Former City Council candidate designs board games that grapple with political issues, like housing at North Berkeley BART
by Cirrus Wood
April 1, 2019
Photo: Cirrus Wood
Politics is a game to Alfred Twu (B.A. Architecture '06). Actually several. Twu designs board games around sensitive political issues like the California water crisis, high-speed rail, and the Bay Area’s housing crisis through games like “Bay Area Regional Planner.” Politically oriented board games are a side hobby — a way, Twu says, “to give people a sense of the scale of the problem and the scale of the solution.”
In 2018, Twu ran for Berkeley City Council in District 8 on a platform of creating new housing while expanding protection for renters. The designer has a degree in architecture from UC Berkeley and works full-time for San Francisco’s MWA Architects. “There’s definitely been an emerging movement for games that have some kind of educational or political message,” said Twu. “For people who are less familiar with political issues they can kind of serve as an introduction.”
Most of Twu’s board games have a state or regional focus, but the hyperlocal board game “North Berkeley” was conceived from local conversations about the fate of a neighborhood parking lot, a dispute that has proven so contentious it has even garnered national attention for the issues it has highlighted about California real estate and community engagement.
The goal of “North Berkeley” is not to finish and divide players into winners and losers, nor for players to see their own interests as mutually exclusive. That said, Twu does acknowledge that each game does contain at least a few incompatible objectives, just like the different interest groups of the real North Berkeley. Twu isn’t trying to convince anyone of their own convictions, or that more housing is necessarily the best outcome for a game. “The best solutions involve a mix of strategies. Often, there is no one way to win.”
The point is not to arrive at a perfect and transferable solution — to move a strategy from the game “North Berkeley” onto the neighborhood of North Berkeley — but to better understand and better identify the concerns of some very specific constituencies to a very specific debate. It’s more constructive, according to Twu — and much less contentious — to foster important discussions over board games beforehand than via litigation after.
As the game designer puts it: “The value is really for people to understand the other points of views. There’s no better way to do it than to actually be given that role.”