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‘Sakunwari’ tabletop game aims to gamify disaster management

By Kara Santos Published Feb 15, 2022 4:57 pm Updated Feb 15, 2022 5:03 pm

The UP Resilience Institute (UPRI) recently launched a board game called Sakunwari, a multi-lingual, tabletop and role-playing game set in a time of complex disasters, reflecting current issues we face today like climate change and the ongoing pandemic.

According to Dr. Kristoffer Berse, UP Associate Professor and UPRI’s director for Research and Creative Work, who led the development of the game, Sakunwari was developed as part of the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team’s WOKE4COVID project.

Sakunwari Hazard and Pandemic cards.

The board game was conceptualized as a way to popularize the concept of disaster management in a way that might interest new audiences. According to the game development leader, several members of the team happen to be game enthusiasts themselves.

“Sakunwari is a portmanteau of three Filipino words: sakunâ (disaster), kunwarî (pretend/simulate) and warì (sense-making/personal assessment),” explained Berse during the virtual webinar and board game launch Friday (Feb. 11).

“Throughout the game, players will encounter multiple disasters that will challenge their ability to make the right call in the face of impending disasters, whether independently or in cooperation with other players,” he added 

In terms of design, the board game draws inspiration from Philippine islands, mirroring features of the Philippine archipelago and culture.

The names of the fictional lands and Local Government Units (LGUs) that appear on the map are inspired by deities, figures from Philippine folklore, while the icons used are meant to reflect Philippine culture.

For instance, a coastal town is named Amansinaya, after the Tagalog god of fishermen and fisherfolk, while Kaptan, an Ancient Visayan counterpart of Bathala, represents the biggest city on the map.

Why develop a tabletop board game and not online or mobile games?

It’s no secret that during the pandemic era, more people have become interested in physical games such as puzzles and tabletop board games as a means of learning and entertainment.

According to Berse, the Sakunwari board game takes inspiration from UP-MSI’s Resilience card game and other similar games, including University of Brussels’ Hazagora and Stanford University’s RimSim. It also integrates some elements from Pandemic by Z-Man Games, and Democracy by Positech Games, among others.

While initially conceptualized as a computer-based game, the team decided to develop a game that could potentially reach more people in communities. 

We wanted to develop something first that will not be dependent on computers and internet, especially since we are targeting LGU and community-based practitioners as potential players,” Berse told PhilSTAR L!fe.

UPRI plans to roll out the educational board game initially to selected LGUs as they envision Sakunwari as a serious game that can be utilized primarily in simulation exercises and training workshops for crisis and disaster risk management.

Serious games play an important role in raising public awareness and building the capacity of crisis and disaster risk management practitioners in dealing with complex disasters.

However, the game can also be played by a wider audience, including casual board game enthusiasts, students, or anyone who wants to have fun while learning about how to deal with complex disasters.

"We plan to scale it up and develop an online version in the near future," added Berse.

Game mechanics

The game places four to six players in the shoes of neighboring mayors in an imaginary region of Sakunwari where they have to make timely and effective decisions in the face of overlapping disasters, from super typhoons to massive earthquakes to pandemics and other human-induced crises.

The players must individually or collectively invest in Response Options (Tolerate, Treat, Transfer, and Terminate) and Advice Options (Do Nothing, Do Something, Do Extreme Measures) from multiple stakeholders to protect the people and development assets in their city.

Sakunwari board game components.

While the mayor with the highest Development Points wins the game, ultimately success in the game is based on how the players are able to protect their people and development.

Depending on the dynamics and negotiations that take place, one playthrough runs about an hour or so. 

Role of games in public awareness

According to Dr. Alfredo Mahar Lagmay, UPRI executive director: “Serious games play an important role in raising public awareness and building the capacity of crisis and disaster risk management practitioners in dealing with complex disasters.” 

“Games mirror key elements of pre- and post-disaster actions providing an effective alternative means of understanding disaster risk. This complementary and safe alternative to develop knowledge on disaster risk reduction can deeply penetrate into the mindset of stakeholders refining their decision-making process through repetition by play,” Lagmay added.

To expand the reach of the game as a capacity-building tool, Sakunwari comes in seven languages, wth translations by language experts from within and outside UP.

How and where can people play Sakunwari?

According to UPRI, the Sakunwari game is not yet commercially available to the public. However, physical copies will be distributed freely, once UPRI gets public funding.

In the meantime, interested parties may get in touch with UPRI's office directly on how to get copies or test out the game for themselves. 

UPRI will be conducting playtests at the UPRI office in the UP Diliman Campus subject to pandemic restrictions. Those interested to schedule playtests can sign up here