James Cahill and Bruno Lacey met through mutual friends in London, and quickly discovered two things in common: a shared interest in fighting climate change and an appreciation for dark humor. Those shared interests served as the inspiration for their newest project: Climate Change the Game.
In their sleekly designed board game, players assume the role of a nefarious CEO who’s on a quest for as much fossil fuel as possible. Players have to grapple with the CEO’s corporate greed, all while facing world-ending climate change.
We met up with Cahill and Lacey (online) to talk about their project, and why it’s more complex than one might think.
The below conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
“We wanted to bring this big, complex problem into people’s living rooms”
Q: How did you come up with this idea?
James: It basically came out of Donald Trump’s election. We were like, “This world is going to shit. What are we going to do to help?”
Bruno: We both have a passion for board games, so we started to think about it as a way of tackling the issue [of climate change]. We wanted to bring this big, complex problem into people’s living rooms. In the game, you’re put in the driver seat; it’s a bit of roleplay. You interact with questions and problems that aren’t usually directed at you in such an active way.
James: That’s what’s so joyful and transformative about board games—they allow you to go into this role where you can be evil.
Bruno: Yeah, a nasty motherfucker.
Bruno: It hasn’t changed our lives yet…with “yet” being the keyword. When we started, I had moved to Lisbon and was looking for work. In the beginning, I didn’t bring up the game when I was talking to people. After a while I started saying, “Oh, I’m working on a board game about climate change.” People remembered that. It was an interesting calling card.
James: For me it was quite drastic. I was just yearning to do something that would give back in a more meaningful way. I’d been working within the advertising business for almost 20 years. Besides some pro-bono charity projects, it hadn’t fulfilled me. A year ago, I made the decision to leave my permanent work to focus on this.
Have you ever second guessed the decision to leave your fulltime job?
James: Yeah, when you see the paychecks stop coming in. You think, “Should I spend time perfecting a board game or should I look for work?” I certainly think my partner agrees, given the number of times I’ve made her test different versions of the game. But overwhelmingly I feel that this is the right thing to do, even if doesn’t turn out to be successful.
“Before we started with the game, we didn’t want to talk with any of the big manufactures; they couldn’t offer us the production that we were after. But then we realized that is exactly why we should meet them. You have to work with the powers that be”
What different development phases have you gone through so far?
James: It started with late nights, just going through all of our board games, looking for pieces to our puzzle.
Bruno: That is definitely how it started. When the game mechanic was set, we started to add in the “real world” layers. The Greta Thunberg stuff, the Paris agreement, getting the data and so on… We put everything down on cards and matched them up to see what would happen in the game.
For instance, we needed Brexit cards: a hard Brexit card, a soft Brexit card, a no Brexit card. Every week there was something stupid involving Donald Trump. That all had to be integrated into the logic of the game.
You wrote in your press release that, “CCG will be the most sustainably produced board game ever, demonstrating that it is possible to have fun while we save the planet.” How does this affect your work with the game?
James: We have to think about questions like: How do we avoid using plastic in the game? How do we keep it as light as possible? How many carbon emissions is it going to create when we ship it? What will it cost to use carbon neutral carriers?
Bruno: For instance, we’ve looked for local production since I moved to Portugal. A solution with 3-D printers that works with waste materials from beer manufactures and rubbish landfills.
James: You suddenly become a manufacturer and realize the complexity.
But being “the most sustainably produced board game ever” can’t be that hard?
James: No, we haven’t seen any super eco-friendly board games out there. We’ve had our moments of, “What are we doing? Shouldn’t we be doing a digital game instead?” But then we realized why it has to be a board game. We should not stop doing the things we love because of climate change. But we should do it in a different, better, sustainable way.
Bruno: And to make that happen we’re facing several production hurdles. For instance, the ink, which isn’t recyclable, turns into a massive blob that clogs up the facility.
“One of our more cynical friends said, “You’ll never make this work. I guarantee you’ll never manufacture it.” When we actually got around to play the Game, he actually enjoyed it.”
This is just a big experiment?
James: Yeah, we’re taking it to the extreme because we feel like the whole game is undermined if one piece isn’t recyclable. We need to make it in the right way. Hopefully, down the road, someone will come and say, “Here’s some money. Make it work in the best way possible”.
Bruno: Before we started with the game, we didn’t want to talk with any of the big manufactures; they couldn’t offer us the production that we were after. But then we realized that is exactly why we should meet them. You have to work with the powers that be, rather than just constantly waving bamboo sticks at the airplanes flying overhead. You've got to join them and fight from inside the beast, and at the moment it looks promising, there is a will to try new production solutions.
What reactions have you had to the game?
Bruno: One of our more cynical friends said, “You’ll never make this work. I guarantee you’ll never manufacture it.” When we actually got around to play the Game, he actually enjoyed it. He had to eat, as we say, humble pie.
What’s the greatest reaction you have had to the game?
Bruno: “Do you want 1000 euros?” That's the best reaction we've had so far. (Laughs)
Climate Change the Game is scheduled to hit the physical shelves this coming winter, but you can already play it, with Print&Play, at www.climatechangethegame.com
Follow the project on Facebook and Instagram for game updates and opportunities to contribute to crowdfunding campaigns.