Board game is no trivial pursuit

Environmental group, artist team up to teach about land-use issues

by Barbara Szul

Tribune staff writer, Chicago Tribune, Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Sponsored by the environmental group the McHenry County Defenders, the "turf war" centered on Landmark Decisions, a board game designed by a local artist that’s intended to teach the benefits of conservation.

The game was created by Nancy Steinmeyer as a companion to her artwork, which uses ghostlike images of scenes around McHenry county before and after development.

Each work consists of a landscape covered by a mesh screen that superimposes a painting of the same site at another time. The artwork and the game will remain on display in the gallery through February 25th.

"In the game, you decide what you want to do with land just like owners do," said Steinmeyer, who described the county as a sandbox that must be shared by people supporting conservation and those backing development.

The tournament was part of "Full Moon Theatre," an environmental forum sponsored each month by the Defenders. Steinmeyer is a member of the grassroots group.

"The paintings give me a sense of loss," said Ray Beth, 53, a McHenry County native whose family immigrated from Europe to Woodstock about 150 years ago. "The game reflects the same thing: what is being taken away from the county."

Landmark Decisions is played by two or more people on a board that has a map of undeveloped land on the Kishwaukee River watershed in McHenry County divided into 36 squares or tracts.

Contestants get 30 tiles representing conservation with pictures of corn, fish and deer, and 18 tiles depicting development, bearing pipelines, factories, and housing. Players spin a wheel with numbers corresponding to tracts on the board, then decide whether to build or conserve on that tract.

The aim is to get five identical conservation tiles on adjacent tracts. Players can block each other or help each other.

"Cooperation helped in the game the way it does in saving the environment," tournament winner B.J. Jones, 63, of Woodstock said.

Many players at the tournament were reluctant to use development tiles to block other players because they destroy wetlands, farmland and forest, but Steinmeyer said there "is a bigger lesson to be learned" when these tiles are played.

"It can be so much fun to get a little goofy, take on a role you wouldn’t normally and try to kill everything," said Becki Clayborn, a Defenders member. "It shows the different viewpoints of life."

"It’s a fun, simple way to teach people that each land-use decision effects the environment," said Meg Bradshaw, another Defenders member.

Steinmeyer spent four months researching the game, work that she said has changed her.

"I’m more diligent," she said. "I pull litter out of the ditch and recycle cans and bottles."

The long term goal is to market the game using different facts for different areas. For now, the aim is to share it through educational programs.

Steinmeyer quickly admits the game is an oversimplification of complex environmental issues, but it exaggerates extremes to make it enjoyable for the children.

"The game is about cause and effect," she said. "My hope is that when the kids are 21, they’ll go ‘OK, if I do this, something else might happen.’"


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