Extending and Reworking “Polar Bear and Glaciers: Seal Your Survival”

by Margaret Tian, Tina Quach, Tony Zeng, Willie Zhu

Depiction of our game in progress.


Our project was a physical board game titled “Polar Bears: Seal Your Survival” that aimed to teach kids about the impact of global warming on the Arctic. We focused on making the game engaging, by emphasizing interactivity. The board game format is well-suited for kids, because the short play sessions are able to hold their attention, while still teaching them about global warming. See images of our game in this deck of slides.

The rules of our board game are linked here. We generally modeled our game off of Candyland. In each round, the players were pregnant polar bears trying to gather enough food to survive the winter by collecting 8 seals before reaching the end of the game. There were 3 rounds overall that corresponded to the summers in 2012, 2014, and 2016 in the Bering sea. Our board featured two types of tiles: water and ice. The number of ice tiles decreased between rounds to symbolize the melting polar ice caps. Players rolled two dice to move, and drew a corresponding ice or water card. The ice cards generally gave better results than water cards (i.e. more likely to gain seals or experience other good events) since it’s easier for polar bears to hunt and survive on ice.

To give kids an idea of how melting Arctic ice connected to the rest of the world and generally educate them on fighting global warming in their daily lives, we also mixed in “fight global warming” cards into each deck. These cards had questions about global warming that all players had to work together to answer. If correct, players would either gain seals or add ice onto their board. A lot of time was spent calibrating the distributions of cards to make the game challenging yet still enjoyable.


Our data sources included NASA Arctic ice coverage data and many online articles about global warming, polar bears, arctic wildlife, and climate change.

We worked with NASA Arctic ice coverage data (csv) in order to correlate difficulty of our game with shrinking ice caps. We used ice cap data from summers in the Bering Sea in 2012, 2014, and 2016. Without needing to clean the dataset, we found that the amount of ice decreased 25% from 2012 to 2014 and 15% to 2014 to 2016.

The area of ice caps during summertime in the Bering Sea decreased 25% from 2012 to 2014 and 15% to 2014 to 2016.
The area of ice caps during summertime in the Bering Sea decreased 25% from 2012 to 2014 and 15% to 2014 to 2016. 

The changes between each “round” of our board game were based on ice cap data. The depicted decrease in ice from 2012 to 2014 to 2016 is reflected in our game as users start off with all tiles as ice and must add water tiles in every round (reducing access to ice tiles). This affects game difficulty because ice tiles have more cards with positive consequences (such as +1 seal or +2 seal) than water tiles do. Our game started with 70 tiles of ice, which decreased to 54 and then 36 ice tiles.

We also pulled from online sources–ranging from news websites to advocacy groups websites to informational websites about animal habitats–to get facts on polar bears and global warming. With the intention of integrating these facts into our ice, water, and global warming cards as well as the rules of the game, we compiled a database of card content that can be seen in this spreadsheet, which includes citations and links to our data sources. This research affected our rules–we determined that users would need about 8 seals to survive per round based on the fact that pregnant polar bears need to 400 lbs of fat to survive the winter and each seal is on average 50 lbs.

Analyzing our Impact


Our audience is 11 – 14 year olds who like animals may have heard about the impact global warming has on animals, but have not really internalized its devastating impact and ways in which they can try to fight it. Our overall aim is to use the specific example of melting ice caps and polar bears to teach these youth about how global warming hurts the animals they care about.


Our goals can be broken down into short term, medium term and long term goals:

Short term:

  • Players should recognize that global warming causes melting ice that impacts wildlife.
  • Players know at least 3 ways you can fight global warming.

Medium term

  • Players will tell their parents and/or friends about global warming.
  • Players should believe that they can make a difference against global warming.

Long term

  • Players will change their behavior to work against global warming (e.g. choosing eco-friendly transportation, reducing overconsumption and waste, etc.)

Play Testing

In order to evaluate the impact of our board game in promoting a fight against global warming and strong understanding of global warming’s impact on Arctic wildlife, we ran through one full gameplay session with three 7th grade kids from the local Cambridge area.

We found that these 7th graders had fun with the game–upon finishing the game, their immediate response was that they would play it again. However, we did notice that kids didn’t really read the facts that came along with every card in the game (drawn on each turn). Only one of the kids glanced at facts on cards.

However, another aspect of the game, adding water tiles in 3 successive rounds to model increasing difficulty over time, was effective, as one kid commented that they didn’t like water tiles because they made it harder to win, just as melting ice makes it harder for polar bears to hunt. Additionally, global warming cards that were meant to encourage the kids to engage with questions of global warming’s impact and the actions they can take, were harder than intended. This supports our game’s potential for impact in that these hard questions, although potentially discouraging, can really teach those that play the game. Play testing also revealed that, it’s a challenge to make kids consume information if it is optional to–even if the information has been integrated into a game as in ours.


In addition to analyzing the gameplay, we also asked our players some questions before the game and some questions after the game (see chart below for the Q & A).

We met short term goal of players understanding why global warming was bad for the animals in the Arctic, but we fell short in convincing them that effects on the Arctic changed the entire globe. This information is largely concentrated in the global warming cards, which the kids didn’t have a chance to really engage with given that they only played the game once. We also met medium term goal–all three kids said they would discuss global warming with friends and family. We must note that these kids were already predisposed to this since they were working on a sustainability project themselves. It’s too early to tell if the long term goal of the players changing their behavior to combat global warming has been or will be achieved.

Points to consider for future improvements are that players learned best through experience rather than words – so if there’s a lesson we want to drive home, we should build that into the win condition. While we initially thought the game should be collaborative, our test players insisted that the game would be much more fun if it were competitive.


Question Answer 1 Answer 2 Answer 3
What do you know about global warming and its impact on the Arctic? Temp inc decreases and ice caps melt and less land for the polar bears not much will be in the water as the ice melts
Why do you think the Arctic matters? animals live there and they can’t switch to a different environment
How do you think you can combat global warming? Do you do anything day-to-day? unplug chargers drive less, bike or walk drive less, public transportation
One sentence – how did you feel about the game? fun and can laugh at it fun fun
Is there anything that stuck out in particular? ice cards are good water cards are bad
How do you think you can combat global warming? too arctic focused learned stuff about global warming (mostly arctic related)
Do you think you’d talk to your friends and family about global warming? yes yes yes
Would you play this game again? And if so, with who would play with their friends would play with their friends would play with their friends