PIXEL – Picture (of) the Universe is a board game developed by the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) in the framework of the affiliation with the Game Science Research Center. The game simulates the astrophysics research environment, with particular emphasis on the observation and study of cosmic bodies at different resolutions.

PIXEL targets mostly board gamers and board game lovers, but it was developed also to be an edutainment activity in secondary schools managed by INAF educators.

Origin: PIXEL arises from “Viva la risoluzione”, a playful activity around the resolution of digital imaging, developed for primary schools by INAF researchers Stefania Varano and Sara Ricciardi.

Brief Description: In PIXEL, each player manages a research center and telescopes to study and observe different celestial bodies during the game, such as galaxies, nebula, and planets. As the game proceeds, each player shall manage resources and the research center to lead the researchers’ team, specialize them, improve the laboratory, publish, and observe more and more portions of the Universe, gaining the points that will determine the winner at the end of the game.

For the observation of the celestial bodies, the players shall improve the resolution of the telescopes, both on Earth and in Space. At higher resolution, indeed, the players will discover more and more details of the celestial bodies and solve their projects (aka goal cards of the game).

PIXEL was presented in several national conferences and events on board games, like PLAY Modena 2021 and 2022 and Lucca Comics and Games 2021, during which the game was played by more than 100 students and board gamers. The educational aspect of the project was also presented at international conferences like IAU-CAP2022.

Number of players: 3 to 5 (up to 10 on each board during educational activities)

Age: 14+

Duration: 60-90 minutes.

Soft skill education goals: strategy development, inter-players relations, self-decision process, collaboration, cooperation, self-management, resources management.

Hard Skills education goals: learn how astrophysics research works and learn the basic mechanisms of digital imaging resolution.

Relevance with Astrophysics: PIXEL theme and mechanics recreate the environment of astrophysics research and relations: players have to make decisions autonomously and in collaboration with others, as happens in actual research. They have to manage the observation time and resolution to choose whether to study small details at high resolution or the entire body at low resolution. As in actual research, moreover, research results are shared with the community of the other players in the game and publications help obtain more winning points at the end.

The game is also correlated with detailed scientific sheets for each object to give more information on the observation goal given during the game.

PIXEL is currently in the pre-production phase.