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"Daybreak reminds us if we can imagine it, we can make it happen": Pandemic designer on his climate change awareness game

And how Wingspan and Terraforming Mars influenced it.

Headshots of Matteo Menapace and Matt Leacock
Image credit: Aimee Johanan and Florence Catania

Matt Leacock, the designer behind the popular co-op board game Pandemic, has teamed up with Matteo Menapace, who also has a rich history in cooperative play, to create Daybreak - a new board game that looks to examine the real-world issues surrounding climate change and the potential solutions to them. The title was initially revealed as Climate Crisis in early 2021, before receiving a name-change to Daybreak. The upcoming game will have players working together as world powers in order to prevent the gradual destruction of their planet, whilst ensuring that their respective communities do not suffer for it.

Daybreak currently has its own crowdfunding campaign on the recently launched platform, Backerkit, with the total raised - at the time of this article being written - being almost $300,000 (£284,296), which is way above the project's required total of $75,000 (£71,000). With this being the next co-op tabletop title from the designer behind one of the most enduring co-op board games out there, there's certainly a lot of buzz around Daybreak.

To separate the truth from the hype, Dicebreaker sat down with both co-designers to discuss their upcoming game, how it differs from Pandemic, what players can expect and whether a board game can make a difference in the fight to manage climate change.

Watch on YouTube
Matt Leacock provides an overview of Daybreak.

How does the gameplay of Daybreak differ from Pandemic?

Matt Leacock & Matteo Menapace: Like Pandemic, Daybreak is fully cooperative. Both games invite players to work together to overcome an escalating crisis that threatens humanity. Mechanically, they’re very different, however. In Pandemic, each player represents a single specialist, jetting around the world to help stop outbreaks and exchange information. In Daybreak, each player represents a world power, building a tableau of technologies and policies to protect communities and decarbonize their economies. Some other key differences include:

In Pandemic, players exchange cards to create sets in order to discover cures. In Daybreak, players use cards to create their own tableaus of technologies and policies that grow ever-more powerful over the course of the game.

Pandemic’s engine has proven to be more robust than I imagined when I first designed it.

In Daybreak, there’s no limit to the number of actions players can do each round and players can take their actions in any order. It’s much more free-form.

In Pandemic, the players all run around the globe on a shared board. In Daybreak, each player maintains their own player board which tracks the stats for their world power. Daybreak’s world map is used to track planetary tipping points and how many emissions are absorbed each round.

The components and cards for Daybreak.
Unlike in Pandemic, Daybreak has players using their own separate boards depending on which global power they control.

Why has the formula of Pandemic remained so steadfast?

Leacock: Pandemic’s engine has proven to be more robust than I imagined when I first designed it. At a very high level, its structure allows for the players to collaborate on short term and long term objectives and then the game pushes back. You can model all sorts of objectives for the players on this engine – discovering cures for diseases, keeping floodwaters at bay, even thwarting the advance of barbarians into Ancient Rome. And Pandemic’s threat engine helps tell a good story: as the players make their advances, the game delivers challenges that escalate non-linearly, forcing the players to adapt their strategy, take calculated risks, and plan contingencies.

For Daybreak, we challenged ourselves to create brand new patterns of play. This resulted in an engine-building game that makes its players feel powerful at completing short and long term goals (such as protecting communities, producing clean energy, and decarbonizing your economy) along with a new threat engine that escalates tension and raises the stakes over during each game.

The game became an engine builder similar to Wingspan where your tableau feels more and more powerful over time.

You mentioned in the crowdfunding page that Daybreak was inspired by titles such as Wingspan, Terraforming Mars and Race for the Galaxy - could you provide some specific examples of inspiration?

Leacock and Menapace: In our early prototypes, players paid different currencies (in our case, financial capital and political power) to buy opportunity cards from their hand. These cards then modified the statistics for their world power in a fairly static way. Once played, they were mostly just stacked up and set aside. This was roughly modelled on Terraforming Mars which has many different cards that you can purchase, record, and then forget.

Watch on YouTube
Lolies explains how to play Pandemic.

About halfway through the game’s development, we changed the game so the opportunity cards could be put into play for free – but the players would need to spend cards to use the solutions printed on them. And we modified each card’s design so they could build on previous cards and become more efficient with additional investment. In this way, the game became an engine builder similar to Wingspan where your tableau feels more and more powerful over time.

Around the same time, we greatly simplified the economic model of the game, replacing the financial capital and political power tokens with the opportunity cards themselves for the game’s currency. This made for agonising tradeoffs (do I roll out this powerful technology or use its card to pay for this other solution?). These tradeoffs are similar to the ones you find in Race for the Galaxy which also uses cards for currency.

The result is that the game models a great many of the causes of climate change.

How much research went into Daybreak? How many real-life examples of the causes of climate change and the ways to alleviate it made it into the game?

Leacock and Menapace: A lot of research!

Here's a short list of primary sources (we used many more):

  • The 100% Solution: A Plan for Solving Climate Change by Solomon Goldstein-Rose
  • A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal by Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos
  • Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming edited by Paul Hawkin
  • The Drawdown Review: Climate Solutions for a New Decade edited by Katherine Wilkinson
  • Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy by Hal Havey
  • The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells
  • Planet on Fire: A Manifesto for the Age of Environmental Breakdown by Mathew Lawrence and Laurie Laybourn-Langton
Artwork for the Daybreak board game
Much of the artwork for Daybreak depicts various methods for improving the world's climate change issues.

We’ve also been working with climate experts:

We've been working with climate experts from the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre pretty much since the beginning in 2020. Pablo and his colleagues informally helped us model the carbon cycle and design crisis and opportunity cards, especially the humanitarian ones.

We've worked with policy experts like Laurie Laybourn-Langton, author of Planet on Fire and Solomon Goldstein-Rose, author of The 100% Solution. Both Laurie and Solomon playtested the game in various iterations, and helped us turn ideas from their books into policy cards.

We've also talked to Bill McKibben, who gave us some great advice on the overall tone of the game, communication expert Elizabeth Bagley from Project Drawdown, geo-engineering experts Oliver Morton, Peter Irvine and Andy Parker, and advisors from WWF and Greenpeace too.

While the game doesn’t shy away from the loss and destabilisation ahead, it’s empowering to play out the rapid and far-reaching transformations required to stop global warming.

The result is that the game models a great many of the causes of climate change, whether it’s emissions caused by electricity generation or other sectors of the economy, planetary feedback loops, simple inertia in the system, or political forces such as fossil fuel industry misinformation or negligence.

Conversely, the game features a deck of over 150 opportunity cards that describe a rich array of policies and technologies that can all add up to be part of the solution.

Watch on YouTube
Wheels lists some of his favourite co-op board games.

What do you hope to achieve with Daybreak? Do you think this will inspire players to take action or learn more about climate change?

Leacock and Menapace: As we designed the game over the last couple of years, we started to filter news articles and net-zero pledges through the lens of Daybreak. We realised what we’ve built is an interactive model that helps us make sense of what is happening (or not happening) on the climate front, and to have deep conversations with our friends about the future of our planet.

Many playtesters told us that playing Daybreak changed how they understand the problem and its potential solutions. And they told us that while the game doesn’t shy away from the loss and destabilisation ahead, it’s empowering to play out the rapid and far-reaching transformations required to stop global warming. To build a sustainable future where everyone can thrive as well as survive.

I’m quite intrigued by how Daybreak will evolve once it’s been released. I see so much potential.

Daybreak, in its playful blend of climate science, tech, policy and internationalism, reminds us that all this is possible. If we can imagine it, we can make it happen.

We hope playing Daybreak helps people zoom out from the chaos, understand the climate crisis and its potential systemic solutions, and become playful activists.

The gameboard for Daybreak.
Players will need to ensure that the Earth's temperature doesn't raise to a certain level before completing their objectives.

What's it been like launching a project with Backerkit? Do you think it has the edge over the likes of Kickstarter and Gamefound?

Leacock and Menapace: So far, it’s exceeded our expectations. We also found it easier to leave Kickstarter because of their commitments to blockchain – especially for a game focused on the climate!

When will players be able to get their hands on the game? Are there going to be previews?

Leacock and Menapace: Backers should expect to start receiving copies in May 2023.

What will you two be working on next?

Menapace: I'm currently working on a “serious game” project with Policy Lab UK to engage stakeholders in the process of updating legislation (can’t disclose full details). I want to continue working on games with a climate focus. I’d love to continue collaborating with Matt, either on a sequel to Daybreak or a new game altogether :)

Leacock: I have about a half dozen projects that I’ve been working on for the last several years; I’m looking forward to the time when I can talk more about them! I’m also quite intrigued by how Daybreak will evolve once it’s been released. I see so much potential and it’d jump at the chance to continue working with Matteo.

The crowdfunding campaign for Daybreak is live on Backerkit right now.

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About the Author
Alex Meehan avatar

Alex Meehan

Senior Staff Writer

After writing for Kotaku UK, Waypoint and Official Xbox Magazine, Alex became a member of the Dicebreaker editorial family. Having been producing news, features, previews and opinion pieces for Dicebreaker for the past three years, Alex has had plenty of opportunity to indulge in her love of meaty strategy board games and gothic RPGS. Besides writing, Alex appears in Dicebreaker’s D&D actual play series Storybreakers and haunts the occasional stream on the Dicebreaker YouTube channel.