Announcing VIRUS: A Pandemic Disaster Response Simulation for 36-108 Players

I made a game to help organizations respond to things like COVID-19. It’s being offered for free as my contribution to the crisis.

VIRUS: Bunny Apocalypse is a disaster response simulation designed to teach an organization how to respond to extreme events. The scenario is that millions of killer rabbits (the ‘virus’) are invading a US state. Players take on the roles of critical decision-makers:

  • Politicians: Mayors, the Governor, the President
  • First Responders: EMTs, Police, Fire
  • Military: National Guard, US Army
  • Journalists: Editors, reporters, talk show hosts
  • Agencies: CDC, WHO, FEMA

Each role is based on a one-page briefing that tells the player what their goals are and how to achieve them. Players cannot meet these goals alone; everything requires coordinating with others.

The game takes 4 hours to play. Each turn, more bunnies spawn and the killer rabbit menace spreads across the land. First responders rush to the scene but quickly find themselves in desperate need of reinforcements. Mayors run out of resources and have to go up the chain to find help; they go to the Governor, who goes to the President. The President, however, does not simply hand out money; she has to work through the federal and international aid agencies. The agencies have to decide how to divide their efforts between the battle in the streets and the research for a cure. Meanwhile, the National Guard goes to war and the press stirs the pot. Things rapidly descend into chaos, so that getting the right resources to the right places at the right time is a severe challenge. This chaos forms the heart of the game.

Major takeaways

Players learn:

  • Plan. Before any crisis, know who you need to talk to and what about. Know where your excess resources are and how to access them quickly.
  • Orient. When the crisis begins, do not let the shock of events put you in a panic. Be as calm as possible. Take breaks. Clear your head. Then, with your clear head, take stock of the situation.
  • Communicate. Clear, precise, succinct information to the right people at the right time.
  • Respond. Be prepared to update plans in real time.

The Theme

The strange theme (killer bunnies?) is intentional; it ensures that players do not know what they are dealing with at first. I have found that this information shock is essential for learning the second bullet point. When the theme is ‘normal,’ such as a flu or an earthquake, players apply stock methods – mostly learned in movies – for responding. They avoid and do not have to deal with the shock and awe of a true crisis, which is one of the primary roadblocks to effective performance.

The light theme also makes the game suitable for schools and colleges. The sim is suitable for ages 14 and up.

Wait – How Many Players?

VIRUS is truly a massive game, for dozens and dozens of players. This is intentional; it is essential for creating the chaos that generates the major lessons. Nonetheless, the mechanics of the game are designed so that the chaos does not get out of hand. Rather, the chaos dissipates turn by turn as the players come to understand what they are dealing with and how best to respond. Supply chains are established, military forces go into action, cures are discovered. In most games, the players eventually ‘win;’ they master the situation.

How Do You Know It works?

I have run the game in my class of 100 students; it has been playtested and edited to emphasize the takeaways while keeping everyone engaged for the full four hours. The game is capped by a grand Presidential speech: The President flies Air Force One to the scene of the disaster and congratulates everyone for a job well done. The feeling in the room is a good one. Post-game surveys confirm that the room atmosphere is not a fluke. It is not uncommon for players to say that the simulation should be played far and wide. The game is fun for the players and teaches its lessons well.

How to Get It

This is a monster game and requires a big effort on the part of the organizer. It’s too big and too complex to just print and play. Instead, I’m asking interested people to send me an email at castro@indiana.edu and we can talk about the best way to get the game in your hands. One option is for me to give you the materials of the game and then spend some time teaching it to you and helping you prep. Another option is just to have me to run it for you.

If you are interested, please get in touch at:

castro@indiana.edu