Cards in Common

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= C@rds in Common is a 'political game of collaboration', developed by Frederic Sultan et al.



David Bollier:

"Matthieu Rhéaume, a commoner and game designer who lives Montreal, decided that a card game could be a great vehicle for introducing people to the commons. The result of his efforts is “C@rds in Common: A Game of Political Collaboration.” “I see playfulness as a sense-making tool,” Matthieu told me. “People can play casually and be surprised by the meta-learning [about the commons] that results.”

It all began at the World Social Forum (WSF) conference in Montreal in August 2016. Rhéaume decided to use the opportunity to synthesize viewpoints about the commons from a group of 50 participants and use the results to develop the card game. He persuaded the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation and Gazibo, both based in France, to support development of the game. Fifty commoners more or less co-created the game with the help of several colleagues. (The process is described here.)

As a game designer, Rhéaume realized that successful, fun games must embody a certain “procedural rhetoric” and reward storytelling. He had enjoyed playing “Magic: The Gathering,” a popular multiplayer card game, and wondered what that game would feel like if it were collaborative.

At the WSF, Rhéaume asked participants to share their own insights about the commons by submitting suggested cards in six categories. The first four categories consist of “commoners cards” featuring “resources,” “action cards,” “project cards” and “attitude cards.” Two other types of cards -- “Oppressive Forces” cards with black backs – give the game its kick by applying “negative effects” to the “Political Arena” of play. The two negative effects are “enclosures” and “crises,” to which commoners must collectively organize and respond in time.

Intended for two to five players, the game usually lasts between 60 and 90 minutes. It has enough of a basic storyline to be easily understood, but enough complexity and sophisticated twists to be unpredictable and interesting. The key objective of the game is to “create a Political Arena resilient enough to defend the commons against encroaching enclosures.” The players win when there are no more enclosure cards in the Political Arena. They lose if there are more than five enclosures present at any one time.

The backs of the Oppressive Forces cards feature a conquistador with a spear and text reading, “I am here to take the commons.” One of the Oppressive Force card is “Trump Elected!” which demobilizes every commons campaign underway. Another OF card, “Old Inner Culture,” prohibits the discarding of “attitudes” cards (which might otherwise hasten commoning). A “Fear of the Unknown” card prohibits players from drawing new cards for one cycle.

By contrast, the commoner cards feature such things as urban gardens, First Nations, degrowth and independent media. A series of “Attitude” cards affect a player’s capacity to cooperate.

WSF participants submitted a wild diversity of 240 cards to Rhéaume giving many perspectives on commoning and enclosure. Rheaume used 120 of cards and his own knowledge of game design to produce the game, printing at a local printer. He tested C@rds in Common through 25 games and four design iterations, attempting to achieve a 50% failure rate (the forces of enclosure win). Players discovered that the complexities of cooperation grow as new enclosures introduce new variables. A game booklet describes how players can make winning more difficult (by accelerating the rate of enclosure threats and reducing the time allowed to build civil society)." (