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Our favorite boardgames that model the natural world

Enlarge / Photosynthesis, the game.Dan Thurot
Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tableto..

By admin , in Tech , at April 25, 2020

Enlarge / Photosynthesis, the game.Dan Thurot

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at cardboard.arstechnica.com.

The other day, I thought my six-year-old was about to pop one of those questions every parent dreads answering. With a reverentially serious tone, she asked, “Daddy, I have a question I been thinking about a long time…”—cue a pause long enough to stop my heart—“Do snails leave their slime on rocks forever?”

Whew. So she wasnt awake during last weeks parent-on-parent hour.

Before becoming a father, I was aware that tiny humans dont come prepackaged with much knowledge, but I never thought Id have to discourage gleeful littering or pry little hands free from the dogs ears. We may still be animals, but respect for nature doesnt always come naturally to kids (or adults).

Curiosity, though, is easy to foster, especially once the kids figure out that board game night means staying up late and filling their bodies with unhealthy snacks. So, with Earth Day happening this last week, here are some of my preferred board games for inspiring curiosity about the planet and our role on it.

The roots: appreciating nature

<em>Planet</em>, with some very cool (and magnetic) dodecahedrons
Enlarge / Planet, with some very cool (and magnetic) dodecahedrons

Lets start with the basics: the Earth is pretty, animals and bugs are cool, and we should probably take care of things here if only so those statements remain true.

For little fingers that love to tinker, there arent many better games than Planet. The game itself is perfect in its simplicity, letting you add magnets to a dodecahedron as you attempt to create suitable habitats for a number of different species. There are only three priorities to remember: creating lots of habitats, big habitats, or big habitats that arent near other habitats. Even my six-year-old quickly mastered the art of ensuring that every single tundra-dweller flocks to her planet. As a bonus, you get to admire your three-dimensional globe when youre finished.

More experienced players will likely appreciate Wingspan and Parks. Theres a good chance youre already familiar with the formers clever combo-building and gorgeous illustrations; if not, check out our review from last year. Parks is less known but every bit as beautiful. Its artwork is licensed from the Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series, and it lets players tour some of the most dazzling destinations across the United States, rationing resources and campfires while snapping pictures and gazing at wildlife. Despite being competitive, its a serene, almost meditative experience.

If youre more interested in actually putting yourself out in nature, Hive is one of the finest modern abstract games—and its entirely waterproof, perfect for playing in the grass or tucking into a fanny pack. Gameplay revolves around trapping the opposing queen by using bugs such as the far-ranging grasshopper, beetles that crawl over the top of other insects, or the power-sucking mosquito. I once played this against a mustachioed river guide who immediately announced, “Board games are cool these days, man!”

The trunk: sturdily connected

<em>Ecos: First Continent</em>
Enlarge / Ecos: First Continent

“We may be apart, but were also more connected than ever.” This years Earth Day slogan both acknowledges the current pandemic while also reminding us of our shared responsibility to the world we inhabit. The following games emphasize that sense of interconnection—and its fragility.

Like Planet but with more room to explore, Ecos: First Continent is about forming a landmass and populating it with roving species. Here the appeal revolves around a delicate balance between your own goals and those of your opponents. Everyone is working with the same grasslands, savannahs, and seas, and each player can easily riff on anothers tiles and tokens—or even consume them for points. Nothing is exactly “yours,” belonging instead to the rest of the developing ecosystem, which produces a process of creation thats both competitive and collaborative.

<em>Oceans</em>, the most recent game in the <em>Evolution</em> series
Enlarge / Oceans, the most recent game in the Evolution series

On the more carnivorous end of the spectrum lies Evolution and its offshoots, including Evolution: Climate and the more recent Oceans, which we reviewed earlier this year. There are some significant differences between each entry, but all are alike in two major regards: first, they contain some of the sharpest card play youll ever encounter, and second, you win by chowing down on as much food as possible—including the creatures evolved by your friends. This spurs an evolutionary arms race that sees everybody running (or swimming) as fast as they can to outpace predators, parasites, and even cataclysmic climate changes or asteroid impacts.

Arbor Day also happened this week, and the game Photosynthesis throws shade (sorry) at the notion that plants don't make for hot board gaming action. You hope to grow your forest from lowly seeds to mighty trees, but you are competing for space and sunlight, while trying to keep out of the shade cast by rivals. The trick is that each turn rotates the direction sunlight shines in from, rewarding planning and ensuring that no one angle is entirely superior. Like the Evolution series, everything here is connected—you even earn points by having your largest trees decay, making room for a new generation of saplings. Hopefully your own, of course.

The branches: reaching beyond

<em>Bios: Megafauna</em>
Enlarge / Bios: Megafauna

If appreciation for nature doesnt seem sufficient, plenty of titles delve deeper into the workings of the Earths climate, geological processes, and history. Unsurprisingly, some of these offerings are significantly "heavier" than the games discussed above. But the best of them justify their increased rules and play time with involved gameplay, interesting details, and even some insightful commentary.

Perhaps the most ambitious project is the Bios trilogy. Consisting of Bios: Genesis, Bios: Megafauna, and Bios: Origins, this series traces the evolution of life from primordial ooze to the present day. Each entry tackles a different subject and can be played either individually or strung together. At times, their Read More – Source

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