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Troubled Lands (Português)

To be translated:

Troubled Lands is a 30-min educational game about sustainability for ages 10 to Adult that can be played as a classroom activity. It is a simple to learn yet morally provocative game that requires players to address competing motivations of self-preservation and group loyalty. Many sustainability themes including communal negotiation, governance, inequality, power, and the tragedy of the commons are present in the game. Troubled Lands has been successfully used to support learning in many courses. Troubled Lands is a revised version of a game called The Farmers about which several academic articles have been written including one in //Simulation and Gaming//.

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The characters in Troubled Lands, a lumberjack, farmer, and rancher (who metaphorically represent nations in a climate change debate).

A Unique Political Sustainability Game

Like several other environmental and political games, players share a common space in danger of environmental collapse. Yet, rather than telling players to work with or against one another, the goals are more like those found in everyday real life: players are given the objective of meeting their own needs and allowed to decide for themselves when to assist or be self-protective. Additionally, players assume different roles (a farmer, rancher, and lumberjack) each of whom who has different goals and abilities, some much stronger than others presenting inequality that the players must face. The game thus emulates many situations in real life including environmental debates and international politics in that (1) all, some, one, or none of the players can win, (2) there is inequality among the players, (3) players have goals they must meet that are independent from other players’ goals, (4) players share common pool resources, and (5) no one knows for certain exactly how much the environment may be pushed before collapse. The game incorporates elements from game theory and popular games to elicit a unique psychological experience, complete with moral claims and dialogue among players. In other words, Troubled Lands gets to the heart of real life socio-economic interaction in a way that is easy to learn but rich with emotion.

Students say things like "every high school and middle school student should play this game." Teachers tell me it's one of their students' favorite activities in the year. Some teachers use it for introducing topics like sustainability, political debate, and community resilience, others use it in creative writing classes because of the rich moral experience it evokes. I can put you in touch with teachers who have used Troubled Lands.

Rules & Materials

To play, you will need:

  • Two 6 sided dice and optionally some index cards. These are for the land erosion phase which is described in the rules.

Online game (in development):

In addition to the print version of the game, an online version is in development. You can view that at:

Please be advised that you will need to open up the game in 3 different browsers and hit refresh if you are testing the online version by playing all three players by yourself.


Contact me at tom.fennewald@gmail.com. This is an experience that could benefit your students so if for any reason I haven't replied in a few days, please just email me back. You can also find me on Skype at tom.fennewald and I'll be happy to talk to you about the game, and if time permits I might be able to Skype with your class as well! We are forming a network of teachers who are using this game and if you want to be part of that network I would be happy to include your name and any materials you develop or use.


Troubled Lands is a labor of love creation by Tom Fennewald and Brent Kievit-Kylar. Many people have contributed to the project because they also believe in the message and learning potential, so we ask that users of the game respect this and restrict their use to educational purposes only. Of course you are welcome to try your own adaptations of the game and the theme, but please keep in touch! We love to know who is using the game and what they are learning and trying. Looking forward to hearing from you!