Urban Corners – A location-based strategy game

Based around the EXPO-2017 in Astana on the theme of “Future Energy”, a geo-based strategy game has been developed for mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) with the purpose of playfully raising awareness with regard to “energies of the future” among young people in Astana. The play-based approach to teaching has been consciously chosen, i.e. the players are not lectured, but instead move through a game world which fictitiously engages with the topic and thus makes participants reflect on their environment and the use of sustainable energies.

The game is available to download for free from the app stores (Google Play and iTunes) in four different languages (German, English, Russian and Kazakh). (Search term: “Urban Corners”; the mobile devices must have at least the IOS Version 8.0 / Android Version 4.4.0 operating systems).

Game story

During their yearly summer visit to their grandparents by Mount Khan Tengri, the siblings Dina and Talgat discover a stone with five different symbols on it. When asked about the meaning of this object, grandparents Anar and Muchtar share with their grandchildren the story of the magic stream and its guardians: long ago, there was once a magic stream at the place where the city of Astana now stands. It consisted of five magical energies (fire, wind, earth, time and future), which were in harmony with one another and thus kept the stream alive. Each of these energies was nurtured and protected by a group of guardians. The balance between these energies ensured a peaceful and happy coexistence of the people at this place.

Yet when the guardians inexplicably disappeared, the stream became unbalanced and seeped away. The reasons for the guardians’ disappearance remain a secret to this day. It was said that the guardians would one day return and restore the stream from the magical energy sources still in existence. As the heirs of the guardians, the grandchildren are given two tasks: to restore the stream and to discover the secret of the guardians’ disappearance. To do this, the two require the help of the players, who in turn become guardians. As Dina and Talgat also have to go in search of the secret behind the guardians’ disappearance – in order to later prevent the stream from seeping away again – the players are supported by two magical assistants. These take the form of a wolf and a magpie, who guide and help the players through the game.


The aim of the game is to restore the magic stream. The stream requires magic energy particles, which the players can obtain at certain real places in Astana. To do so, they must complete a number of different tasks.
Each successfully completed task yields an energy particle, which the player can then add to the stream. And the player in turn receives points for each energy particle which they add to the stream. The person, who collects/generates the most points, wins the game.

There are five different types of energy particle in total, which are assigned to the respective group of guardians. Because the magic stream only grows and flourishes when its energy particles are in balance, the player must consider exactly which of their collected energy particles they want to add to the stream.
There is a points system to assist the player – this guarantees them a higher point score if they add those energy particles to the stream, which are currently most lacking.

There are two types of task: firstly, tasks, which are “just” fun and add to the enjoyment of the game; and secondly, tasks which have a direct bearing on the theme of “sustainable energy”. In order to solve the tasks, the players must go the real-world locations they are guided to by GPS localisation. The tasks include answering questions, finding and scanning QR codes, and taking creative photos (the uploaded photos can be viewed by visiting urban-corners.org/photostream).

Locations in the game include popular hotspots as well as places with a particular connection to the theme of “sustainable energy”. The players can find additional background information on the locations – especially with regard to the environmental themes – in the “Guardians’ Book”, which is part of the game. The game’s incentives are generated primarily by the following elements:

  1. Identifying with one’s own group of guardians (each player decides on their own group of guardians at the outset of the game)
  2. Game-play (tasks, locations, etc.) which engages with the player’s lived reality
  3. The option of suggesting locations either individually or as a team, of developing these for the game and receiving additional energy points as a reward when the locations are integrated into the game.
  4. The simultaneously occurring dialogue between the players concerning the course of the game and ecological topics, as well as the thematic support through project work and via social media


Both the current game-play and the game story are linked to the Expo 2017’s theme of “Future Energy”. The game was presented at the EXPO as an innovative approach to help motivate young people to engage with this topic. The site of the EXPO itself and its pavilions became an additional part of the game.

The project duration goes beyond the EXPO. The game is played in several rounds, each of them with additional new stations and tasks. Since 15 September 2017 to 22 March 2018 runs the third round of the game.

The game concept provides exceptional possibilities for new forms of project work (e.g. the interactive designing of new locations with environmental relevance, workshops based on ideas from the game to which the game is inspired, use for language teaching).

The Goethe Institute offers interested partners in Astana to take over the game concept after the end of the project in 2018.

In this project, the Goethe Institut has been working closely with Astana’s City Hall and the EXPO committee. In addition, professional advice was provided by the Regional Environmental Center of Central Asia (CAREC) in cooperation with the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ).

For the duration of the EXPO-2017, the project was part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI). The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Germany (BMU) supported this initiative on the basis of a decision taken by the German Bundestag.



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