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Designing the Species Boards in Evolution: The Oceans (plus a free game offer)

Nick Bentley
United States
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Reposted from Nick Bentley Games

Brian (marine biologist and co-designer) likes woodworking so now we have a second start-player marker. It looks like it's for a Little Mermaid game but who cares IT'S OUR WOOD WE CAN DO WHAT WE WANT.

In our last post about Evolution: The Oceans, we described the food chain at the core of the game. We mentioned it'll feature lots of predators, as there are in real oceans. And because body size determines whether one species can attack another, you tend to watch the body size of your opponents' species like a hawkfish.

This points to the practical issue which is the subject of this post. The way species were presented in Evolution made it difficult to see at a glance how big your opponents' species are. Here's how a species is represented in Evolution:

There are two factors which complicate body size tracking:

Population and body size are represented in the same way (cube + track), and side-by-side. Consequently you can confuse one for the other, and even when you don't, there's a small extra cognitive burden to confirm you're looking at the right thing. The color-coding helps, but there still seems to be a little burden.

You have to do a bit of (mostly subconscious) counting to confirm a species' body size, which is another burden.

These burdens are small, but when you're checking body size across the table a lot they add up to an inconvenience. To solve these problems, we decided to represent body size in a manner visually distinct from population, and body size as a number rather than a position along a track, so you can see rather than count. Here's our current solution:

Body size is represented by the top face of an 8-sided die (tilted a bit towards the opponents by it's position in a triangular cutout on the species board), and population is represented in the original way, with a cube track. When you use this board, all the numbers face away from you, to make them easy for your opponents to see. So from an opponent's point of view, it looks like this:

Note we've added scalloping, so food can be arrayed neatly and we have an excuse to use the word "scallop"

This allows us to represent a larger range of body sizes and populations in a small space. That's important because an ocean is a big place with big creatures and we'd like to represent that. This seems to solve the problem well. When we teach new players we get way fewer "which one is body size again?" questions than we do with the original boards, nor do we see players miscalculating because they mistook body size. The problems we're trying to solve appear solved.

This doesn't mean we're done, however. There are aspects of this solution we find imperfect. For one, we might like to have the food be placed on the board itself, as in Evolution. We're not sure yet. Second, it's aesthetically displeasing to have the upside-down number on the front face of the die showing. One way to fix that might be to make a little stand for each die:

This covers the number. It looks cleaner, but it might make it too hard to see your own species' body sizes (because they face too much away from you).

This also brings up another issue: cost. There will be as many as 20 species boards in the game, which means providing that many D8's. D8's can add significant cost. If we have little stands for the D8's as in the picture above, that could juice the price more.

One way to limit cost is to reduce the cost of other components, and there's an argument for focusing $$$ on the species boards because players spend so much time looking at them. North Star has found a way to replace the (costly) food bags to reduce the retail price on next printing of Evolution, with player screens that create a diorama with the watering hole. I LOVE this solution because it brings out the theme better. Something similar could be done for Oceans.

There's no one right answer. Ultimately, these decisions will be up to North Star, and we could end up with something completely different than what you see here. But we wouldn't be responsible designers if we didn't present reasonable and attractive options. Our ultimate goal is to find a solution so good North Star can place the order and be done with it.

So this is an issue we'll ponder for a while. We'd love to hear your brightest suggestions. In fact, how about this: if you offer a species design we end up using, we'll give you a copy of the game when it's published. Here's the complete set of constraints for the design:

should be easy for players to see and distinguish body size and population across the table
should be easy to adjust body size and population
should accommodate 8 body size and 8 population
should be compact enough that 4 players can each hold 5 species with 3 traits each on a standard card table
shouldn't cost too much
should be awesome

(this is you attacking the problem)

From The Sea,

Brian and Nick

P.S. In our first post, we received scads of suggestions regarding how we should name this game. More than 800 people voted in a poll we provided. Your feedback was helpful and we owe you our firstborn children. Here's another poll:

What should we name the Marine version of Evolution?
Oceans: An Evolution Game
The Oceans: An Evolution Game
      407 answers
Poll created by milomilo122

Click on the "subscribe" button at the top of this post on the right to follow our journey. We'll post about Oceans every 2 weeks.
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