Type: Action Selection / Euro / Semi Co-Op

Time to play: 120 – 150 minutes (Teaching: 20 minutes)

Best played with: 4 Players (1-4 Players)

This was my first chance to play CO2, a game about the challenges of moving the world economy to renewable power in time. I was really excited to try this game because it was an existing product getting a second edition, because it was about a challenging and different topic, and because it is Vital Lacerda’s effort at semi-co-ops.

Tricky, then to write this because there are some fundamentally great parts to this game but for me it did not come together. As always though, this is less about my opinion on the game and more a break down of what is good and what is bad – to try and see if this is something you might enjoy.

Let’s start with the good. The theme here is really interesting. You are deploying renewable power plants but, as in the real world, it takes time to deploy the policies, infrastructure and then eventually have a private corporate deliver the plant. The way the game parcels up these steps and rewards players separately and differently for each step is excellent.

Of course becoming a diversified energy conglomerate is not quite the place of the corporates in the real world. This slight abstraction though is not so challenging, and neither is the one linked to the carbon market. One key resource in the game is carbon tokens available through many mechanics but always sellable or purchasable through the board. This is a great challenge to manage the efficient transformation of assets. Firstly reducing your reliance on buying these improves your game play, but good players actively trade these for a sub-game within the game and make a profit from it.

Unfortunately the abstraction of theme probably goes a step too far though with the combination of technology tracks and technology goods. The tracks are very logical. Specialisms in each type of renewable but with overlapping bonuses as you advance. Benefits to players with specialisms, but other strategies through diversification are also viable.

The combination with tech goods though is where this for me stretches too far. The problem is that there are quite a few resources abstracted together in this game and tech in particular ends up feeling very similar to the carbon tokens (how you acquire / how you use) but that it’s just a secondary you happen to need.

Theme also takes a dip when it comes to the control of continents. There is a sort of 18xx mechanic going on – you wrestle for control of the continents and then use it’s residual carbon tokens. If another player is also vying for control, you strip that continent of resources and then hand over the continent with a liability for the other player to keep pace with the need for climate change. What I mean by that is that each continent comes with resources, but the owner is ultimately responsible for the development of plants in that area. If you produce a plant in that market you could take control of it, but other players are then less supportive of the policies / infrastructure / plants in that region as there is an added benefit to you. Unless, of course, they want control.

This is interesting as a mechanic, but for me this starts to be where the game has too much going on. Sure, like any Vital Lacerda game the mechanics are take an action, take a secondary action and end your turn (actually there’s about 6 actions a turn, but broadly it’s a simple loop each turn). With the different technologies, the different summits (which give tech bonuses), the different stages of the power plants and the gradual progress of the game to self-destruction unless avoided by the players, this addition of geographies and the impact of control feels unnecessary and overly complex.

Which brings me to the rule book. It’s got lots of pictures, plenty of clear explanations, but with a fully co-op mode and a semi-co-op mode intermingled in the book, plus rule variants for player count, this was one of the hardest games I learnt this year and one of the hardest to teach. You can get people started into the game with a much shorter teach – and I think that’s intended, but it leaves the players confused about the impact of their actions until the end game. Every player makes a realisation late in / at the end of the game that certain strategies or processes could have been more efficient and that they lost or won because of the interaction between the players on certain power plants.

That said, it’s this reliance on the interaction between players that makes the game fascinating and is the reason this is not a bad game, but just a difficult game that won’t be for everyone. Specifically, if players don’t build power plants then the carbon levels will rise above the level where all players lose. However, the split between building policies, building infrastructure and building power plants is the economy of the game. If one player is able to monopolise they may be able to develop a cohesive and more efficient strategy. If other players notice this strategy they will make efforts to block, or remove the construction steps before your approach – leaving you having to vertically integrate and give your opponents more opportunities. This is the amazing tension then – work together enough to keep the world safe, but don’t allow one player to sit in a profitable pocket for periods of the game.

I would play this again, but given the complexity I have a slight preference towards the co-op. You lose the interaction which is the exciting tension of the game, but the co-operative mode is sufficiently difficult to make it a challenge to save the world from climate change.

Last notes,

  • If you like novel themes, then play this before buying it but there’s really interesting mechanics at play
  • If you haven’t played semi-co-ops, I wouldn’t start here
  • If you win, try again, because players will change their behaviour based on your success – significantly!