WBG Score: 8.5
Player Count: 1-4
Published by: CMYK
This is a review copy. See our review policy here
Originally billed as e-Mission, Daybreak is from the design team behind the cooperative board game mega-star, Pandemic. Although this time, Matt Leacock has turned his attention from a Pandemic destroying all of humanity to the impending global climate change crisis that will end human life as we know it. Matt, are you ok? We survived the Pandemic, so it was only a natural next step, right? Hopefully, we survive this! Although it would take some pretty major cultural and attitudinal changes, which thankfully the younger generation seems to embrace. Don't worry Matt, it will be okay! I hope. Goodness, what a mess. Anyway, back to the game. This has been billed as the next big co-op experience, with some phenomenal research and learning opportunities thrown in and I was very excited to get it to the table. But how does it play? Let's find out.
How To Set Up Daybreak
First, lay out the main board in the central playing area. Place the current round token with the clock side face up onto the first space on the round tracker. Then, place the six planetary effect tokens onto their starting locations on the board. Afterward, place the eight temperature bands along with the die for the Geoengineering and planetary effects onto the bulb of the thermometer on the bottom right of the board. Now, add the tree and ocean tokens based on your player count anywhere onto the map part of the board. Ideally, trees on land and oceans into the water, as this is the real world after all! But it's not essential. Then, place all the other tokens on the table nearby; the game comes with four handy (recycled) containers. One or two per player with a mixture of stuff works well for me. Don't worry about sorting this too much.
Now, prepare the card decks by shuffling the global project cards, crisis cards, and local project cards and forming three separate face-down decks. There are also challenge cards, but these are not recommended for your first game as you get to grips with the rules and strategy. I would strongly advise playing two to three games before adding these in, if you want to win.
Each player now chooses a world power to play as, taking the chosen reference card and board for this. All are available in a four-player game. With three players, you have access to Majority World, Europe, and the US. Two players choose between China and the US. And in solo, you can pick any you want based on the difficulty you want to play at. You can also vary the number of starting trees and oceans for all player counts to affect the difficulty. It's a good system.
Finally, prepare the player boards for each person at the table. Each player takes their five starting local project cards with their chosen world power on. This is clearly shown on the back. These are placed face up above their player board into the five marked slots. Next, they add their energy demand token on the number shown on their reference card and add dirty energy, clean energy, and emissions tokens as shown on their reference card into their respective rows. Then, add resilience and community in crisis tokens to each player's matching areas as shown on your reference card. There are board extenders available if needed later in the game, but start with them in the box or to the side. They may not be needed, and certainly won't be useful during set-up. You are now ready to play.
How To Play Daybreak
The game is played over six rounds until either the single win or one of many lose condition's is met. You win if you can ever remove more carbon than you produce during the emissions phase. This is called drawdown. You will lose if either any player has 12 or more community in crisis tokens, the temperature rises to the top of the thermometer, or you run out of rounds.
Players can play in any turn order they like, as the game moves through five different phases each round: the global stage, the local stage, the emissions stage, the crisis stage, and finally the growth stage. Let's look at them all one by one.
The Global Stage The first thing you will do each round is draw crisis cards equal to the current global temperature. This starts with three but quickly ramps up. Place one face up to the right of the board, and place the others face down above this. Next, take the top two global project cards and choose one to keep and one to discard. The one you keep is placed on the top left of the board. This is now available for all players to make use of for the rest of the game or when you choose to replace it with another card in a later round. You can hold four of these maximum, and they are all very useful. Just pick the one that appeals most to you. This is hard to do in round one as you don't have much direction yet, but in later rounds, you will base this on your cards and current requirements.
The Local Stage Now all players draw five local project cards. All players can now play in any turn order they wish, or even at the same time as others, but it does make sense to work together here and discuss your plans and actions with each other. It is a co-op game after all, and same cards and actions can help other players.
The cards can be played in one of four ways. You will remember during setup you placed five cards above your player mat. This is your project area, and these five cards are active projects. Some give instant one use per round powers, others require certain things to make them possible. These are generally one of two things. Either for cards to be discarded, one of the four ways that cards can be used, or for certain symbols to be present on that card. Each card has a number of symbols on the top right. If you don't have the full quota of symbols, then you can tuck cards with the required symbols behind this, leaving the top part visible so that you can fulfill the requirements of the card. Some cards activate multiple times based on the number of symbols, so you may be able to use the card as is, but tucking more cards behind it will make the activation stronger. This is the second thing you can do with cards. The third thing you can do is place them over other cards to replace the project you are working on. The card you cover is then tucked behind the new card, bringing its own symbols to the party.
The final thing you can do with the cards is tuck them under the crisis and global project cards. This will be shown on these cards when relevant, and tucking cards under them affects their powers, either positively or removing a negative.
All players can use as many of their cards as they wish to tuck behind other projects, replace existing projects, or discard to activate other cards. You can activate as many projects as you have the resources for. This is the main part of the game that you control and is incredibly satisfying! Building up combos on certain projects and firing multiple actions at a time is wildly gratifying.
The Emissions Stage On each player's board, they will have an energy requirement that they would have set during setup, based on their own country's reference card and specific demands. They will also have laid out a number of energy tokens, showing the clean and dirty energy that they create. Players must now check that they create more energy than they need. If they do, all is well. This can include both clean and dirty energy. It just has to be more than their requirements. If they have a deficit, though, they must then take community in crisis tokens to cover the difference.
Players then add carbon tokens from the supply to the recent emission area on the top of the main board based on all dirty energy they have on their own player board, and for all emission tokens they have. During the local stage, players will hopefully reduce their dirty energy and emission tokens each round, as well as increasing their green energy to ensure they always meet their requirements, and slowly reduce their carbon footprint. But in round one, this will start badly for you. Once all players have added their carbon to the main board, one player will then move as many of these tokens as they can onto the tree and ocean tokens placed during set up. This represents the earth's natural defenses cleaning our carbon footprint for us. Later in the game, you can do things to increase the amount of carbon you can remove this way. If you have any spaces left over that could have taken more carbon, then you have reached drawdown. Congratulations! Flip the token on the round tracker to show this. Hopefully, you will now win the game! Just one final crisis round to get through. Any carbon on the thermometer from previous rounds can be removed and placed onto whichever leftover tree or ocean tile you have on the main board. But inevitably, and certainly in round one, you will have some carbon left over, and the game will go another round.
The leftover carbon must be moved to the thermometer. Based on your player count, you will have access to two, three, or all four spaces for each row. When a row is full of carbon, remove all pieces and replace with one of the temperature bands you placed here during setup. If this ever fills up, the game is lost. Adding more bands could mean your current number of crisis cards increases from the level you had during the first phase. In which case, immediately add one more crisis card face down now to the row to the side of this.
The Crisis Stage You now must roll the planetary effect die. The current number of temperature bands will dictate how many times you will need to roll the die. For each roll, move the shown planetary token on the board one space to the right. Each time the token moves over a scale symbol, you must resolve the effect for this particular area. Temperatures rise. More carbon is created. Trees are removed from the board. It's never good. Then, resolve the crisis cards, first with the face-up card, then the face-down ones. Each crisis card will have some way to negate the issues it creates. The crisis cards are bad and force you to lose cards or add community in crisis tokens to their player board. But if you have certain resilience tokens on your player board or have tucked specific cards under these crisis cards, you can reduce these negative effects.
If you add enough crisis in community tokens you will notice your ability to draw five cards in the local stage is reduced. And eventually, if you fill this up, the game is lost.
The Growth Stage If you have survived all this and the round tracker shows you reached drawdown, then you win! Well done, it's not easy. If you did not get there yet, simply move this down to the next round and go again. Every player increases their energy demand on the player mat to represent their country's growing energy demand. If you reach the final round and have not reached drawdown, this is the final way the game can defeat you.
Is It Fun? Daybreak Board Game Review
Before I begin, I must say, the rule book for this game is a thing of absolute beauty! The first 13 pages are simple descriptions of the main aspects of the game, how you play, what you need to do to win, and how you lose. It is a brilliant way to introduce the game. More publishers should take note.
On to the game. Wow, I love this. The card play is so clever and gives you a real sense of control, precision, and satisfaction in what is otherwise a very chaotic, and sometimes overwhelming experience. It often feels like, in most games of Daybreak, you are way off victory, and that the situation will escalate way before you can take control. But I have won two-thirds of the games I have played, despite all of them feeling like an inevitable slide into loss each time. For me, this was genuinely by the rounds and therefore time running out. I managed to control the other lose conditions quite well, but it was always a matter of time that worried me. However, I have now won four times with two rounds to spare. I mention all this because it's tense, very tense. Even when you win, it will feel tense throughout. Even if you win with time to spare without any of the lose conditions being close, it will feel tense. If I have not made it clear enough yet, it is a tense game. Do not buy this game if you don't enjoy that. But, if you enjoy the tensions cooperative games like this can create and the challenge it creates to fight back, you may well just fall in love like I have.
So, why have I given this an 8.5 if I am in love? Surely that deserves a 9 or higher? Well, it is close to that. The card play during the local stage alone deserves a ten. It's amazing. But I feel there are then four other rounds that are more admin and maintenance. You make some choices, but not many, and a lot feels out of your hands. This is fine; don't get me wrong. These phases fly by, and the local phase where you are 100% in control and doing awesome things is the bulk of the game. But this is why it gets an 8.5 instead of a higher score.
Now I recognize that in a co-op game where it is players vs. the board you need these rounds. Where the game fights back. Otherwise, what are we all doing here? It just feels a little off balance in terms of what you do and what thw game does for a 9 plus game. But 8.5 is high for me. I don't go that high regularly, so this is all just context. Okay, have I justified that enough?
Right, back to why this game is awesome. Other than the tension, beautifully constructed balance between wining and losing, and the brilliant interplay between cards, there is a wonderful sense of camaraderie created in this game. Sounds like a given for cooperatives, but I have found that not all co-ops do this in equal measure. But in Daybreak, it has been present for me in every game in a huge way, from turn one, no matter who I played with or the player count. The game feels hard and almost out-of-reach from the very first emissions phase when you realise the scale of what you all have to collectively achieve. This unites the players against the board in a way that makes the experience better. You feel connected and unified in your goals. You want to help others. You care about everyone's decisions. You celebrate your teams good turns. This is what makes cooperative games great for me. And Daybreak nails this.
You may have noticed all the QR codes on the cards. Each of them links back to a webpage that explains how the card works for the game, but also gives you some interesting information on the cards real-world dynamics, consequences, and/or opportunities to help with the climate crisis. There is a huge leanring opportunitiy here. I would buy this game just to donate to a school. What an incredible resournce this is.
I would recommend this game to anyone who played and enjoyed Pandemic but wanted that little bit more. Pandemic is a great game and has put board games on the map for so many new fans. It deserves huge respect. But Daybreak for me, and stand by, is a better game. I like the theme way more. I like the look and feel of the art and components way more. And the mechanics and strategy required to do well are so much more satisfying. Pandemic is a legendary game. Could Daybreak reach similar heights? Who knows. But it deserves to.