You can be a winner at the game of NIMBYism.

(Alfred Twu/Kickstarter)

The Bay Area is facing a housing affordability crisis that’s only growing more desperate. It seems as if there’s no end to the death spiral of soaring rents, deepening congestion, and rising displacement. Until now, that is!

The “Bay Area Regional Planner” game lets you and two to 12 friends demonstrate that, with thoughtful planning, regionally focused zoning, and a little bit of pluck, the housing crisis can be fixed. And solving it can be very stimulating!

From the creator of “California Water Crisis” and “The U.S. High-Speed Rail Game,” this new board game puts you in the seat of various Bay Area municipal zoning authorities. “Bay Area Regional Planner,” which has exceeded its Kickstarter goal, was first developed as a planning tool for the San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation. Yes, that’s right—why should they have all the fun?

(Alfred Twu/Kickstarter)

In “Bay Area Regional Planner,” you and friends decide where to zone for additional housing in order to double the Bay Area’s housing over the next two decades. Each player pursues a set of policy goals dictated by county voters. But watch out! The other players may be pursuing policy outcomes that differ from your own. You will need to compromise in order to overcome the NIMBYism built into local government priorities—and that’s where the fun comes in!

Here’s how the game works:

  • Draw an economy card! These come in four different shades—“Recession,” “Standard,” “Boom,” and “Bubble? Or Is It Different This Time?”—and each one lists the aggregate new housing demand and maximum upzoning for the round.
  • Know your policy priorities! You’ll also get two goals per round. These vary by priority and locality. For example, there’s “Minimize new shadows: No D-8 zones anywhere” and “Don’t urbanize the Peninsula: At least 5 R-1 zones in San Mateo County.”
  • Watch your commute times! Many of your policy priorities concern commute times for county residents. Upzoning for certain zoning types causes commuting times to rise. Your priority may be to keep commuting times under 40 minutes for Alameda County, San Mateo County, and Santa Clara County.
  • Keep rents affordable! Fail to upzone, however, and rents will rise where demand outpaces supply. Your policy goals may include lowering median rent to $2,000 or less—and keeping it that way.

Sounds simple and straightforward, right? You bet it is. The great thing about Bay Area Regional Planner is the game construct that requires counties to plan at a regional level and seek solutions that work across county lines, without facing the wrath of self-interested voters at the polls.

In real life, many San Francisco residents demand that other Bay Area municipalities shoulder more of the upzoning burden in order to protect the character of San Francisco neighborhoods—even though the housing demand is greatest in San Francisco. Meanwhile, in outer Bay Area counties, the fight to resist density is rooted in the argument that more residents means more drivers and more drivers means more strain on Bay Area roads and infrastructure. Framing this entire conversation is California’s utter inability to adequately and fairly administer the property levy thanks to Prop. 13 and the Tax Revolt of 1978.

What a mess! That’s why it’s up to you and your friends to sort it all out. Play length for “Bay Area Regional Planner” is about 60 to 100 minutes; dice not required. Tamale tokens sold separately.

(Alfred Twu/Kickstarter)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. An aerial photo of downtown Miami.

    The Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities Aren’t What You Think

    Looking at the population and job growth of large cities proper, rather than their metro areas, uncovers some surprises.

  2. Transportation

    When a Transit Agency Becomes a Suburban Developer

    The largest transit agency in the U.S. is building a mixed-use development next to a commuter rail station north of Manhattan.

  3. a photo of a BYD-built electric bus.

    A Car-Centric City Makes a Bid for a Better Bus System

    Indianapolis is set to unveil a potentially transformative all-electric bus rapid transit line, along with a host of major public transportation upgrades.

  4. a photo of a woman on an electric scooter

    A Bad New Argument Against Scooters: Historic Inappropriateness

    The argument over whether electric scooters belong in Old Town Alexandria reflects an age-old rationalization against change.

  5. a map of London Uber driver James Farrar's trip data.

    For Ride-Hailing Drivers, Data Is Power

    Uber drivers in Europe and the U.S. are fighting for access to their personal data. Whoever wins the lawsuit could get to reframe the terms of the gig economy.