A Guided Decline

I’ve mentioned before that I have a fondness for base management games.  Generally, the idea is to start from nothing and build up your island, city, space station, &c. until you’ve freed your people from colonialism or constructed the best hospital station in the quadrant.  But I don’t know of any games that take you from a thriving organization and have you manage it as it collapses, and I think that might be something interesting.

I was inspired by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which I recently saw and loved.  I won’t get into spoilers, but the humans in the movie are struggling to survive as they corequisites of civilization, things like electricity and gasoline, slowly vanish and wear out, leaving them without everything upon which they used to rely.  Yet in the movie, they don’t seem to actually acknowledge this reality.  They stay in the city and presumably just eat canned food for ten years.  Why aren’t they farming?  Maybe they are, but we never see it, and the movie implies that leaving the city is rare, since they have yet to encounter the apes in the last decade.  They should be using their gasoline and electricity to prepare as best they can for when they don’t exist.  Even if they do somehow get electricity running again, what do they do when spare parts run out?  They don’t have a factory.  They need to get ready for that.

Earth Abides is a novel that does this very well.  Civilization collapses from a plague, but the protagonist makes the best use of what remains to prepare society for what’s coming.  For example, even though they still have guns, he knows they won’t last, and they can’t be built, so he teaches the children how to make bows and arrows, instead, which they can create, and the knowledge of how to build them ends up passed down, even as they lose their literacy and other aspects of civilization.

That’s a game I’d like to play.

The idea reminds me a bit of something that Yahtzee once wrote about an RPG idea he had, where the hero starts out with all their powers, but slowly loses abilities one by one.  This game would be somewhat similar.  You’d take control of a band of survivors after some sort of apocalyptic event.  You’d start with a large number of people and supplies, but you’d be unable to sustain it.  People would starve, supplies would fail, you’d run out of gasoline and batteries; you’d have to use your supplies while you had it to prepare yourself for post-apocalyptic life.  Before the gasoline spoils, how do you best use it?  Plow local farmland?  Scout out the area and try to find other survivors?  Use it for a generator to produce electricity?  Whatever you choose, it’ll only be temporary, and you need to be ready to transition and start from a much lower level.  Once you reached that steady state, though, it would play like a more traditional base management game, as you build up your settlement and supplies, something a bit like Banished, where every person counts.

But the collapse stage is where you would set the stage for what kind of civilization you have.  Do you feed the hard-working adults instead of children?  Who lives and who dies when you’re low on food and medicine?  Do you stay put in the city, a parasite of a dead civilization, or do you find someplace new?  The choices you make during the decline would directly impact what you have to work with once you reach a steady state.

I like the idea of just man against nature, as in Earth Abides, but I think it would be more interesting with something opposing you, either other humans or something more sinister, like zombies or intelligent apes, from which you’d have to defend yourself.  It would force you to more thoughtfully consider who’s necessary to keep alive as your people starve: feed a doctor or a soldier? a teacher or a policeman?  I think it’d be interesting.

Any thoughts?

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