Our planet is facing unprecedented changes in climate and while many of us are seeking to do what we can to help mitigate the crisis, others are plowing ahead with their industrial efforts, convinced that it’s all cyclic and the Earth will heal itself. But we can’t all go back to an agrarian society, growing our own food without the benefit of electricity, roads, and all the modern amenities. This means that every project presents the challenge of balancing benefits versus potential harm. Is powering thousands of houses worth the pollution generated by a coal-based power plant? Are airports sufficiently beneficial to a local economy that their harmful impact on the environment should be ignored? How much should we invest in technological innovations to offset emissions?
All of these are at the heart of the 1-5 player eco-awareness game One Earth from Cation Arts of Abu Dhabi, UAE. Like many in its category, it also represents a tradeoff between a fun, mindless game and an educational experience that can provoke important conversations and raise awareness of the climate challenges we face. Luckily, it mostly does a really good job, particularly with 3 or more players, where players can call a UN meeting and even sanction the highest polluting country, costing them both progress and income. Vote on resolutions and players can improve things around the globe.
Two-player and solo modes aren’t quite as social, as you might expect, and I opted to play the latter, in which you compete directly against an aggressive, developmental-oriented industrialist automata. You’re not just leading your own nation into a brighter, more successful future, but you also need to mitigate the lax environmental policies of your neighbors too. All while trying to have fun. Kinda makes wandering a dungeon and slaying orcs seem pretty benign, doesn’t it? Fortunately, the solo mode of One Earth is fun and a challenging – and thought-provoking – puzzler of balancing emissions and prosperity as global progress marches inexorably forward.
ONE EARTH GAME COMPONENTS AND SETUP
One great plus is that the game is in a modest size box and has zero plastic components. More environmentally friendly, ‘natch. Set up and ready for solo play, here’s how the table looks:
Let’s start with the board. It’s big, it’s bright, and it’s intended to track emissions (the outer track) and prosperity (the inner track). Emissions are tracked in a really intriguing way; each player has their own emissions token (the pink and green factory discs, above), but there’s also a black combined emissions tracker; if that ever maxes out at 30 points not only is the game over, but the Earth is declared uninhabitable and everyone loses. Heavy, but so is a TPK, right?
The heart of One Earth is the turquoise-backed project cards: Six of them are shown in the marketplace along the bottom of the board. To the left is my character – an Environmentalist – and above it, and somewhat occluded by the “Automa” cards, is the Military General, the automata against whom I am competing. Above those are both Climate Policy and Technology cards, and the bowl is full of coins. Think of them as being in the trillions and you’d probably be about right for their value.
Each round consists of the solo player earning money based on their current prosperity level, then spending it on new projects, technology, or climate policies. Then the Automa goes, with actions scripted on one of the Automa cards, generally adversely impacting the environment while making lots of money. Let’s have a closer look at those project cards…
Every card has a developmental cost – the number in the top right – along with a category denoted immediately below the cost. The goal is to maximize Prosperity while minimizing Emissions, denoted by the two values on the top left. You can see that the Coal Power Plant generates lots of prosperity (3 out of a total of 30 for the entire game) but at a staggering environmental cost: 6 emissions (again, out of 30 total before the planet’s toast). Each project card also has some informative text to help spur conversation too. I start with 7 coins and am going to buy a couple of projects. My emissions bump up to 2, but my prosperity is now three. Using the board tokens, here’s how things look:
It’s now the automata’s turn and the first Automa card is shown on the left. The top portion denotes its impact on the project marketplace (it forces the projects in slots 2 and 3 to be discarded) and at the bottom shows that it’s going to gain 2 prosperity and the cost of 3 emissions. Notice the lower left graphic in the dashed box: In expert solo mode, this card will also earn the Military General 2 victory points.
FURTHER ALONG IN THE GAME
A few rounds later, emissions are heating up – mostly thanks to the Automa – and its policy is also producing higher prosperity than mine:
Notice that the pink tokens are further along on the board (the Automa) than the green tokens, but my ratio of prosperity (the leaf) versus emissions (the factory) is much more environmentally friendly! I also have six projects acquired at this point, including a large Electric Vehicle Factory, a Wind Farm, and a School. I’ve just earned 6 coins (6 prosperity) and am contemplating whether I should buy yet more projects from the marketplace or do something else. What else can I do? I can buy one or more Climate Policy cards:
This is a straight equation: Pay money, lower global emissions. The more you pay, the more you can lower emissions. Remember what I said about managing your own emissions and those of your neighbors? This is how that’s done. But another thing you can buy are technologies to improve your existing facilities…
These are a bit more complex because they only apply to specific types of projects. For example, for 3 coin, Green Buildings can lower the emissions (by 1) of a Mixed-Use Building, a Mall, or a Hotel. In standard game mode each applies to just one project, but in advanced mode – including solo mode – a card can apply to one or two matching buildings.
NEARING THE END OF THE GAME
The first time I played One Earth solo, I was completely focused on my own prosperity, which was a mistake: Once the combined emissions hit 30, the game’s over and everyone’s lost. This time I paid much more attention to balancing my emissions and global emissions. The result: Even early in the game I’ve invested in a Climate Policy card to offset both my own Ship Building Dock and my opponent’s zealous and wanton destruction of the environment (notice the token placement in the below photo):
As the game proceeds, your prosperity goes up so that you have more and more money to invest in projects, technologies and climate policy, helping accelerate the game. Notice also that the Automa’s card has both a turquoise and dark blue section on the top: This indicates that three project cards are removed (the top line) and one Technology card is randomly discarded too. In other words, its goal is to make it harder for the human player to succeed. Run out of Project cards and it’s game over.
Since you cannot affect the prosperity of the opponent, there’s an element of luck involved. You can manage global emissions with Climate Policy cards if you remember to invest in them along the way, but it’s still going to inevitably end faster than you expect. In my game, the Military General reached 30 prosperity, as you can see:
Notice that the dark blue cards are Technologies I invested in to offset the environmental cost of my Projects, and that I spent a lot of my money on Climate Policy cards: Five of them on the right.
Final scoring is a function of whether you’re playing easy, medium, or difficult solo mode. Your score is always the same, as detailed in the “Advanced Game” rules. The difference is how many points the Automa can earn: In easy mode, it’s simply the Automa’s prosperity level, in which case I won handily, as you’ll see momentarily. Medium mode adds to Automa’s final VP based on the number of discarded manufacturing projects, and difficult mode additionally adds the sum of all used Automa cards. In all cases, the player gets to score more than just prosperity!
To start, here’s the final board:
Notice that by making so many investments in technology and climate policy, I reduced my total emissions to 1 even with 26 prosperity. Pretty darn good! My tableau:
As the Environmentalist I gain 5 – (my current emissions) bonus victory points (+4), another bonus for having the lowest emissions of any player (+6), funding any Technologies earns another +1, funding one or more Climate Policy earns another +1, each 2 units of currency are worth a VP (I have none), and the “livability” bonus is a function of how many different sectors are funded (the icons below the price of each project). I have 7, earning me an additional 11VP. In other words, my final score is Prosperity plus all these bonuses, for a grand total of 26+4+6+1+1+11 = 49 points.
Since I’m counting up all of my VP, I’ll do the same for the Automa, meaning it earns its Prosperity (30) + three points for every manufacturing project discarded (4 * 3VP). Playing against its most difficult setting, I would also add up all the points indicated on the Automa cards, an overwhelming 1+2+1+4+1+2+3+3+3 = 20 points. In other words, he won. 30 + 12 + 20 = 62. A substantial margin of victory versus my 49 points. And so it goes. In eco games like this, it’s not uncommon to never win because, hey, are there really winners when we’re trying to avoid the destruction of our planet? 🤨
FINAL THOUGHTS ON ONE EARTH
I like these thematic games, though there are definitely some cards that surprise me with their ratio of emissions vs prosperity. I mean, do nuclear power plants really have zero impact on the environment? The bigger issue is whether the game is actually fun, or feels like a bit of a slog. I surmise that there is a way to win in “difficult” solo mode, but I have not yet figured out a winning strategy. Medium difficulty is more satisfying and if that were all that was considered it would have been 42 for the Automa versus my own 49, a handy win.
In fact, I suspect that this game is really best played with 3+ players so that you can add in all the diplomacy and peer pressure of sanctions and regulations that require everyone to be better global eco-citizens. It’s not a bad solo game, but I would not recommend buying it just for the solo mode. Find a few friends (or your own children) and see how well you can all work together to maximize individual prosperity while minimizing global emissions and environmental impact.
Disclosure: Cation Arts sent me a copy of One Earth in return for this candid review. Much appreciate!