Friday, 7 December 2012


Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

CO2 is a game about world pollution. It is played in decades, with each decade having a number of rounds depending on player count. Every game starts in the 1970's, when the pollution level is still low but is growing. The world is divided into six regions, and every decade there will be an increase in energy demand in most regions. If not enough clean power plants have been built by players in the regions to meet the energy demand, the regions will build dirty (i.e. polluting / fossil fuel) power plants. Every dirty plant has a CO2 emission value, and such values of every plant on the board add up to become the world total pollution level. If this level reaches 500ppm (parts per million), pollution gets out of control and everyone loses. The players are clean energy companies working to contain and eventually to reduce world pollution, and while doing so they try to earn victory points (from various sources) to win the game.

The basic things that you can do on your turn are simple. You only have three main options - to propose a new project, to install a project which has been proposed, and to complete the construction of a clean power plant based on an already-installed project. What's tricky is when you propose a project, it is not "yours". Another player can take this proposal and install a project, and yet another player can take this installed project and build an actual clean power plant. When you propose a project and when you install a project, you generally gain some benefit. When you build a clean plant, you need to spend money and technical resources, but you gain victory points, and you get to compete for control of the region where the plant is built.

The gameboard has quite a different style from your average Eurogame. The centre stack is the CEP pool in the CEP market. The numbers surrounding that are the CEP price track. Beyond that are the regional agendas (tall and thin) and the world summits (fat and wide). Regional agendas pair with the regions and dictate which clean energy power plant types are allowed in the regions. World summits are meetings that scientists attend to gain expertise.

Next are the regions themselves. The upper row of three spaces in a region are the slots for proposals and projects. The lower row of between three and six spaces are the spaces for power plants, which also indicate how much energy demand will grow throughout the game. Asia is the most energy hungry, with 6 slots, while Africa is the least energy hungry, with only 3 slots. Each region also has a stack of CEP's. Half of the big circle of spaces is the score track, and the other half is the pollution track.

The three stages of building a clean power plant. The top row is the proposal form, the middle row is the project form (which is actually the back side of the tiles in the top row). The benefits of installing a project are shown on the tiles, and they differ depending on the project type. The bottom row is the power plants. On each power plant you can see the VP worth (number in circle), the cost in dollars, and the cost in technical resources, which is also the required expertise level. From left to right, the clean energy technologies are recycling, biomass, cold fusion, solar and forestation.

You have a few types of resources to manage - cash, technical resources, scientists, and CEP's (carbon emission permits). You need cash, technical resources and expertise to build clean plants. You need employed scientists (either working on proposals or projects, or attending world summits) to help you gain expertise in the various clean energy sources. You need CEP's to install projects. Every player and every region starts the game with some CEP's. Regions spend them when building dirty plants. There is a CEP market where you can buy or sell CEP's. You can use it to make money, to manipulate the price, and to buy a CEP when you need one.

A close-up of the CEP market (centre), the regional agendas and the world summits. A green scientist is on the Paris summit now, covering one of the icons. Only when the other icon is claimed by another scientist will this summit conclude. Players who have participated gain one expertise in the field of their scientists, plus one more expertise for any technology covered in the summit.

There are many ways to earn victory points (VPs), e.g. building clean plants, having more expertise than others in the various clean energy fields, being rich (at game end, CEP's in hand and in regions you control are all converted to money) and completing scoring cards. Some scoring is done during the game, but a big chunk is done at game end so players need to prepare for that.

A few types of cards come into play during the game, which give each game a slightly different storyline and setting, and also give players different advantages and objectives. The event cards penalise players for not building clean plants in specific regions, but only take effect if world pollution exceeds 350ppm. In the early game they are probably harmless, but players need to estimate when pollution will hit 350ppm and whether they want to work towards avoiding the penalty or spend their efforts somewhere else and accept the penalty. UN goal cards are public information and reward the first players to build specific combinations of clean plant types. This is something for players to race for, and also encourages players to diversify. The company goal cards give secret goals to players and awards VP's depending on how well the players fulfill the requirements. Lobby cards are single-use special abilities which steer players because players usually want to capitalise on them. I find that the company goal cards and the lobby cards create much character. Without them the game would feel a little too symmetrical, balanced and bland.

The company goal card (leftmost) and the lobby cards. The company goal card means I earn 4VP for every continent I control, or I can sacrifice the card for $8. The rightmost lobby card means if I propose a project in South America, I also earn $3. Alternatively I can discard the card for one technology resource.

The Play

I did a 5-player game, and all of us were new to the game. We were lucky with the initial dirty plant draw - world pollution was low initially. However the pressure accelerated and we almost hit 500ppm, which would have made everyone lose. Although there were only three basic options to choose from, the game had quite many moving parts and little rules, and it took some time to digest and internalise them. Needing three steps to build a clean plant is interesting. You don't own any proposal or project so you can't guarantee you will get to build a plant you want, unless no one else has enough money / tech resource / expertise. You also need to be careful not to set your opponents up for a big move. There is a certain interdependency between players because despite the competition, ultimately everyone wants to get clean plants built efficiently to fight pollution. There is a nervous balance between collaboration and competition. Slots for proposals are limited, and they have different benefits, so players need to compete for them. The players also need to compete to install projects, where different project types give different benefits too. Deciding which of the six regions to work on is important too, because of the events and also because you want to compete to control regions. There is also competition at the five expertise tracks, because only the most advanced players on each track get a cash and/or VP payout. There is plenty to compete for.

I mostly worked on diversifying my plant types, because I wanted to focus on claiming UN goal cards, which rewarded diversity. I picked this strategy partly because I misunderstood my secret company goal card. I thought it rewarded me for each UN goal card I claimed, but it actually meant something else completely. Lesson learnt: don't overestimate your ability in interpreting icons. Diversifying plant types was challenging because it meant I needed to gain expertise in multiple fields. However the benefit was being one of the leaders in each field granted money and VP's.

Jeff and Sinbad clearly worked on controlling regions, which turned out to be very important because of the CEP's they gained from the regions at game end. We played one aspect of the game incorrectly which distorted it somewhat. Whenever a CEP is gained by any player or region, it is to be taken from the CEP market and not from the stock. This means the CEP price will go up more easily than what we experienced in our game. In our game, the price did not fluctuate much for most of the game, until we discovered our mistake. So no one really played around with the CEP market much. If we had played correctly, I imagine the CEP market would have been a lucrative source of income if you have surplus CEP's to sell. Heng had warned me about the confusing CEP market rules, but I said it didn't seem too complex. In the end I did miss an important rule afterall. Oops.

In this region, there are two proposals now (upper row), and one of the proposals has a scientist working on it. A scientist working on a proposal can earn expertise for his owner. This continent has two dirty plants (petroleum and gas, which have no player marker) and one clean plant (biomass, owned by the black player). The continent is currently controlled by the black player because he is the only one with a plant here.

The lower part of this photo shows the five expertise tracks. Every decade the players on the highest and second highest positions on each track earn any combination of money and VP's. Some spots on the tracks have special icons which are additional rewards.

Our game ended early, without going into the 6th decade, because the world pollution level increased beyond 350ppm, and then later fell back below 350ppm. This is one of the conditions that triggers game end. When we did the end-game scoring, we found that the CEP's made a lot of money, which was converted at the rate of $2 per 1VP. The CEP price was at it's highest ($8). Those who controlled regions with many unused CEP's earned many VP's. In hindsight, players with fewer CEP's should probably have sold them to force the CEP price down. Unfortunately in this game we didn't really get to experience manipulating the CEP market.

Our game end score ranged from 77 to 99.

A glaring mistake here. Asia's regional agenda tile (the long and thin one) doesn't have a biomass icon (yellow wheat-like icon). So that biomass plant here (mine) is illegal. I swear it wasn't me who proposed such a plant. I was just the innocent guy who came along to build a plant based on an already-existing project. Someone else had bribed the local officials to accept a non-compliant proposal.

The Thoughts

CO2 is an intricate game with closely interwoven mechanisms. There is much to remember, and it will take some time to digest. However everything makes sense and feels logical, so the game feels thematic and not like a jumble of subsystems. From one play, I don't know yet whether I like it or not. I'm still learning the game. The game has some cooperative elements, but it is in no way a cooperative game. Sometimes you do make moves that benefit others, but usually it is because you gain something too. It is technically possible for a trailing player (or two) to throw the game and make everyone lose. It is a debatable point whether this is a flaw. If you play in the spirit of the game, no one should try to destroy the world. It may not be easy either, because other players may just be forced to collaborate more closely to save the world. My view is I wouldn't want to play with such a sore loser. The threat of the world being destroyed by pollution is meant to inject brinkmanship and negotiation. How competitive can you afford to be without causing the end of the world? How do you coerce your fellow players to play the various roles in the struggle to control pollution?

Despite the many small rules in the game, I admire the fact that on your turn you only have one core action and you pick from only three options - propose a project, install a project or build a plant. Almost everything else flows from these three basic options. There are many aspects in the game where you need to compete with your opponents. You need to plan ahead which areas of expertise to specialise in and which regions to compete in, and you also need to make the most of your lobby cards and company goal card.

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