For years, concerned environmentalists have been warning decision-makers to stop playing around and get serious about climate change. But for California’s Marin County, the game might be the only way to getting people and lawmakers into taking climate change seriously. Game of Floods, the board game developed by Marin County, is intended for students and urban planners to introduce players to the complexities of climate adaptation in a fun and engaging way.

Marin County is located within the San Francisco Bay Area and although it is one of the country’s wealthiest counties, the threats of sea level rise and climate change are still insurmountable. According to City Labs, the rapidly rising sea level threatens to flood billions of dollars worth of roads, homes and businesses within 8 miles of Marin’s shoreline in the next 15 years. This imminent threat includes 10 to 20 percent of the county’s buildings and thousands of residents. The Marin Community Development Agency created an interactive board game to educate planners, community organizations and citizens about the seriousness of climate change and flooding, and the difficulties of reaching a collaborative solution.

City Lab’s Laura Bliss calls the Settlers of Catan-style game, “a choose-your-own-hazard-mitigation romp created by a team of local public works engineers and planners.”

adults gathered around board game

How to play ‘Game of Floods’

The goal of the game is to develop a vision for the year 2050 on the fictional Marin Island, which represents conditions that apply to counties throughout the Bay Area. Four to six players select community assets to protect, which range from hospitals, to roads, farms, electric plants and bird colonies. The players then move through flooding and sea-level rise scenarios, select different adaptation strategies and defend their choices. Players are forced to consider a multitude of benefits, trade-offs and consequences for each choice, which inevitably sparks debate between the players. Each strategy is analyzed for its environmental impacts, social consequences and price tag. The ultimate objective of the game is to hear each player’s strategy reach a group consensus of the best vision for 2050.

Who can play?

Due to its widespread popularity, anyone can purchase the game from the County of Marin for $50, which offsets the cost of its printing and production. The game is intended to educate students, community groups, residents, planners, professional networks and to spark citizen engagement regarding climate change throughout the area.

Related: Global warming will melt over 1/3 of the Himalayan ice cap by 2100

adults gathered around board game

Five fast facts on flooding

Tragically, carbon emissions are already at an irreversible level that is causing glaciers to melt into the ocean and increase sea level. The media has shown the devastating impacts on arctic species such as polar bears, but what does sea level rise mean for people throughout the world? Here are some alarming facts from the Mother Nature Network to get your attention:

1. Every inch of sea-level rise equals 50 to 100 inches of beach loss.

Think of the ocean as a massive bowl. Every drop of water added into the bowl brings the water level higher up the sloped sides. These sides represent beaches, coastal roads, wetlands and shorelines around the world.

2. The number of days with coastal flooding in the U.S. has more than doubled since the 1980s.

A study by Climate Central analyzed the increase in flood days in coastal cities and estimated the percent of that increase that is directly related to human causes. The report found the number of flood days more than doubled in many cities and attributed more than 60 percent of that increase to “unnatural” sea level rise in every city.

3. Up to 216 million people will live below sea level by 2100.

In the U.S. alone, an estimated 300 to 650 million people live on land that will be below sea level by 2100, according to current trends in flooding.

4. Sea-level rise contaminates drinking water.

When the level of the sea rises, salt water can enter fresh ground water and aquifers. This is called salt water intrusion. Although municipalities can process the salt out of the water, this procedure is complex, costly and requires significant infrastructure to create a desalination plant.

5. Coastal flooding will cost major cities $1 trillion every year if they do not take drastic steps to adapt.

Without preventive measures, cities and their residents will have to pay for costly damage to infrastructure, including buildings, roads and utilities.

Game of Floods originally launched in 2015, but the County of Marin has released updated editions due to its popularity.  The game won many awards, including the American Planning Association’s National Planning Achievement Award and California Award of Excellence, a California State Association of Counties Merit Award and a Marin County Innovation Recognition Award. Representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) use the game for their staff and outreach activities.

“It all boils down to getting a conversation started about a very important topic,” Roberta Rewers of the American Planning Association told CityLab. “It visualizes what could happen in a community, and it gets people thinking about how choices have impacts.”

+ Marin County

Images via County of Marin