Living Lands is part of ESSA’s effort to bring scholarship out of the university and into the community, by engaging one another in diverse ways of knowing and learning. It is a free print-and-play board game designed to teach groups of 5 players about the ‘Onk Akimel, or Salt River. Play it in the classroom, in the home, or wherever you like.

Living Lands is produced by an interdisciplinary team of river ecologists, sociologists, philosophers, artists, and community members, indigenous and settler alike. We hope it will challenge dominant Western narratives about the river and nurture a sense of kinship and belonging among players.

Play Living Lands

About the game

In Living Lands, you play as some of the critters who live along the ‘Onk Akimel. Your goal is to survive and thrive as a community, while navigating these rich, ever-changing lands together.

But there’s a twist: You’re not the only ones who live here. The river itself will be playing, too, and there are many other forces at work in these lands. Along the way, you’ll face many of the same challenges that the ‘Onk Akimel has faced throughout history…

The animals

Become the ‘Onk Akimel’s curious critters, with special abilities that represent their real-world roles in the environment.

In the search for food and water, you’ll need to flex your talents to survive. Will you leap from bank to bank searching for grubs, like the red-spotted toad? Fly between oases like the great-tailed grackle? Or change strategies with the changing times, like the coyote?

The river

Journey through the ‘Onk Akimel’s past, present, and future.

As you play, events will unfold around you. Seasonal flooding may scour the banks, bringing both disaster and renewal… Or the construction of a dam may divert water away from those who need it most.

About the team

Living Lands has been made by many hands, though we all share a common home here in the Salt River Valley.

Development team: Savage Cree Hess, Arshonne Cazares, Zoe Gentry, Michele Clark, Beckett Sterner, Nancy Grimm, Jennifer Keahey, Liliana Caughman, Michelle Hale.

Partners:  Phoenix Indian Center, Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER), Humanities Lab, Leonardo Initiative, Earth Systems Science for the Anthropocene

Customize Living Lands

Living Lands is free to edit, transform, localize, customize, or personalize to your community, rivers, and landscapes. Go wild! Share your version of the game with us at , we’d love to see what you do with it.

You can find all of the art assets used to create Living Lands at the link below. This includes editable versions of the art, rulebook, and game pieces, as well as a brief guide on how to edit.

Feedback + contact

Living Lands could not exist without its players– We want your feedback! This is a living document, and we believe that your insight makes it the best that it can be.

You can send us a line at, or share your thoughts anonymously at


This game was created in the occupied homelands of the Akimel O’odham (Pima), Pee-Posh and Piipash (Maricopa), Yavapai, and Dilzhé`e (Tonto Apache), through which the Salt River flows. In all that we do, let us work to restore tribal sovereignty, to heal, and to nurture a more just world.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to everyone who has play tested Living Lands and developed it into what it is today– and, with any luck, what it will be tomorrow. We thank the Youth Council at Phoenix Indian Center for their insightful feedback during playtesting, and the extended CAP LTER family for their support, playtesting, and outreach. We also acknowledge the Humanities Lab and Leonardo Initiative for funding the pilot version of Living Lands, and for their tremendous enthusiasm for the project.