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

April 25, 2017

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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, among other things, it’ll feature lots of predators (as there are in real life oceans).

Consequently, you tend to watch opponents’ species like a hawkfish. Especially body sizes, since body size is the main determinant of whether one species can eat another.

This points to a practical issue, which is the subject of this post. The way species were presented in Evolution made it slightly hard to see at a glance how big your opponents’ species are. It wasn’t an issue there, because there weren’t as many predators and they worked a little differently. It is here, so we’re redesigning the species boards.

Here’s how a species is represented in Evolution:

evo-species-board

The brown cube’s position along the brown track represents body size, and the green cube’s position along the green track represents population.

There are two factors which complicate body size tracking here:

  • 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 in making sure that 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 should represent body size in a manner visually distinct from population, and body size should be a number rather than a position along a track, so you can just see rather than count.  Here’s our current solution:

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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:

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

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.

This satisfies both constraints. It also allows us to represent a larger range of body sizes and populations compactly. 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:

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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 even more.

One way to keep the cost from ballooning 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 already found a way to replace the (costly) food bags so they can reduce the retail price on the 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.

watering-hole-new

There’s no one right answer. Ultimately, answering these questions will be up to North Star. 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 make it easy for players to see and distinguish body size and population across the table
  • should make it 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 while playing on a standard card table
  • shouldn’t cost too much
  • should be awesome

600-grey-goblin

(this is you attacking the problem)

From The Sea,

Brian and Nick

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From → Game Designs

2 Comments
  1. Dave permalink

    You probably already figured something out, but what about some kind of concentric rings / interlocking pieces that would show the growth of the body size? They could cover more space as it gets bigger, which may be enough to help people remember which is which.

    • nickbentley1000 permalink

      haven’t considered that, actually. having a little trouble visualizing it, but I’ll give it some thought.

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