Somewhat like the bike garden, making a board game has been tough. There aren’t instructions to follow, advice columns to read, manuals to refer to… Heck, just choosing a topic was hard! But when all is said and done, the real learning this week had little to do with “how to make a board game” and a lot to do with the conversations it generated.
For those that may have missed the earlier posts, I was tasked with creating my own board game, and after much hemming and hawing, decided that I would make one examining poverty issues in Toronto. Now, I recognize that trying to boil this complex set of issues into a board game is problematic at best. But I still felt that it gave me, and hopefully those around me, the opportunity to think hard about these issues, and talk about them in a different kind of way. And let me just say, from scratching down notes on a napkin over beers with Ashleigh, to brainstorming with Tom and Susan in the car, cups of tea with Chris and Danielle, to lunch-time conversations at work, the ideas and discussions were incredible, and I hope they don’t end there.
So, what does the board game include? Well, that itself would take ages to elaborate, so instead I’m including some of the highlights. I should note that the game has yet to be played, and I’ve actually decided to write the possible explanations of the squares on individual pieces of paper that are stuck to the board, so that they can be moved / changed / adapted during the first few playings in order to work out the kinks. In any case, here are some of the aspects:
- To begin, each player chooses 4 cards at random. One explains their family situation (married, single, children, etc), their housing (apartment, subsidized, Toronto Community Housing, shared, etc), their education level, and finally, there’s a miscellaneous card. This includes things like immigration status, financial / credit history, criminal record, health, etc. The four cards form the basis for your character.
- Based on these cards, you’re able to calculate the amount you need each month to survive. This is based on your housing, dependents and any factors from the miscellaneous cards. In the first few squares, you then determine your monthly salary, either by getting a job (this is based on the number of employability points, noted on the character cards) or applying for Ontario Works / Ontario Disability Support Program. (Whew, this is hard to explain in words…)
- There are 52 squares between the start and finish, and the goal of the game is simply to get to the end. Every 8-10 squares, you pass a payday, and receive and amount based on your character’s circumstances. If you’re a single person on welfare in Ontario, you only receive $585/month. Take a second to think about your current monthly expenses, and how much $585 would actually cover for you. Would you have money left each month for food?
- After landing on each Pay Day, you receive your monthly sum, but have to return your rent, utilities and phone bill amounts. You continue along the board with what you’ve got left.
- From here you progress forward, rolling the dice to determine how many squares to move. Some squares have positive actions, some negative, and some that affect all players.
- When you land on an “All Player” square, you draw from the all player deck. Cards include things like increases/decreases to minimum wage, an economic recession, HST being introduced, an oil crisis, etc.
- Many of the squares involve negative things, like getting bed bugs at your house, being un-insured and in an accident, losing your job, finding out your building is condemned (the list goes on). For each, you can pay your way out, or if you can’t afford it, you can choose to pan-handle/steal/find other means to pay out. But some of those come with a risk (getting arrested, etc) that is determined by rolling the dice.
- There are also a series of “good” squares that demonstrate positive things happening in the city — you join a community garden project, start volunteering at The Stop, get medical care at a Community Health Center, get help finding a job through TRIEC etc.
- Throughout, you can gain/lose employability points on various squares. This affects your chances of finding a job, and/or increasing your salary. But be careful! Once you start declaring small sums of income, you could become ineligible for Ontario Works.
- I threw some political pieces into the mix – Rob Ford gets elected, lose the game. G20 comes to town, go directly to jail. You get the picture…
I’ll leave it there, as I think this paints a pretty decent picture of the game, but I’m still open for other ideas, and will post more once we’ve sat down and tried the game out…
A few questions to leave you with, that have been floating around in my mind throughout this process: How much do you need to survive for a month, and do our current social assistance rates provide that? What would you do if you weren’t 100% physically able and on social assistance — how would you get your groceries? get around the city? live an active life? How is the upcoming mayoral election going to impact or influence these issues? What organizations are offering amazing services in our city, and how can we help them?
As always, thanks to all that sent in thoughts, suggestions, anecdotes and ideas…