Thursday, June 20, 2024

‘The Spill’ Makes An Easy Environmental Lesson For Educators And Gamers Alike

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Board games have been used to educate for hundreds of years, whether it be Chess helping young lordlings learn tactics or Monopoly helping people realize the evils of capitalism. As the hobby has come into its own in recent years, we’ve seen all sorts of games come out trying to balance fun gameplay with an educational message. Like most forms of “edutainment” the results have been hit of miss. But when you put good game design behind a great message, you end up with something like The Spill from Smirk & Dagger. Designed by Andy Kim and with art by legendary artist Kwanchai Moriya, it places you in the middle of a clean up effort in the middle of a catastrophic oil spill. Can you contain the leaking petroleum, or will it contaminate the sea for decades to come?

What’s In The Box?

Situation Board

8″ Oil Rig 4-way dice tower

64 dice

36 Marine Life tokens

5 Specialist cards and wood ship tokens

11 Resource cards

Activation cubes

How’s It Play?

The oil derrick dice tower of The Spill
The oil derrick dice tower of The Spill

The Spill was designed from the jump to be an educational tool as well as as board game, themed around the unfortunately common oil spills that plague areas of the world like the Gulf Coast. As such, care was taken to replicate as much of real-life clean up efforts as possible. Every role that players take on are real jobs that work on these incidents, from Meterologists to Boat Captains, with abilities that reflect their contribution to these efforts. But that doesn’t mean this is a boring didactic game. Instead, it’s a pretty fast paced and tense exercise in dice management and quick decision making with your cleanup crew.

Oil dice spill out over the sea in The Spill
Oil dice spill out over the sea

Curt Covert at Smirk & Dagger likes to refer to The Spill as a “reverse tower defense,” wherein rather than trying to keep things out of the center you’re instead trying to contain the spread of oil. And that holds true, as players have to be reactive to the spill more than proactive. It’s incredibly random where the dice you place in the (very cool) central tower end up AND what number they land on. The number they hit dictates what column they go into in each quadrant. Eventually, the dice will contaminate the animals and even cause breakouts into the wider ocean. That’s very bad.

To combat the spill, the players will need to use their abilities to clean up the oil in each quadrant with their own abilities as well as shared ones. You only have a few action points each turn, however, so coordination and movement is key. It’s a bit like Pandemic in how it does the crisis management, but with a much more rapid rate of play.

The Spill Meteorologist card

The game ends when you either hit your win condition, there’s too many contaminated animals, or you have too many breakouts. You’ll notice you don’t win by actually cleaning up all the oil. Per Curt, that’s intentional. These sort of oil spills aren’t quick fixes, and they end up being more triage than cure. It’s not a hopeless endeavor, but it illustrates the reality of conservation clean up.

The Verdict?

The Spill was a project that took a few years to get off the ground, but everything about it makes it an obvious addition to the canon of science games that have been perennial favorites for years. Instead of just reskinning an existing format with an educational theme, it instead creates something novel on its own that still underlines its purpose quite well. It’s tense and quick despite the size, and there’s plenty of alternate ways to approach the game based on the different win conditions and player abilities. Obviously the RNG of it all means that sometimes when it rains it pours, and despite your best efforts you might just lose a few games. I won’t claim its easy. But it IS incredibly addicting, and something that educators and gamers alike will find a good place for on their shelves.

You can grab The Spill from the Smirk & Dagger shop or at your FLGS, at an MSRP of $50.

The Spill
9.5 Reviewer
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Beautifully illustrated by Kwanchai Moriya and made with as sustainable materials as possible, The Spill is an eco-education games at a time where we can't have enough of those. But rather than just educate, it has a fun and fast-paced play style that is hard to stop playing once you start.
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Images via Smirk & Dagger and 20th Century Fox

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