Teaching Evolution Through Board Games
Playtime: 90-120 minutes
Teach time: 25 minutes
Game difficulty: Medium
Number of players: 2-6
Timespan: not stated
Key educational concepts: evolutionary arms race, adaptation, interspecies interactions, climate-species interactions, evolutionary physiology
Favorite rules video: How To Play
In Darwin’s Choice, players evolve their species to outsmart other species of other players that compete for the same limited food among separate biomes. To get an edge, players adapt their species by evolving new body parts selected from a menagerie of earth’s most amazing animals. Each new trait modifies some combination of the species’ competitive abilities, local adaptative abilities, or a core life history/physiological trait(s). As a result, each species in play represents a charming amalgamation of body parts spanning the tree-of-life. Avoid extinction from changing biomes and competition from other species. Darwin points are awarded for each species surviving, by being the most competitive species, and the most adapted species in each biome, which are scored at the end of each of the four Eras. At the end of the game, the player with the most Darwin points wins.
Box cover (Image credit: Treeceratops)
Learning and teaching the game
Darwin’s Choice is a fairly easy game to learn and teach. There were a few rules that were unclear and could not be found in the rulebook. For example, from the rulebook, we initially thought each Era consisted of a single main action from each player. However, in execution, we felt this made little sense. We then watched the authors’ gameplay video and discovered the actual rule: “During each Era, players take turns taking one of the three main actions (evolve a new species, mutate, and migrate) until no one can take any additional actions.” However we still cannot find this in the printed rulebook.
Darwin’s Choice is a card-driven game where cards depict major body parts that correspond to an abstraction of a real species’ diet, adaptative or competitive abilities. At the start of each era, players draw 10 ‘body part’ cards. Players take turns evolving a new species, or modifying an existing species by migrating to another biome or mutating by changing one or more of its body parts and associated traits. The goal is to survive until the next round and maximize all your species’ adaptative and competitive abilities to get end-of-era bonuses. Overall the gameplay is pretty intuitive and straightforward (once rules are understood). As the game progresses the number of species in play increases, which dramatically expands the ‘decision space’ and also the potential for players to suffer analysis paralysis. As a result of this, during the last few Eras, turns are lengthened, which leads to more downtime between turns. To help this and to reduce bookkeeping each turn, we strongly suggest that you purchase a dozen (or more) twelve-sided or ten-side dice in two colors. During the game, you use them as counters that quickly denote the adaptive strength (color 1) and competitive strength (color 2) by placing the dice on the species in each biome (or at minimum, those species that are most competitive/adaptive). As a result, players are not constantly counting traits while making decisions.
The artwork in this game is phenomenal and rivals the art in the Evolution game series. The realistic illustrations perfectly enable deep emersion and make crafting each species delightful. Without the superb artwork and the impressive number of different taxa represented, this would feel like a gimmick, rather we felt it was a wonderous scientific endeavor that merges the methods of Dr. Frankenstein with the theory of Charles Darwin.
Darwin’s Choice nicely reinforces how adaptive evolution through natural selection led to the vast array of biodiversity on earth. The distillation of earth’s biomes into a few key physiological and morphological limitations from which different traits are adaptive wonderfully abstracts the relationships between a species’ core physiological requirements and the adaptive traits that dictate its ability to compete with other species. We think this game is a good hands-on activity to compliment to curriculum on evolutionary arms races, geologic mass extinction events, climate change (both future and past), ecological and evolutionary physiology, and interspecific interactions. Though we should clarify that felt that Evolution: Climate could also be used for the same curriculum, which we felt was easier to teach and had a shorter play time
Darwin’s choice was a great game full of meaningful and tense tactical decisions. We recommend this for most high-school and college students. However, given its complexity, be prepared for a few students to be a bit overwhelmed*.
*If this happens don’t hesitant to simplify some aspect of the game that doesn’t compromise your learning objectives (e.g. remove carnivores or remove some of the more complicated traits). Also to shorten the game. Play three eras, not four.
A few of the trait / body part cards (image credit: Treeceratops)
The joy of crafting your species (Image credit: Treeceratops)