RISE Update: The challenge of designing a board game that’s fun, accessible, and powerful
Our first game, Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives, has been distributed to over thirty countries and used in homes, classrooms, and movement building spaces. It’s success is largely due to the fact that it is a simple game to pick up while also managing to get across a powerful message. And, of course, it’s a ton of fun. (There’s no point in playing a game that’s not fun, after all.) The mechanics of Co-opoly (the rules and the structure) are fairly simple: roll the dice, move the game piece, then complete the challenge, the mini-game, or the decision on the card. There are also complicating factors that you have to deal with throughout the game, such as having to balance the need of the collective and the individuals, making decisions that might come back to reward or haunt you, and so on. And through this simple gameplay system, Co-opoly is able to express complex subjects and help players explore them in detail.
Similarly, our second game, Loud & Proud is even simpler to learn and play.
The simplicity of Co-opoly and Loud & Proud make the games great for people of all ages, people who aren’t used to playing games, and settings like workshops or classrooms or very relaxed game nights. And while they’re both fun games, they ultimately perhaps lack a certain level of depth in the gameplay that would engage people who regularly play board and card games. Don’t get us wrong – we love simple games at TESA, but we also love in-depth games as well. So when we decided to create RISE, our game about movement building and community organizing, we set out to build a game that would have a more intricate gaming system and appeal to social justice gamers as well as a broader gaming audience. At the same time, we didn’t want to make a game that was overly complicated and un-fun, especially for social justice folks that aren’t typical gameplayers. Internally, our goal was to build a game that takes roughly twenty minutes to learn how to play, as opposed to Co-opoly and Loud & Proud, which can be explained in five minutes.
At this point for RISE, we believe we’ve come up with a core system for the game that’s a lot of fun, more intricate than our other games, and that teaches powerful lessons about building movements and taking on entrenched corporate and political power structures. That was no easy task, and it’s something we’re incredibly proud of.
Yet, one thing that we did discover was that while a lot of our game-testers were having a great time with RISE, there were the occasional sessions with large groups and/or people who were unaccustomed to games struggling to learn the rules and engage in the play. This was something we wrestled with for a while, as we’ve seen the impact of Co-opoly being able to pull in people who don’t usually play games. This is important, after all, because so many games reinforce traditional power structures, and they can alienate many people. That means that many people who might be excited for a social justice game like RISE might not be people who have a background in game play. Despite this, we wanted to stay true to our goal to make RISE a game that would engage new audiences.
So we were faced with a dilemma: should we keep our current version of RISE? Or should we rebuild the game so that was more in line with the accomplishments of Co-opoly and Loud & Proud?
Eventually, we decided on neither option. Why not have our cake and eat it too? Why can’t you have the cake and it eat it too?
That’s why RISE will now come with two versions in one box. There will be the standard gameplay version, and a “streamlined” version. This second version of RISE will have simpler gameplay mechanics, remove some components of the full game without compromising any of the content, and focus on being more useful in settings with large groups (like workshops or conferences) and people who aren’t as experienced with games. These instructions will be straightforward and easily explainable in five minutes or less. Hopefully, this can also serve as an introduction: once people master the streamlined version of RISE, they can then move on to the standard version of the game.
What we realized is that we want to have a version of RISE that’s fun for us as experienced gameplayers, but we also want to have a version of RISE that we can use as workshop leaders and as people who often teach games to folks who aren’t as experienced gameplayers. We know that’s something our community wants as well, and we’re thrilled to now be able to include two games in one with RISE. We believe this will truly make RISE a great game and a great movement building tool.