night) and decided that players could simply generate 1 carbon cube per dirty plant each round provided they still had the plant on their player board. This was a better match for reality — any plants not shut down or mothballed (taken off of a player board) would continue to generate carbon.

Different Emissions Sources as “Resources”

Then in March 2021, Matteo had the brilliant idea to further refine what we had been calling “other carbon” into the different categories of emissions sources that comprised it (Transportation, Industry, Agriculture and Land Use, Buildings, Fossil Fuel Extraction, and Waste). We updated the prototype to represent the proper amounts for those emissions using ClimateWatch “emissions by source” data.
(Here's the spreadsheet we used at the time.) This led to this design, which was a real breakthrough:

This board featured only one type of energy demand and introduced different emissions types. We also abandoned the concept of energy storage here given the scale and timeframes involved.*

ClimateWatch data in our spreadsheet helped us balance various emissions sources across the players.

The introduction of these new categories opened up a rich array of policies and technologies that could target those specific emissions. The game no longer only centered on shutting down fossil fuel plants anymore — it was much clearer that it was about decarbonizing your entire economy.

Fine Tuning

Once we had this design, we tried out a number of different arrangements so that we could quickly do emissions accounting, track resilience, and count the number of people or communities in crisis.
An experiment that used pegs to track resilience. We abandoned this approach since it communicated an arbitrary cap, felt more “mathy,” and was harder to read across the table.

Emissions were easier to count in this design since they shared the same number line.

We simplified the Communities in Crisis area and added labels so players could more easily speak the language of the game (e.g., “social resilience” instead of “handshakes.”) This is the last version that we built for the prototype.

In the next post, we’ll look at how we designed the actions and opportunity cards that power the solutions in the game.

*Although we dropped the concept of storing energy from round-to-round, we do make an attempt to model how grid infrastructure is required to scale wind and solar due to the intermittency of those energy sources.

user avatar image for Matteo Menapace
Matteo Menapace
9 months ago

Project Update: 📗 Design Diary 2 – Antagonists and Impacts

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.

user avatar image for Alex Hague
Alex Hague
9 months ago

Project Update: Stretch goals!

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,

Goal: 5,000 backers reached! — We did it! This project reached this goal!
user avatar image for Matteo Menapace
Matteo Menapace
9 months ago

Project Update: 📗 Design Diary 1 – Why We Made Daybreak

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!

user avatar image for Alex Hague
Alex Hague
9 months ago

Project Update: We're funded! Thank you!! 🎉🌍🎉🌎🎉🌏🎉

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.