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Designing a Board Game about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

Department of Environmental Education, National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei City 106209, Taiwan
Department of Center for General Education, National Taichung University of Science and Technology, North District, Taichung City 406053, Taiwan
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2022, 14(18), 11197;
Received: 13 July 2022 / Revised: 18 August 2022 / Accepted: 31 August 2022 / Published: 7 September 2022


Game-based learning has been regarded as one of the best ways to raise public awareness of important issues. It is also a feasible strategy. The promotion of sustainable development education is not limited to schools as the issue of sustainability is related to everyone. The learning of sustainable development goals through games can extend to public sectors, companies, and private units so that more people understand the sustainable development concepts and the content of sustainable development goals. This study aimed to develop and design a board game aiming to acquaint learners with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations and to add fun to the serious issue and make it closer to life while maintaining knowledge. The result indicates that the “SDGs Board Game” designed by this study has an inspiring effect on learning the meaning and goals of sustainable development. When used in class, it can enhance learners’ knowledge and reflection on sustainable development goals. When used out of class, according to the feedback, learners can establish the basic concepts of the Sustainable Development Goals after playing the game. The experts suggest that in the future, slight improvements of the SDGs game mechanism should be carried out. By working with art editors and manufacturers, it can be commodified and promoted to be used in different units as an important tool to promote sustainable development education in Taiwan.

1. Introduction

1.1. Global Trends: The Integration and Promotion of Education for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been promoting Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) since 1992. The period from 2005 to 2014 is called the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) [1]. The Global Action Program on Education for Sustainable Development (GAP) [2] was implemented from 2015 to 2019 while the ESD for 2030 roadmap [3] listed all the challenges faced by Earth. It also emphasized that in addition to increasing the contribution of education, the implementation of education for sustainable development is also the key to moving toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for building a more just and sustainable world.
“Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” [4] clearly demonstrates the importance of proper education. Although education is a standalone goal, Sustainable Development Goal 4, several other SDGs also encompass various areas and indicators related to education. This is because education is not merely a goal to accomplish but a key strategy to achieve all other SDGs as it is both an internal component and a key promoting factor of sustainable development.
“Education for Sustainable Development Goals—Learning Objectives”, issued by the UNESCO [5], delineated the teaching suggestions of 17 SDGs from the viewpoint and framework of education. It integrated the three dimensions of cognition, affection, and skills, which are matched with eight core abilities: system thinking ability, anticipation ability, normative ability, strategic ability, collaboration ability, critical thinking ability, self-awareness ability, and comprehensive problem-solving ability. Methods to integrate the goals into formal and non-formal education on different levels, from curriculum design to national strategies, were proposed. The emergence of this document represents the integration and promotion of ESD and the SDGs, which shall remain a global trend until 2030 [6].
The SDGs include 17 goals and 169 targets in terms of the environmental, social, and economic balance. The 17 sustainable development goals are divided into 3 categories: essential needs, expected objectives, and governance. The first category, essential needs, represents the basic guarantee of human survival as part of the intrinsic right to realize sustainable development, such as SDG2, SDG6, SDG7, SDG14, and SDG15. By reducing resource waste and improving resource-use efficiency, the consumption of natural resources should be minimized to sustain human survival in a long period of time and realize sustainable development. The provision of essential needs guarantees human survival. Only by meeting the second category, expected objectives, can humans live prosperous and happy lives. These goals include SDG1, SDG3, SDG4, SDG5, SDG8, SDG10, and SDG16. The key to achieving goals in the expected-objectives category is to reform the systems and redistribute services. It is necessary to understand the needs of different groups and ensure the social disciplines such as psychology and economics function based on the ethnical constraints. The third category, governance, includes the effective regulation of competitive relationships and the establishment of equitable rules and systems to guarantee at least the minimum number of essential needs are met while maximizing the expected objectives at the same time, such as SDG9, SDG11, SDG12, and SDG13. Given that many environmental and social problems are generally derived from the failure of economic models or management systems, appropriate measures have to be provided to meet essential needs and achieve the expected goals that contribute to human well-being. Hence, effective governance measures necessitate interdisciplinary collaboration between the various stakeholders, such as scientists, policymakers, and entrepreneurs. As there is not only mutual dependence but also contradiction and conflict of interest in the relationship between them, it is urgent to deal with the complexity and uncertainty with a holistic method catering to different disciplines and managing bodies to ensure the comprehensive implementation of the goals [7]. In order to bridge the gap between different fields, ESD must help learners comprehend the diverse themes and challenges involved in the SDGs.

1.2. The Function of Board Games in Education and Learning

Games-based learning (GBL) is also known as joyful learning. Research indicates that good game environment design, efficient teaching methods, and effective learning materials help students acquire the requisite skills better, with improved learning efficacy and results. It is considered a form of complementary participatory learning, which can increase the attractiveness of the educational process and impact knowledge acquisition, comprehension, learning motivation, perception, cognitive skills, behavior, and social performance [8]. Educational board games are interactive and pro-intellect entertainment, which train the cognition and mental resilience of learners. Interactive games, involving healthy competition, allow learners to unknowingly grasp knowledge concepts and cultivate skills and attitudes that the board games are designed to convey [9,10].
Sutton-Smith and Roberts [11] believe that gaming is a symbolic transformation that helps children develop new ideas and practice innovative behaviors, which can help them adapt better to adult life. The manner of playing and the games’ processes are more important than the results and goals. Involvement in the process helps players try new behaviors without worrying about success or failure, and these innovative maneuvers can be used to solve real-life problems in the future [12]. Therefore, gaming can increase freedom and flexibility of behavior, teaching the players skills needed for life. Accordingly, today, an increasing proportion of educators employ games for teaching. Moreover, studies have proven that the application of games in teaching can effectively enhance children’s learning motivation, thereby achieving teaching goals and inducing higher levels of learning content [9,13].
Board games have the functions of fun, leisure, and entertainment, in addition to education and learning. Foreign researchers have applied board games to language learning, especially in English as a Second Language (ESL) courses and grammar learning. The results showed that board games can help students eliminate the fear of learning English and develop self-confidence and are beneficial for classroom teaching and learning [14,15]. Mungai et al. [16] believe that board games entail educational concepts such as healthy competition, training of teaching and learning, and teamwork, and can encourage students to construct concepts and explore meaning proactively. Chen [17] believes that board games can provide real experience, stimulate students’ willingness to participate, and stimulate high-level thinking. In terms of educational and learning functions, Clark et al. [18] believe that games are fanciful and challenging, can enhance curiosity and a sense of control, and increase motivation to participate. They allow students to focus on the work at hand and face the complications of society and gain trial-and-error experience, practice skills, and improve problem-solving abilities in low-risk virtual situations. Board games-integrated courses can train students for high-level thinking, let them react after being stimulated, and develop relevant conceptual cognition, skills, and affective attitude [10,19].
In terms of psychology, the characteristic of entertainment in game-based learning can inspire learners’ motives and increase engagement. Based on the current situation of learners’ knowledge and awareness, the game content can be adjusted to correspond to learners’ knowledge, experience, and skills. At the same time, the consequence of failure can be reduced to encourage learners to take adventures, try new things, and make explorations. Learners will have the opportunity of self-regulated leaning by carrying out goals, setting up strategies, and monitoring and evaluating the effective strategies to realize goals in the process of games [20]. Therefore, based on the characteristics of game-based learning, this study designed an SDGs board game as a stepping stone of sustainable development education to inspire people to have a deeper understanding of the issue of sustainable development.

1.3. The Application of Serious Games to Education for Sustainable Development

In the course of teaching, board games can increase students’ learning motivation, improve their learning efficiency through frequent interactions and discussions, and cultivate new skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, communication, and collaboration. As an innovative teaching method, board games have numerous advantages and are favored by many teachers [21]. According to Bevilacqua et al., playing games is an appropriate activity in the context of learning to promote sustainable development [22]. Teaching with games can be an effective method for environmental education and for disseminating the concept of sustainable development to the public. Previous studies on serious games related to sustainable development mainly focused on the understanding of sustainable development issues [22]. De Vries and Knol [23] attempted to use serious games as a tool to stimulate people’s awareness of and attitudes toward sustainability and energy saving; results showed that participants’ awareness and attitudes were significantly affected.
The 17 SDGs cover a wide range of serious topics, and it is not easy for teachers and learners to grasp their core ideas and integrate them into daily life practices. Recently, there has been a surge in research on the application of serious games for sustainable development education; the topics mostly cover specific scientific fields related to sustainable development, including energy, climate change, and natural resources management. Serious games focused on environmental, economic, and social sustainability are mostly used in higher education environments while the most popular application relates to technique enhancement via simulation games [24]. Serious games can imitate real-world problems and provide a safe environment for people to explore, experiment, and learn [25]. They raise people’s awareness and understanding of sustainable development issues and SDGs and encourage them to adopt sustainable behaviors.
Rossano [26] points out that game-based learning is regarded as one of the best ways to achieve children and adult learning to a great extent. Game-based learning centers on students. The interesting learning process prompts learners to acquire related knowledge and skills. The serious game application to professional training and unofficial learning environments will inspire learning motives and engagement and enhance the acquirement of knowledge and skills. This study proposes that in learning the concept of sustainable development, the use of the board game will help learners focus on learning the concept of sustainable development, understand related targets, and assess interest. In the process of learning sustainable development concepts, the use of serious games can increase learners’ interest in sustainable development and related items and assessments. Serious games possess features of common entertainment games, but their designs are focused on learning or training, aimed to provide theoretical guidance for real-life environments [27]. They use GBL to direct the understanding of the multi-faceted concepts of SDGs. Katsaliaki and Mustafee [28] analyzed the surveys of games related to ESD, and Madani et al. [29] analyzed serious games related to environmental management and found that GBL methods are helpful for the promotion of ESD. In sum, the serious game will have a positive effect on the learning results. In view of this, this study adopted game-based learning in learning the serious issue of SDGs to inspire people to understand the SDGs and develop their motives of deep learning.
The recent popularity of board games in Taiwan is established by the large number of board game stores, the rise of the game design industry, the use of games by public and private units to promote specific issues, and the integration of games into teaching and counseling. However, no set of board games currently available can fully convey the connotations of the 17 SDGs. Moreover, issues such as environmental damage and the SDGs are serious concepts for ordinary people. Therefore, in order to add elements of daily life and entertainment value to solemn issues, games designers are learning about the media favored by youngsters to devise a practicable strategy for innovative teaching. Board games, played with game pieces and pictured boards, can be used in a normal classroom. However, the promotion of ESD is not limited to schools; it concerns everyone. Therefore, the comprehension of the SDGs through games will help extend the idea to the public sector, enterprises, and private units, raising public awareness about sustainable development and the SDGs.

1.4. Research Purposes

In Taiwan, environmental education has become an indispensable part of the curriculum of elementary and secondary school and extended to become an element of sustainable development education. In the process of promoting environmental education, the dimensions of environmental conservation, resource classification, and recycling have been dealt with. Hence, many people misunderstand sustainable development and simplify it to environmental conservation.
This study aimed to design a board game and test to educate learners about the UN’s 17 SDGs to strengthen Taiwan’s effort in promoting sustainable development education. The learners, playing the roles of national leaders, completed tasks related to the implementation of the SDGs while balancing the three dimensions of environment, economy, and society on a global scale. When the game was over, the learners were encouraged to reflect on how to take sustainable life actions and implement them in daily life. The common misconceptions that oversimplify sustainable development as environmental protection were clarified via the game, and learners were assisted to expand their perspectives from local to international issues. Thus, this study aimed:
  • To design a set of board games centered on the UN’s SDGs that can become an important starting point for research, development, and promotion of educational tools for sustainable development by domestic parties.
  • To test the fluency, fun, and interactivity of the board game mechanism.
  • To test the educational value of board games; that is, to make people understand the relationship between different SDGs.

2. Board Game Design and Content

This section explains the content of the board game with the SDGs as the core. The content includes the design steps, conceptual structure, and rules.

2.1. Design Steps

Evensen et al. [30] explained the development process of educational board games. The products of each stage are based on different forms of design research, and each step should not be regarded as a separate operation but should be interlocking and, with the succeeding steps, linked to the previous steps as a result of the designers’ effort. As the board game is a teaching aid for sustainable development education, the ADDIE instructional model was applied to the design, where the five phases defined by the model: analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation, were transformed into analysis, design, development, prototype, and tests in the research and development of the board game in this study. Iterative design was also introduced to the five design steps of game analysis, design, development of game mechanism, prototype building, and game testing in order to integrate the concepts of sustainable development into the board game with the SDGs. The steps are explained as follows:
1. “Analysis” stage: The design task for this stage was to comprehend the literature and clarify the educational themes of sustainable development and the SDGs, before formulating game mechanisms based on the characteristics of the users and observe the game demos of different mechanisms to analyze the pros and cons, themes, and mechanisms to conceptualize the SDGs and incorporate them into the game design.
2. “Design” stage: At this stage, a framework diagram of the SDGs board game was designed with the SDGs as the axis and based on the background and needs of the game’s target group.
3. “Development” stage: At this stage, the game mechanism was designed, and the game background, rules, and content were confirmed. It included setting the game’s background theme, the tasks and roles of the players, and designing the process of the rounds in the game. The concepts, resources, and teaching methods in the teaching situations of the SDGs were imported into the game, and the relationship between them and the themes of the SDGs were edited. The initial game content was then adjusted to ensure that the sustainable development concepts and the SDGs had been properly integrated into the game framework.
4. “Prototype” stage: Prototypes of the game were built in this stage. The confirmed game framework was visualized while the internal and external tests were conducted. After internal testing and correction, field tests were performed with the support of educational courses to confirm the game rules, complexity, and practical situations, including the operation situations and necessary supporting measures in the process of promoting and serving. This was to make the course system compatible with real teaching situations.
5. “Test” stage: The task at this stage was to evaluate and review the feasibility of the game prototype. General players, teachers, learners, and people with experience in designing board games were invited to the demos to collect subjective reactions and objective feedback. In addition to the implementation of game demos, lesson plans were designed to integrate the SDGs board game into issue-based teaching. Actual implementation of the teaching can reveal the problems in the design, and the corrections to the design concepts or the interactive mechanism can be made afterwards.
The iterative design and the ADDIE model were combined to become the research steps, as shown in Figure 1. It was hoped that the board game can be entertaining, interesting, and educational at the same time. The board game and lesson plans were designed with the systematic planning indicators proposed by the ADDIE model to confirm the teaching quality of the final products of the board game’s educational design.

2.2. Content of the Sustainable Development Goals Board Game

In 1987, the WCED published a report titled “Our Common Future” [32], which defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This is the most widely cited definition in the world and is also adopted by governments. Moreover, the content of the 17 SDGs covers the 3 elements of society, economy, and environment, which are not simply equivalent to environmental protection or ecologization. They emphasize the coordination and development among the three and avoiding advancement of one of them at the expense of others.
Our team designed the board game with the UN’s 17 SDGs as the core. The game aims to teach the public the items and connotations of the SDGs so that they can understand how the operations of a country affect the overall global environment, economy, and society. Finally, tests and interviews related to the board game were conducted, and the feedback of board game designers, high school students, outdoor environmental education volunteers, and teachers was summarized and analyzed for subsequent planning and improvements in the game and courses.
Our team first constructed the game’s content framework after digesting and transforming the following content: the definitions mentioned above, the 2030 sustainable development vision proposed by the UN, the key thinking of the SDGs framework, and the focus on the “5 Ps” that shape the SDGs: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships. We also considered the current development model of economic production and consumption activities of humans; the social needs of today’s development purposes, such as employment, income, and quality of life; the way economic activities depend on various issues and cause environmental catastrophes eventually; and the 17 SDGs and 169 sub-sectional goals. After the design of the game mechanism and functions and values of the cards were determined, the board game was visualized, and physical objects, such as simple cards and game pieces, were included as part of the game prototype before the test phase began. The design of the game content and the prototype are explained as follows.

2.2.1. Game Background

On a beautiful planet, there are 10 countries with different conditions in terms of their economies, societies, environment, governance, and partnerships. For example, some countries are at the stage of economic take-off and require the development of infrastructure. Another country, the largest economy on the planet, has its natural environment completely destroyed. The background and process of the game replicate current events on Earth—climate change, pandemics etc.—and the current development level of human society. The players, acting as leaders of the countries, have to consider how to complete the tasks concerning the 17 SDGs while continuing on the course of economic development.

2.2.2. Game Rules

A. Goal of the game:
When a country achieves a total score of 45 points, the game will end; however, there will be no winner. The first country to secure the required points is, therefore, the first country that fulfills the SDGs tasks; other players just require more time to achieve the goals. The game follows the principle of the SDGs, “Leave No One Behind”, encouraging the participants to take adventures, try new things, and make explorations. Through game-based learning, they experience failure, learn self-regulation, and have the opportunity to reflect.
B. Game settings:
(1) Draw the character cards (countries) and obtain the respective personal boards, then adjust the figures on the personal boards according to the data on the character cards.
(2) Receive the initial cash. For each economic tile, the point increases by 50, and 1 dollar is received.
(3) Receive 5 “infrastructure cards” of the development cards.
(4) Draw 2 development cards and 1 diplomatic card.
(5) Draw task cards to confirm the tasks to be completed in the game.
(6) Shuffle the diplomatic cards and development cards and place them next to the world board.
(7) Shuffle the event cards and place them face down.
(8) The world economic index, natural environment index, and harmonious society index on the world board are all at 300 points at the beginning.
C. Process of the rounds:
The evolutionary game theory (EGT) is applied to the game mechanism design. The research targets groups rather than individuals. If men have bounded rationality, the messages received are also limited. In games, the group decision-making is manifested through dynamic interaction such as imitation, communication, and mistakes between individual learners [33]. In the system, the result of a game is temporary. Long-term interaction will achieve the concept of evolutionarily stable equilibrium (ESE). Such an assumption corresponds to the staged tasks of the game. When playing the game, the research objects will understand the mutual connection between the SDGs.
In the game, the members of each nation “discuss national strategies” to complete the SDGs’ missions. The “global conference” will decide whether to complete the SDGs’ missions by collaborating with different nations. Last, “collect taxes” rewarded by the system to enter the new round (Figure 2). The operating procedure aims to make the game participants learn about the “dynamic relationship between the SDGs through group interaction and decision making”. They will experience every round in the circle of judgment making, decision making, and system rewarding. After the game ends, the leader will guide the participants to review the game process, share experience, and resolve problems.
The SDGs game framework is built on the background of operating a nation. The purpose is to achieve the SDGs tasks. The participants will make judgments (group discussion, decision making, group negotiation or collaboration), take action, and obtain instant rewards from the system (the rewards each group wins after each game round). As the process is repeated for several rounds, the participants will work toward the game missions (the SDGs tasks each group is supposed to complete). Through reflection and problem resolution after the game, the participants will review the game, confirm their views about the game, find and face the problems in games, and think about them. A learning experience can be created during the problem resolution of every round of the game.

2.2.3. Game Boards and Cards

A. World board
The world board (Figure 3) represents the overall world economic growth, social harmony and happiness, natural environment development, and pollution information. According to the key thinking of the SDGs framework, social and human well-being, a healthy environment, and economic prosperity are respectively represented by the indexes of world economy, social harmony, and the natural environment, which are used to illustrate the overall environmental information. In the actions used to implement the SDGs in the game, the linkage and interactions between the three indexes can be understood.
Whenever a player performs a task, the world economic index, natural environment index, and harmonious society index on the world board will change with respect to the execution of different tasks. Each index has 20 grids, representing 0–2000 points.
B. Character cards and the board
Character cards: The characters in this game are classified into three categories: developed, developing, and undeveloped countries, based on the social and economic development levels and the human development index recognized by the UN. The resources owned by each country are denoted by the “character development value”, which is set with reference to the five major parts (5 Ps) of the SDGs: society (people), economy (prosperity), environment (planet), governance (peace), and partnership (partnership). For example, the country “Lots of Money” has 200 points in society, 500 points in economy, 100 points in environment, 100 points in governance, and 300 points in partnership; other countries have their own different values.
The characters were designed according to the situations of undeveloped, developing, and developed countries in reality. Together with the elements of the 2030 sustainable development vision proposed by the UN, the society, economy, environment, governance, and partnership indexes were used to represent the current situations of the countries in the game. The personal board (Figure 4) represents the respective country operated by each player. The values of society, economy, environment, governance, and partnership are 0–1000, respectively.
C. Diplomatic card
The content was designed according to the elements of economy, society, and environment. The economic aspect includes tariff reduction and participation in international economic conferences, such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). The social aspect includes the signing of international human rights conventions and women’s human rights codes. The environment aspect includes the signing of carbon emission agreements (Figure 5) and the Basel Convention. The events in the game do not necessarily affect the economy, environment, and society in a positive way. There are negative events such as trade wars, talent poaching, predatory dumping, and oil wars.
The use of diplomatic cards is limited by the values of the partners. One action point is deducted when one card is used. The country that uses the diplomatic card is the initiator. If the content of the card involves events such as the signing of conventions and participation in international conferences, the card is only effective if at least one country is willing to be the participator, sign the convention, or join the conference with the initiator. The indexes on the world board will then be moved and changed. If no country is willing to participate, one action point of the initiator will still be deducted, and there will be no effect.
D. Development card
Within the development cards, 5 [basic cards] are the essences of the countries’ basic development, so as to ensure that the countries with weaker economic systems can also have the resources for infrastructure construction. The 1st–17th events of the SDGs are included in the content of the development card, which are divided into five categories: [infrastructure], [citizen cultural literacy], [resource utilization and development], [environmental sustainability], and [global partners].
Infrastructure construction: Designed according to goals 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 11.
Citizen cultural literacy (Figure 6): Designed according to goals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 14, 15, and 16.
Resource utilization and development: Designed according to goals 1, 7, 8, 9, and 12.
Environmental sustainability: Designed according to goals 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15.
Global partners: Designed according to goals 10, 16, and 17.
How to use: Subjected to limitations, the use of any of the development cards from the categories [infrastructure], [citizen cultural literacy], [resource utilization and development], [environmental sustainability], and [global partners] consumes one action point and incurs research and development costs. The player will obtain a research and development effect, which will be reflected on the personal board, whereas the indexes on the world board will be moved and changed.
E. Task card
The task cards are the crucial cards required for the players to complete the tasks and obtain the scores. The content of the task cards was designed based on the 169 sub-sectional goals under the 17 SDGs. There are 51 target tasks and the scores for completing the tasks can be 10, 15, or 20. The connotations of all target tasks are explained, and real cases of Taiwan were added to the content so that players possess a deeper understanding of the SDGs. For example, for goal 2, which is to eliminate hunger, the description is: promote the Act For Food transformation plan, make good use of food, and reduce waste. Goal 10 (Figure 7): Keep an open mind, be a good listener and learner, support the reduction of inequality, protect and accept disadvantaged groups, and defend the rights of oneself and others.
F. Event card
The event cards represent major events related to the environment, economies, and societies worldwide, which include domestic and foreign events. The international events integrated into the game include extreme weather events (heat waves, wildfires) (Figure 8), epidemics (COVID-19, SARS), financial tsunami, child labor, and low salary of women. Players will learn how the events affect the environment, economy, and society. During the interactions in the game, they will consider how to reverse the negative results and complete the tasks related to the SDGs.

3. Tests of the Sustainable Development Goals Board Game

A prototype of the board game was developed, and several internal tests were conducted to confirm the game flow. Thereafter, external tests were conducted, and the focus shifted to examining the feasibility of the board game prototype. Mass testing revealed the difference between the game prototype and the assumed situations. The demo players’ reactions were observed and recorded, and experts were interviewed for future revision and refinement of the game.

3.1. Test Participants and Sessions

We conducted 12 test activities. The participants were divided into two groups. The first group learned the SDGs in courses, and the game’s rules were shared with them; the second group only learned the rules of the game. The test participants, including experts and ordinary participants, were aged 12 to 60 years. The experts included board game designers, board game players, and elementary school teachers. The ordinary participants included fifth graders, high school students, and environmental education volunteers. The total number of participants was 300.
The six sessions (Table 1) involving educational courses and explanation of the rules of the game lasted 120 min. In total, 40 fifth graders participated in one session; 80 high school students participated in two sessions; 80 elementary school teachers participated in two sessions; and 40 environmental education volunteers participated in one session. The other six sessions (Table 2) only involved the explanation of the rules of the game, lasting 40–60 min each time. Twelve board game designers or board game players participated in three sessions; eight high school students participated in two sessions; and forty elementary school students participated in one session.

3.2. Interviewees’ Backgrounds and the Questions

After observing the playing process, 22 interviewees were selected from among the players and board game designers to obtain the experts’ and demo players’ opinions and suggestions about the board game developed in this study.

3.2.1. Interview Questions

The participants were expected to review the game mechanism during the game through the interview questions, such as judgment (group discussion, decision making, group negotiation and collaboration) and action, to confirm their opinions about the game, find out all the messages to be conveyed in the game, think about the SDGs-related problems, and face the importance of sustainable development.
Question 1: Is the mechanism of this board game smooth and interesting?
Question 2: Did you have high-level interactions with other people during the game?
Question 3: Does the process and content of the game achieve the educational goal of helping players understand the goal of sustainable development?

3.2.2. Interviewees’ Backgrounds

Among the participants, only the elementary school teachersunderstood the SDGs beforehand; the high school students had learnt about them at school but were not yet familiar with the content. Among the ordinary players and board game designers, four understood the SDGs, two had heard about them but did not know the details, and two had never heard of them. None of the elementary school students had heard of the SDGs. The environmental education volunteers were aged between 45 and 60 years. Among those who participated in the activities, only one-third had heard of the SDGs; sustainable development was an unfamiliar concept for most of them (Table 3 and Table 4).

3.2.3. Observations and Interviews

As our team observed the process of playing—according to the identities of the players—it was found that those who were more familiar with the game, for example, board game players, board game designers, and high school students, performed similar to the internal game demos, in which someone completed the tasks in the third or fourth round. The shortest time taken to complete the tasks was 40 min. For those unfamiliar with the game, more time was needed for the explanation and guidance.
As regards interactions, board game designers, board game players, and elementary and high school students used different cards at the beginning of the game to understand the impact of the cards on their characters. In every round, someone used the attack cards against other countries; when using the diplomatic cards, they discussed with students in the same groups before negotiating with other groups. They grasped the main points and the rhythm of the game quickly and read the indicators on the task cards repeatedly.
However, the elementary school teachers and the environmental education volunteers did not use the attack cards at the early stages and were not good at negotiating with other groups. After the third round, they gained adequate familiarity with the game mechanism to proactively conduct diplomatic negotiations with other countries. The rhythm and fluency of the game improved as the players interacted with other countries and completed the tasks.
The feedback of the experts is summarized in Table 5.
The feedback from elementary and high school students and the environmental education volunteers is summarized in Table 6.

4. Conclusions

4.1. The Board Game Provides Learners with a Basic Understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals

After the 12 sessions of tests, all participants with different identities and different degrees of understanding were aware of the 17 SDGs. The learners could recognize the icons and connotations of the SDGs by playing the game.

4.2. The Game’s Integration into Teaching Can Strengthen Learners’ Reflection on Sustainable Development Issues

The tests for elementary and high school students compared the students who had been guided via educational courses and the students who had not taken the course before playing. The biggest difference observed was that students guided by educational courses had clearer ideas about every action in the game, could understand the linkages between a country’s operations and the overall environment, and could offer meaningful feedback and suggestions after deep reflections. Some of their comments included:
“Environmental education does not just tell us to perform environmental protection actions; there are several other things that we can do”.
“This game allowed me to reflect on issues such as the balance between environmental and economic development, the importance of international cooperation etc. The world is interconnected, even if it seems otherwise; each country is an important piece of the global puzzle, and steps taken now may lead to a different future”.

4.3. Simplify the Game Mechanism and Support it with Relevant Educational Courses to Help Teachers Integrate the Content into Teaching

The elementary school teachers mentioned that in order to integrate the concept into teaching, the game mechanism must be simplified. The board game designers mentioned that if this game is supported by courses taught by teachers from different fields, the game mechanism can be improved. The color design of the cards can also be modified, so that teachers can pick the relevant cards to class according to the educational purposes, and this can highlight the educational nature of the SDGs.

4.4. Commercializing the Board Game to Promote the Understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals

This study found that the board games currently available in stores cannot be completely integrated into the ESD nor can they help more people understand the SDGs. However, the board game designed in this study can help more people understand the SDGs. It can also allow learners to play games independently of courses. In the future, in order to promote the basic understanding of the SDGs, the game’s mechanism and graphic designs will be improved to promote its use in different units and fields, including the government, enterprises, and schools.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization was performed by F.-H.C. and S.-J.H.; F.-H.C. contributed to the methodology, software, validation and investigation, as well as the preparation of the original draft; F.-H.C. contributed to the resources and data curation, as well as visualizations and project administration; F.-H.C. contributed to the review and editing of the manuscript, supervision of the project; S.-J.H. contributed to the conceptualization, resources, and funding acquisition. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. Design steps of the “SDGs board game”. Source: Modified from the results of Chan-Li Lin and Wan-Wen Lai [31].
Figure 1. Design steps of the “SDGs board game”. Source: Modified from the results of Chan-Li Lin and Wan-Wen Lai [31].
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Figure 2. Game mechanism model. Source: Modified from the results of Garris et al. [34].
Figure 2. Game mechanism model. Source: Modified from the results of Garris et al. [34].
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Figure 3. The world board.
Figure 3. The world board.
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Figure 4. Personal board—national mission.
Figure 4. Personal board—national mission.
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Figure 5. Diplomatic card (presents a diplomacy card representing the occurrence of signing of carbon emission agreements).
Figure 5. Diplomatic card (presents a diplomacy card representing the occurrence of signing of carbon emission agreements).
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Figure 6. Development card (presents a development card representing the reduce marine debris and indicating correspondence with goals 12 and 14).
Figure 6. Development card (presents a development card representing the reduce marine debris and indicating correspondence with goals 12 and 14).
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Figure 7. Task card (presents a task card representing goal 10).
Figure 7. Task card (presents a task card representing goal 10).
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Figure 8. Event card (presents an event card representing extreme weather events).
Figure 8. Event card (presents an event card representing extreme weather events).
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Table 1. Educational courses and explanation of the rules of the game.
Table 1. Educational courses and explanation of the rules of the game.
Elementary School TeachersHigh School StudentsFifth GradersEnvironmental Education Volunteers
Sessions (6 sessions in total)2 sessions2 sessions1 session1 session
Number of people (240 in total)80 people80 people40 people40 people
Table 2. Explanation of the rules of the game.
Table 2. Explanation of the rules of the game.
Board Game Designers, Board Game PlayersHigh School StudentsFifth Graders
Sessions (6 sessions in total)3 sessions2 sessions1 session
Number of people (60 in total)12 people8 people40 people
Table 3. Experts and scholars.
Table 3. Experts and scholars.
Experts and ScholarsCodeBackground
2 elementary school teachersA1The academic director of an elementary school had understood the SDGs but did not know how to integrate the concept into teaching.
A2Science teacher.
Board game designerA3Had heard of the SDGs but did not know the content.
2 board game playersA4Had played board games for 8–10 years.
A5Had played board games for 3–5 years.
Table 4. Ordinary demo players.
Table 4. Ordinary demo players.
Ordinary PlayersCodeBackgrounds
2 elementary school studentsB1, B2Had never heard of the SDGs.
10 high school studentsB3–B12Had learnt about the SDGs in school but not yet familiar with the content.
5 environmental education volunteersB13–B17Had heard of sustainable development but unaware about the SDGs.
Table 5. Interview with the experts.
Table 5. Interview with the experts.
A1Board game designer
The board game is fairly interesting and possesses interactivity. I gained a preliminary understanding of the SDGs.
The partner index has little effect. This part can be improved, and the interactivity of the game can be increased.
The board game is ready for sale and there can be two objectives. First, design a mechanism for ordinary players, and the products not requiring the guidance/instructions of teachers, can be sold in board game stores. Second, design a board game especially considering the teaching goals and requiring the guidance/instructions of teachers. This can further highlight the educational nature of the SDGs.
A2Board game player
This is a strategical and operational game, with the fun and interactivity of board games; however, the fun parts and the interactivity can be improved. For example, the rounds in the game can be increased and the time intervals can be shortened, so as to prevent a situation where one player thinks for inordinately long, while the others remain inactive.
Improving the time and round rules of the game can encourage the players to replay, and capture the attention of those interested in business strategies.
A3Board game playerThe game itself is quite interesting, but the partner index is not useful. I gained a preliminary understanding of the SDGs. Enhancing the interactivity and fun of the game will make it better.
A4Elementary school teacherThe game is extremely interesting, but the process is complicated, making it difficult for teachers to lead elementary school students to play it.
A5Elementary school teacher
It is a great idea to enhance the understanding of the SDGs through board games.
If it is to be used in elementary schools, its mechanism should be simplified.
Table 6. Suggestions from demo players.
Table 6. Suggestions from demo players.
B1Elementary school studentsThe game is fun and interesting, but what are the SDGs?
B2Environmental protection is not only about resource recycling; there are numerous things that can be done.
B3High school studentsIn the beginning, I was not familiar with the game and grappled with the process. Once familiar, it reminded me of the real world. This game mimics the real world; I could actually encounter the game situations in real life.
B4Many settings in the game, such as the unbalanced distribution of world resources, the rapid consumption of natural resources, the international news after each round (the unpredictability of the future), and international agreements resemble the real world.
This game allowed me to reflect on issues such as the balance between environmental and economic development, the importance of international cooperation etc. The world is interconnected, even if it seems otherwise; each country is an important piece of the global puzzle, and steps taken now may lead to a different future.
B5This game allowed me to learn and reflect. Discussions with group members acquainted me with novel ideas; we also discussed topics related to COVID-19.
B6It is an interesting activity: combining board games with the SDGs, helping me learn more about their content. The linkages with real life are amusing.
B7Even in a game, it is difficult to balance the economy and the environment; it is doubly difficult in the real world.
This game reveals our mentality to abandon nature to pursue economic development. This human pragmatism is also the perspective most in need of change. As the global economy continues to expand, integrating the concepts of sustainable development in our social and academic curriculums is the most responsible action for the world and our homeland.
B8We saw how COVID-19 stymied all 17 SDGs. In this ever-changing era, one person may be powerless, but disseminating the SDGs to secure general consensus will ensure that national leaders and commoners support them. With a combined effort, I believe the world can achieve these goals.
B9After this class, I understand the concept of sustainable development and feel that its implementation requires the joint effort of every citizen of every country. After all, the occurrence of an event affects the whole world because of the butterfly effect.
I learnt that sustainable development encompasses a wide range of issues; it is not only limited to the economic aspect. Education, environment, and human rights are also parts of sustainable development. Although the world is becoming more prosperous, but if we only pay attention to the development of today’s society, our children and grandchildren may not be able to fulfill their needs in the future.
B11Environmental education volunteersThe content of the board game provokes deep thinking. Our actions will affect the society, the country, and international interactions. After the class, I am now willing to change my personal habits.
B12The board game explains that economies, societies, environment, governance, and international partnerships are closely related, and global cooperation in the context of the SDGs will affect everyone in this world.
B13This is different from the other theoretical courses on environmental education. These new and creative ideas can help link global effort for sustainable development.
B15This novel and interesting game helps better understand the SDGs.
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Chen, F.-H.; Ho, S.-J. Designing a Board Game about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainability 2022, 14, 11197.

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Chen F-H, Ho S-J. Designing a Board Game about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainability. 2022; 14(18):11197.

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Chen, Fong-Han, and Shin-Jia Ho. 2022. "Designing a Board Game about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals" Sustainability 14, no. 18: 11197.

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