Challenge and Persuade card game

Michael Mayhew, Science Education Solutions, Inc.
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Developed by a team of scientists from two national laboratories, education researchers, gamers, and a professional game developer, Challenge and Persuade is a highly social, fast-paced, fun-to-play card game in which players compete in applying skills in argumentation. Through game play, players come to understand the many manifestations of how the extreme amplification of the human population—exploding worldwide demand for energy, increasing exploitation of water resources, and alteration of the planet's climate—are tightly intertwined at the nexus of energy, water, and climate; one cannot be considered in isolation from the other two. Development was supported by the National Science Foundation.

keywords: energy, water, climate, environment, technology, policy

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Challenge and Persuade can be strategically embedded within courses at the undergraduate and high school levels such as Earth and Environmental Science, Geography, or Government.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Inevitably, students will bring some degree of understanding of concepts around carbon-based vs. renewable energy sources, consumption of water resources, and anthropogenic climate change to the game play. The more such knowledge, the more comfortable the students will be with game play. However, few will likely have grasped the Nexus concept: the energy-water-climate interdependency and its many manifestations. Prior knowledge depends on the degree to which an instructor chooses to provide a knowledge base via classroom assignments in order to set the stage for game play.

How the activity is situated in the course

Much depends on the strategy for embedding the game within a course. It might be used at the beginning as an introduction to concepts and gauge of prior knowledge. Or it might be used at the end as an application of knowledge gained via the course.

The For Educators section of the supporting website ( has sections explaining how game play aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards, the Common Core Curriculum, and the National Research Council's Strands of Science Learning.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The primary concept to be gained by game play is that of the "Nexus," that energy demand, water resource exploitation, and climate change are tightly intertwined. This can be summarized as follows:

All processes for generating energy require consumption of water, for some processes enormous quantities. It takes water to get energy. The inverse is also true: it takes energy to get water. It takes energy to move water from where it is stored to where it is needed. An exponential increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels is causing a gradual increase in the average temperature of the Earth. But the response of the climate system to an overall warming is exceedingly complex. Changes in atmospheric circulation patterns due to global warming are altering weather patterns and changing the distribution of water on the planet. The frequency of certain extreme weather events is on the rise. Some areas are experiencing prolonged heat waves—and associated drought—while other areas are experiencing torrential rainfall—and associated catastrophic flooding. Such climate-related events alter availability of water and impact energy supplies and demand. In addition to the primary concept, students learn about the many manifestations of the Nexus via the Challenge cards.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Traditional science classrooms promote the idea of scientific knowledge as a series of facts and acquired knowledge rather than a product of reasoning and rigorous discussions based on evidence. Game play offers a way to change learning dynamics and promote active learning and critical thinking. Playing Challenge and Persuade teaches and strengthens skills needed for assessing information, thinking logically and creatively, constructing strong arguments, and critically evaluating the arguments of others.

Other skills goals for this activity

An instructor could base writing assignments on the Nexus concept and its many manifestations on which the game is based. It could be the basis for debate and development of oral and written argumentation skills.

Description and Teaching Materials

Challenge and Persuade involves two card decks, the first containing a set of adjectives, the second containing a series of facts, each in some way related to the inter-dependency of energy, water, and climate. Players take turns being the "Judge," who calls out the adjective on a drawn card. Other players must make up an argument based on information in three drawn "fact" cards and using the adjective. Other players may vigorously challenge the argument. The player with the best argument as determined by the Judge wins the round. Then the role of Judge rotates to another player. The first player to win three rounds wins the game. This game can become quite riotous.

Examples of the adjectives called out by the Judge via the Challenge cards are: Awesome, Lucrative, Practical, Catastrophic. "Facts" on the "Methane Capture" Persuade card are, "Methane is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, but lasts half as long in the atmosphere," " Big sources of methane release are the belches, gas, and poop of farm animals, landfills, and leaky gas wells," and "Capturing methane before it gets into the atmosphere helps reduce the effects of climate change." "Facts" on the "Algae Biofuel" Persuade card are, "Algae biofuel can be grown in wastewater," "Algae biofuel could provide up to 40% of U.S. transportation fuel," "Algae can potentially produce 100 times more oil per acre than any other biofuel crop," and "Algae biofuel needs technological advances before it can be sustainably produced."

Challenge and Persuade and a companion Nexus-based game, Thirst for Power, are backed by a website, In addition to descriptions of the games, the website contains sections on guidance for instructors, an extensive set of relevant Resources, and a page titled "What is the Nexus?" The games are commercially available at modest cost via the website, with a significant discount for educational organizations..

The boxed game is all that is needed for this activity. Each box contains the basic rules for game play; a section of the website contains a somewhat more elaborate explanation of the rules. An instructor might want to assign a selection of readings from the Resources section of the website ( in advance of game play. A single game can accommodate 3-6 players.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Two class periods are recommended for this activity. Readings can be assigned as homework, with one class period reserved for discussion. A second class period could be used for game play of either one or both of Challenge and Persuade and Thirst for Power followed by a debriefing and possible writing assignment or debate based on knowledge and perspective gained during the game play.


Challenge and Persuade can enrich and extend learning achieved within a course. A post-game guided, reflective discussion is a strong means to evaluate content and concepts learned. A quiz or writing assignment could also assess the degree to which concepts integral to the game have been learned. The types of learning outcomes expected involve a systems-level understanding of the intricacies and interrelationships of energy, water, and climate issues. Players should recognize relationships between energy types, energy generation, water usage, and environmental impact and the impacts of policies and climate events on strategies for reaching energy goals. Prompting questions within a discussion may be used to get at the heart of how the players strategized and their thought process as the constructed arguments throughout the game.

References and Resources is an extensive collection of Resources that will further understanding of the inter-dependency among energy, water, and climate and its many manifestations. A deeper understanding of the Nexus will enrich the game play experience by relating game content to real world scenarios. The Resources are stand-alone articles that complement the content in the games and are a basis for assignments and classroom discussion; they are in three parts:
The Resources are updated periodically.