Son Of Sun Tzu blog

Son Of Sun Tzu blog

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17 Apr 2024

Water Water Everywhere

A prediction of what will be underwater when the sea rises two metres.

Water Water Everywhere

I helped run this session as part of the CLWG design conference; CLWG being the Chestnut Lodge Wargaming Group. I believe the organisation is around forty years old, and is much more focused on the design of new games rather than playing existing ones. Well, I say “helped run” the session, I mainly took notes while my co-designer, Terry Martin, asked the questions.

I’ve already published a more detailed and game focused summary of this session on CLWG’s blog but edited down as something to share in a couple of useful places, for the full version please do check out the Milmud blog.

The idea for the game emerged out of the last design mini-conference by run Stone Paper Scissors. The game is based on the forthcoming rise in sea levels that will occur, their effect on the United Kingdom, and in particular on East Anglia.

The game will focus on East Anglia, several years in the future, when significant flooding has taken place. Unlike many current games around the theme of climate, this game is not about how to stop the changes taking place. The assumption is that the impact of climate change has not been avoided, and therefore the consequences must be acted on.

At this current time we, as game designers, have three questions we’re exploring. I’ve listed them, and some of the answers from the session, below:

What will break?

Firstly, what is the most interesting aspect to me, figuring out what will break, and the kind of actions that are required to deal with those issues:

The most prominent issue:

  • Displacement of one to two million people.
    • Requirement for transportation.
    • Requirement for temporary or permanent housing.
    • How are the displaced understood, in legal and societal terms, as they won’t technically be refugees or migrants.

Other concerns:

  • Will limited national resources be devoted to other areas, such as the Thames Barrier? What will be the ramifications of one area being favoured, or being seen to be favoured, over another?

  • Loss of infrastructure:

    • Educational institutions such as schools and universities and libraries
    • Farming
    • Hospitals
    • Landfill and toxic dumps
    • Military installations such as airbases
    • Ports
    • Power Stations and similar infrastructure
    • Prisons

There are also many other considerations, for example some parliamentary constituencies may no longer exist. Many businesses will still exist, but no longer have a place of business – sports teams struck me as a notable example of this, do they move? Do they disband?

There are also a whole set of potential societal reactions, based on how accepting or not the populace is of the flooding, and the prioritisation of various groups in the response. And not just people – what significant items would be left behind, or safely destroyed, or moved, or preserved? Where “significant” could be in terms of financial, scientific, or cultural value?

Beyond all of those, what effect does this have on weather, if the North Sea is now closer than it was before to parts of the UK?

There are a whole set of legal considerations, as the coast has moved, have British territorial waters also moved?

One last aspect of the game is seeing who can take advantage of such an event and to what end? For example, the redrawing of constituency boundaries? Or the potentially significant changes of the voting tendencies of the population of each constituency depending on who is moved to where. I think as designers we should create just enough space for players to explore that theme, and make both self-interest and selfless co-operation optional.

Which roles should the players play?

This is a key question in determining the format for the game. Currently this probably be one player for each of the relevant Government departments for a smaller committee game. For a larger committee game there will be at least one player representing an entity related to what they do; for example the Department of Education team would now also consist of teachers and their unions, and students

If the game can be run professionally the players would most likely play themselves, or their organisations, depending on who the Game Sponsor is. As always with professional wargaming, I’d argue it’s as important to have someone play those entities who a sponsoring organisation is most likely to interact with as to just think about their own actions in isolation.

Another consideration is whether the players are expected to plan 1, 5, 10 or 20 years ahead, or all of the above. What might be interesting is to have different sets of players working with all those timeframes, and explore how short term plans will help or hinder longer term plans, and vice versa.

What should the game look like?

This will be a Committee Game - turn based game consisting of players who all wish to resolve a problem, but have differing or competing priorities when doing so; or a Planning Game - a game with just one turn, where the players put together a set of inter-connected individual plans on how their role plans to react to the crisis presented. All players will have limited resources – in obvious categories such as manpower and physical resources. But also there will be limits on “cognitive load” – restricting how many projects a department or organisation can handle simultaneously. In addition there will be limits on how long plans take to execute, there’s no point implementing perfectly organised and co-ordinated plans that will only come to fruition too late.

And with credit to Terry for this idea, the game should make it clear that political considerations are at the fore – in the UK context maybe should there be an election half-way through the game, so that unpopular or difficult choices might result in the current decision makers losing their position? There are a variety of mechanisms for handling that within a game context. Climate games are usually hampered by the crisis being obvious, and the players having no aim except to resolve it, leading to unrealistic expectations of how co-operative every party will be.


I think this is a particularly interesting subject because of how much it effects, and the hobby and commercial possibilities.

I’m very aware of how much research might be required, but also one of the major advantages of a game based format is that it brings the knowledge out of the players, rather than more typical consultancy formats where the facilitator would be expected to be the most knowledgeable, and provide the answers rather than the questions.

If you’re interested in where this idea goes please get in touch. If enough people show an interest I’ll set up a mailing list so you can be notified automatically.