Playing your way to power

  • The developers of a new board game are committed to providing tools to people who want to make a difference — in a fun way. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The developers of a new board game are committed to providing tools to people who want to make a difference — in a fun way. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 6/21/2017 12:31:14 AM

Inspired by movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, Hampshire College alumni have created Rise Up: The Game of People and Power, a new board game that allows players to try their hand at building activist movements.

Brian Van Slyke, the game’s lead designer and a Hampshire College alumnus, said the goal of Rise Up is to introduce people to activism and provide a fun, educational game for players of all ages to enjoy.

“We wanted to promote the idea of people building movements and how people build movements in the face of resistance from powerful forces,” Van Slyke said.

The game puts all players on one team — so they “win or lose together” — and asks them to pick a cause to fight for. Players can choose a real-life issue, like shutting down a polluting factory, or create a sillier, made-up one, like advocating for goblin rights. Players then go against “the System,” fighting for their cause.

Van Slyke said although Rise Up can be serious, the game’s flexible narrative structure can also allow for light-hearted stories to play out.

“We wanted it to be informational, but we want it to be a fun game first,” Van Slyke said.

Throughout the game, players gain supporters and earn victories over the System by using “movement cards” that describe different organizing tactics such as creating “a grassroots media campaign.”

However, the System can earn victories too, through cards that describe barriers to the movement including “the System hires private security” and “there are religious attacks on our movement.”

Players win when they earn enough victories over the System and lose if the System gains too many victories or the movement loses all of its supporters.

Molly McLeod, the game’s lead graphic designer and also a Hampshire College alumna, said creating an accessible game was important to her. The game is designed to be useable for people who are colorblind, and the words are printed to be legible for people with poor eyesight.

The game also has two versions, one for experienced board game players and one for less experienced people or children.

According to the game’s website, Rise Up is the “most ethically produced board game of its scale to date.” Nearly 100 percent of the game’s production costs are going to worker-owned cooperative businesses, Van Slyke said, and the game’s pieces are made of recycled materials as much as possible.

All components are made in the United States except the game dice and the plastic bases, which are made in Denmark and Germany, respectively.

“It was important to us that every step of the process lived the message we were trying to promote,” Van Slyke said. “You’re not just playing a game of social justice, the game is made of social justice.”

Art for the game was created by Innosanto Nagara, author and illustrator of “A is for Activist.” He created several “murals” which McLeod said were sliced into pieces for use throughout the game’s design. She said it was important to depict a diverse population. The game’s images show people of different races, religions and abilities.

Funds for the game were crowd-sourced through Kickstarter last year. Van Slyke said the initial goal of $35,000 was surpassed, with a total of about $56,000 raised.

“That was actually a nerve-wracking time, but it allowed us to produce more games and have more features,” Van Slyke said. “It showed us people were excited for the game.

Van Slyke previously created Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives, a twist on Monopoly where players start a cooperative business.

Both games are distributed through the Toolbox for Education and Social Action (TESA) Collective, to which Van Slyke belongs. Once a local business, but now operated remotely by its collaborators, TESA develops projects ranging from board games, to documentaries, to interactive webinars.

The TESA Collective will print 4,000 copies of Rise Up for the game’s initial run. Van Slyke said 1,000 copies have already been claimed through preorders. Games can be ordered at for $45 each.

Van Slyke said under industry-standard pricing, the game should cost $55, based on its production costs. The creators chose $45 as a happy medium between making the game more accessible price-wise and being able to pay its creators fairly.

“There’s a good chance we’ll sell out, which is exciting because it would be our most successful game,” Van Slyke said. “We’d reach thousands upon thousands with a game about movement building.”

Vanessa Fernandez, who works for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, played Rise Up during its trial phase. She said she enjoyed playing it and believes the game is coming at the perfect time, because more and more people are coming to political activism following the 2016 election.

She said the game is also fun for people who are already heavily involved in activism, especially if they feel worn out.

“For someone who’s in it day to day, it can be hard to find the joy,” Fernandez said. “This game kind of brings it back.”

Van Slyke said the game was already far along in development by the 2016 election, but he said he too believes the election makes the game even more relevant.

“To us, the need for this game is present now more than ever,” he said. “We are committed to providing tools to people who want to make a difference.”

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