Watershed: Arizona — Can a strategy board game connect Arizonans to their watersheds?

Ian Dowdy, Center for the Future of Arizona

"The Watershed board game is a fun and unique approach to improving Arizonans' understanding of their complex water supply and demand systems."

- Sarah Porter, Director, Kyl Center for Water Policy


As water resources get more scarce in the American West, we need to be responsive to changing conditions. While Arizona's water systems are now resilient (able to recover from shock), durable (reliable and unlikely to fail) and robust (covering the expanse of current need), they have not always been this way. Arizonans in the past were able to respond to need and develop the necessary infrastructures that result in what we have today. This was not always easy, and in many cases, the public will needed to implement the actions was not secured until after a significant shock. What shocks might be necessary to encourage ongoing investment in our resilience? If we were able to improve public awareness of the risks of inaction, might we prevent future disasters? If we could anticipate the hazards of the future and have the will to address them, couldn't we prepare by building necessary infrastructures to prevent, mitigate or reduce the impacts?

The complexity and creativity of Arizona's water and growth infrastructures result in low public awareness and appreciation. Watershed:  Arizona will allow players to rebuild these policies and tools to gain an understanding of how they relate to the resilience of our water supply and demand systems. With its close alignment with the historical implementation of policies, projects and growth, the game will help players better understand and appreciate the necessity of our policies and investments and will encourage them to want to protect and expand them if necessary.

Research questions

  • How might a popular public education tool like a board game improve the public understanding of our complex urban planning, water resource and environmental laws?

  • What are the essential elements of Arizona's watersheds, water management systems and urban form that would need to be integrated into a board game?

  • What would a board game have to consist of in order to be attractive to the public and successful at education about watersheds, water resource management and urban planning?

Methods and findings

To develop the Watershed: Arizona board game, Dowdy began by identifying the fundamental aspects of Arizona's urban growth, water resource management and watershed health. This involved extensive research into each area and the generalization of each into basic components. In order to develop a game that could be marketable, his team created basic game art and evaluated modern board games to identify game mechanics that could be translated to the Watershed project. In addition, they developed communications and marketing tools including a website, brand logos, and identity standards to support a crowd funding campaign to bring the game to market.

If appropriately designed as a fun and challenging strategy board game, Watershed: Arizona could be a very useful public education tools. Its design will integrate popular elements in turn-based games, including worker placement, asymmetrical advancement, collaborative objectives, and risk modifiers to make it on par with similar games of this era. By aligning modern board game mechanics with Arizona's storied history, watershed stewardship goals, water delivery challenges, and urban growth management, Watershed: Arizona can be much more than an education tool — it can be a fun game that challenges board game experts and casual players alike.


  • Center for the Future of Arizona

  • ASU Knowledge Exchange for Resilience

  • Kyl Center for Water Policy


If Watershed: Arizona is released to the public and receives a reasonable amount of acceptance by the broader population, it will improve general awareness of the complex systems of watershed stewardship, water resource management and urban growth management. It will also be a tool that can be accompanied by educational resources that further expand understanding and build public support for protecting our water and environmental infrastructures.


Dowdy created a complete and working model of the Watershed: Arizona board game, ready for funding through Kickstarter. He also developed brand identity guidelines, a public website, a kickstarter page and 3D models of the game.

Learn more at watershedgame.com.

Ian Dowdy

A Portrait of Ian Dowdy

Director of Strategic Data Initiatives
Center for the Future of Arizona

Community Fellow, 2021

Ian Dowdy currently serves as the Director of Strategic Data Initiatives for CFA and is a certified urban planner with a diverse background working in the public sector, performing master planning and land entitlements in the private sector, and has spent the last eight years of his career in public policy surrounding conservation and sustainable economic development in the non-profit arena. In his previous position with the Sonoran Institute, Ian led the Sustainable Landscapes and Communities team that focused on improving the quality-of-life, economy, and environment of the Sun Corridor megapolitan region of Arizona which includes Phoenix, Tucson and Prescott.

As an avid hiker, backpacker, and occasional angler, Ian has explored Arizona’s out-of-the-way places and is passionate about conserving resources for future generations. Recently Ian has served on various boards and commissions including the Central Arizona Conservation Alliance Steering Committee, the City of Peoria Quality of Life Commission, the Arizona Alliance for Livable Communities Steering Committee, the White Tank Mountains Conservancy Governing Board, and the Faith House Domestic Violence Shelter Advisory Committee.

Ian was honored with the 2020 Community Practitioner Award from the ASU School of Geographical Sciences and Planning.