Notes on Designing IMPACT: A Foresight Game

The following are some notes about the process of designing IMPACT: A Foresight Game that teaches you to think strategically about the future. These notes are by no means complete. I’ll likely expand them and will certainly invite the Idea Couture team (which included John Wither, Jemuel Datiles, Tatiana Soldatova, Jayar La Fontaine, Mathew Lincez) and our collaborators at Policy Horizons Canada to add their own commentary.

IMPACT is a serious board game by Idea Couture

At Idea Couture, we’re usually working on strategic foresight projects for clients in industries like food, financial services, or consumer electronics. Making IMPACT was a unique opportunity to think about how technology could change society as a whole, rather than just looking at the implications for a specific industry.

Through our Kickstarter campaign, we’re making IMPACT widely available, to get more people thinking deliberately about creating the world they want to live in.

PROJECT BRIEF AND PROTOTYPES

Prototype of Foursays, one of three games we proposed to our client.

In 2015, we were approached by Policy Horizons Canada, an innovation lab within the Government of Canada. Policy Horizons does some excellent foresight studies, which you can download on their website. They wanted to create a serious game that teaches foresight. IMPACT’s content is based on one of their reports, MetaScan3. From start to finish, we worked very collaboratively with Horizons. We kicked-off with a one-day game design hackathon at their space in Ottawa. Working from ideas generated at that workshop, we presented three game concepts in a rough prototype form. They selected IMPACT, and we proceeded to build it together. The game is currently used within the Government of Canada as a tool to teach foresight thinking and engage public servants in foresight research.

An early prototype of IMPACT: A Foresight Game

CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT

You could say IMPACT was designed backwards! We started with the desired outcomes. When people finished playing, we wanted them to be thinking more deliberately, critically, and creatively about what kind of future they would prefer for themselves, their community, and society. So we asked: what techniques, narratives, mechanics and dynamics can we put in our game to achieve that end?

We created an inventory of board game mechanics that required players to use styles of thinking that we use frequently in strategic foresight. For example, “wind-tunneling” is a technique we use all the time. Just as an aerospace engineer tests an aircraft by running it through a wind tunnel, mimicking the physical conditions of flight, we’ll run a strategy through various possible scenarios to ensure it maintains its integrity under the pressure of uncontrollable external forces. It turns out that “wind-tunneling” pretty closely resembles games like Boss Monster and Galaxy Trucker where players’ strategies are tested against variable factors. One of our strategists, John Wither, who is also board game aficionado, did an incredible job putting this resource together. He drew the connections and correspondences between foresight principles and game mechanics. Then we started thinking about how we could configure the various game mechanics effectively to create a game that would get people thinking deeply about the future.

The original moodboard that informed IMPACT’s visual style

VISUAL AESTHETICS

I developed a mood board that sort of mashes Swiss design with a 1970–80s Canadiana feel. We wanted it to be playful but not in the style of your typical board game that’s super busy with tiny text and detailed illustrations. This was to be a serious game after all.

The whole game, including all of the graphical icons and character illustrations, was designed by Jemuel Datiles. We were going for simplicity and derived the colours from a CMYK model, which has its own kind of retro-futurist feel. Jemuel says the characters were inspired by Canada’s diversity but that he avoided using archetypal visual cues for each character’s role.

PLAYTESTING

Jayar and Tatiana playtesting IMPACT: A Foresight Game

We play-tested a lot in our office and via telepresence with Policy Horizons Canada. When the game was about 90% complete, we staged an all night play-test during Nuit Blanche — a 12 hour art event in Toronto. We must’ve played the game with nearly a hundred people that night. It was crucial in working out the final kinks and identifying any points of confusion that we needed to clear up.

RESULTS

The feedback from pretty much everyone we’ve played the game with has been positive. We’ve played it a lot, with foresight professionals, policymakers, and citizens of all ages. People have a lot of fun and get pretty engaged — emotionally and politically — with the narrative and content. We’re always really pleased with the conversations people have over the course of the game and after. It works! People start discussing the risks and benefits of emerging technologies, and how they’d prefer these new things to exist in their lives or not exist at all. I love seeing that.