I've often wondered which is worse for the environment: using up a pad of paper for a roll & write or laminating a set of sheets with plastic and using plastic pens to mark them. I'm fairly sure that particular question was not raised at the Kyoto Summit in 1997, but there were many pressing environmental concerns discussed, sadly treated by some countries like bargaining chips as profit was sought instead of progress. This is the background for Kyoto, designed by Sabine Harrer and Johannes Krenner, a 3-6 player game of semi-cooperative negotiation and self-interest which aims to inform as much as entertain.
With its small, packaging-conscious box, publishers Deep Print Games and Pegasus Spiele have given Kyoto a clean air of professional production. Except for the paper money, all the components are high quality, and the art and design by Christian Opperer is clear and unambiguous, with little left to waste; we particularly like the tuck-box which holds the cards. The rulebook might be somewhat daunting for a casual gamer but it is clear and gets proceedings up and running in good time; after divvying up the cash and cards, and choosing a couple of hidden agendas each, players are ready to chaffer.
Each round, one country takes the lectern and chooses one of two studies to be addressed; all players then negotiate in freeform for 90 seconds, placing pledges of finance and commitment to act. Players can bribe others into retracting affluence cards - but not money - with an eye toward completing their hidden agendas. Given that money and affluence directly contribute to final scores, players are effectively trading victory points.
Caught in the middle of all this powerplay, much as they are in real life, are the planet's clean air, global temperature and endangered wildlife, represented by five tokens of each; if negotiations fail, one, two or three tokens are flipped over, sometimes causing another to flip; in this way the end of the game can come a lot quicker than the ten or twelve full rounds of negotiations. If calamity has been avoided, the winner is simply the one with most points; however, if one of the three elements has gone critical, the second highest scoring player wins, with the first deemed most culpable of damaging the environment. There's an admirable intent behind Kyoto's relatively svelte mechanics that, somewhat disconcertingly, encourages players to behave like the self-interested politicians that are ultimately responsible for the fate of our fragile ecosystem. Players are pulled in a lot of little directions at once and, hopefully, will find their consciences pricked. The freeform negotiation phase won't be to everyone's taste and the semi-cooperative aspect is one oft debated as to its effectiveness in gameplay terms; tho', given the self-aware nature of the game and its own not-so-hidden agenda, it works well here, especially with more players.
That said, for the game to work at all, players really need to want the win, to fully enter the magic circle and commit to Kyoto's meta; because there is, actually, enough money and affluence to deal with the vast majority of the problems that face the world, so that if everyone really did work together, the problems would be quickly solved with little drama. Now, isn't that a nice thought for the real world?
(Review by David Fox)
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