Monday, February 29, 2016

CO2, or Al Gore the game

From the game description on BGG: If the pollution isn't stopped, it's game over for all of us.

Well, we've got a clear start on the political views of the designer. The science is settled. As I recall, Australia recently laid off several climate scientists due to that unscientific idea. Of course, when one places emphasis on politics instead of science as a scientist, you end up with bad science and bad politics.

The players are supplying power for the continents, and the amount required increases each round. Each continent has a certain number of CEPs(carbon emission permits). As this starts in the 70's, that's not realistic, as verification would be next to impossible. The game also has the companies as responsible for reforestation, as if the number of trees on Earth is diminishing(certain regions, perhaps, but the USA has more trees now than in 1776. Thanks lumber industry.) It's clearly not a simulation, but a politicized game(albeit one with a good reputation on BGG). 

Points are given for various tech summits, and there are government subsidies as well, so there's a legitimization of political favors, and appealing to authority. This is a decent reflection of reality, but it's bad government and bad science(remember Solyndra?). The fact is, when a technology is mature enough,  there's plenty of incentive for it, as it will be more profitable, and reinforce a reputation for innovation. Yes, innovation matters when companies have to compete for who buys from them, as some will choose a small local company, some will choose cheap, and some will choose to reward the company with the innovation against pollution.  Sounds like an economics game might be a better sim to me.

Why has this game been lauded? It fits the narrative, whether or not the science actually works. Most climate change proponents ignore the fact that our recorded data on temperatures only goes back about 300-400 years. Scientists tell them temperature can be inferred from CO2 levels in ice(good luck getting an accurate dating on that, when you have no clue how much ice was added/subtracted to Antarctica each year). The climatologists at the NOAA have been adjusting previously recorded data for years, and the climate advocates have ignored it. I'm not making any statement about the gameplay as gameplay, as I haven't played it.

Please note: This essay is not against pursuit of technology that will reduce or reverse pollution. There is a proper level of responsibility,  and that includes reversing some damage that has already occurred. There is a balance, and it's not easy.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


I've been  recovering from an injury for a few days, and it's  been very draining. Will get the interview done/posted as soon as I can.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hazardous Materials: Catan Scenarios: Oil Springs and Industiral Waste

There are two general environmentalist reactions to hazardous materials: leave it alone and let the government handle it. There are a few reasons for this, among them the belief that government is easier to hold accountable than commercial interests. This is of course a false dilemma, as any governmental or corporate agency with sufficient power is very good at obscuring fault, and hiding evidence. Last August, the EPA caused a mine to leak arsenic and other heavy metals into the Animas River, which ultimately feeds into the Colorado, and thus potentially affecting the water supply of much of the Western USA. While preliminary studies suggest that most of the metals spilled remained near the site of the spill, the EPA has not been fined, nobody has been charged, and it's likely neither of these will happen. The Atlantic has an excellent article on the potential effects of the spill on local wildlife.  Decades to understand the impact and yet no repercussions. And then there's Flint, MI: to save money, a court appointed city manager decided to switch to a river based water supply, and not pay for the appropriate treatments for an aging system of pipes, and the EPA either ignored or covered up results that should have brought action months before the media got hold of the story.

The leave it alone option also has the potential to spell disaster. Methane bubble plumes from the ocean have observably spiked(whether there's also a spike in observers is unreported). This gas, of course, will cause wildlife to drown. If a large plume occurs near a town, that town could be in danger. One potential answer: mine the crystals, and capture that methane for commercial use.

Now, onto Catan Scenarios: Oil Springs. Firstly there's a fixed setup, and roughly equal geographic distribution of the oil springs. Of course, that's not exactly a reflection of reality. There's a hard limit of storage of oil, another false assumption, as is the presence of populace being required for the oil to come up, but at least that ties to the other resource mechanisms. Oil has interesting uses: it can become two regular resources, or be used with other resources to turn a city into a metropolis. Of course oil presence/use has very little to do with either being an urban or religious center. A disaster phase is added for every 5 oil used; an interesting concept, but tying it to oil is a bit political- hurricanes, tornadoes, and other disasters existed long before petroleum use. As to the game itself, if I enjoyed Catan(I don't), I would find this intriguing; I like the idea of the disaster phase. There are some infoboxes with interesting data, some projections, etc., all of it at least a bit political.

Industrial Waste is a game about balancing efficiency and productivity with waste management in manufacturing. The game is more about engine building, and has a fine mechanic for having too much waste when an accident happens. Driven by action cards, it's mostly a partially random abstract. With waste management basically moving waste to other players, there's not much reflection of reality. In fact, the most realistic parts are the push to disemploy workers and the fines, with no other repercussions in the game. An interesting look at the corporate side of industrial/environmental issues.

For the next entry, I'll try to have Nat Levan interviewed via email to discuss New Bedford.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Post on Wednesday afternoon

I think last week might have shifted my mental schedule, so I'll try to stick to that. This week's post will cover the games Industrial Waste and Catan Scenarios: Oil Fields.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Environmentalism in gaming: Hey, That's My Fish! and Antarctica


We've been told for years about global warming and the ice caps melting. Al Gore in 2012 stated: “The ice on land is melting at a faster rate and large ice sheets are moving toward the ocean more rapidly. As a result, sea levels are rising worldwide … as I look at this exquisite continent buried deep under the ice, it’s troubling to think about what will happen as this ice melts ever more rapidly.”. Here's a short and fun article on polar ice.

Now, to the games. Hey, That's My Fish! is an abstract from 2003 featuring cute penguins and melting ice floes. Antarctica is a recent eurogame of area influence. We'll look at the theme, mechanisms as representative of environmentalism, and their reflection of reality.

Hey, That's My Fish! has very little theme. Each player has a team of penguins, and are trying to gather as many fish as they can while the ice melts around them. Cute theme, it works as a game because it's so simple, and is technically a family game. When a penguin is moved off of a tile, the player controlling it collects that tile, so the board gains holes and is shrinking throughout the game. Penguins with no moves are stuck, so here's to being flightless and stuck on land. As far as the ice floes disappearing, sure, over summer, why not?

Antarctica, to it's credit, starts it's description with the words "In a distant time". Then it talks about global warming, sea levels rising, and windmills in the Antarctic. Each player has a team of scientists, ships, and resources, and is trying to get the most notoriety in the scientific community.  Do the mechanisms actually reflect any climate change agenda? No, but there is a rather interesting turn aspect: each turn the sun rotates one sector, and the ship first in that sector gets to move, and that player takes an action in that sector.

As to the reflection of reality in Antarctica, more scientists and more research and facilities(scoring mechanisms) do generally mean more notoriety. This, of course, is not science: it's a popularity contest. As to sea levels rising, water levels may rise in one part of a large body of water and not others; it's been observed by fishermen on large lakes. As to wind technology, there's a limit to how fast a windmill will turn and the windspeed it will handle. At a certain point, you're dealing with material and mechanical limits, I don't know what those would be, but polar winds are FAR beyond our current capabilities. And now for "climate change". We need to start with answering the question of the Earth's age. We have hard data from the British navy going back about 400 years.  Gas sample analysis from ice cores is a silly idea; gases won't distribute uniformly over the Earth. If one believe in a "young Earth", that is about 20k years, we have the negligible amount of 2% of history of hard data. If one believes the Earth is "billions and billions" of years old, the amount of hard data is laughably small, and assuming we know enough to make any predictions is ridiculous.

As to their quality as games, Hey That's My Fish! is a grand time, and I look forward to playing Antarctica: area majority games are some of my favorites.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Delayed post, but here's a preview...

I attended a local con this weekend and had a blast. I'm still exhausted, and didn't have time for plotting out the post I'd like to do this week. I'll try to get it in on Wednesday.

In the meantime, here's what I'm planning: First, a series on environmentalism in boardgames. I've already gathered some games to post about, and I shall discuss where environmentalism fits in the game(is it just pasted on theme, or is there a mechanical reflection). These posts will also discuss the accuracy of the mentioned topic in reality(is the depiction accurate, or propaganda?) There will within this series be two interviews, the earlier one being with Nat Levan, designer of the upcoming New Bedford, and finishing out the series with one with Kyle Gabhart, designer of Arctic Scavengers, which will transition to the next series.

If you have any suggestions about which games to discuss in the first series, please post them in the comments, or email me.