Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game. This post was a paid preview, you can find out more information here.
You want to play a board game about the most important global emergency facing humanity? Well, maybe right now that is Pandemic. A great game. Highly recommended.
But! If I asked you this question in 2019 (and hopefully later in 2021) I’m of the opinion the correct response would be, “I don’t think there are any board games dealing with climate change.” And Earth Rising is launching on Kickstarter now to prove you wrong.
In Earth Rising, players will be taking control of characters working to combat climate change. They will do so by dismantling unsustainable practices, implementing sustainable ones, and cleaning up the “strain” society is placing on planet Earth. The objective is to transform each of the six sectors of society (agriculture, industry, politics, etc…) to where they are no longer burdening the planet and leading to rising temperatures.
At the beginning of the game, you’ll set up the board with each sector having a major and minor burden with some strain on it. In each sector, there will be two random unsustainable practices and four meeples placed. The rest of the meeples are considered to be in poverty in the center of the board. You’ll choose a unique role to control which is associated with one of the sectors. On your turn you can perform four actions from the following (repeating actions as you wish):
- Disband an unsustainable practice by spending influence cards of that sector (one if it matches your character, two otherwise).
- Implement a sustainable practice by playing that practice’s influence card (and one additional card if it doesn’t match your sector).
- Clean up any four strain from burdens on the board.
- Draw an influence card
- Give another player an influence card
- Use your character’s special ability
As you can see, working within the sector which matches your character is more efficient than venturing to other sectors. This can make the action to give other players cards from your hand especially valuable as they may be better suited to influence practices in a certain sector.
After you have performed four actions, strain is added to the board. First, the population in poverty will add strain for each group of three meeples. This strain is added starting in your own sector and going clockwise around the board. Then, each sector is evaluated individually and strain is added for unsustainable practices and removed for sustainable ones.
If a sector ever has no strain on it, the burden can be flipped over from outside the board to the middle. This will add space for more meeples to come out of poverty if they are supposed by practices—reducing the future strain on the climate. It’s important to note that future strain added to minor burdens can overwhelm them and cause a recession. Each minor burden can only hold five strain and if more must be added, previously transformed major burdens can be flipped back out!
The game ends when players have successfully transformed all of the burdens (we all win!) or twenty turns have passed and the effects of climate change have not yet been mitigated (we’ve lost!).
In a way, Earth Rising plays very similar to a lot of other cooperative games. You get a turn with a set number of actions. After you perform those actions bad things happen. But what is somehow unique is that those “bad things” are generally not random events. The strain that will get added is a known quantity throughout and you can choose to spend your turn trying to reduce it.
There are, within the influence deck, status quo cards. These are somewhat akin to epidemics in Pandemic. The really bad things trigger when these are drawn and are somewhat randomly distributed throughout the deck. So it isn’t perfect information by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s more predictable than many similar games.
All of the individual sectors of the game are interconnected. The major burden of each sector has an associated minor burden in another sector (i.e. water withdrawal is the major burden of industry and the minor burden of agriculture). Players must transform major burdens first and minor burdens can only be transformed if the adjacent major burdens are dealt with. There is no way to solve a single slice of the world without impacting others.
But the game doesn’t boil down to just going around and cleaning up strain. Each practice that is implemented can support two meeples, taking them out of poverty. In this way, even unsustainable practices can be important as poverty is also a source of strain on the system. Players must manage to keep the population supported before just dismantling everything that is unsustainable. If it cannot be replaced with a sustainable practice more of the population falls into poverty and causes increased strain.
At the end of the twenty years, the game often comes down to the last few actions to see if the final transformations can be done. It isn’t easy to win and requires a bit of luck, taking full advantage of each character’s unique abilities, and smart planning.
Now obviously Earth Rising has a point of view about climate change. I am not an expert in climatology or really science of any sort. On the face of it, what the game considers to be sustainable versus unsustainable makes sense and certainly rings more true to the real life problems than say, Pandemic, where cubes are sick people and you just remove them. So while I can’t vouch for the science here necessarily, I appreciate both the message overall and how intertwined everything within the game is. I think Earth Rising does a great job of being both a game and educational without ever being preachy.
If a science-based board game about climate change that will have you cooperatively working for the future generations sounds is of interest to you, check out their Kickstarter!