Leacock, who designed the hit game Pandemic, said that he and fellow designer Matteo Menapace initially based Daybreak on a textbook model of the atmospheric emissions cycle; conversations with relief groups prompted them to take a more human-centered approach. The makers of Daybreak, which developed a following on the crowdfunding site BackerKit, have pledged to donate a portion of the profits to climate justice organizations. (They also said they would not use plastics in the game.)
Board games and puzzles are an $11bn industry – one that grew 20% between 2019 and 2021, fueled partly by pandemic-related boredom and digital fatigue, according to market research group Euromonitor International.
Role-play and empire-building adventures like Settlers of Catan have steadily transformed board games from a children’s pastime dominated by brands like Hasbro and Mattel to a sprawling, diverse market in which smaller designers make games for adults. In recent years, those designers have released climate and biodiversity-themed titles like Wingspan, Cascadia and Daybreak.
“There is an increased public desire to engage with climate change in a tangible way,” said designer Matt Parker, who has also taught courses on game development. “Often people don’t want to confront climate change or feel powerless in the face of its complexity. But a lot of the joy of board games is in engaging complex systems with other people.”
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In 2020, Wingspan, in which players develop biodiverse bird habitats, was named the best strategy game by the American Tabletop Awards. The game was reviewed by the science journal Nature, in addition to more traditional gaming publications, and sold over 750,000 sets in its first year.
Last year, Cascadia, where players compete to create “the most harmonious ecosystem” in the Pacific north-west, won the prestigious Spiel des Jahres award as well as American Tabletop Awards’ best strategy competition.
Other recent titles include Kyoto, where players put themselves in the shoes of climate negotiators; Renature, where the objective is to restore a polluted valley, and Tipping Point, where participants build cities that must adapt to a warming climate.