Game Buzz: CO₂

One of the most controversial games to come out at this year’s Spiel:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

CO₂ is the latest game from designer Vital Lacerda, whose last game was the 2010 hit Vinhos.  It was published by, with Sttronghold Games releasing it in the US.  It’s for 2-5 players aged 12 and up, and takes 5 decades to play.  It’s a very long game.  OK, fine, those five decades are compressed into two hours.  The basic premise is that you’re the CEO of a corporation that is trying to convert to clean energy, increase your reputation, and save the planet.  I’ll talk a little more about the controversy later – for now, let’s see how the game plays.

Setup – image by BGG user newrev

In CO₂, you get a board; 75 wooden player discs; 20 wooden player pawns; 25 white tech resource cubes; 40 big purple discs (Carbon Emission Permits); 1 big red disc (CEP market price); 1 global CO2 pollution level marker; 1 decade counter; 1 round counter; 30 2-sided project tiles; 5 each of the forestation. biomass, solar, recycling, and power plant tiles; 10 each of coal, oil, and natural gas power plant tiles; 8 regional agenda tiles; 18 summit tiles; 26 lobby cards; 12 UN goal cards; 7 company goal cards; 6 event cards; 50 coins of value $1, $2, $5, and $10; and a start player tile.  Players begin the game with 3-5 coins (depending on player order) and 2 CEPs.  They also get one pawn of their color, with the other three in the recruitment pool.  Other components are placed in their places around the board.

As mentioned in my lame joke earlier, this game takes place over the course of five decades (six in a five-player game).  There are two phases per decade – a supply phase and an operations phase.

SUPPLY: This phase is skipped in the first decade, because it’s essentially the setup for the game.  First, income is distributed to players in first and second place on each energy source of the expertise track (only first place with two players).  You may receive your income in cash and/or VPs.

Any region with tech cubes consumes one.  Pollution increases for every fossil fuel plant that is necessary to be used, which will cost someone a CEP.  If you owe a CEP and have none, you have to buy one, using money or points if you have no cash.  If the global pollution level hits 350 ppm, a disaster occures.  Other players will provide relief in the form of tech cubes to the afflicted region, or 2 VPs if they don’t pay.

OPERATIONS: There are 2-5 rounds of operations, depending on the number of players.  In a round, each player must take one action, and may also perform any number of free moves.  Your choices:

  • Propose a Project: You’ll choose a project of any energy source and put the matching tile in a region with an empty project space.  This will get you money, two tech cubes, and allow you to collaborate (move a scientist or take one from the recruitment pool to your hand).
  • Install Project: Pay one CEP, flip a energy tile to its lighter side, and collect the installation benefit shown on the tile.  Forestation gets you two CEPs; solar gets you three tech cubes; cold fusion gets you $5 and one tech cube; biomass gets you $3, a tech cube, and one CEP; and recycling gets you $5 and a CEP.
  • Construct Power Plant: For this, there must be an installed project of the same type as the power plant you want to build, as well as expertise, tech cubes, and money required for that particular plant.  You’ll pay the bank, put the power plant on the board, mark you ownership with a disc of your color, score points, earn one expertise in that energy type.  Any scientists on the project are sent away, and the project tile is removed.

In addition to your one action, you may take any number of free moves once:

  • Move a Scientist: You can move a scientist from your hand to a vacant project, from  a project to another vacant project, or from a project to a summit topic about the energy type of that project.  You have to pay one coin to move another player’s scientist, and that player either keeps the scientist for one expertise, or goes to a summit topic.  Expertise increases your income and allows you to build power plants, as well as giving you region control and some bonuses.  World summits give you more expertise.
  • Make a visit to the Market: At the market, you can buy a CEP, and possibly sell one if the market price hasn’t changed during your turn.
  • Play or score one card: Lobby cards give you certain benefits, and UN goals score points based on completing the conditions of the card.

After all rounds are complete, the decade ends.  The game ends after the fifth decade, or if two regions are completely filled with green power plants, or if the global pollution level goes back under 350 after going over, or if it goes over 500 at the end of the supply phase (in which case EVERYONE LOSES).  Assuming everyone is still playing, collect CEPs from regions you control, sell all of your CEPs, and distribute income.  You get points for the company goal if you met it, one point per 2 coins you have. 3 points for having the most tech cubes, and 3 points for scoring the most UN goals.  The winner is the one with the most points.

This game seems interesting enough.  Nothing’s really leaping out at me in terms of mechanisms that really excite me or make me want to play this game.  The most unique thing here is the theme, and that’s really where the controversy lies.  I have my opinions about global warming/climate change/whatever you want to call it, but I’m not a scientist, nor am I that good at debating things, so I’m going to leave that out.  The fact here is that this game comes out clearly on the side of environmentalism.  The mechanism of having everyone lose if the pollution level gets too high, the mechanism of having everyone pitch in to help once there’s a disaster, and just the general concept of building green energy to increase your reputation has all been a little inflammatory.  I’ve read several comments of people swearing they’ll never play this game because of its leftist politics and its alarmist tendencies, and still other praising it for being brave enough to bring these issues to light and condemning those who don’t see the problems.

Environmentalism is an issue.  There’s no denying it.  Even if you don’t think climate change is as much of a problem as others do, it’s still an issue.  A game like CO₂ is something that tries to start the conversation, but it’s also a very one-sided conversation.  I would think it would be good to bring out in a debate club to kickstart the topic, but it’s one of those things that you either agree with or not.  There’s no middle ground with the game, and that’s something to keep in mind when considering whether or not to play it.  In this era where both sides of the aisle practically foam at the mouth when addressing each other, you might want to avoid it if politics are not your thing.  I’d like to give it a try sometime, if just to see what the fuss is about.  Thanks for reading.

PS: Go vote!



    • It is the same designer. I’ve heard good things about Vinhos, but, not being a wine person, I’m not interested in finding out more about it. So, in that respect, I find the them of CO2 more interesting. To each his own, however.

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