Updated: Game on: climate scientists develop heat decarbonisation table top game

20 Jun 2019

While low-carbon household heating is less visible than electric cars or other low-carbon innovations, it is essential to reaching our Net Zero targets. It is therefore essential the end-user – that is, members of the public – understand the changes that need to be made, and the choices ahead. It's important we engage the public in new ways – we won't achieve the energy transition unless we bring the public with us.

In UKERC's recent report, Disrupting the UK energy system: causes, impacts and policy implications, the in-depth analysis focuses on four key areas of the economy, highlighting how they may need to change to remain competitive and meet future carbon targets. Heat is one of those areas.

Heat: All approaches for heat decarbonisation are potentially disruptive, with policymakers favouring those that are less disruptive to consumers. Since it is unlikely that rapid deployment of low carbon heating will be driven by consumers or the energy industry, significant policy and governance interventions will be needed to drive the sustainable heat transformation.

The Heat Network, led by charity 10:10 Climate Action working in collaboration with UKERC researchers, looks to support the UK’s heat decarbonisation efforts through the development of a successful, inclusive and enduring network of people and organisations helping to decarbonise heat. Its key goal is to get people talking and develop an enduring network of companies and individuals and we expect the events to go some way to achieving this. They aim to summarise and communicate its work through a variety of innovative means.  As well as "heatseeker missions", workshops and more, this game is one approach as part of their portfolio.

Game On

In ‘Carbon City Zero’ players compete to become the UK’s first carbon zero city, and in order to do so they must consider the short and long-term benefits and the cost (both financial and environmental) for developing certain aspects of their city.

Developed by 10:10 Climate Action and professors at Manchester Metropolitan University, Dr Sam Illingworth, Lecturer in Science Communication and Paul Wake, Reader in the Department of English, specialising in games, a game based on the real life challenges involved in heat decarbonisation has officially been launched. People can get their hands on a copy by supporting the project on crowdfunding website Kickstarter from today until 20th October. Buyers can pledge from £12 to over £200, depending on the rewards they want. Pledging over £200 gets your city added to the Carbon City Zero game whereas £12 (plus postage and packaging) secures one deck for yourself.


The project was developed as part of the Heat Network: heat decarbonisation network, a Whole Systems Networking Fund project collaboration between 10:10 and UKERC.

The Launch

The game was launched on Friday 20th September on Kikstarter, following an event hosted by 10:10. This gave anyone with a special interest in the game, including those working on heat and energy as well people from the games industry to network and trial the game before it’s official release.

Within the first hour of Carbon City Zero going live on Kickstarter, the original pledge goal of £500 was smashed. With over £6000 currently pledged by a total of 272 backers, there’s still time to order a copy before the crowdfunder ends on 20th October. In place of stretch goals, profits from this Kickstarter will be used to buy additional sets of Carbon City Zero, which will be donated to schools and local climate action groups, including UK Youth Climate Coalition, UK Student Climate Network, Climate Outreach and Amos Trust.

Win through effective trade-offs

To win, players must navigate the financial and environmental trade-offs associated with developing certain aspects of their city, doing all they can to cut their carbon output to zero.Players can invest in cards that will help cut carbon, but others drawn will set them back, making winning the game reliant on both strategy as well as luck. Cards like ‘clean electricity’ cost more than carbon intensive industry cards like ‘large factories’ and there’s always a risk of drawing ‘snag’ cards which clog up decks like ‘public apathy’ or ‘poor communication’.

The game was trialled with a number of people, including those who work in the heat and energy sector, ensuring the trade-offs in the game reflected real life challenges as closely as possible.


Developing the game

Sam Illingworth from Manchester Met, one of the developers of the game, said "We really enjoyed this process of designing a game around heat decarbonisation. We wanted to create something that would enable people to engage in dialogue around the subject in a fun, but also meaningful way.

"To begin with the topic seemed quite daunting, but after listening to several different audiences and stakeholders it was clear that there was definitely an enjoyable gaming experience to be found."

Neil Jones, Project Manager at 10:10 Climate Action, said, “2019 saw city councils across the UK racing to declare climate emergencies. But what comes next is another story. The best thing about this game is that it gets people talking about the real life playoffs and decisions that we’ll need to make to follow through on these declarations.”


“Our hope is that Carbon City Zero helps to inspire another race but this time the finish line represents collective practical action on climate change in cities.”Interested in getting your hands on a copy?


You can make a pledge at their Kickstarter page.