Interview with co-designer, Chi-Wei Lin, about his game, Ocean Crisis. For 2-5 players, “Ocean Crisis depicts a real life environmental disaster in which a million tons of massive plastic waste is poured into the ocean each year, causing ocean life to cease faster than ever before. Players are the defenders of the ocean and will do whatever it takes to stop the formation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a.k.a., the Ocean Waste Island.”

Chi-Wei, thank for agreeing to do this interview, we are here today to talk about Ocean Crisis. Could you share with us a little bit about the game?

Chi-Wei: Ocean Crisis is a family-difficulty co-op, and can choose actions from “waste clean-up” or “environmental activity.” Roll a die to determine whether a piece of garbage is cleaned up, or place road tiles to launch an environmental activity. At the end of each turn, all garbage flows downstream along the river, and the ocean current board will spin randomly, bringing a piece of garbage from the ocean to seashores, or from seashores to the Garbage Patch.

Ocean Crisis has such a unique theme for a board game. What is the story behind the creation of the game and how did the theme come about?

Chi-Wei: Ocean Crisis is based on a real-life theme depicting the environmental disaster which is happening right now. Million tons of massive plastic waste poured into the ocean each year, causing ocean life to cease faster than ever before. Players act as defenders of the ocean, who will work together to stop the formation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a.k.a., the Ocean Waste Island.

We researched on this topic over 2 years and visited over 20 organizations/experts on the ocean protection topic. We wanted to make a game to arouse people’s attention to the environmental issue. Instead of presenting numbers and data, in the game we converted the fact into the overwhelming feeling of the ocean disaster.  In addition, we decided to add missions and scenarios to further extend the game to topics that people would really care about: the marine animals and eco-system.

That is a long time to research a topic for a board game. What was either your favorite or most shocking thing you learned when you were researching?

Chi-Wei: Personally I’m not an environmental enthusiast, but after the long research and approaching these experts, I realized how hazardous the ocean pollution is, and how careless we are to this issue since we are not directly affected by the problem.

A statistical fact:  Coastal cleanup around the world each year sums up = 8 million kilograms ( = 1760 M pounds) according to the International Coastal Cleanup Organization compared with the garbage poured into the ocean each year = 8 billion kilograms ( = 1760 B pounds) according to the United Nations’ report.

That is 1000 times of difference, which means 1 year of garbage production into the ocean requires 1000 years to clean.

How did this research affect how you designed the game?

Chi-Wei: Following the previous question, the impact from the facts we learned really made us think twice about how this game should be made.

Though made for kids and families, it should not be that typical competition or progressive games. Instead, it should be made as a kind of defense game for an overwhelming/everlasting enemy, the massive waste we produce every day.

Such result corresponds to our title “Ocean Crisis” and the difficulty of the game for younger ones “not to pass easily.” Compared with Pandemic (one of my favorites), on the other hand, Ocean Crisis may not have so much strategy and intensity, but reflects the limitation of solutions and technologies we have in the real world now.

A lot of Shepherd Kit’s other games either, deal with a fantasy world or history. What made you want to make a game dealing with real-world problems?

Chi-Wei: Shepherd Kit always focus on some real-world knowledge whether the theme is imaginative or not. Even the fantasy world from Numeracy Legends reflects specific concepts in applied math. Recently we turned our focus to a more current issues, such as depicted in Ocean Crisis.

Imagine a contemporary movie that can correspond to the world we live in, humanity, politics, culture, and so on. Isn’t that something worth digging into? This is exactly the idea behind our more recent games. By designing games, we aim to do a little more than game strategy and having fun.

Many, if not all family co-op board games, just come with a base game that can be adjusted in difficulty. Shepherd Kit took it a step further by adding Missions and Objectives you can add to the game, once you learned how to play it. Why did you decide to put them in the game?

Chi-Wei: Showing the whole picture of ocean pollution is not an easy task, and even most environmental groups don’t have a consensus of what is most important. Therefore, we separate our game into two parts:

  1. The base game only about garbage and how to prevent garbage flooding out.
  2. Everything else affected by the garbage produced. This is actually the things we care about, mainly marine animals.

In this case, we can include more topics into the game, as well as more gameplay and challenges. Most importantly, it prevents new players from being overwhelmed by the rules at the first sight of the game.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in designing Ocean Crisis, and how did you overcome that hurdle?

The biggest challenge of the game design was how to make the game legit while playable. At the end of our research, we found out that as humans we really cannot do much to “fix” the problem of ocean pollution, but we can only mitigate the damage that we are posing to mother nature every day. On the other hand, no player likes a game when the result is not in our control. Same in the real world: it is always important for people to feel that they matter before they take any action.

Finally, we ended up somewhere in between these two facts and opinions. Finishing Ocean Crisis in either success or failure doesn’t lead to the ocean saved or destroyed. The ending of the game only gives a hint to how good players did in the process. By adding missions and scenarios, we are sending a message that the environmental movement is everlasting, as there is always problems to fix as we are the ones causing them. But still, there is a reward of accomplishment when winning the game, giving momentum to challenge a more difficult game. Actually, this corresponds to the real-life behavior of environmental activists, where they find it rewarding as they work on the everlasting mission to fix the problem we ourselves caused.

Before we go, this would be a good place to mention the separate expansion that is part of the Kickstarter, Ocean Crisis: Catastrophe. What does it add to the game?

Catastrophe is actually a mini-expansion of the main game, where we add in a darker and more difficult theme by introducing some massive disasters such as oil tanker spill and beached whales. The expansion is designed for those who want to have more challenge from the game, and it will be an add-on of the original game in our campaign.

As we wrap this up, any hints on what else is to come from Shepherd Kit in 2019?

Ocean Crisis is the start of our small “environmental series,” as we will introduce more of these serious/fun games to the gaming community in 2019 and the near future.