Instructional Objective |  Learners & Context of Use |  Object of the Game |  Game Materials |  Time Required |  Set-Up |  The Rules |  Design Process |  References

Instructional Objective
The learners will be able to identify basic geological features of the lunar surface, as well as become familiar with the predominant minerals and elements found in different moon rocks. As a function of game play, learners will also employ basic math skills.

Learners & Context of Use
Lunar Prospector is designed for learners, ages 12 and up, who are interested in planetary geology and lunar exploration.

Object of the Game
Be the first astronaut to complete the requirements of your mission card. All missions require astronauts to explore the lunar surface for specified quantities of minerals and elements and return them to their base.

Game Materials
Game Board
Mission Cards
Highland Terrain Cards
Mare Terrain Cards
Task Cards
Task Card Answer Key
Playing Pieces
Highland Terrain Tokens
Mare Terrain Tokens
Task Tokens
Energy Unit Tokens
Sand Timer

Time Required
Lunar Prospector is for 2 to 4 players with approximately 10 minutes for set-up, and at least 1 hour for game play.

  1. Open the game board and place each of the shuffled decks (Mission Cards, Highland Terrain, Mare Terrain) face down near the board.
  2. Players take turns placing 3 Terrain Tokens on the game board until all the Terrain Tokens are on the board. Be sure to place Highland Terrain Tokens in the highlands, and Mare Terrain Tokens in the Mare.
  3. Terrain Tokens can be set no closer than one space away from a base. Do not place any Terrain Tokens on bases, rilles, or Task Token spots.
  4. Place the Task Tokens on all the spaces marked with a "?"
  5. Give each player 25 energy units. No player may have more than 25 energy units at any time. One player can be in charge of the distribution and collection of energy units.
  6. Each player draws one Mission Card from the top of the Mission Card deck.
  7. Each player rolls the die to assign himself to a lunar base. Player turns proceed numerically from lowest base to highest (1-6).

The Rules


  • Energy Units In order to roll the die and move, each player must give up energy units according to the following formula:
    • Movement in the Highlands = 2 energy units per turn
    • Movement in the Mare = 1 energy unit per turn
    The number of energy units given up is determined by the location (Highlands or Mare) that the player begins from on that turn, regardless of where he may finally land.
  • Obstacles & Shortcuts A player may move in any direction on the board. A player may not land on an occupied space and cannot cross solid black lines. There are two rilles (channels formed by lava flows) in the mare through which a player may slide over several spaces.

Board Tokens

Once a token is collected from its space, it cannot be returned.
  • Terrain Tokens When a player lands on a space with a Terrain Token (Highland or Mare), that player may either:
    • Leave the token alone for prospecting at a later turn, or;
    • Collect that token and turn it in for one Terrain Card (Highland or Mare) from the top of the deck.
    After reading the Terrain Card, the player must turn in the number of energy units designated at the bottom of the card. If a player does not have the energy units requested by the card, he must return the card to the bottom of the deck and turn in all his remaining energy units. (However, the space from which the Terrain Token was removed remains empty.)
  • Task Tokens When a player lands on a space with a Task Token, that player may trade it in for a Task Card. The Task Token presents the astronaut with a mission-related math problem. After reading the card out loud, the player has one minute (another player keeps time with the sand timer) to solve the mission task. If the player successfully solves the mission task, then he is entitled to the bonus listed on the card.

Managing Energy Units

  • Energy Unit Capacity Each lunar prospecting vehicle has an energy capacity of 25 energy units. In order to replenish your supply of 25 energy units, you must return to your base. Each time you return to your base, your energy capacity replenishes to 25 energy units.
  • Running out of Energy Units If you should run out of energy units before returning back to your base, you must do the following:
    • Sit out your next turn;
    • When your turn resumes, you will be given a 5 energy unit emergency reserve.
    • If your 5 energy unit emergency reserve should run out, you must sit out another turn to receive another 5 energy units.
  • Trading for Energy Units If you are far away from your base and low on energy units, you may land on an opponent's unoccupied base to trade minerals and elements for energy units. You may not trade with an unused base. The guidelines for trading are as follows:
    • The trading "price" is fixed at 5 Energy Units for 1 Terrain Card per turn;
    • You must show your cards, face-up to the base owner;
    • The base owner can choose any card from your cards provided it does not exceed his payload limit;
    • The base owner, after seeing your cards, can decide not to trade with you;
    • The 5 energy unit "payment" comes from the collective reserve, and not from the base owner's individual energy unit capacity.

Managing Payload

  • Extra Payload Each player is allowed a maximum payload of 1000kg (vehicle and base combined). If the total weight of your Terrain Cards exceeds the 1000kg limit, you must return the necessary cards to the bottom of the appropriate deck to bring your payload under the 1000kg limit.
  • Auditing Payloads It is in your best interest to manage your own payload, because another player can choose to audit your payload total. The auditing process is as follows:
    • You may audit another player only during that player's turn;
    • The player being audited must show his cards, face-up, to the auditing player;
    • If an audit reveals a payload in excess of the 1000kg limit, then the auditing player decides which of the violating player's cards to "dump" to meet the payload limit.

Mission Completion & Verifcation

Completion of the mission occurs when you have acquired the specified amounts of minerals and elements listed in your Mission Card. Upon completion of your mission, you must mathematically verify your payload contents to your fellow players. Totals of individual minerals and elements may exceed the specified amount on the Mission Card provided that the total payload does not exceed the limit of 1000kg. If verification of your payload shows that you have not completed your mission, game play continues until a player successfully completes his mission.

Design Process

The concept of Lunar Prospector - a geological sampling mission to the Moon - took several iterations to come into focus. The early working title of "Mission to the Moon" reflected my uncertainty over the game. I liked the primary game task of collecting minerals and returning them to the base before fuel and oxygen ran out, but I wasn't entirely sure how to accomplish it. Also, I wanted to add a spaceflight and orbiting component, thereby adding a traditional linear race track around the hexagonal grid of the lunar surface.

But, as early versions of the prototype board proved, trying to fit the take-off-orbiting-return sequence into the game detracted from the initial idea of prospecting on the Moon. First was the simple issue of board space. The circular orbit track around the moon limited the size of the lunar hexagonal grid.

Second, and most importantly, I couldn't find a graceful way to integrate the content of space travel with the game task. I planned to have players answer a series of word problems as they advanced along the orbit path; but this pairing of content and gameplay seemed forced.

Luckily, my hunch was confirmed by Malone and Lepper's distinction between endogenous and exogenous fantasies. Conincidentally, they described a mathematics game where a spaceship travels to the moon; in their example of an exogenous fantasy, the fantasy depended only on whether a question was answered right or wrong. On the other hand, an endogenous fantasy contained a greater integration between the instructional context and the fantasy context.

This brought my focus back to the geological component of the content. As I gathered more research on lunar geology, I finally realized that the spaceflight portion of the game would be best left to another game at another time.

The game board changed significantly; I "zoomed" in on a small portion of the first board, which allowed me to integrate more of the content into the game play. For instance, the highlands and the mare have widely varying mineral compositions. Hopefully, as a function of game play, a player will learn that he would have a greater chance of finding aluminum in the highlands and titanium in the mare.



Apollo Experiment Operations

Exploring the Moon - A Teacher's Guide with Activities

Lunar & Planetary Institute (Exploring the Moon)

Lunar data from the Clementine Mission

NASA Spacelink

National Space Science Data Center (Moon Homepage)

Game Board

Mission Card
and sample text
Your Mission: Bring back the listed quantities of follwing elements. You may bring back larger quantities of any element provided your total payload does not exceed the 1000 kg limit.
  • Aluminum..........450 kg
  • Iron..............200 kg
  • Magnesium.........100 kg
  • Titanium...........75 kg
  • Potassium..........50 kg

Highland Terrain Card
and sample text
Highland Terrain Card
  • Silicon............77 kg
  • Aluminum...........43 kg
  • Calcium............36 kg
  • Potassium..........12 kg
  • Uranium.............1 kg

Mare Terrain Card
and sample text
Mare Terrain Card
  • Iron...............53 kg
  • Magnesium..........28 kg
  • Silicon............19 kg
  • Titanium............6 kg
  • Gouda Cheese........1 kg 

Task Card
and sample text
Your Task:
The hydraulic arm on your vehicle is powered by a 200 liter tank which requires a 3 to 1 mixture of nitrogen to oxygen. What quantity of each gas will you have to put into the hydraulic arm's tank?

Time: 1 minute
Answer Key Code: Apollo 13 / Ken Mattingly
Bonus: 5 Energy Units (vehicle capacity not to exceed 25 Energy Units)

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