Enhancing Integrated Pest Management Skills Through Pest Friends, an Educational Board Game

Progress report for WPDP22-005

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2022: $99,990.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Host Institution Award ID: G368-22-W9214
Grant Recipient: University of Idaho Extension Minidoka County
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
Jason Thomas
University of Idaho Extension Minidoka County
Grant Loomis
University of Idaho Extension-Blaine County
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Project Information


One challenge to sustainable agriculture is helping farmers adopt principles of integrated pest management (IPM). Most IPM education for farmers is conducted through traditional trainings. To provide an alternative approach our team designed an innovative pest management board game that simulates pest management decision making. In the game, players take on the role of a pest management team who are given the task of producing the healthiest crops possible while using their limited resources efficiently. Each choice the players make has consequences on the field composition and their final score. Currently, there are only three playtest copies of the game but most of our test audience reported feeling more engaged and learning more through the game compared to traditional training experiences. The goal of our proposal is to make this tool more widely available and accessible to agricultural educators (extension educators, agents, and agricultural teachers). To accomplish this, these funds will allow us to improve the art quality of the game, produce and disseminate more copies, investigate the addition of more game scenarios, create a web-based tool to support game facilitators, and put on multiple workshops at land grant universities in the western region or with similar partners. To further improve this tool, we will collect feedback during and following each workshop from agricultural educators and from participants who play the game.

Project Objectives:

Objective 1: Increase the availability of game-based learning through increased production of the Pest Friends board game as a tool for agricultural educators in the western region to teach their clientele about IPM through experiential learning. No other board games are available currently that cover these concepts and allow this type of simulated learning experience.

Objective 2: Increase the comfort level and capacity of western agricultural educators to use this tool to educate farmers and agriculture students about the principles of integrated pest management. Using a new tool can be difficult and running a new board game straight out of the box can be intimidating to those who don’t play board games often. The genre is new and innovative, so providing additional training and support resources will help educators use the tool successfully.

Objective 3: Design, play test, and investigate the creation of new scenarios to add to Pest Friends that are tailored for a wider variety of audiences. Our plan is to integrate other agricultural concepts and scenarios into the game such as vegetable crops, livestock production, greenhouse production, and the use of cover crops. With additional modules and scenarios, the game would be used by educators more often and within other commodity groups. Currently the board game has one scenario, which limits the ability of educators to run the game multiple times with the same audience.

Objective 4: Gather additional feedback about the educational value of Pest Friends from those who play the game including farmers, agricultural students, producers, and a wider variety of audiences. At this point, we have only play tested the board game with approximately 40 individuals. We will also explore the use of this tool to help the public understand the complexities of farming, pest management, and other sustainability concepts.


April-December 2022

Cover Art Development

A professional artist with graphic design experience will improve the visual nature of the game, making it more appealing with a more professional look. Incorporating additional symbols and graphics will make the game easier to learn and play.

Facilitator Aid Development

Critical test audience feedback indicates that new facilitators may get intimidated trying to run the game themselves. Currently, facilitators must keep track of damage occurring to the crop, insect reproduction, the effects of predators, and the effects of player choices. To streamline these factors for new facilitators we will develop a web-based program to keep track of the consequences of player decisions and how populations fluctuate throughout the game. The design will feature a user-friendly interface focused on ease of access for all experience levels.

Setting up Workshops

At the start of the project, we will secure partners to help us conduct workshops for agricultural educators. Our primary emphasis will be partnering with states/territories in the Western region. Partners will include Cooperative Extension systems, agricultural teachers’ associations, professional organizations, and other educational groups. Workshops will be scheduled for 2023 and 2024.

Game Production

Once cover art is completed, 600 copies of the board game will be printed to distribute to agricultural educators at workshops. Currently, we work with The Game Crafter LLC in Madison, Wisconsin.

Additional Module/Scenario Play Testing

We will develop additional modules and scenarios to expand the variety of the game, with scenarios involving livestock, greenhouses, and weeds. We will also play test these modules to evaluate their educational value. This activity will be ongoing throughout the course of the grant.

January 2023-March 2025


Once copies of the game are available and partners are secured, we will schedule workshops to provide partners with at least 4 hours of hands-on training, copies of the board game, access to the web-based program, and other supporting materials.

Ongoing Data Collection

All agricultural educators attending the training will be added to a mailing list for ongoing communication about the game. Reminders will be sent to encourage their participants to fill out post-game evaluations and return to us for future improvements, to provide game updates, and learn about new expansions in production. They will also be contacted to gather feedback about the development and play testing of new modules for the game.


Educational approach:

The pest friends board game was designed as a curriculum to use with farmers and other agricultural audiences. The game is focused on experiential learning by allowing players to make choices and experience consequences. Within the game the players get to make choices about scouting, what controls to use and how to manage risk in their crop. By doing and practicing concepts in a simulated experience players are able to be more engaged than they would be with a typical slide show presentation on these topics. Early 2023, we received 350 copies of the board game, this is much less product than we anticipated due to inflation. With these copies in hand 2023 was a year in which we reached a large number of individuals with our program. We conducted a combination of in person and virtual workshops teaching educators in Idaho and other western states. This included a workshop for Idaho school teachers from our region, extension workshops in Hawaii and Montana, and with the WERA 1017 group, which is a Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group that facilitates collaboration of Integrated Pest Management research and extension/educational programs in the Western States and Pacific Basin Territories. Attendees were trained on how to use the Pest Friends board game and given a copy of the board game to use for educational purposes.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Integrated Pest Management

1.Increase the availability of game-based learning through increased production of the Pest Friends board game as a tool for agricultural educators in the western region to teach their clientele about IPM through experiential learning.


As part of this process, we have worked to develop the pest friends board game which is now fully peer reviewed and published. We received 350 copies of the board game in early 2023 and have been primarily distributing the games to partners in the Western States, so far, we have copies in the hands of educators from Idaho, Alaska, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Hawaii, California, Washington and Oregon. Those with copies include Extension Educators, Extension Specialists, Public School Teachers, Home School Groups and College Professors.

Outcomes and impacts:

Three hundred and fifty copies of the pest friends board game have been printed and to this date, 192 copies of the board game have been distributed to agricultural educators who have attended one of our workshops or purchased the game to use for educational purposes. 

Integrated Pest Management

2.Increase the comfort level and capacity of western agricultural educators to use this tool to educate farmers and agriculture students about the principles of integrated pest management.


As part of our work, we have created a full-fledged rule book to assist with teaching moderators how to run the game. We also created a Pest Friends website at pestfriends.org. The purpose of the website is to help moderators run the game. The website assists them with calculations and changes to the field over time. It breaks steps down slowly to make it easy to run the game both physically and in a completely digital format. To access the website users must create an account. 

Outcomes and impacts:

Of these users, 20 of them played the game with 464 individuals as of January 4th. This indicates that tool is a success as multiple users are implementing it into their educational programs. Of games that our team (Loomis and Thomas) played with audiences we played with 498 individuals using the digital tools above. We anticipate that over time, those who we trained will play the game with more individuals than we will.

Integrated Pest Management

Design, play test, and investigate the creation of new scenarios to add to Pest Friends that are tailored for a wider variety of audiences.


At this point we are currently playtesting a variety of additional scenarios. The main expansion going through the peer review process at this time is the Events expansion. The Pest Friends: Events Expansion enriches the board game with 15 event cards and 8 alternate colonization cards, introducing a staggering 1,680 possible scenarios. Players navigate dynamic challenges, adapt strategies, and experience diverse consequences, enhancing replayability and fostering critical thinking in the realm of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). We are also still working on a potential weed scenario in coordination with the University of Idaho Weed Specialist, Albert Adjesiwor.


Outcomes and impacts:

We anticipate releasing the events expansion and have copies published and ready to ship out late 2024.

Integrated Pest Management

Gather additional feedback about the educational value of Pest Friends from those who play the game including farmers, agricultural students, producers, and a wider variety of audiences.


When we submitted our application, we had only played the game with 40 individuals. At this point we have played the game with 1272 individuals. As we continue to play the game we gain additional feedback about the value of the game and ways to modify it for new audiences. One audience we are considering is youth below the age of 12 which are not as skilled at reading as our main audience. This type of project would require additional money, but we are exploring other ways to use the game in these ways. We are playtesting with middle school youth with the game to see how youth and teachers respond.

Outcomes and impacts:

We have reached an additional 1232 individuals who played the game and gained an increased knowledge of the principles of pest management.

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Journal articles
7 Online trainings
1 Published press articles, newsletters
1 Webinars / talks / presentations
8 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

180 Extension
15 Researchers
25 Nonprofit
20 Agency
150 Farmers/ranchers
872 Others

Learning Outcomes

1,272 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
72 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The pest friends board game is now a fully published peer reviewed curricula. The game has updated art and exceptional graphic design. We also published an article about the board game and our work with it in the Journal of National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA). The game is now available for purchase from interested educators and professionals worldwide. To date 192 copies of the board game are in the hands of educators. Of these educators we have provided hands on training to 80 of them in the Western Region teaching them how to run the board game, utilize the online tool and facilitate a meaningful learning experience using the pest friends board game. This was accomplished by holding multiple workshops including the 2023 Montana Ag Agents Annual Meeting, The 2023 WERA 1016 Annual Meeting Held in Homer Alaska, The 2023 Hawaii AgPro Meeting held on the island of Kauaii, The Idaho Ag in the Classroom Spring 2023 meeting, a workshop with the University of Arizona Maricopa County Office and small group meetings with interested Idaho educators.

In addition, to increase awareness of the board game we traveled to the National Entomological Society of America's annual meeting held in the Maryland/Washington DC area and the National Association of County Agricultural Agents held in Des Moines, Iowa. At these meetings we met with individuals from the western region to share the tool and play it with them and even received interest from folks beyond the Western Region. At these meetings we made contacts with Jason De Koff from Tennessee State University, who requested we do a virtual online workshop for some of his colleagues. 20 individuals were in attendance and the materials were shared online. As part of the work, Tennessee partners purchased 40 copies of the board game which were shipped out to them to use. Multiple individuals from this Tennessee group have reached out to share feedback with us and asked questions about how to run the game. We also had an individual acquire a copy of the Pest Friends board game which he is currently using in teaching capacities.

80 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
Additional Outcomes:

In the fall we completed all artwork for the game and then transitioned into the final publishing phase by fine tuning graphic design and final peer review. All game files for the base game have been completed and have been sent off to the printer. Our original goal was to be able to print 600 copies of the board game, but due to greatly rising inflation costs and additional components we had to add to the game based on peer review we were only able to purchase 350 copies for the original price we anticipated. These copies of the game should arrive by April 2023 by our current estimates. Having more copies will make the game more readily available to interested educators who want to use the tool. To increase the comfort level and capacity of western agricultural educators who may use this tool we have already begun production of an application to assist the moderator with running the game. We anticipate this web based program will be completed and ready to use by Mid 2023 at the latest. They are also making progress on a digital version of the game that will be much more accessible. To increase comfort level we are already planning workshops with a few western states. We currently have a date set for going to Montana State to help teach their extension educators early 2023. We are in talks with the Idaho Agricultural Teachers Association, Idaho Ag in the Classroom Group, Utah State University and the University of Hawaii. We are working on playtesting and developing additional scenarios at this time and should have another scenario ready to officially release by the middle of next year.

Success stories:

One event where we showcased the curriculum and played it with an important audience was at the University of Idaho Extension Overall Advisory (which consists of 12 stakeholders from across the state with varying fields of work). They had the opportunity to play the game and experience it. Their response to us was mostly positive. In a survey we gave them:

  • 100% indicated they felt this experience was more engaging than a typical hour long slideshow training
  • 75% indicated they felt like they learned more through this experience than they would in a typical hour long slideshow training.
  • 88% of them indicated that this has a lot of value for Idaho youth
  • 86% of them indicated they felt this had a lot of value for Idaho farmers
  • 88% of them felt that extension should be developing more educational games like this.

A strongly requested feature is designing something more youth focused and with greater ease of access.

Information Products

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.