Playtime: 60-90 minutes
Teach time: 30 minutes
Game difficulty: Medium-heavy
Players: 2-4, only recommended with 4
Timespan: 252 million years ago
Key educational concepts: mass extinctions, competition, micro- and macro-organism evolution, niche concepts, biogeography, species interactions
Pangea emulates the brief period of time leading up to the Great Dying (the Permian-Triassic extinction, Earth’s most severe extinction event). The goal of Pangea is to maximize the survival of your species before the game’s end and the onset of the Great Dying in the 8th round. The causes of the Great Dying remain disputed and meteorites, volcanic eruptions, collision with a planetoid, gamma rays, disintegration of Pangea itself have been invoked as causes. Through deductive gameplay, you try to anticipate the cause of the Great Dying and position your species accordingly to ensure their survival at the endgame. As the game progress, you evolve your species to compete with other players’ species for limited habitats and resources. At the games end, species with the most points wins.
Learning and teaching the game
Pangea is a fairly easy game to learn and teach. The biggest challenge to teaching relates to the asymmetrical player powers, where each player plays a different evolutionary lineage (synapsids, insects, amphibians, sauropsids). If not playing at the full 4-player count, the use of required ‘bot’ players also adds a layer of confusion.
The game is played over a series of eight rounds. In each round, players take turns performing several of four actions using allotted action points. Populate by adding a new individual to the gameboard, or Migrate by moving an individual to new habitat (map space) or higher niche within a habitat. Adapt your species by playing a card from your hand into your player board. Lastly, the Survive action that allows you to move up on the Instinct Track. As you progress up the Instinct Track, you learn information about the randomized location and the randomly selected cause of the Great Dying. This secret information allows you to plan accordingly as you populate the game map, expanding and planning for the Great Dying.
The migrate action can result in two species co-occurring in the same habitat and niche-level, if so, then conflicts arise. Each lineage has a different ‘expansiveness’ value that deterministically resolves combat, with the exception of some adaptation cards that change ‘expansiveness’ values. The migrate or populate actions can cause hunger. Each location has a ‘carrying capacity’ – if the number of individuals in a map space exceeds the carrying capacity value – the habitat enters a ‘warning’ state. For individuals in a ‘warning’ state habitat, each round - players allow their individual to perish or spend victory points to save that individual. Regardless of the action chosen, this map space then becomes barren wasteland and will not produce food again until the end of the age (up to two rounds from the point it becomes barren).
The game continues through eight rounds. After the Great Dying, you tally points based on your living individuals and add them to the other victory points gained during the game. The highest total win.
Box cover (Image credit: Red Imp Games)
Three of the 'bot' player boards in action along with the Kickstarter tokens
This game has moderate educational value. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the use of this game in most classrooms because I feel it requires four players. At other player counts (two and three), the game uses ‘bot’ players that really detract from the core gameplay. For me personally, it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment, however, for broad appeal and comprehension, this would certainly pose as an unnecessary learning hurdle. Further, there are other games that could address the key concepts presented in Pangea that have shorter playtimes and more flexible player numbers. For example, Evolution: Climate or Biosphere.
Pangea is a great game full of rich strategic and tactical decisions. I also absolutely loved the design and art, and especially the amazing Kickstarter player tokens. This game is not readily available in North America, but it is unique and fun enough for me to recommend connoisseurs and board game hipsters to track it down. Pangea is also the only evolution-themed game with a deductive element – the Instinct Track and it works incredibly well. Last, I loved the asymmetrical player powers and each class plays incredibly differently. Mammals had the highest dispersal and were superior competitors. Insects could easily repopulate. Amphibians easily advanced on the instinct track. Reptiles were the most adaptable. I would happily play any of them, now just hand a pile of chunky fossile tokens.
Mid-game competition. The three circles in each map square represent different niche-levels.
A 'human' player board mid-game.
Overview of game set-up - absolutely stunning!