More than a game;Geography;Subject of the week

26th March 1999 at 00:00
Ray Cox finds there's everything to play for

The children of Drummond School in Edinburgh are discussing how to solve the problem of overgrazing in South America. "Put half the animals into another field", suggests one child. "But what if there is no more land available?" asks the teacher. "Then sell the animals", the boy replies. "What if nobody has enough money to buy them?", the teacher continues.

These 10 and 11-year-olds are playing Beo, a board game whose aim is to save the planet from environmental disaster. Launched in 1997 and named after a Gaelic word meaning "alive" or "living", Beo is a way of integrating geography with environmental education.

Developed by Edinburgh-based charity Living Water, Beo is played on a map of the world illustrated to show vegetation, landforms and urbanisation. At the base of the map are eight dials which refer to elements affecting the health of the planet, such as soil, water, animals and human well-being. Throughout the game, the dials move towards a "healthy" or a "critical" zone depending on how successful players are at solving environmental challenges.

Each player is dealt a selection of "Solution" cards. The first player turns over a "Challenge" card, which presents an environmental problem, such as water pollution, deforestation or poverty, and then places a wooden playing piece on a region of the world where he or she thinks that problem is relevant. Players must then solve the challenge by submitting appropriate solution cards.

Appearing from time to time are "Chance" cards which can allow players to invent their own solutions. However, these cards can also represent a disaster such as a drought or tidal wave.

Beo encourages discussion. There's no "right" or "wrong" says Jane Shields, founder of Living Water. "It's about how you communicate and co-operate."

Janet Cundall, who is undertaking an MA in education in Edinburgh, has introduced Beo to schools around the world, but particularly remembers playing it in Tanzania: "The children could really relate to the problems being raised in the game. They were swapping solutions before their challenges came up." But they didn't understand the concept of the world being one small place: "They believed that once you'd cut down forest and used the soils, you could just move on and find more" - an attitude remarkably similar to one held by a boy at Drummond School.

Living Water Charitable Trust, 5 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AE. Tel: 0131 558 3313. pound;50 (inc VAT)+pound;5.65 pamp;p. Website:

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