From construction to sailing, in the unknown journey, let’s talk about the process and significance of designing a board game


In the early summer of this year, I accepted a commission from a friend to design a tabletop game for Greenpeace.

The source of creativity comes from "Spaceship Earth-Climate Emergency Mutual Aid Package", which is a set of concept cards produced by the staff of Luhe, hoping to help different fields by refining more readable and more interesting environmental action related content. Content creators in different scenarios are looking for co-creation inspiration, and we can influence more audiences and create the heat of climate change issues.

At that time, I just published "Good Design Good Fun". For me, I have passed the age of chasing explosive games and indulging in gameplay. I think more about how to use board games to change the people around me, like many cases in the book. A little thing.


So I am very happy to have such an opportunity to go to board games and join this meaningful co-creation project as a way of expression.

Usually the questions I usually ask at the beginning of receiving customer needs are about the "occurrence scene" of the game, but this time the answer is different. The game is different: first this game is not available for sale, so there is no need to consider the sales channel; Secondly, the game hopes that through activities, more people can learn about ecological issues and stimulate thinking. Therefore, it can be deduced that the most important thing is the atmosphere of the game process and the expressiveness of the game. The game can be one-time or even realized time and time again. A spread-at the later DICE CON site, Greenpeace's exhibition area was full of people, and finally attracted a player group of nearly 200 people, which just proved that our design results did not deviate from expectations.


Against this background, I let go of my creative hands and feet, and realized my ideas one by one. There are many "environmental-themed" board games, but they are all too like board games. They either constantly explore strategies to create a sense of situation, or list knowledge and education in a single glance. But people's awareness of environmental protection should not be through the form of "teaching", but an environment should be created.

So what we want to design is not a board game, but to design props in an event, so that people in this event can start to interact with each other. This is also true "gamification".

With this idea, we acted separately. On the one hand, I told Leo and Ping the two designers of this commission and all the ideas for this product, and ran to Shanghai to test the template with them. In the end, everyone came up with 4 For this plan, we chose the one with the lowest threshold but the best on-site effect.


After the model ran through, it was the turn of Luhe's friends to give the product professional knowledge, strong sci-fi copywriting, and a very apocalyptic art blessing. After editing a large number of cases in " Good Design Good Fun ", I am also very concerned about the form of the game: on the one hand, as an environmentally friendly game, you must use FSC-certified printing paper, on the other hand, all accessories must be Make the best use of it (for example, the paper tie of the box), and I also proposed the bold design of the pulp box, which means that for a game with a small print volume, each box has to bear the cost of mold opening costs of more than 20 yuan ……But I don’t want to be ordinary, even if the design intention cannot be understood by everyone, what I want is to let this game be remembered in the event, this is the nature of a product designer.

I am very grateful to everyone for their support in every aspect of the "Earth" construction process. This support has been accompanied by the "Earth" set sail on DICE CON, and has achieved good responses.


The meaning of crowdfunding to us is still to find a suitable way to let one more person know about this event, know that "the environment of this world is closely related to us", and know the message that the original co-created cards want to convey.

In the four months of creating the "Earth", I was the one who learned the most, and I became more concerned about the environment and people instead of the dice and cards in my hand. I also hope that in the future, there will be more opportunities to express issues with board games, and let gamification change a little bit.


1.First, Let's start with "co-creation"

In 2021, there have been many extreme weather phenomena exacerbated by the impact of climate change. Hurricane IDA, which hit North America in September, killed at least 50 people. In New York City, it even caused 15 deaths, water poured into buildings, and multiple subway lines were shut down. And the floods in western Germany in summer also have sounded the alarm for people of climate change disasters and adaptation. And the co-creation of our board game “Spaceship Earth” began before this terrible summer...


When we discussed climate change and ecological crisis, it seemed to be a topic for elites and experts-the feedback from many people was that this matter has nothing to do with me. One is that I can’t see how this matter affects me, and I can’t perceive it emotionally; the other is: Yes, climate change has a great impact on humans, and I am worried, but how I affect it and change it is a powerless attempt. After all, it is the elites’ business to deal with climate change.

However, I have always heard that many discussions involving climate change and individuals are happening!

I have seen many people take the initiative to research and learn about this topic, starting with their own interests: whether it is climate change and the food system, or climate change and real estate investment, etc.

I have seen many people take the initiative to implement solutions from the perspective of their communities: what a more sustainable travel experience can be, how to become a part of the action by reducing the use of disposable items and reducing domestic waste, and how to raise awareness of climate change in the visual arts.

What I see more is, in fact, people’s debate on the basic concept of how to resolve the issue of climate change. There are many such debates. Many people are not even consciously arguing for the promotion of climate change.


Therefore, several professional partners and I designed a set of topic cards to encourage more partners in various fields to participate in the discussion of climate change and conduct a "co-creation" on climate change content production!

This set of cards gives 32 perspectives, half of which are "knowledge" cards that provide incremental information for discussion, introducing the symptoms and impacts of climate change and ecological crises; the other half is "concept" cards, listing some ideas and facts that effectively promote problem solving, and some hinder discussion, collaboration, and resolution.

We chose a conceptual title for this set of cards, which comes from the economist Buckminster Fuller: The earth is like a spaceship flying in space. It needs to continuously consume and regenerate its own limited resources to survive.  If resources are unreasonably developed, it will be destroyed.

And we are all in the same boat.

Soon, many content producers started their own creations with this co-creation tool. Including the response of the "Podcast Commune" Lao Yuan appealed to the next 30 content owners of his platform, they worked together to produce 30 episodes of the program and launched the "World Environment Day Podcast Collection". And a total of 10 episodes of the "Meeting" series produced by the Food Action Community and the documentary project "Road to Tomorrow" community.

During this period, curators, event planning teams, artists, and researchers continued to join in the discussion of co-creation, exploring and practicing content suitable for their respective professions and communities. Of course, we have received various criticisms and suggestions for improvement, including: How do you introduce this set of cards to others? Shouldn't this be a fun game?

Yes, before that, I hadn’t thought about how to introduce the card to more people besides making a PDF and sending it to my friends. I was a little unconfident and only sold the card to people I believed would be interested. And using co-creation cards to link professional board game culture promotion agencies is what Huang Yan did quietly.

2. in the board game, the real spaceship takes off

The story exists before the design. This is a story about how humans "go for living"-in Vincent's words. “Spaceship Earth” is: Before the destruction of the earth, a spaceship carries the last humans into space.

And this group of people needs to let the spaceship not crash before reaching a new habitable planet. For this purpose, they need to make decisions constantly-the same as what is happening on the earth at this moment!


I knew Vincent through the producer Huang Yan and Huang Yan through the designer Chen Dawei. At that time, I didn’t know about board games, except Werewolf Killing; I didn’t know that board games had gathered a lot of people and attention in the sub-cultural community, and I didn’t know DICE CON, the largest board game exhibition in Asia; I only heard someone made a board game in South Korea before, which was themed with female social identity, called "Li Zhihui Survival Game".

So I guessed that people in this group might be interested in topics of public domain. Sure enough, Vincent said directly: Interested! Of course, I don't know how many times I've met with Vincent before I realized that his studio DICE was the agency for the localized design and Chinese distribution of Li Zhihui. That's another story.


We had a meeting with the board game team for the first time, and then I went downstairs with Vincent and he asked, oh who wrote this card? I said I wrote it. Then he said, I really like this card! Ah, my lack of confidence in co-creating cards was dispelled at the first meeting—someone likes such “boring” things. 

I have to say that I still have doubts about "co-creation". Experience tells me that the management model of upward and downward effects is efficient and good for quality management! Create together? Is it by interest? By passion? How to encourage enthusiasm? How to control the quality? These questions exploded in my head. In addition to product chief designer Vincent and chief designer Leo, the co-creators of this board game include Liu Junyan, a Doctor of Economics, Li Chao, a doctor of ecology, a Silicon Valley programmer, Dong Liansai, and one who is working at the same time. Three projects, but I have to participate in this co-created art concept Sandy, two visual workers Lin Yanzhu and Zhang Huaixian who are themselves board game playmates, and Han Yuhang, a graduate student of the Berlin University of the Arts (there is only such a real astronaut) ... There are also batches of "guinea pigs" who have participated in various stages of version testing.


The contribution of the mechanism is mainly due to the partners of DICE. It is a learning process to conceive and choose the game mechanism together. They spent a lot of time educating the doctors and me. I also know the difference between "American" and "German"! (Yes, only to know these two terms) The most complicated part of this board game co-creation process is the design mechanism. We tried a very complicated mechanism together: because the copywriters insist that climate change is a complex systemic issue, we need restore complexity faithfully. The mechanics designer challenged this problem very vigorously, and made a sample for testing. The facts prove that such a complicated game mechanism does not work-how tragic is it? Most people didn't even understand or remember the rules of the game. In the end, only one doctor was still playing with relish, and the others gave up. 

Choose the simplest mechanism-Vincent carefully gave his suggestions, after letting us experience a board game with two simple mechanisms and a board game with a complex mechanism. I can see that he is very good at communication and product planning of "expectation management", but to be honest, I have no ability and never want to doubt his suggestions-because everyone has tried other possibilities together. We don't want anything else except to make the game well.

In addition to the two PhDs who provide support mainly in climate change, ecology, society, economy, etc., we also have a Silicon Valley programmer who, as the main force, added a lot of sci-fi details-it is these key details that make the spacecraft the universe was established. The first suggestion he put forward after joining the co-creation was to delete the plot settings of "perihelion" and "aphelion" because the spacecraft is not sailing in orbit around the sun! In addition to removing these low-level errors, Dong Liansai also designed two energy directions for the spacecraft: Fermi ore (meaning traditional fossil energy on the earth), and Guangfan technology (meaning renewable energy technology on the earth). A technology is mature and efficient, but has environmental and social costs; a technology development needs to overcome bottlenecks.


In addition, the double-match also joined the "golden record" (the Traveler Golden Record is a record that was launched into space with two voyager probes in 1977. The record contains various cultures on the earth, and the sounds and images of life, I hope they will be discovered by other extraterrestrial intelligent creatures in the universe.); "Brain in a Vat" ("Brain in a Vat" is Hilary Putnam's "Reason," in 1981 In the book "Truth and History", the hypothesis put forward: "A scientist performed such an operation. He cut off the brain of someone else and put it in a tank full of nutrient solution. The nutrient solution can maintain the normal operation of the brain. The nerve endings are connected to the wires, and on the other side of the wires is a computer. This computer simulates the parameters of the real world and transmits information to the brain through the wires, so that the brain maintains the feeling that everything is completely normal. For the brain, it seems human, objects and sky still exist.”) The plot, which is an important part of making the whole game more challenging and interesting.

3.what is the real action this planet needs? 

People in game of "Spaceship Earth" need to make joint decisions in a collaborative manner in order for the spacecraft to reach their new homes. Then the four sectors (economy, comfort, environment, and civilization) sometimes have conflicting interests and harm each other, but based on the setting of collaborative games, none of these departments with the same initial score can have a score lower than zero in the game. Intervening in the scores of each department is a series of event cards. Based on the events that occurred, everyone voted to determine the content of the card recommendations. After voting, you can add or subtract points according to the card prompts. 

What are these issues?


For example, a card called "Buy, buy, buy!" Card proposal: issue spaceship credit cards to stimulate consumption. It encourages an unlimited consumption behavior, because consumption drives the economy, and consumption also gives people a sense of satisfaction. Level); However, there will also be problems immediately issued by players. On a spacecraft with limited resources and energy, advocating materialism is actually increasing energy and resource consumption and bringing environmental load.

The Coral report card tells us, Fermi ore, an energy source, can cause coral bleaching, but the card suggests ignoring this change and continuing to refine Fermi ore. This is a cosmic example of coral bleaching on earth - corals are extremely sensitive to the growth environment. Changes in environmental conditions such as water temperature, pH and turbidity will directly affect the symbiotic relationship between corals and symbiotic algae that bring color to them.

When the coral is under the influence of environmental pressure, the symbiotic zooxanthellae will gradually leave the coral body and take away the color, leaving only transparent coral insects and bones, forming coral albinism. So, do we need to stop refining Fermi ore? As for the setting of the spacecraft, we all know that there may be only one coral, which is an important biological resource brought by mankind to a new home; On earth, news about coral bleaching has been reported from time to time, but people don't think this event is very urgent - and what if we add another message, that is, when the earth warms up by 2 degrees, When the earth warms 2 degrees, coral reefs will all whiten, Is this still acceptable? Coral reefs are just one of the many ecosystems on earth.

Because of my interest in the food system, I set up a lot of food related cards, including hoping to discuss the controversial vegetarian initiatives on the Internet.

It is true that large-scale intensive animal husbandry aggravates environmental pressure in terms of energy consumption, emission and pollution; However, the following factors should also be considered whether to make vegetarian initiatives. For example, meat consumption and protein consumption are also important parts of the global food trade. Its system locking effect is very strong, that is, there are many industries, regions and people relying on it; Then, the cultural habits of various regions will affect people's dietary choices; What's more, we can't ignore people's eating habits and adaptive diet composition. After all, diet is a very personal choice. Can we intervene in personal choice on the grounds of protecting the environment? To what extent can we not intervene too much? This is a topic to be discussed, so we need to be restrained, open and cooperative. After all, it is possible to make efficient use of low-carbon animal proteins such as viscera, sheep, scorpions and edible insects.

All cards, in fact return to the question - what real action does the planet need? What do we need to solve the climate crisis and ecological damage on the earth? Is development just about economic growth? Where does the lack of trust and cooperation in solving the earth's environmental problems come from? Is technology omnipotent and can it meet the endless material pursuit of people? Making a change will sacrifice some convenience. Are you willing? What prevents us from becoming cruel? What makes us ignore the pain of others? What does the metauniverse promise?

The earth is facing the same problems as spaceships, but the earth is very large, and the people who make profits and those who suffer losses may be far away; There are many people on the earth. Limited resources should not limit ourselves first, but others who can't afford to buy; We also do not have an effective decision-making mechanism for the four departments of the earth; Even the strength of empathy varies with distance.

However, human also has its glorious and beautiful side: we seem to be unable to ignore the suffering of others, we also inherit the pursuit of fairness, we are curious, we have the courage to trust. The real action the planet needs is to care about issues in the public sphere and do more in-depth understanding and interpretation; Is to find a place where you can make sustainable improvement in your life, professional field and interest direction and start to change it; It is to empathize, set aside preconceived views and cognitive biases, and understand the different needs of different people. "Spaceship Earth" provides such a thinking practice.

4.Gags: Art and binding design

Art concept: Wang Youzao introduced to me the concept of an economist, saying that all of us live on a circular spaceship called the earth with a straight 1 diameter of 27 and a diameter of 56.274 kilometers. Therefore, I put the whole design under the background of being responsible for the spaceship. Then the design needs to solve two problems: the concept communication of "earth as a spaceship" and And whether the whole product is "responsible to the earth". There were two versions of the style at the beginning. Finally, all the friends participating in the board game voted for direction 1:

(1) Romantic futurism, key words: catalog, doomsday, space, Utopia


(2) More inclined to the fun of the game, key words: imagination, alien, color

The design of " Spaceship Earth" is only the process of building products, and the subsequent crowdfunding and activities are also a long "Voyage", but we are not sure whether we can finally reach a new home and really change the concept of some people through this game attempt.


But isn't it the reason for human progress to do things we can't be sure of and challenge the unknown and Prejudice? Because of this "courage", we flew out of the earth and designed a game that broke through the so-called "common sense".