Players: 1 - 6 Ages: 11+ Game Time: 40 to 120 mins
Intro to Earth Rising
I spotted Earth Rising a while ago on Kickstarter, like a lot of us do with games these days, but the campaign was stopped due to what I believe was an admin decision (which is brave, I commend the designers and publishers!).
We decided (I mean me, because I reach out to a lot of the companies to do reviews) to contact SDR Games Studio for the opportunity to review the game.
There is a really great concept behind the game, and it has real-life elements behind it. Whilst solo play is an option, it’s a co-op game (I love me a good co-op) for up to six players, where your job is to bring the world into sustainable harmony. So let's do this ("Go Planet" Captain Planet - for you 80s babies)!
The game is made from sustainable materials (using recycled and FSC certified materials, along with a promise of NO plastic components), and their manufacturer Hero Time Manufacturing is the leading board game producer in sustainability. Gameplay and design are inspired by the ‘doughnut’ system, devised by Oxford Economics Professor, Kate Raworth. SDR Games Studio have even teamed up with some amazing organisations that are making Earth Rising’s mission happen in real life!
I would like to remind folks I have the prototype, so some elements may change between you reading this and getting the game upon successful KS backing.
In Earth Rising, players will be taking control of characters working to combat climate change and bring harmony to the planet. They will do so by disbanding unsustainable practices, implementing sustainable ones, and cleaning up the “strain” that society is placing on planet Earth. The main objective is to transform each of the six sectors of society such that they are no longer burdening the planet, causing rising temperatures, nor leading to the planet diminishing, all of this is to be done within 20 years (turns)!
To set up the game, place down the circular board representing the planet, and then place the Burden segments on its blue outer edge (Ecological Ceiling) with their Burden sides facing up. Then prepare the Influence Deck to include three of the six Status Quo cards. To win the game, you have twenty turns to flip all of the segments into the centre of the board.
Each sector has major and minor burden segments that start with some strain (two for minor, and one for major). Strain will be added to or removed throughout the game, and a burden segment can be flipped into the centre when free of strain. 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 centre of the board. Each player chooses a special character to control which is associated with one of the sectors. On each player's turn, you can perform four actions, and each can be used multiple times (we did certainly use the clean strain multiple times, as this can be difficult to keep on top of!):
Disband an unsustainable practice by spending influence cards of that sector
Implement a sustainable practice by playing that practice’s influence card (providing you have no unsustainable practices in play)
Clean up any four strain from burdens on the board.
Draw an influence card
Refresh the influence deck
Give another player an influence card
Use your character’s special ability (we didn't use these ones in our first game).
The characters that you use work within a sector on the board. Crossing over to other sectors costs more in influence cards, and makes it much tougher to convert the unsustainable practices into sustainable ones. This can make the action to give other players cards (influence) 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 (the thing you need to remove). Firstly, 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.
+1 strain for each unsustainable practice
-1 strain for each sustainable practice
-2 Strain for Ecologist Regeneration token (player ability)
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 activated by practices—thus 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 (15 strain in total). Each minor burden can only hold five strain and if more must be added they spill over to the Major Burden. It's very important to know that previously transformed major burdens can be flipped back out, especially by the pesky Status Quo cards (see pic below)!
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 similarly to a lot of other cooperative games. You get a turn with a set 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, so you can almost pre-empt it.
The only thing that can mess with your plans is a pesky Status Quo card. 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. While you may not have completely accurate information, 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, and this is one of the features of this game I love.
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, thus reducing the strain increased by the two phases of the Strain phase. 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 tactical thinking and PLANNING ahead, taking full advantage of each character’s unique abilities, and smart planning. The co-op element is pretty key; fail to work together and you will lose!
Now obviously Earth Rising has a point of view about climate change. I am not an expert on the climate, or really sciences of any particular sort. On the face of it, what the game considers to be sustainable versus unsustainable makes sense, and certainly portrays the real-life problems better than other games might, such as 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 over the top about the message they are trying to give.
If a science-based board game about climate change that will have you cooperatively working for the future generations sounds of interest to you, then get a Kickstarter notification for when it goes live for backing!
I played this game with my wife, and while at the beginning we were scratching our heads trying to determine how much importance was placed on switching unsustainable practices over to being sustainable, it eventually clicked and we were soon saving the planet in the 2-player intro mode, and we won! YAY! A quick note about replayability is that the more players you have the harder it is. Whilst we played 2-player, I can imagine it is tougher with more players (we were very quick to determine how to manage the game). It will provide entertainment, as some co-op games sometimes can grind after time, Earth Rising doesn't and you are constantly looking at and assessing the strain coming and looking together at your influences and how to flip your unsustainable practices and poverty. An excellent game, perfect for families (with older children).
(this review did previously come in at a score of 5, but after we did the live playthrough with 3 players it got upgraded, as it takes a different level with 3-4 players) you can watch this live playthrough with games designer Laurie here
Mr Chris the Founder
A solid game lots of co-opportunity (bad pun) but this is a thinking game which sparks cooperation , and has elements that will give your brain a workout, this all with a brilliant message about climate change and saving our planet. Back it, you will not be disappointed!