Daybreak, a game about fighting climate change, is blindly optimistic

DaybreakThis is the latest release from Pandemic creator Matt Leacock. He’s teamed up with co-designer Matteo Menapace and publisher CMYK (Monikers, Wavelength, Lacuna) to deliver a board game that is as optimistic as it is strategically compelling. In this game, instead of trying to solve a global problem by racing around the world to find a solution, players must collaborate to stop climate change and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The stakes are high as the world’s fate is racing toward cataclysm. Although the game can be fun to play it is based more on fantasy rather than realistic solutions for a rapidly increasing climate crisis.

Leacock’s career has had a lot of success, but his achievements so far have been limited. Pandemic clones. It’s a bit of a delight, therefore, to find that despite sharing the similar goal of using cooperation to save humanity from disaster, DaybreakIt’s hard to imagine anything like it Pandemic. This is an engine builder where players place cards into a personal tableau — a play area in front of you that contains your assortment of abilities. Technology and social policies are featured on the cards, including phasing dirty electricity out for clean power, setting up high-speed rail and building trees farms. The game is played in motion and retains the same urgency as fighting a virus, but it has a different gameplay style.

Every player is a different world power, with unique abilities that are asymmetrical and levels of toxin output. Each turn, players collectively add pollution to the map, causing ugly brown cubes to accumulate on a beautiful world map. Over time, technology will reduce this dirty output and players will hopefully reach the end state known as “drawdown,” where fewer emissions are released by world powers than the planet itself can handle.

A game of Daybreak laid out on the table. Several dice and colorful tokens are spread on the table, with additional cards tucked in at the sides.

Image: CMYK

This core system has a unique feature: cards can be either used to create new abilities, or their tags. The tag system reminds me of other engine builders like Terraforming MarsThe following are some examples of how to use Ark Nova, but they’re more directly harnessed here for a core decision point that is uniquely gratifying. You can use a tag to enhance an existing ability. The result is often an increase in power that cascades into other abilities, benefiting the whole group.

Daybreak Includes a large number of project cards. You will spend a lot of time discussing the strategy and choices you want to make with other players. It can be overwhelming to explore the vast array of technology options, but this allows you to create a world of social improvement. Your efforts are largely focused on mitigation. This includes both your attempts to mitigate the pollution and protect your population from random crises. Over time the world crumbles, as global crises are exacerbated by increasing temperatures. This is why the race is to create a faster engine and stop the environmental devastation before it is too late.

Daybreak’s most impactful quality is its societal commentary. The game shows how human creativity and collaboration can be used to solve vast challenges. Despite this unbridled optimistic view, it’s hard to deny that much of this game could be described as fantasy. In no way can the clarity and structure of the board games format be compared to the complex world we live in. It’s true. DaybreakThis makes it obvious that in order to achieve such a difficult goal, obstacles like opposing incentives such as financial and human egoism must be removed.

We must not lose all hope. DaybreakThis is an excellent blueprint for aspiring to.

DaybreakRelease date is November. This review was based on a copy of the pre-release game that publisher CMYK provided. Vox Media also has affiliate relationships. Vox Media can earn affiliate commissions, but this does not affect editorial content. This is where you can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.


Price taken from the publication.

• 1-4 players, age 10+

• Playtime: 60-120 minutes

• Similar games: Ark Nova

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