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6 Billion
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Store:  Strategy Games
Format:  Board Games

6 Billion

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Ages Play Time Players
12+ 120-180 minutes 2-5

Designer(s): David A Coutts

Manufacturer(s): Rio Grande Games, Board Not Bored Games

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Product Description

A game which combines the themes of exponential population growth with the colonisation of our Solar System. The game starts with Earth's population of 6 billion divided between up to 6 factions, including at least one Neutral faction. Players send out colonists and migrants to harvest the riches of the planets and their moons, and the Asteroid Belt. Natural growth limits, plus the Four Riders Of The Apocalypse (War, Famine, Pestilence and Death), slow the growth of your populations. Score points at the end of the game for the biggest and most widespread populations--score double for your HIDDEN AGENDA, or any DISCOVERY cards you hold. Score points during the game for cards played which 'help' the Neutral(s) and other players' populations (in various wicked ways!). Brief Optional Rules allow a player to adjust the otherwise random turn order, and to score bonus points for having a populace which is wealthy, happy or concerned for all life (not just humans).

Product Information

  • Designer(s): David A Coutts

  • Manufacturer(s): Rio Grande Games, Board Not Bored Games

  • Year: 1999

  • Players: 2 - 5

  • Time: 120 - 180 minutes

  • Ages: 12 and up

  • Weight: 805 grams

  • Language Requirements: Game components are printed in English. Manufacturer's rules are printed in English.

Product Reviews


Average Rating: 3.5 in 6 reviews

An excellent game!
June 01, 2001

This is the best game I've played in the past year. I play with 2 other players so we have to play a 3-player game. Many games for 2-6 players don't work well with just 2 or 3 players. 6 Billion works fine for 3 players and is an excellent 2-player game. Many games we play get tedious especially near the end when there may not be much left to do. In 6 Billion, each action is extremely important and these actions become crucial as you approach the end of the game. In fact 6 Billion is a game which may end too abruptly. The only player happy to see the game end is the one with the most victory points. But you don't really know who wins until you add up the victory points.

My first game was a 3-player game with just the basic rules. This first game went very smoothly which is unusual. The card play is very important, but was not difficult, even in our first game, because of the information printed on the cards. You can do at most 2 actions where an action means playing an action card. Some of these actions are really neat. For example you can play a card which helps an opponent! You get 3 victory points for helping an opponent. Now what you have to do is try to help an opponent in such a way that it doesn't have a negative affect on you. Another neat thing is that there are 1 or 2 neutral players usually controlled by the person who is behind. If you control a neutral player, you control who gets migrated and where.

My second game was a 2 player game with the advanced rules. This was a very enjoyable game. I would recommend using the advanced rules because you have more options and the game is not any more complicated once you understand how to use the 3 additional tracks. The best thing about the advanced rules is that many cards can be used in 2 completely different ways.

The components are quite good. To be more precise, they are excellent where they need to be excellent, like the large deck of cards, and are cheap where it doesn't matter, like the colored chips. The cards are the most important and most difficult part of the game. What is really nice is that there is helpful information on the cards. This makes the game much easier to understand and play. I don't know why this isn't done more often. For example, a card can be an action, cancel, or response card. You don't have to memorize what each card is (action, response, or cancel) because each card has a letter on it, either an 'a', 'c', or 'r'. If a card has some unusual feature, like it's removed from the game after played, this is stated on the card.

Despite the fact that there are at least 10 tracks, the game is in no way tedious. All you have to do each turn is move 3 or 4 tokens from one space to another. The only arithmetic you have to do is add a few fractions like 1/2 +1/2, or 1/2 +1/4 +1/4. You have to check if fractions add up to 1. If you don't like doing this then use 50% for 1/2 and 25% for 1/4.

The board could be a little larger, but it works fine. The only problem is the holding boxes are too small. But the population and victory point tracks are fine. There is an optional board pictured on the 6 Billion Web page. You can make up a large version of this board yourself. It's a more functional board (but not as pretty) because all the population tracks go in a straight line and have percentages 25%, 50% and 100% printed on the appropriate spaces. At the end of each track are large holding squares for migrants and colonists.

This game is a great buy. In addition there is a 6 Billion web site which has scenarios, an expanded and updated version of the rules, examples of play, and many other things. I could spend hours going through the fascinating material on this web page.

I highly recommend this game.

Look out solar system, here we come!!
July 30, 2004

This game has been out for a few years, but I've only just discovered it. Hard to get in the USA.

The game is about the colonization of the solar system, and seems to work well with 2, 4 or 5. 3 players if ok if you dump one of the neutral factions and just play with 1 neutral.

I love it as it's easy to learn, and even my girl friend will play it!

An exponential game
January 24, 2001

I think that is a very well balanced game with interesting options. It is not boring and quite quick. The players with the lowest score are never out of the game, because they can grow quicker than the others.

Some cards are useless at the beginning of the game but are essential going on.

Un sideback: the population chart printed on the board sometimes is not very clear (due to the colors of the board under the numbers of the chart).

Show all 6 reviews >
David Coutts
July 28, 2000

David Coutts (the designer) has written the following article on the story of the Design & Production of his self-published game 6 Billion. David has also written an article, Per Ardua Ad Astra (Through Struggle To The Stars) detailing his arguments in favour of taking the theme of the game seriously. David has also written the following exclusively for Funagain Games:

Bucking All The Trends

6 Billion was designed to change the way people think about population growth and our future in space, and to provide a sense of optimism to those who can see beyond the immediate future (theirs, or humanity's). 6 Billion flies in the face of all conventional wisdom. For a start, if you're going to try and deal seriously with such a subject then surely it is better to write a book of science on demographics, or humanity in space? Or, if 6 Billion is intended to be inspirational (and it is), then how about a science-fiction novel? Well, I'm writing such a novel, so be patient!

I play a lot of games and have always favoured boardgames over all other types of game--sports, computer games, party games etc. Why? Because boardgames require a little effort from our imaginations, they are tactile and require physical people to interact with one another around the same table. And they're fun! I do play games of all other varieties, but I get the most from boardgames. Of the boardgames, I own far too many wargames, and many of the more playable boardgames of the German variety. These days I favour the latter, though my favourite themes are historical, fantasy and science-fiction.

Not surprising these days, computer games are eclipsing boardgames. They are so much more immediate, an exciting visual and audio experience. These days, the internet provides opponents from around the world. But, for me, it's just not the same. These days, I'm down to one old wargame--The Russian Campaign--converted to computer exclusively for play by email (PBeM). Old habits are hard to kick, and PBeM is such a convenient way to play long games over a long period of time.

Anyway, I digress. If I'd had any sense, 6 Billion would be a computer game so I again buck the trend. Now, as I said, it's a boardgame about space colonies. So, everyone imagines empires and aliens. Sorry, but that's not what you get. Most space empires are imagined to be interstellar, but if you know anything about the reality of the universe you would know the speed of light would make a mockery of any attempt to found such an empire. Most science-fiction novels circumvent this in some way, and feed humanity's need to impose our Earthly reality on a very different actual reality in space (which, truly, is very, very big). Such stories are fun, but false. I've no doubt we'll go to the stars, but very few science-fiction books, films or games explore how it'll all work out in reality.

So, quite rare for a space game, 6 Billion limits us to the solar system. And where are the aliens? Well, sorry to disappoint you again, but there is still no clear scientific evidence of any other life whatsoever (not even those pesky Martian microbes) anywhere. Plenty of opinions on the likelihood of life elsewhere, even intelligent life, but no direct evidence yet. Personally, I hope the Universe is alive with... well, life. But where are they? Then again, remembering that space is big, perhaps they stayed at home.

Hmm. Stuck in the solar system. eh? All alone, too? So, where are we going to live? Well, apart from our fragile Earth (more on that later), the conventional wisdom says Mars and the Moon and perhaps a few thousand elsewhere. Wrong again, I'm afraid. Try the Asteroid Belt, which is accessible, vast, close enough to the sun to be useful, and chock full of frozen water, rocks and metals. Oh sure, after a rather lengthy hiatus, we'll first be back to the Moon and put people on Mars. But, as we learn to live in space, it is the Asteroid Belt which will be the biggest draw.

Having read many current books on popular science (these days, in preference to science-fiction), the trend is for faster and faster scientific progress. Personally, I'm glad I'm alive at this moment in time. I can witness, and welcome, some of that progress (even if it's a bit of a blur at times!). So, whilst I have no idea of precisely how it will happen (I'll give you my ideas when my novel is finished), I get the feeling it will inevitably happen (whether we all want it to, or not). In short, where life finds a niche, it grows. Life is tough, but we are tougher--and cleverer.

And how does life grow? Well, exponentially, actually. Ah, goes the conventional wisdom, that's a bad thing (and so is humanity, according to some). I disagree completely. People aren't naturally bad, or good. They're people. More people is not necessarily a bad thing. Considering the damage we are doing to the Earth, and the species extinctions that we are causing, I would agree completely that more people on Earth is not such a good thing. And, from a purely human perspective, we can't even manage an equitable distribution of food and wealth on Earth.

Well, 6 Billion doesn't offer any solutions I'm afraid. I'm no genius, and I don't pretend to be. And 6 Billion certainly does not propose that the colonisation of space will solve any of these problems (including an overpopulated Earth). All it offers is a tool for exploring the implications of the exponential growth of our species across our solar system (including Earth). In 6 Billion a turn represents the amount of time a population takes to double. Hence, the timeframe is very long--longer than most people care to think about (there I go again, bucking the trend, making your brain venture into unchartered territory). Instead of being measured in years, our future is measured in milestones of billions of people (1 2 4 8 etc). Personally, I think my own estimate of 1,000 years for the complete colonisation of the solar system is very unambitious (a safe bet).

In recognition of two prime human motivators, the game allows the players to populate the future with happy people and wealthy people. It also allows the players to consider our role with regard to non-human Earth life, and accumulate Leaf points for nurturing such life wherever we settle.

In recognition of the human condition, the Four riders Of The Apocalypse slow our population growth (at the hands of the other players). Bucking yet another trend of conventional wisdom (certainly as far as popular books, films and games are concerned anyway), 6 Billion relegates warfare to an almost incidental effect on human numbers. Disease and famine are the big killers, truly. Think of all those wargames--where are the hundreds of faminegames or plaguegames to match?

Personally, if this sort of stuff makes you uncomfortable, then you've failed to grasp the true significance of games. Nobody gets hurt. It's OK to explore one person's model of reality because you might just learn something whilst having fun at the same time. Unfortunately, even wargamers harbour feelings of guilt when they kill an opposing unit or two. The dichotomy is that games are meant to be about fun, and we can't be seen to have fun with serious subjects.

If you think about some of your favourite games, how useful are they? Apart from wargames (which bring historical possibilities alive), business games (which teach some rudimentaries of economics, for example) and abstract games (which teach abstract things like pattern recognition and recursive thinking)--apart from these, the only other things games teach us is (on a very shallow level) is little life lessons like how to lose, how to co-operate etc.

The human overpopulation of the Earth is our most pressing (and often depressing) problem. Our future in space is our least pressing problem (and for many the most uplifting). There are many other problems. I believe our misplaced sense of morality prevents us from using games as a very useful tool (which can still be fun, fun, fun!) for exploring a serious matter in a non-trivial and non-debasing way. Films do it, books do it--though never in the way that a good game can. They're entertaining, too, aren't they? How I wish some of the more established game designers would do something more worthy (subject-wise, I mean--they do just fine in actual game design!), and establish boardgames on an equal footing with other forms of entertainment. Still, they're the ones making a profit from games--not me... and I'll still play their games, no doubt (OK, so I'm a hypocrite just like everyone else!).

It's all a bit heavy, isn't it? Gamers don't want reality, they want to escape into another reality. Well, the good news is that many, many people have played it without thinking about what it all means. They did escape into the 6 Billion reality just as if it was a fantasy (which, I begrudgingly admit, it might well be...). and they had fun. You can, too.

One last trend that I've bucked--home grown games rarely get produced to a professional standard. 6 Billion is a home grown one man effort which cost a lot of money to produce professionally and promote at Spiel '99 and since. Why? It could be because of my contrary nature. It could be because I like losing money. Or it could be because I think it was worth it for the experience. Or perhaps it's a new way of looking at a serious subject--a boardgame actually about our future, as it might be.

Some doubt the validity of the simple model of exponential growth used in 6 Billion, so watch for the prequel (and how we got to 6 Billion in the first place) on the 6 Billion homepage.

--David Coutts

Other Resources for 6 Billion:

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