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Game Design

Environmental Manufacturing of Board Games

Environmental awareness first entered into my consciousness after a few years into University: the mid ‘80’s. Nuclear and ozone were environmental topics most discussed in my circles, LGBT circles.

Ozone was successfully addressed by an agreement of all nations. That condition found a place on the game board of my two-player co-operative game: Climate Change 2030: Running of of Time. Ozone is presented in this board game as a dangerous global condition that we, as humans, have collectively resolved through mutual agreement.

Central Theme

Many years and multiple life changes later, I was at an academic conference of mathematicians gathering to discuss climate change: modeling it, mitigating it, adapting to it. This was the first time I saw the Doughnut Economic Model. A few years later I encountered that same model at a small political gathering of like-minded people wanting to change the world.

The Doughnut wasn’t far from my mind when I started designing board games. It seemed a natural template. Five environmental conditions. Six conditions that impact the quality of our living together in a society: social conditions. The goal of the cooperative game is to mitigate each of the eleven conditions to create a Just a Safe Space on Earth.

Probably the most readily identifiable condition is Green House Gases (GHG). It’s the most talked about in the news. It’s everybody’s goto environmental condition. But there are many others of equal importance. Pollution is one of them, discarded masks in a pandemic is another, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is full of plastics.

Green Manufacturing

Producing Climate Change 2030: Running out of Time with environmentally sound practices and materials seemed very appropriate. The first environmental issue which I wanted to address in a board game is the one which I initially see when getting a new game: the plastic

wrapping, specifically petroleum-based plastic wrapping. It’s purpose is to make the box look nice while in transit or on a shelf in a Friendly Local Game Store. Every board game, or card game, I can remember buying came shrink wrapped in plastic.

So, as a designer and publisher, I have to weigh the effects of including shrink wrap plastic against the benefits of having a new buyer get a completely unblemished box. In favour of avoiding the shrink-wrapped plastic:

  • less garbage consumed and produced
  • walk the talk: a gam about climate change
  • being a pioneer in a small growing field

In favour of keeping the game box shrink wrapped:

  • new box arrives unblemished
  • expectations “blend in” with other games
  • recycling, upcycling, etc possibilities?

If I chose to forego the plastic wrap in exchange for the risk of slight blemishes on the box, I would inform potential buyers before they committed to a purchase. Would fewer people buy one. Probably. Is the environmental damage worth the additional sales? Probably not. Is that just a personal choice or a choice about how to live within planetary means.

It’s really more than just the tradeoff of additional sales vs excessive waste. That tradeoff is just a symptom of a greater systemic imbalance: a culture that consumes excessively for the apparently trivial benefit of an unblemished game box cover. So, am I looking at a single game box and however many sales? Or the beginnings of a shift in the priorities of a genre of people in light of a broadening awareness of our impact on the environment?

New Alternatives

If I don’t wrap the game box in petroleum-based shrink wrap plastic, is a bare box the only option? Two alternative come to mind: stickers and a cardstock sleeve.

I actually posted a question on a Facebook group: Board Game Design Lab Community.

I asked how people would react to a board game that had two stickers on opposite lower edges instead of plastic shrink wrapping around the whole box. There were a variety of responses:

  • concern about sticker residue
  • concern about stickers covering/damaging art
  • an interest in themed stickers
  • a desire to have an unblemished box
  • a willingness to risk a less than-perfect box in exchange for less wasteful plastic
  • a note that the shrink wrap protects it from the moisture and the weather.
  • A preference for eco-type materials with the same level of protection
  • references that a couple of other games are sold this way
  • a suggestion for eco-friendly shrink warp
  • it just goes against the standard expectation

Now, I’m exploring having a cardstock sleeve protecting the box. Two stickers on the bottom would hold the sleeve in place. The stickers would be integrated into the box design. So, they stay in place and don’t leave any residue or cover the box art. Of course the cardstock sleeve and all the other paper and cardboard pieces will be produced sustainably as verified by and organization such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

I’ve found some attractive facilities in my latest venture into living/ working / producing/ and consuming sustainably with the limits of our finite planet. Two manufacturers of board games include sustainable aspects to their manufacturing: Ludo Fact’s manufacturing plant in Germany and Mission Bioviva in France use FSC certified ink and paper products.

Will we ever reach the same level of consensus on paper and plastics usage that we did globally with the Ozone 34 years ago?

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Preliminary Game Box Cover

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