Edmonton

Building a pipeline never easy these days, even in a board game

A new board game called Pipe Dream turns players into pipeline builders. Bill Timbers, a consultant who works in the pipeline industry, came up with the concept long before the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion became an inter-provincial debate.

Edmonton pipeline consultant, gaming enthusiast team up to create Pipe Dream

A prototype for Pipe Dream — a board game about pipeline construction — includes tiles with risks and rewards. Bill Timbers and Kent Noble are producing the game. (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

A new board game called Pipe Dream turns players into pipeline builders — with some of the same environmental challenges and political hurdles we're seeing in real life.

Bill Timbers, an Edmonton-based consultant who works in the pipeline industry, came up with the concept long before the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion became an inter-provincial battle.

Timbers recruited Kent Noble, a family friend and aspiring game developer, to handle the game's design. Noble had taken a gap year after his first year of engineering at the University of Alberta to pursue his passion for gaming.

The goal of the Pipe Dream board game is to build a pipeline as cheaply as possible. The player with the most money remaining at the end wins. (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

Both men thought the pipeline industry's challenges would lend themselves well to a Settlers of Catan-style board game.

"It really makes sense, because of the inherent risk and reward," Noble said Monday on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

A made-in-Edmonton board game illustrates the profits and pitfalls of building a pipeline 0:53

The goal of the game is to build a pipeline, from point A to point B, as inexpensively as possible.

Four or more players start with a budget of $1.5 billion and encounter risks and rewards along the way, such as spills, equipment damage, protests, stock sales and government regulations.

Players can overcome challenges by building with thicker pipe, rerouting around a community, installing valves or using different products — but those safeguards will cost them millions.

At the end of the game, the player with the most money left wins.

Real-life applications

Timbers, who advises companies on pipeline risk assessments, wanted the game to be as realistic as possible.

Noble, on the other hand, argued some simplifications were needed for entertainment's sake. Instead of building two or three valve stations that allow a pipeline to close across a river, players can use just one valve for that task in the game.

Pipe Dream has already been tested by industry experts, including a chemical engineering professor and a pipeline engineer.

"They enjoyed it and had a lot of fun," said Timbers, who plans to use the game as a training exercise with his clients.

Timbers also said he hopes the game helps more Canadians understand the complex array of benefits, costs and risks associated with pipeline construction. He said the industry has missed opportunities to educate the public in the past.

"We have to get our materials out of the country to foreign buyers," he said.

"I would hope, in the end, that people would appreciate that these are very challenging projects."

The pair will make small changes to the game over the next few months and test it with board game enthusiasts at Kelly's Pub, 10156 104th St., in early June.

Timbers plans to post game updates to his LinkedIn page.