Updated: Apr 19
Climate change and sustainability have been common theme for board games in recent years, tho' games with environmental themes do sometimes have a tendency to proselytise - even if they are mostly preaching to the choir. That's not so evident in Cation Arts' One Earth. For sure, you'll learn a bit about environmental issues while playing, and the theme will encourage players to think about climate change, but game play in One Earth isn't one size fits all...
There's a board that's essentially just a tracker for players' income per round and their carbon emissions but One Earth is primarily a card game. It can be played as a cutdown simplified 3-5 player game but the full game caters for 1-5 players, with an automata competing in the one- and two-player game. A round comprises a turn for each player. At the start of each round you'll collect income corresponding to the position of your marker on the prosperity track. You get to spend the income buying one or more of the Project cards from the six cards on display. You can also search through the Technology cards to buy one if you can afford it and have a project that it applies to. Projects will increase your prosperity, so up your income on subsequent rounds, but will also increase your emissions. Technology cards will modify a Project's effect: reducing emissions or further raising prosperity. Players can also search through the Climate Policy deck to buy a card that will reduce emissions.
Whenever players' carbon emissions increase, this also advances global emissions (the total of the carbon emissions of all the players). When global emissions hit various trigger points, they give rise to Warning Events and later Critical Events that will affect the game. Some Warning Events are positive, and all affect the income for the round for all players; the Critical Events punish the players with the highest emissions but may reward the player with the lowest emissions. The player with the highest emissions can also be Sanctioned. This will cap the income they can receive and can force them to discard a Project.
When global emissions reach 21 or more at the end of a round, it prompts the United Nations into action. Players debate and vote on whether or not to Sanction the highest emitter. They can also debate and vote on a Resolution card: these mainly have an impact on specific Project types. Some Resolutions apply to all players but others only affect those that vote 'yes'. Players can bid to buy the votes of a non-player character.
If this were all there was to One Earth, it would be an interesting but perhaps unremarkable game. What really brings it to life, however, is designer Mohamed Al Qadi's inclusion of Leader cards. Each player takes one of the six available Leaders: Environmentalist, Scientist, Diplomat, Military General, Entertainer or Energy Tycoon. These are highly asymmetric: each has their own (mostly single-use) special ability but, more significantly, each earns extra victory points according to the Projects and/or Technologies they've funded. Without the Leaders, players would mostly just be buying whatever Projects gave them the most prosperity and fewest emissions. The Leader cards alter the dynamics so that players seek specific projects or go for the large end-game set collection bonus of diversifying to fund Projects in lots of different sectors.
In our plays at Board's Eye View, we found the Energy Tycoon was the most interesting Leader to play. The Energy Tycoon has a substantial vested interest in funding high-emission fossil fuel Projects. The trick is to buy up all the fossil fuel Projects you can afford and either seek out Technology or Climate Policy cards that suppress your emissions, or try to go hell-for-leather in driving up your prosperity to the game-end trigger (20 in a four- or five-player game) before you are adversely affected by those pesky UN Sanctions. You'll often be pushing your luck as the Energy Tycoon, and it can be hard to secure victory, but the inclusion of this Leader makes for an always interesting game, and the role play that it and the other Leader cards engender help to make One Earth stand out from the crowd.
Shown here on Board's Eye View is a preview prototype of One Earth ahead of its launch on the Gamefound crowdfunding platform on 29 November. We'll add a link when the campaign goes live. The published version of One Earth will have wooden emission tokens in place of the cardboard chits in the prototype, and, for the environmentally conscious, Cation Arts have specified that no plastics will be used in the game.