top of page
Recent Posts
  • Michelle Fox

Learning Through Games: Resilience Tumbling Blocks

What does it mean to be resilient? If you don’t know and are just getting started, what’s the best place and method to learn? Communicating technical concepts to a diverse audience is a challenge. Though ISET hasn’t figured out the silver bullet solution, we’re at least having a fun time trying.

The Resilience Tumbling Blocks game was developed to engage people around critical resilience planning concepts in a fun, tactile, memorable way. The game evolved out of ISET-International’s Climate Resilience Framework, a structured approach to assessing and building resilience that ISET has used successfully in South and Southeast Asia. The Resilience Tumbling Blocks game uses the language and structure of the Framework, allowing interested participants to tie their experience back to a much larger body of resilience work and thinking.

We piloted this game at TEDxMileHigh: Convergence Exhibits Lounge on September 13, 2014 with great success. A big thanks to the TEDxMileHigh organizers for inviting ISET-International to host a booth!


In urban climate resilience planning, there are several key concepts that are ubiquitous worldwide and are incorporated in this game. These include:

  • Uncertainty: There is no amount of planning or preparation that can predict what the next extreme event might be, or when it will occur. The Dice of Disruption introduces an element of unpredictability into the game.

  • Core Systems: Every city and community must consider core systems in their resilience planning. Core systems include: ecosystems, energy, communications, potable water, transportation, food and sanitation. The tower is organized so that these core systems are found at the bottom. If a “disruption” occurs at the base of the tower (when a block is removed), then the entire system (or tower) is put at risk of collapse or “failure.”


The characteristics listed below are key attributes of resilient systems (physical and ecosystems), agents (people and organizations), and institutions (legal and cultural norms) in a city. Unless these characteristics are present or planned into a city’s design, elements of the city, and by association the city as a whole, can become vulnerable and at risk of failure—causing financial or life loss.

Each of the Characteristics of Resilience blocks is labeled on one side with a characteristic; on the other side is an idiom to express the term in plain language. Labels for each block are listed below.

Characteristics of Physical Systems (e.g., roads, energy systems, water and sewage distributions networks, houses and buildings, etc.):

  • Safe failure: Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

  • Redundancy & modularity: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

  • Flexibility & diversity: You gotta go with the flow

Characteristics of Legal and Cultural norms (e.g., land use restrictions, zoning, the social expectation that “it’s my land, keep off”, etc.):

  • Access: Stand up for your rights

  • Information: What you don’t know won’t hurt you …?

  • Decision-making: The buck stops …where?

  • Characteristics of People and Organizations

  • Responsiveness: Don’t leave for tomorrow what can be done today

  • Resourcefulness: Think on your feet

  • Capacity to learn: Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.

  • Relationships: I get by with a little help from my friends


  1. The Goal of the Game: Collect 7 Characteristics of Resilience blocks before the tower comes tumbling down.

  2. Setting up the Tower: The tower should be stacked in order of color with the blue Characteristic of Resilience blocks being placed randomly throughout.

  3. Top: Purple/Agents

  4. Brown/Institutions

  5. Yellow/Systems

  6. Bottom: Green/Ecosystems

  7. Roll the Dice of Disruption: Every other turn, the player must roll the Dice of Disruption and pull a block of the corresponding color from the tower. If you roll “Bounce Forward,” you can add a block back into the tower to add stability, or you can draw a Characteristic of Resilience.

  8. Build the Tower: When a player pulls a block, place it at the top of the tower. Hold on to any Characteristics of Resilience that you collect.

  9. Build your community! Let new players jump in and out of the game. Work together to strategize and collect Characteristics of Resilience as a team.

WHAT’S NEXT?This game is a proof of concept for a games toolkit that we are developing and planning to roll out in 2015.


There were a lot of winners at TEDxMileHigh, but here is a small selection of folks that stood out!

bottom of page