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Italy - Educational Material in Environmental Education - Games: EURECO

1996, by Centro di Iniziativa Democratica degli Insegnanti

Prey or predator? Which is the better position in an ecosystem? The usually anthropocentric view of a human being will always designate the "superior" level, i.e. the predator. A well-informed person, however, knows that in the complex reality of the natural environment things are different. In an ecosystem, it is important to consider things as a whole: all elements, living and non-living, are linked in close mutual relationships based on material and energy exchanges. This is the aspect, among others, underscored in Eureco, a simulation game based on the prey-predator dynamics, competition for and conquest of territory.
Two points are particularly highlighted in this game:
1 - One scenario focuses on living beings as they are born, reproduce, and die. Emphasis is on describing the physical and geographic characteristics of natural European habitats.
2 - Relationships between animals considered as "prey" and animals considered as "predators." The two kinds will be united to confront "super predators," usually capable of capturing both. The relationship is a food-type relationship, since predators and super predators hunt their prey to feed themselves.

The game tries to demonstrate that any intervention that modifies or alters the structure or the function of one component of the ecosystem necessarily affects other elements, and the ecosystem as a whole. It is obvious that the number of prey conditions the number of predators, given that the former are the latter’s food. If all the prey were to be captured and eaten, the entire population of predators would then disappear for lack of food.

Different elements of intervention in the functioning of an ecosystem are used in this game:
Time is an important survival factor in a natural environment. Hunger, thirst, exhaustion, danger, the need to reproduce make living beings eat, hide, flee, struggle, rest, and meet each other at very specific times and moments. The pace of Eureco is therefore broken up into time-spans represented by parts of the game constituted by action units lasting 12-18 minutes, an ideal amount of time to guarantee comprehension, dynamics, and interest.
Space is where organisms develop their vital functions, meet and rival with each other. Its particular features are restricted by more or less specific boundaries that serve as references with respect to other habitats populated by other organisms. Eureco is laid out as a hexagon divided into 7 hexagonal territories outlined by boundaries, each made up of 36 small hexagons. There are 4 boards representing 4 natural environments in Europe (cold, temperate, hot, and maritime).
Chance, a very important component in life, is dealt out with a set of 2 classic dice. It severely tests the players skills, and often comes into play on a vast zone of the territory, and not necessarily in favor of or against a single player.
The actors, symbolized by colored tokens of different sizes, are prey, predators, and super predators. Each player identifies with a "character" (prey or predator) that needs to solve a certain number of problems in order to survive in the environment it lives in and must manage its reserves of vitality and energy. The characters represent species of the animals living in the natural environment that was selected.
Energy (vitality) and food are elements that feed each other and are therefore fundamentally equal in all systems. They are represented by chips, yellow on one side (food, i.e. potential vitality and energy) and red on the other (present vitality, the transformation of which is simulated by turning the chip over).
Individuals of the same or different species compete for use of the same resource, which results in control over one of the 7 territories on the game board after a struggle guided by dice throwing.

A number of rules are set out for an initial approach, but they can later be modified or made more complicated, depending on acquired knowledge, players’ age, and the wish to increase the difficulty. Rules can be summed up into:
· Object of the game. Prey: to accomplish its vital functions without getting caught by a predator in a specific time lapse, that is, leave its shelter, prowl around the territory in search of food, and go back to its shelter. Predator: to reach and capture the prey in a specific time lapse while avoiding the danger of the super predators, and return to its shelter.
· Selection of habitat and board, distribution of roles: there are 4 active characters (2 prey and 2 predators); distribution of vitality chips and food chips.
· Positioning of the food chips and the shelters of prey and predators.
· Action units. Time limit during which the preys and predators should accomplish their vital functions.
· Territorial control: a struggle between 2 predators found on the same territory (among the 7 on each board), decided by throwing dice.
· Intervention of the super predator: at midpoint in the game, all food chips are transformed into vitality chips and the various ways super predators intervene are determined by dice-throwing. Stopping a super predator on the territory uses up one vitality chip.
· Conclusion of an action unit: When the super predator intervenes, both prey and predators must return to their shelters; if the time limit is up, each roll of the dice uses up one vitality chip, until they have all returned. Then, a new action unit may begin.
· Extinct players: a player who loses all his/her vitality chips in the course of the game becomes extinct and must leave the game.
· Conclusion of the game: the game can end in different ways, e.g. after a certain number of action units decided at the outset, the winner is the one with the most vitality chips; the prey become extinct (no one wins because the predators also become extinct due to lack of food); one predator becomes extinct (this goes back to the first case); both predators become extinct (the prey win).
Several variations on the rules are suggested either to simplify the game for young children and as an initial approach or to complicate it with studies and research bringing it closer to reality.
It should be noted that the instructions for use contain a chapter explaining laws of ecology and their relation to the game, a chapter on mathematical models of population growth and two chapters describing the 4 European environments with some of their animal life, which should enable the game rules to be extended by more in-depth knowledge of the living conditions of the actors in Eureco.

Evaluation

Eureco is a role-playing game, whose rules (time limit, interaction between prey and predators) present a dynamics that should be stimulating for players and generate many lively, constantly varying games. The players can "experience" the various situations by identifying with the actors, whether prey or predators.
Fortunately, the game can be simplified, because the rules would not be easy to apply with 6-year-old children. It requires the presence of an experienced game leader to explain it and ensure it is played correctly, or a person with sufficient scientific knowledge if it is to be extended to the study of natural habitats. Furthermore, it is hard to see any way of connecting the game to the mathematical models, that are presented in the instruction booklet, or of using the specific features of each habitat and animal in the actions of the game. This reservation should not overshadow the game’s distinctly playful aspects, the possibility of relaxing the rules, and its interesting use by players of all ages.
While the material has undeniable qualities, it also unfortunately has some aspects that have to be criticized. The packaging, made of environment-friendly cardboard, but which is also of questionable durability, is austere and in no way shows the content or attraction of the game.
In the instruction booklet each chapter is written in 4 languages (Italian, English, French, and German). It would have been better however to have a separate brochure in each language, and above all, greater durability. There are mistakes in syntax and spelling (at least in the French version), which could have been avoided, considering the overall quality of the game.
The game boards are very pleasant and very natural. They fold up, which is original and practical for storage purposes, but also has the disadvantage of making them unstable — and the tokens and chips along with them — when lying open. It is not hard to imagine what might happen if the players are very young or in the "heat of the action".
The rules are not always clearly stated and are difficult to understand for the youngest players. This could be improved, especially given the many allusions to possible extensions and different interpretations that are mentioned without any real connection to these more complex aspects. The presence of a person with expertise in these fields becomes even more essential to get beyond the strictly playful side and reach the more serious educational content.
The game can be summed as an ecological study of European environments, demonstrating the ever-present mutual dependence in each ecosystem. The different possible conclusions of each part of the game reflect this and have the advantage of putting all the players on equal footing in confronting the natural world. In short, this is a game everyone will want to play, with negative aspects that could certainly be corrected. If it is done properly, the content could be enhanced on the natural-science level.

REFERENCES: « EURECO », European habitats between game and reality, 1991, Centro di Iniziativa Democratica degli Insegnanti
Realization of the project : Commission of the European Community, DGXI, Council of Europe, Italian Ministry of Public Instruction, etc.
KEY WORDS: Environmental Education; Training; Educational Material; Games; Ecology.
AUTHOR: Michel Commas, Square de la paix d’Angleur, 18, B-4031 Angleur, Liège, Belgium
FILE DATE: 1996