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Game about the refugee situation in Europe

6 replies [Last post]
Joined: 03/21/2018

Hi designers,

I currently am working on a game, that deals with the refugee situation in Europe. Players in turn get to be the head of the EU and distribute dice, that stand for certain types of incoming refugees i.e. couples, kids, young families and funds the EU gives to its members via I-split-you-choose mechanism.
Every player has a certain number of slots for dice in their country and over the course of the game they have to decide how to accomplish certain tasks (that part plays a little like Sagrada, so you have to arrange the dice in a particular way in order to score points). After each round the countries have to have the funds to finance the refugees living there.
In the second phase (the EU parliament phase) people draft cards with certain actions (here I really would love to incorporate a negotiation between players, but I can't figure out a way that doesn't make the game overly complicated) and in a third phase the players can play these cards in order to rearrange dice or get additional slots and so on...
The last phase is the scoring phase. The game ends after 8 rounds (4 years since the head of the EU changes every 6 months)
Phew, it's pretty tough to explain games in a foreign language.

What do you think about my basic idea? I played a few solo games and the core mechanism is fun and thinky, but the other phases lack a bit making meaningful decisions, but I guess that's all a matter of tweaking the cards in the deck. Plus, it's my first game, it's supposed to be god-awful, right?

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011

I personally like seeing social issues explored in tabletop games. I think the biggest challenge comes from making a game out of the situation, as opposed to a feel-bad or feel-good discussion (personally I think to myself, "game first, discussion after"). So I have a few questions that serve as ways to stay focused on game-making as opposed to editorializing.

- What is each player trying to accomplish? Why choose one die over another, for example? Is the main goal, "rescue and host as many people as possible" or "have the most money left at the end of 8 rounds" or something else?

- Is there a way to "win"? If it's a puzzle you're giving the players, how is it solved? Does it call for cooperation instead of competition?

- What's within the player's power to change in the game? Is the role of UN President the only real position of power? How do players gain/lose power or agency as they play?

- What do the cards represent? Government decisions/actions? Money spent on goods and services? Both? Something else?

- Are you trying to raise consciousness about the refugee crisis, or are you "just making a game?" If you're trying to just make a game, does your game need to be based on the real world? What I mean is, you could make an exciting refugee crisis game about dwarves and elves running away from dragons, for example.

I've seen a lot of games that deal with current real-world issues, and the ones that fare best are the ones that provide a clear goal for a player - even if that goal isn't what they'd pursue in real life. Additionally, separating people from the real issue in some way - like with humor, or basing it in a fantasy or science-fiction world - is a way to separate the real-world issues that inspired you to make the game. The result is that it's an engaging game experience as opposed to a political debate.

Playing a game is something you can pick up and put down in the space of an evening, and hopefully be entertained and engaged along the way with no significant "real-world" consequences. Having a political discussion about current events is best-served by learning in the process, and then taking significant, real-world action afterward.

So, what do you want the people who play this to do? Choosing your audience can help make these decisions easier, at least at the start of the process.

Choose carefully, and have fun! :)

Joined: 03/21/2018
Thanks for the detailed

Thanks for the detailed thoughts!

The more refugees you can accommodate, the more points you get. So sixes are the best but also you have to pay the most for those dice and on top of that you get some goal cards that represent housing tasks, that give you additional VP. For example "have one row consist of only fives". The player with the most VP wins.

So far the president only divides the dice (there are three dice that represent refugees and three dice that represent funds the EU will distribute among the countries that are willing to host refugees per player.) This phase feels quite good so far in my play tests. The splitting and the choosing are both interesting. Might be a bit AP prone though.

The cards represent government actions and are based on plans of the actual member countries. So some are programs pro refugee and some are against them. All cards played have immediate effects on your reputation within the EU (works as a tie-breaker and gives you positive or negative VP at the end of the game).
Some cards:
"negotiate resettlement program with the states of origin" pay development aid to a country and bring the dice back to there.
"Reunite families" put a 1 next to a 2 on another player's board
"shut down borders" you don't draft dice in this round
"Send refugees back referring to asylum treaty"
"Build refugee camp in Syria" pay money to keep some of your dice outside your country...

I thought about the refugee situation and it really felt like the governments are playing a huge game. Nobody knew what to do and so I thought of dice rolling.
I'm not overly in love with it, but so far I couldn't come up with something that fits the mechanism. Your dragon and dwarves example was eye opening for me haha...I'm stupid I guess.
I will say I would love to make a game showing what a complex issue this is, but it is really tough to get it accurate and politically correct if you know what I mean. There's just too many facets to a topic like this. It would be a lot easier with dwarves and dragons.

Tonight I will test it with a few friends of mine. We'll see what they think of the theme.

Mosker's picture
Joined: 03/30/2014
Quick thoughts (and a reference)

If you go with real countries, commit yourself to a lot more research than may show up in the final product. An alternative--and something that might reduce a lot of the unease and tension around the project, and help you bring in players--is to create countries that are fictional, but obvious takeoffs on the real things, such as DC comics has done with Quarac and Vlatvia (i.e. post-Tito Yugoslavia.) It will allow you to keep the hard choices, but make them a bit less ugly and painful.

A link

Joined: 03/21/2018
After play testing

People also suggested to maybe change the theme to a different planet or something like this. It might be better to go down that route. I don't know yet.

Players also stated, that more negotiation between the countries of the EU would feel more thematic. But I don't know how to implement this, without making the game way longer and more complicated. I looked at some negotiation games, but I couldn't find an easy fix for that.

Of course all the costs of the cards and VP were completely off.

But the biggest problem was in the core mechanism: Since in a 4-player game, there are 24 dice each round, that have to be distributed, there was too much downtime. I want the players to feel overwhelmed by the incoming refugees and feel bad about every single one they can't care for, but I don't know how to create that feeling without the many dice. Any ideas maybe?
I guess I could up the rounds to 16 and have half the dice each round, but then the game takes a lot longer to really get started.
Maybe it's a sign and I should let go of the whole thing.

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Visiting Borders, Not the UN

Refugees go to the country borders, not to the UN. Why have the UN President distribute the dice?

Have you tried allowing each player to roll X number of dice - distributed evenly or based on their country (geographic size, economic strength, whatever thematic choice you want to make) - so they only submit to the UN those they cannot host? This might reduce the down time, and since nearly everyone is sorting out dice then at least when decisions are being made about them, it's a set of decisions divided between all players.

For example: I'm the High Councilor of Bobland. I draw a card from my deck, and it indicates I have five dice to distribute. I feel like I can handle three of the five dice I've thrown, so I submit two remaining dice to the UN President. Meanwhile, representatives of four other countries have submitted a total of 6 additional dice to the UN President.

The UN President now has to distribute 8 dice amongst 5 different countries. Some other representatives are salty about Bobland "not pulling its weight," and cite its economic strength as a factor. Besides, Heatherlandia is already overburdened, and still decided to host more refugees than Bobland: a much more prosperous country. The debate/discussion continues among all interested parties, until the UN President finally distributes the remaining dice. Hardly anyone is happy. :)

Maybe this is how games already go, but at least the decision-making is distributed a bit more equitably between all players.

Joined: 03/21/2018
The EU actually...

...tries to gather all refugees, when they enter and later distribute them evenly. At least they try to do that.
Your idea sounds really nice to me. Thank you! I will try this or a similar approach.
Maybe even a snake draft and players simply declare when they can't/don't want to take on refugees anymore. So the President, then has to distribute the remainder.

I like the I split you choose, because i had dice with funds on them in this phase too. So the EU offers certain funds for a number of refugees the members would host.

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