This classic game is taking on climate change

Teuber also seemed laser focused on not preaching, and it feels as if New Energies goes out of its way not to make players feel bad about climate change. In fact, as a story by NPR about the game pointed out, the phrase “climate change” hardly appears in any of the promotional materials, on the packaging, or in the rules. The catch-all issue in the game’s universe is simply “pollution.” 

Unlike some other climate games, like the 2023 release Daybreak, New Energies isn’t aimed at getting the group to work together to fight against climate change. The setup is the same as in other versions of Catan: the first player to reach 10 victory points wins. In theory, that could be a player who leaned heavily on fossil fuels. 

“It doesn’t feel like the game says, ‘Screw you—we told you, the only way to win is by building green energy,’” Teuber told me. 

However, while players can choose their own pathway to acquiring points, there’s a second possible outcome. If too many players produce too much pollution by building towns, cities, and fossil-fuel power plants, the game ends early in catastrophe. Whoever has done the most to clean up the environment does walk away with the win—something of a consolation prize. 

I got an early copy of the game to test out, and the first time I played, my group polluted too quickly and the game ended early. I ended up taking the win, since I had elected to build only renewable plants. I’ll admit to feeling a bit smug. 

But as I played more, I saw the balance between competition and collaboration. During one game, my group came within a few turns of pollution-driven catastrophe. We turned things around, building more renewable plants and stretching out play long enough for a friend who had been quicker to build her society to cobble together the points she needed to win. 

Our game board after a round of New Energies, with my cat, who acted as our unofficial referee. 
Photo: Casey Crownhart

Board games, or any other media that deals with climate change, will have to walk a fine line between dealing seriously with the crisis at hand and being entertaining enough to engage with. New Energies does that, though I think it makes some concessions toward being playable over being obsessively accurate. 

I wouldn’t recommend using this game as teaching material about climate change, but I suppose that’s not the point. If you’re a fan of Catan, this edition is definitely worth playing, and it’ll be part of my rotation. You can pre-order Catan New Energies here; the release date is June 14. And if you haven’t heard enough of my media musings, stay tuned for an upcoming story about New Energies and other climate-related board games. 

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