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California Water Crisis

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firstcultural
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Being from California, the drought is a big deal these days, and I thought I'd make a game to capture the fundamental issues behind it. Here's a first draft of the rules. The numbers are not yet balanced yet, but how do the general mechanics and gameplay look? The goal is a 60-minute game.

===Welcome to the California Water Crisis===
California: For 150 years, farms and cities sprawled defiantly over the desert. Little did folks know that the state's spectacular growth took place during an unusually wet (for California standards) century. As the dry normal returns, there's not enough water to go around. Will cities, farmers, and the environment find a balance, or will there be more water wars?

===The Players===
California Water Crisis is designed for 3 players or teams:

Southern California – Home to 22 million people, this still-growing megalopolis is nearly entirely dependent on water imports. Can you keep the taps flowing?

Central Valley – This agricultural region faces collapse unless it can leverage its water rights to fund a transition to a more diversified economy.

Northern California – Although in a less precarious situation than SoCal, NorCal's major cities also rely on faraway aqueducts. Furthermore, NorCal's political class has a soft spot for the environment and will run you out of town if any species go extinct on your watch.

===Goals===
Have the most victory points when all of them have been purchased. Or, be the last player whose region has not turned into a bankrupt wasteland.

===Setup===
Set Groundwater Table at 100 feet below surface.
Shuffle the Water Rights tokens and randomly deal them out.
Place cities, reservoirs, water tokens (place up to 3 in each reservoir), and farms on the board and give players Cash.

SoCal: 3 cities, 2 reservoirs, 5 water tokens, 3 water rights, 10 cash
Central Valley: 2 reservoirs, 3 water tokens, 7 water rights, 7 farms, 2 cash
NorCal: 1 city, 2 reservoirs, 3 water tokens, 2 water rights, 1 farm, 6 cash

NorCal player also starts with 2 victory points.

===Turn Sequence===

**Winter**
Roll the 2 dice to determine how much rain there is this year. Only the most senior water rights get water! Place a water token on each Right that has a number less than or equal to the roll. For example, if 9 is rolled, a player holding Water Rights 1, 9, and 12 gets 2 water tokens. Also place a water token on any Water Infrastructure with a blue dot such as the Desalinization Plant.

**Spring**
Players assign water from their water rights or reservoirs to cities, farms, and ecosystems. Each city or farm needs 1 water token. Players are free to buy or sell water tokens or water rights at whatever price they negotiate. Players may also get additional tokens by paying to pump groundwater - water table drops 10 feet for every token pumped. Extra water may be stored in reservoirs.

**Summer**
Cities or Farms that did not receive water are removed. NorCal player is fined 1 victory point for each ecosystem lacking water. Players collect 3 Cash for any remaining city and 1 Cash for any remaining farm.

**Fall**
Starting with the player with Water Right #1, Cash can be spent as follows:
- Buying new Cities (cost: 8) or Farms (cost: 2)
- Buying water infrastructure such as additional reservoirs or other tokens such as the Water Recycling Plant or Efficiency Upgrade. (cost is printed on tokens).
- Buying Victory Point tokens. (cost is printed on tokens).
- Place purchased tokens on the board in the player's region.

===Ending the Game===
The game ends immediately when the last Victory Point is purchased. Whoever has the most VP's wins.

kos
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Creating interesting choices

I like the theme, and I think you have some good ideas in there which with some more work (and a lot of playtesting) could turn it into a really interesting game.

At the moment the game looks like:
- Random availability of Water
- Spend Water to earn Money
- Spend Money to earn Water
- Spend Money to earn Victory Points

Some of the concepts which I think you could make better use of include:

Water Table. This has the potential to be a Tragedy of the Commons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons), which presents an interesting and very real dilemma to the players. For example, say the water table tracker provided free water to everybody based on its current level:
- 100 ft: +3 water
- 120 ft: +2 water
- 140 ft: +1 water
- 160 ft: 0
Pumping water out should be cheap and get lots of water quickly, but ultimately hurts everybody including yourself. Perhaps attach a points cost to it: Spend 1 Money and 3 Points to earn 5 Water and reduce the water table by 10 ft.

Water Rights. These are currently allocated once (randomly) and that's it. In fact, it looks like this random deal would seal the fate of the game -- if you are dealt bad water rights then you have no chance to win. I think with a bit of tweaking you could make the water rights both more balanced and much more interesting. I haven't really thought through the mechanic, but something along the lines of bidding to buy them (either once at the start, or maybe they return and the players have to bid again every year (before they find out how much rain there is)).

Points. Currently you spend Money to get points, so the optimum strategy would be to exploit the environment as much as possible. Damaging the environment is only a bad thing if it interferes with profit. I'm guessing from your choice of theme that you're trying to encourage a different sort of behavior. In that case you would need to link points to other factors, or at least have multiple ways of gaining/losing points. For example:
- Draining the water table earns Water but costs Points.
- Voluntarily relinquishing water rights earns Points.
- Failing to provide water to Cities costs Points.
- Returning water to the environment costs Water and earns Points.

Money. Currently, there is a positive feedback loop where Water earns Money, and Money earns Water. Consider if there is a way to break this positive feedback loop, or at least present some alternatives. E.g. Water can be spent to earn Money or Points, and Money can be spent to earn Money or Water, but running out of Water costs Points and/or Money. I'm guessing you'd want to balance the game so that players who invested too heavily in maximizing profit at the start of the game end up destroying themselves when they run out of water.

Cities. Instead of making cities disappear when they run out of Water, make them cost Points. That way having lots of Cities can either be a great benefit (if you have enough water to support them) or a great liability (if you don't), but either way you're stuck with them once you've built them. So you have to think carefully about how much population you can support (or the extra infrastructure you will need) before you build too many Cities.

Farms, on the other hand, should disappear if you can't water them. So if you have limited Water you have to choose between giving it to the Cities (and losing Money for the farms that shrivelled up) verses giving it to the Farms (and losing Points for the Cities that riot).

Overall, I like the simplicity of the resources in the game (Water, Money, Points), and I think you should keep it simple. But I think you have an opportunity to use these resources in more interesting ways, that is, to create more interesting choices for the players in how they allocate those resources each turn.

Regards,
kos

firstcultural
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Joined: 09/11/2014
Great feedback. I'm thinking

Great feedback.

I'm thinking the Water Rights won't be random. This also presents the opportunity to give one player a small reliable amount of water, and another a larger but irregular amount. It also allows for a more realistic representation of the actual situation.

Here's how I envision some tradeoffs in the game:

- Victory points are cheaper in the beginning, but wait too long to buy them and there might not be any left. This leads to the tradeoff of when to invest vs. when to cash out (similar to Dominion).

- The tragedy of the commons is a dominant theme - if all players just build farms and cities, everyone ends up losing when the groundwater runs out and there isn't enough money to invest in infrastructure.

- One player (NorCal) has their score heavily tied to overall environmental quality, thus creating an incentive for them to try to negotiate conservation, and possibly even pay for other player's infrastructure and water. At the same time the NorCal player can also win by building more cities and buying VP's, or selling water to SoCal and buying VP's.

- The SoCal player has lots of cash and can choose to either invest in water recycling and conservation, or use the money to buy water from the Central Valley or NorCal.

- The Central Valley player starts with lots of water but low cash. To successfully transition from farms to cities they need to sell water at a relatively high price, and therefore has an incentive to see NorCal or SoCal short on water (either as a consequence of reckless city building or groundwater pumping).

Zag24
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Joined: 03/02/2014
Great start!

This is a great start and could be fun! Some random ideas

- Spend money to improve your water rights. For some fixed cost, you swap one of your water rights tokens with the one immediately better than it.

- I like the previous poster's idea that everyone gets some water based on the height of the water table, which means that one person taking the cheap water and lowering the table will cost everyone in the future.

- I also liked his idea that cities don't disappear if they lack water, they just cost you victory points.

- You could have different game setups corresponding to different points in history. i.e. 1910: SoCal has 1 city, 2 farms, and these water rights. NoCal has ... Then another game setup is 1940, with different allocations. Go all the way up to 2060, with allocations that have everyone dying of thirst. Part of that time period's starting condition is that everyone starts with a lot of victory points, but the game is just to keep from losing them all, with last man standing as the victory condition. (This assumes the rule change that cities never disappear, and un-watered cities cost points.)

firstcultural
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Here are the updated rules

Here are the updated rules based on the feedback so far. Based on the first playtest, I've made the game a little harder. I've also given each region a special ability.

===Welcome to the California Water Crisis===
California: For 150 years, farms and cities sprawled defiantly over the desert. Little did folks know that the state's spectacular growth took place during an unusually wet (for California standards) century. As the dry normal returns, there's not enough water to go around. Will cities, farmers, and the environment find a balance, or will there be more water wars?

===Number of Players===
California Water Crisis is designed for 3 players or teams:

**Southern California – Home to 22 million people, this still-growing megalopolis is nearly entirely dependent on water imports. Can you keep the taps flowing?
Special Ability: California Aqueduct: Once per Winter, take one water from another region.

**Central Valley – This agricultural region faces collapse unless it can leverage its water rights to fund a transition to a more diversified economy.
Special Ability: Sacramento: Once per Fall, take 1 Cash from another region.

**Northern California – This region's people think they know what's best for the other two.
Special Ability: Treehugging Foodies: Approval rating goes up 5% any time an ecosystem anywhere in the state gets water, but goes down 5% when a farm anywhere in the state is removed.

===Goals===
The game ends immediately when:
- A region reaches 100% approval. They win.
- The last social program / tax cut tile is purchased. Highest approval rating wins.
- Two regions hit 0% approval. The other one wins.

===Setup===
- Set Groundwater Table at 100 feet below surface.
- Set all regions' Approval Rating at 30%.
- Place one of the $3 reservoirs in each region and put 2 water tokens in each.
- Place cities and farms on the board and give players Cash and Water Rights.
- Stack Water Infrastructure tiles from least expensive on the bottom to most expensive at the top.

SoCal: 3 cities, 3 cash, water rights #1 and 10
Central Valley: 6 farms, 2 cash, water rights #2, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 12
NorCal: 1 city, 6 cash, water rights #3, 4, 7, and 11

===Turn Sequence===
In each season, region with Water Right #1 goes first and region with Water Right #2 goes second. If 1 and 2 are held by the same region, determine second by Water Right #3, and so on.

**Winter**
Roll both dice to determine how much rain there is this year. Only the most senior water rights get water! Place a water token on each Right that has a number less than or equal to the roll. For example, if 9 is rolled, a player holding Water Rights 1, 9, and 12 gets 2 water tokens. Also place a water token on any Water Infrastructure tiles.

Also, if a 3 or lower was rolled, the Megadrought starts. In all future winters, roll only one die.

**Spring**
Players assign water from Water Rights, Water Infrastructure, and Reservoirs to cities, farms, and ecosystems. Each city, farm, or ecosystem needs 1 water token. Players are free to give/sell water tokens or water rights at whatever price they negotiate. Other things cannot be sold. Players may also get any number of additional tokens by pumping groundwater - water table drops 20 feet for every token pumped. Extra water may be stored in reservoirs.

**Summer**
Farms without water are removed. NorCal approval rating drops 5% for each farm removed.
Each City without water causes the region's approval rating to drop 5%.
NorCal approval rating rises 5% for each ecosystem lacking water.
Players collect 3 Cash for each city that got water and 1 Cash for any remaining farm.

**Fall**
Remove all water tokens on the board except for those in Reservoirs.
Starting with the player with Water Right #1, Cash can be spent as follows:
Buying new Cities (cost: 8) or Farms (cost: 2)
Buying water infrastructure or reservoirs (cost is printed on tiles).
Buying social programs or tax cuts for a one-time approval rating boost. Cost is printed on tiles.
Place all purchases on the board in your region.

Water infrastructure tiles costs are 9, 8, 7, 7, 7, 6, 6, 6, 5, 5, 5. The cost goes down over time as the technology matures.

Social Program / Tax Cut tiles all cost $10. The approval rating boosts are 20, 15, 15, 10, 10, 10, 5, 5, 5. There's an incentive to implement those popular projects first.

Image of board: http://www.bgdf.com/image/california-water-crisis-board-draft-oct-19-2014

View of first playtest: http://www.bgdf.com/image/california-water-crisis-playtest-oct-19-2014

let-off studios
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Your own Assessment

Based on how the playtest turned out, how do you feel about the rules? In the brief summary note, you mentioned that all the players followed the same basic strategy. How do you feel about this?

Can you see any other strategy working to succeed in this game? Have you playtested it any more, or with different players?

Does one region have advantage over the others based on this winning strategy?

Finally, does this winning strategy seem to mimic the real world (your original stated objective)? Does it really matter to you, or are you simply trying to make an entertaining game based on a real-world topic?

One rules question: in the new draft, it mentions NorCal receives a 5% approval boost for each ecosystem without water. Is this correct? It seems to me that lacking water in an ecosystem would upset those concerned for the environment...

firstcultural
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In the first playtest I

In the first playtest I realized that once one player (usually SoCal) starts building lots of cities, the others have to quickly follow or will get left behind fast. In the latest rules, building cities has been made higher risk, and the SoCal player's starting water rights and cash have been reduced.

My goal is making the building lots of cities strategy a "go big or go home" strategy that could deliver a quick win but has a high chance of hitting a wall just short of victory.

The build lots of cities strategy does mirror the "business as usual" model of unchecked growth in California. It also captures how the economy is dependent on growth. The aim is for the game to start in a state of unstable equilibrium, where doing nothing or doing too little will lead to a spiral of things breaking down. As such, the game starts with higher total water demand than supply.

I'd like to make the game as realistic as possible while still being fun and understandable to someone with minimal knowledge of California water politics.

Thanks for catching the error - the "without" should be "with".

Another change I'm considering is adjusting the costs of water infrastructure (basically a method of paying upfront for a guaranteed perpetual water supply). Right now, to simulate a technological learning curve, it starts expensive and gets cheaper with each additional tile purchased, I'm considering having the cost follow a U-curve, where first one benefits from the learning curve, but then after all the easy stuff is done the last few get expensive. This would also make having too many cities more costly.

kos
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Looks promising

The changes in this version look promising.

Obviously it is hard to tell how things are going to turn out until you start playtesting, but on the surface some game elements which look good to me are:

Decreasing return for tax breaks. This provides a strategic decision to spend early money on quick points, or spend it on water infrastructure for long term gains.

Decreasing cost for water infrastructure. Regardless of the technological explanation, from a game point of view it makes sense to decrease the cost of water infrastructure as the game progresses. +1 water bought on turn 1 (of a 10 turn game) is worth +9 water. But the same +1 water bought on turn 9 only returns +1 water.

Un-watered cities lose victory points. It's a pretty steep penalty for not watering your cities, and so it should be. It provides a strategic decision about maximizing income without losing points.

---------------------------------
Some elements that are a bit unclear:

Pumping from the water table. It is unclear what penalty (if any) there is for draining the water table. What is to stop somebody from pumping out all the water on turn 1?

Watering the ecosystem. Currently only NorCal gains approval for watering the ecosystem. What incentive is there for the other players to use their water on the ecosystem?

Gaining approval. Aside from NorCal, the only way to gain approval is to buy tax breaks. Is that the intention?

NorCal. This player stands out because their approval rating is so heavily dependent on the actions of the other players, whereas the other 2 players are working almost in isolation and are not affected by NorCal. Is there some way to increase player interaction or inter-dependency?

Overall, keep up the good work. Playtesting will tell you what works and doesn't work, so do some early tests (even just by yourself).

Regards,
kos

firstcultural
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Some thoughts on your

Some thoughts on your questions:

Q1: Pumping from the water table. It is unclear what penalty (if any) there is for draining the water table. What is to stop somebody from pumping out all the water on turn 1?

    A1: There isn't any - this is a tragedy of the commons situation. But I think I'll limit the amount that can be pumped per turn to 3.

Q2: Watering the ecosystem. Currently only NorCal gains approval for watering the ecosystem. What incentive is there for the other players to use their water on the ecosystem?

    A2: There isn't any. I'm trying to balance the game so that the NorCal encourages the other players to water their ecosystems, but not sure what kind of leverage NorCal would have.

Q3: Gaining approval. Aside from NorCal, the only way to gain approval is to buy tax breaks. Is that the intention?

    A3: For the most part, yes. Though this ends up with CV and SoCal playing a similar game which tends to favor SoCal. Trying to think of an alternate victory path for the CV.

Q4: NorCal. This player stands out because their approval rating is so heavily dependent on the actions of the other players, whereas the other 2 players are working almost in isolation and are not affected by NorCal. Is there some way to increase player interaction or inter-dependency?

    A4: Definitely trying to work on this one. Some ideas include:
    - Having groundwater levels affect the Central Valley due to ground subsidence.
    - Having the CV take an approval hit when NorCal builds cities, due to smog drifting in with the fog.
    - If no one builds cities on a given turn, SoCal takes an approval hit due to housing costs going up.
firstcultural
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Made a new round of edits and

Made a new round of edits and did some more testing.

The price of water infrastructure was increased to force the players to make some hard choices. Southern California started out by using cash on social spending to boost approval ratings. Before long, however, they ran out of water and had to make a less than favorable deal with the Central Valley involving cash and a swapping of water rights to get through one particularly dry year. The CV took advantage of this to build 3 cities.

Though initially hit hard by political fallout from farm closures, Northern California pulled ahead in the late game by buying water infrastructure and redirecting water to ecosystems. SoCal continued to expand but was slowed down by the need to buy infrastructure, allowing the Central Valley to catch up. Ultimately though, NorCal's growing lead from saving the environment pulled them ahead for the win.

Made a few rule changes to decrease NorCal's advantage and better balance the game. The radically differences between the regions is looking like a big plus for the game as it improves replay value.

Photos and images of the game components are at http://boardgamegeek.com/article/17355220#17355220

mulletsquirrel
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The game looks very

The game looks very interesting! Are you planning on supplying a print and play version?

DrFro
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This game looks very

This game looks very promising - if you are seeking any play testers in the future please PM me. I would love to give it a spin.

One thought: I noticed on the newest version of the instructions that you indicate the possibility of playing with 2 players instead of 3. Has it been a satisfactory experience so far? Since so much of this game's appeal seems to emerge from the way the three parties interact with each other, I can imagine that some of that is lost in the two player version. Instead of simply alternating control of the third region, perhaps it might be possible to automate this region so that more of that interaction is retained? Maybe create a system that lets players barter for resources with the third party, but if they abuse the system it automatically reduces the water table?

Side note: I live in Fresno, so this game speaks to me on many, many levels... ;)

firstcultural
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Yes, a print and play version

Yes, a print and play version will be available this week!

The 2-player game actually works quite well. There's even been a time when the "3rd player" won.

DrFro
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That's great! Glad to know

That's great! Glad to know the system works well for two players - it will make it more viable in my household. :)

mulletsquirrel
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I am excited to try it out!

I am excited to try it out!

firstcultural
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For those who want to test it

For those who want to test it out, a Print and Play draft is available at https://www.dropbox.com/sh/fl442x9r57q7ro4/AABVfF4fk8xU5FMCZbdwC1fEa?dl=0

firstcultural
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Setting up the Kickstarter

Setting up the Kickstarter campaign now, preview link is at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1700980409/719206505?token=0b92b82c

firstcultural
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The campaign is now live!

The campaign is now live! I've also added a series of blog posts on the science and politics behind the game. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1700980409/california-water-crisis/...

firstcultural
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The game is close to its

The game is close to its first stretch goal and I've started testing the first bonus scenario, set in the late 1800s.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1700980409/california-water-crisis/...

California Water Crisis: The Bad Old Days

It's the late 1800s, and the race is on between the different regions to become the center of Californian society. Water is abundant, often to the point of flooding. In this era before environmental impact reports, feel free to divert rivers or liquify mountains. It's also an era of monopolistic corporations and muckraking journalists. Whether you earn it or steal it, do your region proud and get the water and cash to build up your region's reputation.

This scenario will use the existing game components and mechanics, but changes up the unique traits of the regions. Northern California is home to railroad monopolies out to squeeze every last cent of profit from farmers and shippers. Gold mines send floods and pollution downriver. Southern California, still a desert, schemes to acquire water rights from other places, perhaps using less than savory methods.

Floods (which destroy farms, cities, or cash) and muckraking (which exposes scandals and takes down others' approval ratings) add some drama to a time period that otherwise consists of rapid growth. The overall tone of this scenario is much more free-for-all. With groundwater still abundant and droughts distant, there's no tragedy of the commons yet. However, regional rivalries make player interaction and negotiation even more important.

firstcultural
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The scenario is now posted at
firstcultural
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2nd bonus scenario is now

2nd bonus scenario is now up!

Looking Downstream is set a few decades in the future, and the challenge is to continue handling a growing population while dealing with water and food shortages.

While it may seem odd that California's population would grow even as water supplies diminish, in the modern industrial world, population moves towards wealth, not natural resources. Other parts of the western USA, where the economy is more dependent on agriculture, are likely to be hit harder by drought than California. The same is true globally - plenty of people move to California and other desert cities from parts of the world that get far more rain, but also have worse poverty.

This scenario can be played cooperatively or as a solo challenge. To encourage people to think about future ways to save water, players have the opportunity each turn to come up with water saving ideas (for example, banning lawns) and writing them down to get more water in the game.

Full rules at
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1700980409/california-water-crisis/...

let-off studios
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Just Backed It.

Congrats on meeting your goal and even reaching a stretch goal! :)

firstcultural
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BGG Database Entry

Game is now in the BoardGameGeek database at http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/169872/california-water-crisis

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