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In order to effectively adapt to climate change, public officials and other stakeholders need to rapidly enhance their understanding of local risks and ability to collaboratively and adaptively respond. We argue that science-based role-play simulation exercises, a type of ‘serious game’ involving face-to-face mock decision-making, have considerable potential as education and engagement tools for enhancing readiness to adapt. Prior research suggests role-play simulations and other serious games can foster public learning and encourage collective action in public policy-making contexts. However, the effectiveness of such exercises in the context of climate change adaptation education and engagement has heretofore been underexplored. We share results from two research projects that demonstrate the effectiveness of role-play simulations in cultivating climate change adaptation literacy, enhancing collaborative capacity, and facilitating social learning. Based on our findings, we suggest such exercises should be more widely embraced as part of adaptation professionals' education and engagement tool-kits.