The polar ice caps are melting, plastic overwhelms the globe, and it’s impossible to breathe without the tang of smog in the air.
How did we end up here? Could we have prevented this?
Welcome to Earth Rising, the eco board game that gives players 20 years to reverse the status quo and implement sustainable practices to save the Earth from pollution, corruption, and to pull the population out of poverty.
The topic is more relevant and important as time goes on, but does Earth Rising manage to pull double duty as a fun board game and educational tool, or does it fall flat?
Let’s dive in and check it out.
Brief Overview of Earth Rising
Earth Rising is a cooperative game where players work together to reverse the damage we’ve caused to the planet with sustainable practices and simultaneously pull the surviving population out of poverty.
Players have to deal with 6 different spheres of influence; politics, energy, industry, agriculture, infrastructure, and culture. Players have 20 years (turns) to change the hearts and minds of people and industries worldwide in order to achieve that goal.
How to Play Earth Rising
I won’t go into too much detail with the setup.
The game instructions do a great job of showing diagrams and notes that will get you all set up in no time.
The only 2 things that might trip up players in their first game are the Draw (Influence/Social) deck with the Status Quo cards.
If you’ve played Pandemic, setting up the Draw deck is pretty standard. The Status Quo deck acts like the Epidemic cards that are equally spaced in the deck, but only three are used.
- Take 3 random Status Quo cards and put the other three in the discard pile.
- Split the Influence/Social cards into 3 groups of 14 cards.
- Place the 3 chosen Status Quo cards on the bottom of the 3 stacks of cards.
- Stack them back up. (Do not shuffle)
Each Player’s turn consists of 5 stages.
- Strain Phase 1
- Strain Phase 2
Every turn players will draw 2 cards and discard down to 5 if they have too many. If a Status Quo card pops up it has to be resolved immediately.
This is where players get to actually do stuff.
- Use your hero abilities.
- Trade Cards
- Reshuffle the Influence Deck (this can be rough)
- Add or remove policies/practices
- Draw and extra card
Remove a disease cube(Just kidding)
This is part of the upkeep section where you tally up how much strain is added to the board. Every 3 meeples in poverty (center of the board) adds one strain to the board.
Then comes the sector strain. Each unsustainable practice adds one strain but each sustainable practice reduces strain by one. If you manage to get a regenerative sustainable practice it removes two “strain” instead of one.
Getting the population to use sustainable practices is one of the best ways to manage strain on the environment, so keep an eye on it.
Calendar or End of year
The last thing any player will do on their turn is the calendar phase. They’ll turn to the next card indicating that a year has passed. There’s nothing really special about this, it’s basically just a game timer.
These are rough.
There are 6 status quo cards, one for each sector. Each one does something terrible and usually adds a ton of strain or unsustainable practices to the board.
They’re really nasty but are probably my favorite mechanic in the game. During setup, only three are in the draw deck and the other three are in the discard.
Players can shuffle the discard back into the draw deck as an action, but the first time the deck is shuffled all 6 Status Quo cards are back in the draw deck.
Do you shuffle early to try and avoid the status quo or do you wait it out to keep as few in play as possible? It’s a really nice mechanic that can backfire spectacularly or save the game.
When there’s too much strain on a sector, it triggers an ecological collapse. When the 15th strain is supposed to be placed, instead 10 strain is removed, an ecological disaster token is placed on the sector, and a temperature token is placed in the center of the board.
The disaster token stops any new practices from being played on that space, and the rising temperature permanently adds +1 strain every turn. It just makes the overall game that much harder to win.
Unlike in baseball, it’s 4 strikes and you’re out. If you get hit with a 4th ecological disaster that’s game over.
End of Game
By the end of the 20th year/round, players need to have resolved all of the ecological disasters and moved them towards the center of the board, saving the planet and helping all the meeples out of poverty.
Pros & Cons
- Educational Theme
- Perfect Level of Difficulty
One of the major selling points of Earth Rising is its theme. The designer Laurie Blake is trying to send a clear message about an issue they clearly care about and it comes across really well.
The gameplay itself is really fun and I really enjoy the difficulty of managing all the moving parts. Sometimes it seems like everything is going perfectly until you get knocked right back down. It makes for some compelling decisions and gameplay. Perhaps my favorite mechanic is reshuffling the influence deck.
It sounds like a simple decision. You can reshuffle to avoid a Status Quo card, but then there’s also the potential to have repeats coming your way. It’s a great design.
- End of Game
- Single Player
I was a little irritated after reading through the rulebook several times. I had guessed that the end of the game is triggered at the end of round 20 but looking through the rulebook, it was hard to actually find anything stating how the end game works. There are no end of game points or final calculations, and there’s also no section in the rulebook that explicitly states the end game conditions or how to win.
The alternative quick rules state the end game conditions, but the main game has nothing. I could infer that getting all of the boards flipped to the center equals a win, but it’s a rulebook. It should tell me that and I was determined to find it somewhere. After about 40 minutes of searching through the rulebook, I finally found it.
It’s right at the top and only a single sentence:
“To win the game you have 20 turns to flip all the segments into the center of the board.”
I feel a little dumb that it took me that long, but I definitely think it should at least have a section somewhere in the rulebook instead of a single sentence in the introduction of the game.
Single-player is fine. The magic of cooperative games is the player interaction and decision-making between the players. The rules work fine as a solo game and they’ve come up with a good design to alternate between the different character abilities. It just doesn’t make sense to play a cooperative game as a solo player. Maybe I’m missing something, but it wasn’t nearly as interesting as playing with a full complement of players.
Earth Rising Review (TL;DR)
So, onto the original questions that I asked at the beginning of the article.
Did they make an educational game? Yes, and they did a darn good job of it.
Is it a fun board game? Definitely. I highly recommend you give it a try.
When I first saw Earth Rising I was intrigued. I really like cooperative games and my time in the classroom always reminds me to keep an eye out for a good educational board game.
When I first started reading the rulebook, I immediately got a Pandemic vibe, and to be fair, it’s hard not to compare every new cooperative game to Pandemic. The strain tokens that could spread to other sectors, each player having an action pool, and the Status Quo cards seeded into the draw deck all reminded me of Pandemic.
That’s not a bad thing but Earth Rising needed to really distinguish itself after that to make it worthwhile for players to keep two cooperative disaster games on their shelves… especially since most board gamers have a copy of Pandemic somewhere.
So did they?
In my honest opinion, I think they did a great job of it. The sustainable and unsustainable practices were actually really fun to implement. The threat of ecological disasters really threw a few monkey wrenches into my first playthrough and it was the back and forth gameplay between flipping the ecological burdens that really sold me.
The ability to shuffle the influence cards is a fantastic idea that works so well. If you know a Status Quo is coming, you can avoid it, but it returns all the discarded ones back to the draw pile. It’s such a gamble, but it adds so much flair to the game. I’m one of those weird rules people that like to read rulebooks and find flaws with games. So seeing that rule really flipped my mindset and distinguishes Earth Rising from Pandemic enough to justify keeping both on the shelf.
The thrill of working together to see an ecological burden reversed and pulling my meeple people out of poverty was thrilling and so satisfying. It did make the subsequent turns when we got blasted by a Status Quo card all the more devastating, though.
I hope you liked our Earth Rising review. If you have any questions or comments we’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below.
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