Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group

Water Water Everywhere – game design session

I helped run this session as part of the CLWG design conference. Well, mainly I took notes while my co-designer, Terry Martin, asked the questions.

An idea for the game “Water Water Everywhere” 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 full brief is below:


An Introduction

This game is about how the UK may react to an unstoppable rise in sea levels.

We envisage the full game as a committee game representing a government task force established to produce a plan for dealing with an inexorable encroachment on the coast every year. It is set in the second half of this century when sea levels have already led to The Wash overflowing and several villages lost. It is viewed as inevitable that within a couple of years the ocean will have come to the edges of Peterborough and Cambridge, affecting more than 300,000 properties and more than 2 million people.

This Chestnut session is a ‘design pre game’ to determine:-

  • What organisations should be represented on that task force and why
  • What other organisations and/or individuals should be invited to give evidence or advice to the task force
  • The effects on the UK of whole counties being lost to a rising sea, in terms of infrastructure and services/resources.
  • Structure for a full game… for example, should it have formal turns, or be more free form. What time period should it cover, etc?

Issues that you might consider could include internal migration, health, education, policing amongst many other things. What will happen to power and transport? What will housing needs be? How will business and tourism be affected?

What happens if  we lose a big power station, and so on. Perhaps most of all, how will society cope, will there be civil disoreder? If so, how will the nation cope? It’s too late to stop the climate disaster, now we have to plan how to deal with it.

That’s the bones of the game idea…. Now it’s up to you. We will be online in Discord, watching and taking notes. (There will also be a channel for written feedback after the game, if anyone has any further thoughts)

Thanks for playing…
Nick and Terry


Some “edited highlights” of the discussion follow.

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

Also many other considerations

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 safety 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?

Many analogies were drawn to World War II, as the last similar event that is also known to at least a couple of the contributors. This connection was useful to draw on for examples of what actions might be considered, and how civilian groups might be expected to react.

I expect that a lot of these issues will be used as injects for the players to react to, or go into their pre-game briefings, or both. One of the reason to run games on these subjects is for new ideas to be generated as a unique set of people with experience and knowledge all think about the same scenario. Therefore I would also expect new injects to have to be created on the fly.

Also each of these points deserves their own blog post, and dedicated research time. And really their own game or sub-game, which isn’t possible. As always with game design, figuring out what to feature, what to ignore, and what to abstract is part of the challenge. In a professional context this would be, maybe surprisingly, easier because the Game Sponsor would have a Master Question to answer, that “Master Question” being what the query that has caused the game to be created in the first place. Currently our thinking is more self-driven.

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.

The next point, 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

There are a lot of possibilities here, and even with the game being geographically limited it is very easy to just add more and more related parties.

Another consideration is where 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.

The last question, what should the game look like?

This came up several times in the discussion, and I think we’re settled on this being a Committee Game or Planning Game. I can foresee it being a multi-turn planing game with no actual resolution of actions. 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 of organisation can handle simultaneously. In addition there will be limits on time, there’s no point implementing perfectly organised and co-ordinated plans that will only come to fruition too late.

Credit to Terry for this idea, to make it clear that political considerations are at the fore – 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.

Thank you

Thank you to Terry for leading the session and asking provoking questions, and to Sophie, Nick Luft, Mukul, and Pickles for their enthusiastic participation, and for the technology that enabled the session to take place at all.

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  1. Mukul Moendrakhant Patel

    Yeah very enjoyable talk. Very topical. What a challenge we all face, I am surprised we as a nation we have not started talking about about mitagation this highly likely type of event. It was worse even when sophie showed her computer screen with the effect of the same sea level rise on the Netherlands.

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