Data Games – SNAPOPOLY

Team member names: Sarah, Kate, Wataru, and Michael

Audience of the story: playing the game (Snapopoly) with middle school and high school kids as a kick off to a volunteer fair at their school. This can help people to learn about how to help fight hunger in their area (city, state, etc.)

Our goal: the main objective is to demonstrate the importance and interdependence of SNAP, food banks and charities in fighting food insecurity, and to encourage people to take a more active role in volunteering for this cause.  

Who we are in the story: we are the people that organized the volunteer fair at the school and we work with local food donation organizations to combat food security problems.

Context of the story: we are presenting a monopoly board at a school volunteer fair. The board and the game mechanics are driven by food stamp (SNAP) data, USDA budget spending data, and food bank donations data. By going to the fair and by playing the game, people can learn about how to volunteer in their community from different organizations.

The Sketch:

This project is focused on participatory data games. Our group was interested in food security data and how SNAP (food stamps) affects people’s lives here in Cambridge, MA. We also used data from different grocery stores and vendors to help create the game. Please see the “Data” section at the end of this blog post for more detail regarding the data used for this project.

We used the mechanics and ideas of the very popular board game, Monopoly, but changed the underlying meaning behind the spaces and rules of traditional Monopoly. We considered many potential variations of the rules, but ultimately chose a set of rules that we believed helped represent that data well. Our full list of rules and instructions are detailed in the provided instruction manual, but some of the most important pieces of the game are listed below:

  • Each of the colored spaces represents a location in which a player would purchase food or some sort of sustenance. The least expensive options at the beginning and most expensive options at the end of the round.  The price of food was determined by a USDA study on average grocery budgets from “Thrifty” to “Luxury”. In order to purchase groceries, you spend your SNAP food stamp allotment at each store and get 1 meal chip. Each meal chip is worth 1 week’s worth of food.


  • Players can land on chance or community chest cards that are either detrimental or beneficial in the player’s fight against hunger.  The community chest cards all represent different organizations present at the volunteer fair (e.g. food bank, meals on wheels, etc.), and the frequency of the community chest cards is proportional to the pounds of food donated in boston.  Each community chest card has a more detailed description of the charity so that you can learn more about the group.


  • Each trip around the board represents a month.  After you have made one trip around the month, you need to trade in 4 meal chips (equivalent to 1 month’s worth of food) in order to pass go, collect another month’s worth of food stamps, and keep playing.


  • The gameplay slightly changes between rounds:


    • Round 1: no charities are present (community chest cards are out of play), additionally the free parking “food rescue” spot is out of play, and all food is considered “wasted”.
    • Round 2: all community chest cards are in play, and meal chips start accruing in the food rescue spot at the rate of a quarter chip accrued for every meal chip purchased. Anyone who lands on food rescue gets all of the accrued meal chips for free.

The game has been designed, based on the pre-established probabilities of landing on each monopoly square so that on average, after Round 1, the player will be out of money and will have ~2.8 meal chips (fewer than the 4 meal chips required to keep playing).  Then, after the game restarts for Round 2, the odds are now that, on average, the player will still be out of money, but they will have accrued 4.4 meal chips and can therefore keep playing. We have purposefully designed these odds (using the chance cards to make the game play at the right level of difficulty) so that it is very difficult to win the game in the first round, and moderately difficult (but not impossible) to win the game during the 2nd round.  This will provide a “Call to Action” showing that these organizations serve a vital role in the community and are still very much in need of help.

In order to further assist the call to action, the instruction manual has added resources on how to navigate the volunteer fair (where the different booths are), contact information for how to get involved, etc.

The Board Game in Round 1, Round 2, Chance Cards, and Community Chest Cards are displayed in the figures at the end of the blog.

Data Used:

  • Food stamp monthly budget for single person
  • Pounds of food donated to the Greater Boston Food Bank by donation type (food bank, soup kitchen, after school programs, etc.)
  • Meals on Wheels food donated, scaled to city of Boston population
  • Average weekly meal spend according to USDA:
  • Food waste generated (40% of all food produced is wasted, we are generously assuming you can recover 25% of all food produced through food rescue, this is to make sure the food rescue dynamic comes into the game play, otherwise it is too small)
  • Food Deserts – (40% of Boston is a Food Desert, we have 26% of our board occupied by food deserts in round 1, due to game play mechanics, otherwise the proportion is too large to demonstrate other concepts).

Figure 1: Snapopoly game board (Round 1)


Figure 2: Snapopoly game board (Round 2)


Figure 3: Chance cards


Figure 4: Community Chest Cards