By Julie Ingwersen
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Bovine avatars with funny hats in an app are being corralled into helping to teach young people in the United States about agricultural markets and risk.
The CME Group futures exchange launched the app, called "Risk Ranch," for tablets and smartphones as an electronic version of a board game called "Commodity Carnival" - first bought to state fairs in 2013 by CME and the 4-H youth organization.
This year, as fair season winds down, the app offers a way for children, and parents and teachers, to take the single-player game with them and play all year.
"We heard from educators who asked us, 'How can I get this in my classroom?'" said Laurie Bischel, CME's executive director of corporate marketing and communications.
The app has been downloaded about 2,500 times since its launch this summer. http://www.cmegroup.com/education/4-h-risk-ranch.html
The goal of the game is to bring a cartoon steer to market at the best price, with a maximum score of $2,200 - roughly in line with current cash prices, which are near historic highs.
Players start by naming their steer and choosing its body color. Optional accessories include a hat or sunglasses, or an authentic-looking ear tag. Players then get five coins to spend on feed, farm equipment and medicine.
The next stage of the game sends the bovine avatars into a virtual pinball machine where they careen through a series of exploding red pegs that represent threats to profits ranging from a disease outbreak to rising gas prices and even price-depressing news.
As the avatar cows tumble, players tilt the device to try to collect more coins. In later rounds these coins can buy "futures" offering temporary protection from the hazards.
The CME drew on animal science experts at Ohio State University, who helped determine the relative value of inputs such as feed versus medicine, in designing the game.
An internal competition among CME staff threw up a best score of $1,966, CME spokesman Chris Grams said.
Jeanne Alling, a high school agriculture teacher, said the Commodity Carnival booth was a hit at her fair in northwestern Wisconsin, and Risk Ranch could win even more fans.
"It was very successful, as far as getting kids interested in what it took to raise an animal," Alling said. "But to have something for kids to use on a smartphone, oh my gosh, they would be all over that."
(Editing by Grant McCool)