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Critical Care simulates the stressors and collaboration of the hospital ICU in a board game

Treat ailing patients while dealing with midnight shifts and surprise infections with a practicing physician’s first title.

It’s hard to think of two more diametrically opposed jobs than a pulmonary physician and a board game designer, yet Lakshman Swamy is attempting to bridge the gap with his first title, Critical Care. The cooperative board game of intensive medicine is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter.

Critical Care lets one to four players wash and scrub up for a long week in a hospital’s intensive care unit, tasked with curing and discharging every patient before time runs out. Each patient will begin the game with a number of various conditions represented by cards. Each day they go untreated increases the chance that their ailments will worsen, or new complications will crop up.

At the beginning of each day, the rounding phase activates these diagnoses. Depending on what sickness brought them into the ICU, complications such as seizures may complicate their treatment and require more time and resources to stabilize them into the next day. Before the shift begins, an alert will hit the doctors’ pagers, signaling a fresh wrinkle on the normal course of events. This could be beneficial - a therapy dog making the rounds soothes everyone’s moods - or it could eat through the few precious hours needed for therapy.

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Speaking of, different therapies require certain amounts of time, so players will need to balance quick treatments with those that might need an entire 12-hour shift to complete. Luckily, specialist cards can be earned throughout the game, conferring unique bonuses to therapies or protecting patients from the adverse effects of complications.

Players win once all the patients are cured, but they shouldn’t expect to accomplish this feat alone. All doctor-players can allocate their time to any patient in the tabletop hospital - there’s nothing in the Hippocratic Oath about playing favourites. Besides, a lack of care can force patients into a Code Blue that can only be cured by emergency resources or expertise. Lacking that risks death and losing the game.

Swamy started designing Critical Care in early 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit his hometown of Boston and, as he writes on the board game’s official website, “turned the ICU into a dark, quiet, and lonely place.” Creating his first board game stoked the passion he had for practicing medicine during periods of tireless care, overcrowded hospital rooms and vanishing resources as they fought the rising wave of infections.

Joining Swamy on the design team is Omari Akil, co-founder of Board Game Brothas and publisher of both Rap Godz and Hoop Godz tabletop RPGs, and author and clinical researcher Sara L. Merwin. The team claims Critical Care should be as engrossing and fun as it is informative - nearly every card contains an explanation or definition along the bottom to clue players into the processes, tools, and anatomical adversaries ICU doctors face every day.

The team also developed a system of clearly understandable icons and colours so that even those with no medical knowledge and younger playgroups can enjoy the game without needing to crack a college biology textbook. Those and other illustrations are being handled by graphic designer Caitlin Fine, creative collective LCKR ROOM and pulmonary fellow and video producer Vincent Chan, MD.

The Critical Care Kickstarter campaign will run through October 21st, though it has already met its original funding goal. Backers can grab a physical copy for $39 (£29) which is expected to ship in May of 2022.

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