Game Training Report 2:
Play Oosterwold

On the 25th of June 2015 Play the City hosted a training session for familiarizing the City Gaming method with a variety of experts.


Players collaborate on building infrastructure.




The Players


A diverse group of guests joined the game ranging from international institutions, local organisations, architects, scientists, legal practitioners, business owners and as well as the actual manager of the Almere Oosterwold project. All participants played the role of pioneers in the game, and their resources were randomly assigned by the game.


An ‘area manager’ was required to coordinate the players’ actions. Mark Schmeink from Grontmij, as the expert, volunteered to activate this role in the game. On behalf of the City of Almere, Schmeink is responsible for translating the principles of Plan Oosterwold into a legal plan document -Omgevingsplan Ooosterwold.


Janine Loubser and Berta Gruodyté played ‘the bank’, collecting players’ investments and allocating loans. Nicolas Klaus presented the day. Richard Pelgrim kept the minutes of the game, also for digital media. Di Fang and Mariana Fabris coordinated all visual media; photography and video.


The Play Process


Entering the stimulation room players could choose available land identified by the plan rules as 3 types: Standard, Agriculture or Landscape. After conscious choice of land type, the financial budget of players were defined randomly. The game provided initial prices for land, building development, energy and other infrastructure such as water and green public space, while further pricing of transactions between players in the game were left free.


Gebiedsregisseur Ester Geuting at the Land Bank

The game played out on a 36ha portion of 4300ha of Oosterwold and was structured into 5 phases. Below we share some of the highlight from these stages:


Phase 1: Buy land and settle


Players placed their plots sequentially in the location of their choice on the board. The Game Master asked the players to say one sentence about why they chose this particular spot. Some of the arguments were: proximity to existing forest, proximity to existing water canals, sun orientation, and being far away from the rest of the players.


The Area Manager clarified “RijksVastgoed” owns 50% of the land in the Almere Oosterwold project, and so there is a big chance you will be buying your land from the State in this case.


Phase 2: Connect to the local road network


In this phase, players had to connect their plots to the existing road network. This of course costs money - and so the players were allowed to open their envelopes to see their available resources!


Because certain players happened to have chosen to place their plots close to each other, collaborations were starting to form at this point. Clearly, it would be more efficient (and cheaper!) to build one road that crossed multiple plots. As we saw throughout the game, the collaborations formed at this early stage remained stable until the very end. Three strong clusters of collaboration (one of no less than four players pooling resources together), while two players chose very intentionally to each go their own way. The Game Master asked players to exchange ‘collaboration stones’ whenever they worked on something together.


Also, at this point, certain rules were clarified here e.g. future reservation for local roads at the edges of private plots land, and the fact that certain land use/activities may not be allowed in Oosterwold (specifically, one player’s suggestion to open a ‘coffeeshop’ where people could purchase marijuana).


Phase 3: Build your dream


During this phase investors built their individual dreams based on the building percentage allowance of their plots and the budget they had available. The Game offers players a large number of possible buildings but also provides players with the opportunity to invent new ones. For example, one player (Brenda van Leeuwen) picked up an empty ‘lego piece’ and wrote “Collective Working Space” on it. This proved to be a small but strategic move as, later in the game, she managed to generate a considerable amount of income by selling workspaces to many of the other players in the Game!


Another player (Frank Alsema) also took a creative approach. He began an argument with the Bank that the allocated prices for his housing were too high. He said he would be able to build and furnish his price for a quarter of the suggested price by buying everything from Marktplaats. After a long discussion, Frank eventually managed to convince the Bank and was thus able to save a lot of money!


At the other end of the board, yet another player (Robert Dijckmeester) was having some difficulties. He was shocked at the low-density nature of the plan, which he found out when the Area Manager came to him saying that he was building far too much on his plot. This was rather frustrating, and Robert quickly shifted strategies. He offered to build a public swimming pool on his plot, but only if the rest of the Players were willing to collectively sponsor 50% (200,000e) of the cost. Some Players were interested, but not enough money was generated in the end to support Robert’s initiative. After this second frustration, Robert argues that his investment has failed and that he is leaving the area to invest somewhere else.


The Game Master had to be quite strict on timing - people were enthusiastically discussing their projects and trying to come up with the best possible set-up. After an extended 25 minutes of letting the players build their dreams, everyone was gathered around the table again and the Area Manager was asked to comment on whether everything was feasible/allowed.


The Area Manager (AM) explained that large windmills (such as the one built by Frodo Bosman on Frank Alsema) were not allowed, and that it would have to be relocated outside heir property along the A27 highway.


The AM also explained that Evert’s bioindustry chicken-farm would not be allowed in Oosterwold. However, if Evert would change it to an organic chicken farm, it would not be a problem — provided he ‘internalises any possible externalities’ (such as pollution, smell, etc.).


Phase 4: Choose your energy source


Oosterwold wants to become an off-the-grid city. After building their dream developments players now had to decide on how to provide energy. The Game provides different options (e.g. biomass, hydro-power, or windmills) as well as the costs involved. These costs vary between building as an individual versus making shared cooperatives.

As with the previous game, large plot-owners chose to invest in multiple collective power-sources and then did their best to compete for the lowest price in order to attract investment from the other players. This result in a conflict with one player (Evert Verhagen) decided to invest in biomass and was thus able to provide energy at a much lower cost than the collaborative investment of two other players (Frank and Frodo) in wind energy.


Together with the Game Master and Area Manager, the players discussed at this point the risk inherent in investing in Oosterwold, seeing as it is very much an open-ended project. It was precisely for these sorts of cases that the Game was helpful in foreseeing possible scenarios of conflict and/or collaboration.


It was in this phase that the first player (Cora Doppenberg) ran out of money. Another player (Robert) ended up investing in her project, and she also took an additional loan from the Bank.


Frank had to leave the game and therefore handed his project over to a new player (Maria Hänsch). He argued that this was his investment strategy: build ‘the dream’ and then hand over to a care-taker to make sure all the details (administrative, etc.) would be in order.


Phase 5: Build your green and blue infrastructure


In the final phase, players had to fulfill requirements for Green and Blue infrastructures. These vary significantly according to the type of plot the players had (Standard, Agriculture, or Landscape).


The player who ran out of money in the previous phase (Cora) had a lot of Green space to build but no more money. Luckily, another player (Esther Geuting) was interested in investing in her green space and contributed 140,000.


Another player (Merel Scheltema) had a specific question to the AM: is it possible to convert green space into water? The AM noted that this is allowed, but also mentioned that blue spaces are often more expensive to build and maintain. However, considering the fact that parts of Oosterwold are particularly low relative to sea-level, a number of water catchment areas would be desirable.


Evaluation


The evaluation round led to a number of interesting ‘conclusions’:


- Gaming can be a very effective tool to anticipate and test various possible ‘future scenarios’. As was the case of the windmill vs. biomass competition in Phase 4, future conflicts can be foreseen and played out without any ‘real’ consequences through the Game.

- Close neighbours tended to collaborate. We had 3 zones of strong collaboration, throughout the game.

- Based on Frank’s argument that he could build and furnish his house much cheaper than the listed prices in the Game, the suggestion was made to include flexible pricing in a future version.

- A suggestion was also made to include ‘gadgets’ or elements that would visualise any possible negative externalities (such as, for example, the smell generated by a chicken farm, or the noise by a hotel).


Esther also gave a few interesting comments based on her actual experience managing the Oosterwold project:


- As a response to questions about whether the ‘landscape plots’, with their high percentage of public green space, are feasible, Esther explained that they are actually in very high demand. A lot of people are buying them, often with a sort of ‘noble’ intention to provide public green space.

- She also mentioned that out of the +/-130 projects currently being developed in Oosterwold, 3 of them are schools. So clearly, even without much top-down planning, services are being taken care of.


Players List (as they introduced themselves):


Frank Alsema: building plot in Oosterwold. interested in circular economy.


Jacques Vork: how we can use gaming to look at problems in Amsterdam (too many tourists)


Frodo Bosman: municipality Amsterdam. here because I like games.


Esther Geuting: area manager for Oosterwold.


Cora Doppenberg: municipality Amsterdam. relations with development companies


Mark Schmeink: Grontmij. curious to see what sorts of problems you will encounter. see if we can change the rules for Oosterwold accordingly


Robert Dijckmeester: municipality Amsterdam. responsible for development in zuid-as. no reason to play


Petra van der Burg: orienting on a new job. building engineer. worked for Rijswijk, area manager. interested in ways to make people communicate


Annegien Krugers: municipality Amsterdam. Overhoeks - met Ekim while designing Play Noord.


Evert Verhagen: creative cities company. redevelopment. gaming is the way.


Merel Scheltema: Master student Wageningen University, Urban environmental management and Landscape architecture.


Brenda van Leeuwen: work for architecture center in Haarlemmermeer. involved in process in Hoofddorp between train station and city center. trying to get all parties around the table to get a new process going. Also an urban designer.nfrastructure