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This town-building game teaches complex systems. Made in partnership with the Scalable Systems Lab at UW-Madison. Played by thousands of kids a month.

At a Glance

  • Subject: Sciences and Agriculture
  • Grades: 7-12
  • Playtime: 30-45 minutes
  • Play from a web browser—no logins or downloads required
  • Free to play

About the Game

In this strategic building game, you’ve decided to build a new town called Lakeland. In order to grow your town and keep your people alive, you need food and resources.

Luckily, you’ve got some friendly advisors to help you get started. Your Farm Advisor shows you how to grow corn. Now your people have food! Then you start a dairy farm. People love dairy. Milk, cheese, ice cream… what could go wrong?

As it turns out, a lot. Cows don’t just produce milk. They also produce lots and lots of poop, which means the lakes your people love are about to turn into a toxic cesspool of blue-green algae. Your mission: grow your town without destroying their lakes.

This game puts kids in charge of building their own town. Players add houses and farms, export produce, and manage resources like food, money, and manure. Students will get an introduction to the complex relationship between farming, soil nutrition, and lake pollution.

Want to learn more about Lakeland and Victor Zavala's research? Read the Story

Teach with Lakeland

Teachers can use Lakeland to explore the dynamics of the nutrient system and help students recognize the impact humans have on the world.

This game helps students visualize the complex relationship between dairy farming, soil nutrition, and lake pollution. Time is compressed so that students can see the long-term effects within a 20-30 minute game. Students will get a sense of the difficulty of balancing farming and business demands with sustainability and happiness.

Let kids figure out how the game works with little introduction. Remember, struggling to figure it out is part of the fun process. It’s okay for kids to experiment, fail, and start again.

Teaching Standards

The game addresses the Next Generation Science Standards essential practice of Modeling alongside the cross-cutting concepts of Patterns, Cause and Effect, and Systems and System Models. The game also relates to the below Next Generation Science Standards:

Middle School Standards:

Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.

Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.

Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.

Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.

Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.

High School Standards:

Use mathematical and/or computational representations to support explanations of factors that affect carrying capacity of ecosystems at different scales.

Use mathematical representations to support and revise explanations based on evidence about factors affecting biodiversity and populations in ecosystems of different scales.

Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.

Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.

Create or revise a simulation to test a solution to mitigate adverse impacts of human activity on biodiversity.

Executive Producer

Victor M. Zavala


David Gagnon

Game Design

Philip Dougherty

Creative Direction

Sarah Gagnon

Software Development

Philip Dougherty

Education Fellows Director

Jim Mathews

User Interface

Eric Lang

Art & Animation

Eric Lang

Subject Expertise

Victor M. Zavala
Rebecca Larson


Lindy Biller
Philip Dougherty

Original Music & Sound

Cyril Peck

Playtesting and Evaluation Coordination

Jim Mathews
Jenn Scianna

Data Analytics

John Mcclosky
Luke Swanson
Jenn Scianna
Erik Harpstead
Stefan Slater
Philip Dougherty
David Gagnon

Administration Support

Angel Cartagena
Adam Chase
Ahna Holliday
Becki Kohl
Jim Lyne

Farming and Phosphorus Educator Fellows

Amy Workman
Anthony Schnell
Benjamin Stern
Craig Corcoran
Heather Messer
Meghan Sawdy
Olivia Dachel
Robert Turner
Zeth Engel

Testing and Design Feedback

Students of Reedsburg Area High School
Students of Lodi High School
Students of Fox Valley Lutheran High School
Students of Guilford High School
Students of Clark Street Community School
Students of Vincent High School
Students of Merrill High School
Students of Omro High School
Students of DeForest High School

WCATY Coding Camp at UW Madison

Jayvyn G.
Henry T.
Nethra G.
Zane Y.
Sidney M.
Brennan R.
Lucy W.

MSCR STEM Camp at UW Madison

Gabe W.
Ava E.

Cambridge School District Summer School

Jacob S.

Special Thanks

Travis Tangen
Dan Murphy
Jerrod Buckner
Bryan Knowles
Students and Staff of the Scalable Systems Laboratory

Ideas for Implementation

Discussion Questions:

  • What happens to your farms and the algae in response to nutrient levels?
  • What could be done to prevent future algae blooms?
  • If you were to start your towns over, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently? What impact do you think those decisions would have?
  • As you were growing your town, what conflicts arose between different priorities?
  • What solutions are available in the real word that are not represented in the game?


  • Create a gallery walk by having students take screenshots of their final towns. Analyze similarities and differences in town structure, algae growth, and resource accumulation.
  • Construct a flow chart of how nutrients move through the town system. Adapt the flow chart to include other factors not depicted in the game. Infer what effect the additions would have on the lake’s algae status.
  • Investigate a local waterway and develop a plan for nutrient management as a component of water quality.

Source Code

Lakeland is an open-source project licensed under the MIT license. learn more

Funding Provided By

United States Department of Agriculture Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water (USDA INFEWS). Principal Investigator: Victor M. Zavala

Additional Funding Provided By

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction,
Wisconsin Center for Education Research