Month: March 2023

Hitting the wall: influence on the game and player agency

Don’t all players need to have a positive experience during the game for them to learn anything? This question was brought to light by the fate of the low-income population players during the Borlänge playtest (see previous blog post). The players on that team had expected to play a game about ‘the energy system’, and were unprepared for the task of handling the transition to sustainable energy consumption of an entire section of the population while dealing with severe shortages in e.g. healthcare and education and energy for heating their houses to a comfortable 22°C. They worked together with the Director of Healthcare & Education to get new hospitals and had very promising plans for lifestyle changes and decentralised living when disaster struck in the form of a wave of unrest and then the rise of organised crime. In the end, they concluded that they were unable to do anything about the situation as they had insufficient funds (low income and high expenses), and that the game had left them with their hands tied.

The players were already looking pretty tired when they on Turn 4 had to handle a wave of vandalism and extorsion instigated by their own disgruntled citizens after 15 years of rising dissent due to what they interpreted as their community leaders’ (the players on the team) inability to improve their living conditions. The proverbial hair that broke the camel’s back came the following turn, when they after celebrating that they had managed to improve their Quality of Life to an acceptable level were given the news that 100,000 immigrant workers had joined their population – this required them to obtain even more resources in order not to cause a new wave of dissent and further aggravate the situation with the crime wave. All the players at the table left the game shortly after this – not owing to being frustrated, but to previous engagements – and so was unable to attend the debriefing session. I spoke to them just before they left and they said they ‘hadn’t done anything even remotely related to the energy system all day long’.   

A very natural reaction to this that something must be wrong with the game or the setup, as the experience of a player needs to be positive and empowering in order for learning to take place. In answer to this, I give you two reflections I’ve made during my time as a megagame designer (a few years, which is arguably a relatively short time):

The first is that it is my experience that people learn from experiences that affect them on an emotional level. In this case, the players were frustrated and so the game had affected them – the question is only what they would learn. Here, a game host needs to plan carefully in order to maximise chances that players learn something that will be beneficial to the intended learning outcomes, i.e. the reason we host the game and invite the players to participate in the first place. As the players had to leave early and so missed the debriefing session, our opportunity as game hosts of having them reflect on what the (frustrating) events of the game meant in terms of a sustainable energy system (where in my view they had gained very important insights into how the need for energy affected those who didn’t have the resources to obtain it) was lost, as was our opportunity to use their experiences and frustration to help the other players (some of which were very pleased with attaining their goals without too much trouble) reflect on their own success against the backdrop of the rather grim fate of the low-income population. In light of this, an assumption such as that for learning to take place all players should have the same ability to influence and, by extension, succeed in the game is only valid if one also assumes that all players either won’t process their experience or will only do so on their own, i.e. the kind of processing you would expect from people who have played a single-player computer game.

My second reflection is that megagames by nature are hierarchical, as often some teams give orders to others and some players lead their teams, and thus all players do not have equal influence on every part of the game. That said, all players should have the same amount of agency in the game: this means that all players should enjoy the same freedom to go outside the rules and invent methods of influencing the game via the role-playing part of the megagame handled by negotiating with members of the Control team (who will mostly give them a ‘yes, and…’ kind of answer and have them roll dice to determine the cost and level of success). As an example, take the group of players inventing a criminal empire on Turn 1 of the playtest of the Changing the Game of Consumption megagame (see this blog post): their creativity impacted the game quite a lot (they more or less bought the local politician on the last turn), and none of this came from their role descriptions or any rules relating to the table they played. In a megagame, we thus need to be clear about the difference between agency of the player (equal) and the influence of the player’s role (limited by/tied to their place in a hierarchy).

What these two reflections amount to in the case of the fate of the low-income population in the Borlänge playtest, I will present you with my reasoning as the member of the Control team reacting to what was happening in the game: I my view, the players started out trying to ‘win the game’ by playing by the rules as best they could (they were, as most of the people we play with, first-time players), which enabled the inequality inherent in their roles to gain full momentum, pushing them very quickly down a slippery slope which was present in the game setup. As in real life, however, at the bottom of that slope wasn’t the end of the game but new options – at the cost of the players accepting a change to the way they played game, in this case the players being given means to incentivise other players to share resources that they hadn’t offered freely earlier in the game and/or incentivise the players of the low-income population team to sacrifice their pride/abandon their unwillingness to ask for alms. This is my understanding of how agency works in megagames – when a player’s role hits a wall, the player is free to explore options not covered by the original mechanics of the role (which surprisingly often involves choices which are doubtful from a moral perspective), and as a member of the Control team I’m obliged (and free) to assist in players who are at a loss for what to do with options that I can see based on my understanding of the game.

As for the game and the hosting of game events, it’s my belief that achieving a positive learning outcome after playing the game is entirely dependent on the players reflecting on the game experience together in groups, sharing their experiences so as to form a whole that isn’t limited to an individual player’s experiences. This processing of what has happened in during the game can take the form of structured debriefing sessions or gathering over a pint at the pub afterwards – however it is done, it is crucial that players are made aware (before the game, and reminded afterwards) that whatever they experience during the game, it is of the utmost importance that they give themselves time to process the experience and make sense of it together with other players. Ultimately, what I want for participants in our games is to form as many mental links between the game experience and their aggregated life experience as they can. Otherwise, all we have is a game that is entirely unrelated to reality, and thus more or less useless in helping people who play them see the world in a new way.

The scenario: why even play a game where everything goes according to plan?

Since before the second playtest of Switching the Current, we’ve discussed the need for the game having a backdrop, or a scenario, which lets Control know which global effects are to be played when. This may sound suspiciously like directing the game and tailoring the ending of the game, but it’s not as nefarious as that: we simply want the players’ individual actions to be aggregated to the global level and – like a car trying to stay on a slippery road while driving at top speed – decide which of three different (more or less undesirable) scenarios will emerge during the game. Thus, Control won’t decide, but the actions of the players; the importance of this is that players will be told during the debriefing that the potential future they encountered during the last round was one of their own making, and have them reflect on this.

First, let’s have a look at the three scenarios: the first sees corporate interests overpower those of politics and democracy, the second gives rise to a state apparatus so strong as to all but erase all interests that do not belong to the collective, and the third involves the decentralisation of society into self-sustaining units so small as to make global markets and nation-states all but powerless. As you can imagine, these all come with their own problems, and neither are the one that players are aiming for as they start the game: a world in which technology and social advancements assist in creating a sustainable society in which energy-saving go hand in hand with social equality and a (sustainably) high quality of life. We’ve based these four scenarios loosely on the Swedish Energy Agency’s ‘Four Futures’ report: Forte leading to a corporate-controlled future, Legato to a strong (and somewhat repressive) state, Espressivo to the decentralisation of society, and Vivace to a perfect, technology-driven balance act (which is too good to be true).

The last scenario is the only unattainable one – simply because if players achieved it by the end of the game, they would likely assume this was the path the world is already on, and reflect no further. Also, it would ruin the replayability of the game – who would spend another full day playing a game that they ended up winning the first time they played it? Also, wouldn’t that mean to most people that the game was rigged, and thus not relevant to real-world problems? Our view on this is that only by having players striving to achieve a good, sustainable future and instead ending up with something that doesn’t sit quite right with them (or originate from their worst nightmares) despite them having tried their best to stay on course and realising all their favourite pet projects in the garden of hundreds of thousands of homes, they will take the lesson to heart and consider the implications of their actions and desires being implemented on a regional scale.

So far, the game experience has been overpowering for the Control team – so much so that the effects on the game of the scenario has been almost non-existent, aside from the world market reacting to military conflicts and trade wars, causing minor difficulties to players. In coming playtests, this side of the game will be developed in order to change the conditions in the game so much as to have players stop and reconsider what they are doing: much like the covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine has affected Swedish society. This will involve clearly defined game effects, including changes in market prices, shortages, and extreme weather striking blows to food production, among other things. These effects will be laid out and studied by Control beforehand, so that they can be swiftly and effectively implemented once the results of player actions (project cards played, lifestyle choices made by the population, political decisions made) come in during the resolution phase.

This is one way in which the players’ actions will be visible in the game and thus fuel the discussion during the debriefing session after the game. However, what happens if some players have to leave early and are unable to discuss their experience with the other players, especially if they have had a very frustrating task during the game (see previous blog post)? This is what the next blog post is about, and there I will also discuss player agency.

Localising the game: reframing the question (and unwittingly inventing organised crime)

The team and I were excited to be invited to play Switching the Current in Borlänge, and as part of the preparations for this event we localised the game to the county of Dalarna, which lies far north of Östergötland, the setting of the first version of the game (as was the Climate Change Megagame). The major differences between the two counties are the population size (500,000 in Östergötland compared to 300,000 in Dalarna), natural resources (Östergötland has vast areas of farmland and some forests, whereas Dalarna is mostly made up of dense forests), and – last but not least – energy production (Östergötland has very little, whereas Dalarna produce 3100 GWh worth of hydropower annually). When beginning the redesign based on an energy system chart from 2020 (Fig. 1), I asked my if it would be possible to use the same setup in terms of tables and other game mechanics for Dalarna as the game had been built with Östergötland in mind.

Figure 1. Translation of energy system chart into game mechanics. The first step of the localisation process was to translate the figures on the energy system chart into 100 GWh tokens, each of which would belong to a table. The greatest challenge was where to place the hydropower – in the end it ended up with Conglomo (see Figs. 3 and 4).
Figure 2. The energy system tokens were then distributed between the population, local administration, and regional industries tables. Various adjustments were then made to the population tables to account for the fact that the population of Dalarna is only 60% of that of Östergötland, and also that the energy consumptions of the two counties differed quite a lot, particularly in terms of the local administration (which gave rise to the health care crisis for the low-income population table discussed in the next blog post).
Figure 3. Energy production sections of the energy distribution company Conglomo in the Östergötland (top) and Dalarna (bottom) versions of the game. In Östergötland, almost of all power is purchased from the market (five 10-value yellow cards with a pylon symbol and no border – all tokens with borders are produced by other tables in the game, i.e. locally), whereas in Dalarna, more than half the energy is produced locally (cards/tokens with orange borders are Conglomo’s own, the one with brown is produced by district heating company Elementa).

On the whole, using a different energy system chart did not present too much of a problem, after the matter of whether to create a separate company for the production of hydro- and wind power was settled – I placed all power production with Conglomo, making the company considerably less dependent on the market, but also subject to paying for maintaining the dams and wind power plants. A minor snag was that the district heating company Elementa, which was a major player in the Östergötland version, barely scraped by in the Dalarna version. Despite this, the fairly easy translation process gave hope that it would be possible – and even interesting – to do the same for other areas of Sweden (and abroad) in order to both make it easier for players to recognise problems/potentials in their home area and identify differences and similarities between games set in different areas.

Figure 4. Map of the county of Dalarna overlaid with hexagons. This map was used to show ownership of land, where the different parts of the population live/exert influence, placement of power production plants, forestry practices, etc. This map didn’t see much use during the playtest in Borlänge, and further development will be needed as conflicts relating to land use, extraction of natural resources, and placement of power plants are considered to be central to handle in the game.

The relative ease with which the game could be localised to a different geographic area pointed to aspects of the game that has yet not seen much development: social aspects, land use, and area-specific conflicts. As for the first aspect, the game does not take into consideration that the populations of the two regions are likely to be very different in terms of outlook on life, history, and social stratification. Instead, it is assumed that the population of Dalarna is for the most part going to react similarly to situations such as power shortages, social injustices, etc. I unwittingly performed an experiment as regards this when I set the Quality of Life to 10 (half of the other populations) and in 15 years’ time caused social upheaval that resulted in vandalism of the houses of the richest part of the population and the rise of organised crime among the low-income population (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Starting position for the low-income population team. Due to shortages in the Transport, Housing, and Health & Education categories (boxes on which there are no tokens), their Quality of Life (QoL; bottom-left track) started out at 10. This meant that they would get two Dissent tokens (red circles placed from left to right on the bottom-right track) per turn, unless something was done to improve their situation, e.g. more healthcare and education provided by the Local Administration team (or someone else – giving charity on a large scale is a possibility), energy provided to fill in the empty boxes on the Vacation and 22°C (indoor temperature) sections on the Transport or Housing boards, respectively, or project cards realized to allow the empty boxes to be filled with Life Style Change tokens, meaning that the population would come to terms with their situation and thus prevent loss of QoL. Although attempts were made to handle this situation, however, nothing was accomplished by the end of Turn 3, and there was one more Dissent token than spaces on the track, meaning that frustration among the population gave rise to a wave of vandalism (damage to buildings represented by maintenance tokens being distributed on buildings – most notably on the Regional Council building, closing it down for the round and forcing the Mayor and politicians to meet elsewhere in the room). The Dissent track being full meant that no changes could be made, so the players were given the option of purging them by placing additional maintenance tokens on buildings around the room – this led to a situation in which the richest population paid a considerable amount of money not to have their homes vandalised (and where ultimately deceived as they still were). On the next turn, the low-income population players realised that they had a problem with organised crime, but their situation had improved considerably due to efforts made by the Local Administration and concerned rich and middle-income population players.

As for land use, and more specifically forestry, one would possibly have expected it to be more prominent in a game set in a densely forested area. This didn’t play into the game at all, which was surprising but also problematic, seeing as many of the strategies proposed involve using (or leaving well alone) the forests of areas such as Dalarna. This will have to be addressed in the next iteration of the game, possibly in connection with the development of the map and rules connected to it.

As for the last aspect, area-specific conflicts, it may suffice to say that aside from the Regional Industries table seeing development to reflect the fact that Dalarna is home to heavy industry such as steel plants and pulp mills, we depended entirely on the players to act out all such conflicts using the game mechanics as scaffolding. I could not see much of this, which may mean that unless my colleagues picked up on this, we need to do more research before localising the game and – at the very least – tailor the information in the role descriptions of some of the players to ensure they remember/are aware of some major issues that the area is facing before they being playing the game.

It was very interesting and indeed welcome to set the game in a new area – this was proposed for the Climate Change Megagame in the past (setting the game in Norfolk, England), but was never realised as I was unable to see where to start, and now there’s a possibility I may be able to take on the task as I see more clearly what may be needed. More importantly, I’m much better prepared for setting the game in another location in Sweden, which is very likely to be called for already in 2023.

My next blog post will discuss the role of the scenario in the game and the ability of players to influence events on a global scale – and their own situation, as in the case with the low-income population players during the Borlänge playtest.

Number of players: limitations and redesign

We’ve recently concluded three playtests before which the game was developed and redesigned since the playtest in December, after which I wrote four blog posts describing the game in the state it was then. The first playtest was held at Lund University and comprised some 30 students, the second was part of the course in megagame design for sustainable development running at Linköping University this spring and was played by just under 20 students (and Darren Green, visiting megagame designer from the UK, who also played his megagame Two Degrees to Midnight with our students), and the third was held at Dalarna Science Park in Borlänge and was attended by some 25 professionals and students with connection to the energy sector in various ways.

This blog post will deal with the mechanical implications of playing megagames with 25–40 people coupled with things I learned and realised about megagames and Switching the Current while discussing the game with Darren Green during his visit to Linköping in January 2023. The next two blog post will deal with the efforts involved in localising the game to the county of Dalarna (it was originally set in Östergötland), and what the players and I experienced during the playtests, respectively. This and the next blog post will be more about game mechanics, and the third will focus more on the learning outcome of playing the game – and how to tailor it to do what we want it to: promoting better discussions about how to achieve a sustainable energy system.

All along, I’ve been designing this game with a view to a final version of 50–100 players. However, after discussing matters with Darren Green, I came to realise that ever since we started designing megagames in 2019, we’ve been getting signals that groups of 30 are the largest that the people we have talked to can imagine ever getting together. There are many reasons for this, but the bottom line is that I understood that for the time being, I’ll have to design a megagame that works well for between 20 and 40 participants. The implications of this realisation was that I decided to better define the ‘borders’ of the game, and so make hard decisions regarding which tables are to be played by teams and which are to be reduced to game mechanics handled by Control. One such table was the bank (Fig. 1), which was reduced to a single board showing the return rates on investments; two tables that have yet to be emerge also suffered the same fate, namely the Goods and Food tables, which will be developed as game mechanics rather than as tables played by teams of players (at least for the time being).

Figure 1. The banking system was reduced to a game mechanic handled by Control. In order to achieve easy of use for Control, this system only records the return rates on various investments, e.g. state bonds, mortgages, and stocks, allowing it to be used to reflect changes in the world by simply moving a few tokens up or down. A fully developed banking system as hinted at in a previous blog post would require more tables to form a subgame in its own right, and as it was not found to be essential enough to be included in the 40-player version, it will be moved down on the list of game development and become a module that can be added on should a larger version of the game ever be played.

The second implication of this realisation was that it would no longer do for tables to be played by less than two players (the least amount of players necessary to form a team) as this impacts the game experience too much; players will naturally form teams, and if they are alone they will do so with players playing other tables, which in the end makes for an unbalanced game experience. The practical obstacle was that we rarely know who is coming to a playtest beforehand and that we’ve received indications that very few people are prepared to read anything beforehand, meaning that roles will only ever be handed out when players arrive to the venue. To handle this situation, I constructed a list of roles to be handed out, ordered so as to form teams of two for the most basic functions (populations, energy companies, mayor + CFO) first, then open up more tables if there are enough players (researchers, local administrations departments, researchers, interest groups), and finally add a third player to existing teams. This means that there’s a minimum number of players (16) below which there’s no point in running the game as players will be ‘overworked’, as well as a ‘maximum’ number (39) above which no more functions are being added to the game, but teams would simply have more players with no specific roles or goals apart from that of the team.

I learned something valuable by playing Two Degrees to Midnight: After getting acquainted to the game and their team members, the leaders of three world powers spent most of their rounds (all time aside from the team and resolve phases) away from their team; they went to a separate room together with the UN Secretary-General, where they then discussed world politics, devised strategies, and issued orders for the other members of their team to carry out (as best they could). I had previously stumbled on this idea and vaguely introduced into the game, as I was not sure what it would do, but after seeing it in play I implemented it fully to the Regional Council. Currently, the Mayor assembles and heads the Regional Council, which consists of one player from each of the population tables (politicians – a role in the game), and the function of which is to give the Mayor instructions how to manage the local administration tables. The voting system is that if two players agree, the motion carries – however, if someone requests a vote, players will vote using influence tokens, which are not evenly distributed and may even belong to players outside of the Regional Council, such as the CEO of Boxhome, representing the oil and gas lobby.

These are some of the design decisions taken during the development for two of the playtests – in the next blog post I’ll cover the localisation of the game to a different county.

Playtesting CGC v0.1: reflections on the rise (but not fall) of a criminal empire

On February 15 2023 the village of Åkervalla opened up for the very first group to attempt to achieve sustainable consumption. The following are some reflections from the first playtest, with some ideas about what direction the development of the game will take.

The first decision to make is always whether the concept worked or if I need to return to the drawing board to create a new one that better fits the bill. In this case, what we were looking to do was involve the players in a megagame experience that allowed them to meet and work with the enablers from the MISTRA project.

Some players tried their best to beat the game using the rules, some were confused and frustrated by the mechanics (and the format in itself), and some decided to circumvent the rules and make up their own story. The enabler cards were used by some both as they were intended and as inspiration to other actions, while others looked at them with a perplexed expression and went on to play the game using only the basic game mechanics. From this I conclude that we managed to present the players with an megagame-format experience, and that this experience both inspired to creativity and showed some of the complexity of the real world. Thus, I’ve decided that we’ll keep the concept of Åkervalla and further develop the current version of the game for further playtesting, primarily focusing on integrating the enablers into the game.

Before going on to analyse the outcome of the playtest, I’ll briefly discuss the core of the game as development of it was concluded only days before the playtest (as is traditional in megagame creation, I’ve been told). Overall, the game consists of three types of teams: producers (farm, factory, farming collective, climbing centre, B&B, recycling centre), retailers (food store, restaurant, furniture store, travel agency, B&B, gas station, second hand store), and free agents (local politician, influencer, sales team, researchers). They are involved in the game in different ways, and Figure 1 shows the game from a game mechanics point of view.

Figure 1: Overview of the game from a mechanics perspective. The enabler cards affected all aspects of the game, political decisions most of the game, influencers and sales team only consumers. Businesses try to satisfy the consumers’ demands – the rest is sourced from Eslöv/the rest of the world. The enabler cards are to be the linchpin of the game, but in the current version can actually be omitted, as game mechanics do not rely on them – they are thus more of an inspiration that the players are free to use or ignore until external forces (extreme weather, government bills, market shortages) compel them to take action.

The current version of the game would work without the enabler cards had it not been for outside influences, such as extreme weather or market fluctuations – thus, the next iteration of the game will need a clearly defined scenario handling system that allow control to impose changes on the game world that compels players to consider the enabler cards they have on hand. The lack of a clearly defined system to link news reports of e.g. extreme weather or trade wars to impose noticeable changes in the game in terms of mechanics that is also manageable for the control team was evident in this first playtest.

Figure 2: Two customer cards. Each of the 20 families in Åkervalla had three cards to represent their need for food (purple), furnishings (blue), and vacation (beige). The family’s purchasing power was stated on each card (using an erasable pen, so as to be able to change over the course of the game) as a number of € signs (€, €€, or €€€). The consumption preferences of the family was stated on the card by putting the numbers 1–4 in the coloured boxes (also in erasable pen) and their personality was printed on the card as a special ability (e.g. the Åkertofts are ‘Impatient: considers only Products 1–3 and purchases the first to fit Preference 1 or 2’). Each colour represented a different type of product – for the food category, these were unsustainable (grey), ecological (orange), vegetarian (yellow), and vegan (green). The preferences can be changed by enabler cards or the influencer during the game, but mostly only one step at a time, so very few customers go from grey to green in the first round.
Figure 3: One of the businesses, the local B&B, with products and customers. The ability of the business to receive customers is shown by the six coloured squares, under each of which there is a space labelled ‘customer’ on which exactly one customer card can be placed if the colour of the square matches that of the card (notice that the B&B sells both vacation and food). A customer card will only be placed on the customer space, however, if there is a product on the square and the colour and number of € signs of the product matches the preferences stated on the customer card, including the personality rule of the customer. The customer cards placed below the customer spaces are the regulars/potential customers – more can be gained by hiring the sales team or the influencer, but they can also be snatched away by them. Should a customer card fail to be placed – in this example, by the B&B changing from green (vegan; the Pacheco family’s Preference 1) food to ecological (orange; the Pacheco family’s Preference 4) or the price of the B&B’s food go up by to €€ or €€€ (the Pacheco family card only has € on it) – it is placed on the ‘went to Eslöv’ table and will have to be brought back from there by the sales team or the influencer.

The game mechanics gave some of the players a headache for the first round (we played four rounds over the course of the day), and some said they still hadn’t worked out how to make sense of their own table at the conclusion of the game. I noticed that the resolve phase was quite control-dependant due to the requirement on shuffling and placing customers according to their preferences and special abilities – it may be too much of a board game mechanic to make it to the next version, and I’ve decided to go over the mechanics of each table to see where I can cut down on complexity. The game isn’t overly complex, but bearing in mind that it will be almost exclusively played with inexperienced groups of players I will attempt to simplify things to increase accessibility.

Figure 4: Two enabler cards. The colour of enabler cards matched their area of use, so that purple enabler cards could only be used with furnishings products and customer cards. The card on the left, ‘Climate customs’, was a political card that required the local politician to push it through with the authorities in Eslöv, and resulted in the prices of all grey (unsustainable/new) furnishings to go up by € (a token was placed on each blue token on the players’ tables) and one of the companies gaining two new customers. The card on the right, Nudging, let the player permanently change the preference on one customer card on their table; more specifically, the player could  increase the preference for sustainable (orange) products by one (e.g. from 3 to 2), and thus pushing another product type further down on the customer’s list, making it less likely that that customer would buy it in the future, thus making allowing the business to sell more sustainable types of products.

The enabler cards are to be at the centre of the game experience, but in this game most were not used and were left lying around in heaps on the tables. I believe there were two reasons for this: the first was that the players’ knowledge of the game mechanics wasn’t deep enough for them to understand and decide if the enabler cards were good for them or not, and in which way they would benefit them and other players. The second, and possibly more important, one was that they simply weren’t relevant enough to the challenge the players faced: they were struggling to get customers to change preferences, but the fact that there were over 60 customer cards, most of which preferred grey goods at the start of the game, combined with the limited amount of enabler cards changing even one customer’s preferences (and then only by one step each turn) made this task overwhelmingly difficult.

There are several ways in which this may be dealt with, but I believe it’s important to consider what the players learned from facing this challenge, which may be very real in an era of information overload and immunity to information campaigns. The enabler cards need to be worked into the game in a better way, but possibly the difficulty of changing people’s preferences should remain, and factors from outside of Åkervalla (wars, effects of natural catastrophes) be allowed to change many customers’ preferences at once, but only after some part of the world has been lost. This ties into the game’s learning goals, and how the discussion afterwards is structured, and so will have to be discussed with the entire team.

As for the role playing part, the role descriptions and goals didn’t seem to present the players with any problems; some asked a clarifying questions or two, but most of them just read it and then went on to try to understand the game. One or two of the players went into character – one by loudly stating that they would leave ‘cold and wet Åkervalla’ behind and move to Portugal as soon as possible (their goal was to accumulate 10 money at the end of the game). The descriptions involved quite a lot of ‘village intrigue’ intended to give some flavour and incentise players to go talk to other players, but as there was about as much movement between tables as in other games I’ve played, it’s unclear if this made any difference. The goals stated things to achieve in terms of game mechanics (have x money at the end of the game, sell all six goods in the final round, get re-elected, etc.) and several of the players referred to them both during and after the game, so it seems they were important to some players and less so to others.

And the criminal empire? Before turn one had even started, two entrepreneurial players came up to me and asked: ‘Can we sell drugs?’. My answer was obviously ‘Of course! There’s a risk of getting caught, though…’. They were called out on Turn 2, but as no one made a serious attempt at stopping them, there was a drug business running from one of the tables throughout the game. They managed to get hold of so much money that in the end, the criminal empire funded not only the local politician but a substantial part of Åkervalla’s change to sustainable consumption. Anything can happen in these games – partly thanks to the ‘Yes, and…’ philosophy!

In all, this playtest went about as good as could have been expected, and gave quite a lot of things to consider for me and my team. The next post is likely to discuss the learning outcome (players answered a survey after the game) and which course corrections are required to reach our destination: better discussions about sustainable consumption.

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