30 Apr 2021

Fly-A-Way: the bird migration board game with an important message

You’re a bird leaving on migration: will you perish en route or reach your breeding grounds safely? It sounds like a game of chance, but conservation can make a real difference to the outcome. This is the message of Fly-A-Way, an exciting new board game developed with BirdLife…

Fly-A-Way is designed and published by Tuber in Singapore
Fly-A-Way is designed and published by Tuber in Singapore
By James Lowen

Do you have what it takes to be the ultimate bird conservationist and help a Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha (Vulnerable) migrate successfully from its Japanese breeding grounds to winter in Borneo? A thrilling new board game called Fly-A-Way will help you find out – while helping you appreciate the perils faced by millions of migratory birds as they journey along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.

Ostensibly, Fly-A-Way is a competitive, family-friendly board game. Considered from another angle however, it is an innovative environmental education tool that, thanks to advice from Ding Li Yong (BirdLife’s Flyways Co-ordinator – Asia), will share conservation messages with entirely fresh audiences. “A game is an ideal way to connect people on a personal level with the complex issues of biodiversity conservation,” explains Simon Vincent, a game designer from Tuber, Fly-A-Way’s publisher.

Players guide migrant bird species hailing from wetlands, forest and open-country habitats on their autumn migration southwards along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. This route stretches from Arctic Russia and North America to New Zealand, encompasses 37 countries and is used by more than 500 migratory bird species. The jaw-dropping scale of avian movement includes fifty million waterbirds flooding along coastlines and traversing seas.

Given the endurance feats demanded, migration is inherently risky. Natural obstacles like inclement weather can spell disaster. But, as the game makes clear, human activity increasingly stacks the odds against successful migration. The United Nations has estimated that infrastructure could affect more than three quarters of the Asia-Pacific land surface by 2032. Worrying signs are already rife: nearly two-thirds of waterbird populations are declining and 80% of wetlands in East and Southeast Asia are imperilled. Ten per cent of species using the flyway are globally threatened.


Species showcased in the game match BirdLife conservation priorities

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These are stark messages to convey through play. Like the birds’ dramatic travels, success in the game comes far from easily. Migrants are hindered by a litany of real-life dangers in the guise of ‘Fowl Play’ cards – “threats that BirdLife has identified as significant in Asia,” Yong emphasises. The game’s Great Bustard Otis tarda (Vulnerable) might run the gauntlet of poachers, or its Pied Harrier Circus melanoleucos could be struck by an aeroplane.

To add another layer of drama and urgency, according to the developers, occasional ‘Bird-tastrophe’ cards encompass systemic, disastrous threats such as deforestation and overgrazing and affect all players simultaneously. “The moral is that when it comes to the environment,” Vincent explains, “everyone is implicated.”

Players counteract the panoply of threats – and thereby resume migration – through ‘Wing It’ cards. These comprise actual conservation actions pursued by the BirdLife Partnership. They range from sustainable farming policies, which can help open-country birds in agricultural landscapes, to generating funds for conservation projects through public support. Such cards, Vincent argues, demonstrate that “it is not too late to take action to remedy the threats facing the natural world.”

This particularly matters for avian migrants, Yong explains. Whereas the general public is familiar with large mammals, “many people in Asia are unaware of migratory birds, less that they travel so widely and therefore connect continents, countries and people.”

Moreover, he says, there is “a large segment of society, particularly city-dwellers, that is relatively unaware of nature at all. Reaching out to them can be challenging, but many play board games.”

By invoking the drama of avian migration and conveying the urgency of bird conservation, Yong concludes, “we particularly hope Fly-A-Way will reach young people across various flyway countries, enabling them to learn in a fun way about Asia and its migratory birds.” Inspired through play, might some players even become real-life ‘ultimate conservationists’?


Fly-A-Way smashed its target on Kickstarter.com and is going into production. Find out more at www.flyaway.sg