An Open Letter to the Creators of Lab Wars

Dear Caezar and Kuly,

I write you this letter because no board game with a kickstarter campaign has generated this amount of mixed feelings for me. You see, I, like you, am a huge board game nerd and also a scientist. I am a fan of Catan, Small World, and Dobble, to name a few. And, like most of our generation, I have also indulged my darker sense of humor with Cards Against Humanity and Common Decency and had a great time. Your game looks amazing. I will probably buy it and play with my friends. I’m sure we’ll enjoy it very much.

I love that you’ve taken the initiative to introduce people to a side of academia that many don’t know about, and I love that you’re doing it in a way that is educational and engaging. Which is why there is a part of me that resents what I’m about to say. I feel like I’m the old grandmother telling her grandchildren that playing violent video games is going to condone this behavior. There is a voice in me saying, “don’t exaggerate, it’s just a game, and a fun and educational one at that”. But I will go ahead and say it, and hopefully generate some discussion with you guys on the topic.

I cringed when I saw both the name of the game and the way the article in Nature describes it. When speaking about it to my friends, they seemed to agree with me on some points as to the sabotaging, which seems to be the main point of the game:

“It seems really fun – which is why it is so disturbing…on top of trivialising it, it almost ‘normalizes’ it and helps it in being a part of the culture.”

“We don’t want the general public to think this is the rule in academia, sabotaging….this is not the case in all labs, and it is very serious. There are also labs where this is not an issue, but that also doesn’t mean that the management is great.”

Another friend, however, was incredibly enthusiastic:

“I think it’s a great opportunity to raise awareness and educate people, including those outside of science, as to the environment we’re all struggling in. It might just be what we need for change to begin to take place.”

But the fact that the Nature article trivialized the sabotaging and hyper-competition that does occur in science, and how PhDs and Postdocs can feel this is the only way to move their career forward, shows how ingrained this idea is in our minds: that this is the way science is and that there is no way to change it. But this is terribly inefficient and unproductive for science and if we give the idea to the public that scientists are all behaving like spoiled children, running around screwing with everyone else’s experiments for the sake of our own careers (and many do!), then the little faith the public already has in academic science is at a risk of completely disappearing.

And yet I understand you. That’s part of what we’re trying to do with this website. I can imagine the same frustration that fueled us to build this, is the same one that fueled you to create your game. In dealing with the terrible, frightening, and nonsensical nature of it all, I absolutely understand that using humor and game-playing are effective. I think that we can all agree that there is an issue, and that it needs to be fixed.

Which is why this is not a letter asking people to boycott your kickstarter or condemning the game or you guys at all. I do not wish to be misunderstood and I honestly believe your intentions are of the best caliber. You already have raised the money required and I’m sure the game will be off to a booming success. As I mentioned earlier, I can really see myself enjoying this game with friends and do wish you that success.

This letter is rather an invitation to you guys, and to the rest of the scientific community as well, to engage in this issue as it currently stands. To use both this website along with other blogs and organizations, complemented with the great tool for raising awareness that is your game to engage everyone involved in speaking out against the bullying, the sabotaging, the backstabbing, and the pedantry. Because the people who play your game who lose, do so at the cost of a fun time with their friends and nothing more. But I have heard the stories and witnessed the people who have lost in the real game and it has come at the cost of their careers, their futures in academia, and many times, their self-esteem and mental health.

My last request is that, if possible, (and I understand how terribly hard this is once gameplay is balanced and cards are made) your card game allows for collaboration and cooperation as an alternative strategy (chosen by players) that leads to victory—perhaps as a future expansion pack? And if your board game already does include these options and styles of play, I urge you to emphasize it in your advertisement of it as well as the sabotage and war aspect. Because that is really the choice that we all face in our everyday lives at the bench, and it’s going to take a lot more of this second option to permanently retire the subterfuge and sabotage strictly to the realm of board games.

I look forward to discussing these and other issues with you guys further, and I look forward to playing your game. The nerdy board game enthusiast in me is very excited.


Juan Pablo Ruiz (Conflicted)


For those of you interested in buying the game, you can find the kickstarter campaign website here.

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Fátima Sancheznieto

Dr. Fátima Sancheznieto, PhD has recently completed her postdoctoral training at the UW-Madison school of medicine, where she studied the environmental cues important for blood stem cell formation during development. Fátima was trained in peer support by the Oxford University counseling center and since then has advocated for systemic and cultural changes to improve the mental health and training environments of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. She has served on a working group for the Next Generation Researchers Initiative at the National Institutes of Health and is currently the President of Future of Research, a nonprofit organization that advocates and empowers early career researchers. Her current research focuses on studying the training environments of early career researchers

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