The Virtual River Game: Using a Physical Game Board as an Interface to a Hydrodynamic Model

Robert-Jan den Haan*, Mascha van der Voort, Fedor Baart, Koen Berends, Suzanne Hulscher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic

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Achieving flood safety norms is central to river management in the Netherlands. Hydrodynamic models are used to determine whether flood safety norms are met by predicting water levels and flow patterns for specific river discharges. However, many river management stakeholders view these models as black boxes. This is a problem because hydrodynamic models are used to support and substantiate decision-making. To address this issue, we set out to create the Virtual River Game where various stakeholders, both with and without hydraulic modelling experience, can collaboratively work with a hydrodynamic model and experiment with interventions. As a solution, we created a physical game board as a tangible user interface to the Delft3D Flexible Mesh hydrodynamic model. The game board represents a Dutch river stretch as a hexagonal grid with 143 tiles. Each tile is always filled with game pieces that contain information on the tile’s elevation and land use through visual markers. The interface turns the board digital by analyzing the markers in a picture taken with a webcam that is placed underneath the board. The digital board is used to create a land use distribution and a digital elevation model that matches the hydrodynamic model’s numerical grid through an inverse distance interpolation. The model’s output (water levels and flow patterns) are visualized on the game board by a projector. In the Virtual River Game, players use the board to apply interventions by rearranging game pieces and to inspect the effects of interventions through the projected visualizations. Results from initial game sessions indicate that the interface enables stakeholders to collaboratively work with the hydrodynamic model regardless of their expertise and background. The interface presents new opportunities to enable stakeholders to work with environmental models used in practice.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sept 2020
Event10th International Congress on Environmental Modelling and Software, iEMSs 2020: Modelling for Environmental Sustainability - Online Conference, Brussels, Belgium
Duration: 14 Sept 202018 Sept 2020
Conference number: 10


Conference10th International Congress on Environmental Modelling and Software, iEMSs 2020
Abbreviated titleiEMSs2020
Internet address


  • Serious gaming
  • River management
  • Tangible user interface
  • Hydrodynamic model
  • Stakeholder participation


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