Building New Worlds One Game at a Time: Ecosystem – Genius Games

Making Learning Fun

All kids have a school subject they hate: it’s too hard, too boring, or they just don’t get it. For some it’s English; for others, it’s math or science. That’s why gameschooling is such an effective way to enhance and reinforce traditional classroom teaching. It makes learning fun! And in the best of circumstances, it can turn science haters into lifetime science lovers.

At Genius Games, we take it a step further. Our science games are not only educational and fun, they also integrate various disciplines (math AND science) while nurturing creativity and critical thinking. Not too many teaching styles combine all those elements effectively while offering a fun, collaborative experience for the entire family, all in less than an hour per game.

Ecosystem: A Biodiversity Challenge

To show how well this concept works, let’s dive a little deeper into our game, Ecosystem.

Ecosystem is a card drafting game, in which players build individual tableaux of a balanced plant and animal environment. Players choose, pass, and arrange eleven different card types of organisms ranging from bees to bears and environments like streams and meadows. Players earn points by aligning animals with the habitats in which they most flourish.

Nuts and Bolts

Ecosystem employs two main mechanics: card drafting and tableau building. Card drafting differs from card dealing, in which a dealer controls the deck and deals out one card at a time in rotation to players. Card drafting is more hands on. Subdecks of card categories (animals, insects, trees, streams, etc.) are passed from player to player and each player chooses the cards they’ll use to build their individual tableau: their ecosystem!

In this way, the game involves some strategic planning; each player chooses cards that will help them build their optimal, ecologically balanced tableau from the get-go. Maybe it’s streams, trout and dragonflies or maybe it’s a forest wolf den. Creativity and critical thinking, however subtle, go into each choice of card. This gives players control over each card choice while keeping the best outcome (winning!) in mind.

In Ecosystem, tableau building, or building a scenario on the table or playing surface so that all players can view them, entails laying out each card as it’s selected, eventually building a 4x5 grid (two rounds of 10 cards per round). Again, kids are using strategic planning as they make and place each card choice. Points are earned or lost depending on ecologically viable placements. Place a fox too close to a bear and whoops, no points (and no more Mr. Fox either!). Trout in a meadow nowhere near a stream? Uh oh! See where critical thinking skills are involved from the first card chosen and placed?
Biodiversity is rewarded while monocultures are penalized. Each time the game is played, students build a unique ecosystem, striving to balance the delicate connections between all living things while keeping account of their score changes throughout the game.

What Do Kids Learn?

Ecosystem is about organisms and habitats and how they all work together in nature. Kids are learning:
• Different organisms require different habitats to survive.
• Some organisms survive better in larger groups.
• Some organisms don’t coexist well and need space between them.
• Biodiversity is essential to a healthy ecosystem.

While learning these ecological concepts, students are also developing life skills: strategic planning, critical thinking, math skills, and creativity.

Final Thoughts

Ecosystem is a fun way to engage with ecological concepts. The art is gorgeous, the animals are adorable, and there’s some subtle gameschooling involved. It’s also a quick game. Designed for anywhere from two to six players, it can take only 15-20 minutes per round and is infinitely replay-able, with players choosing different tableaux each round. Parents can make it a family collaboration, either by joining in or assisting younger siblings. And it makes science — ecology, biology, and animal behavior — FUN!