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Tide Pool Game

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Darwins_Dog
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Joined: 05/23/2015

I've been working on an educational game to teach people about the keystone species hypothesis in ecology. It uses sea stars in a tide pool based on Robert Paine's original work on the subject. I want to make an interesting game that reinforces the theory. My plan is to release it as a PnP game so that teachers can use it in a classroom.

The basic idea is that each player (from 2-5) controls a sea star. The tide pool is a 5x5 grid of cards. Each card has a color (associated with a sea star) and a point value. Some cards have no points and represent empty space. A player turn consists of moving and "eating" one card, replacing it from the deck. If the color of the card matches the sea star, the player gets full points, otherwise they get one point.

After a set number of turns (maybe 10), the tide rolls in. Players write down their point total and reshuffle the deck. When the tide rolls out, they start again, but now there is a sun star in the middle. Sun stars eat other sea stars so now the players will have to avoid the predator while they try to eat the most points. The sun star will move randomly at the end of each round (probably by a d8) and if it lands on a player they will get eaten and discard all of their cards. If it lands next to them it grabs them and they have to detach an arm (discard a random card) to escape.

Most total points after both rounds is the winner.

Players will find that they have fewer points, but there is less empty space with the Sun star present. That is the ecology lesson. When a keystone species (like the sun star) is present - even in very small numbers - it alters the behavior and balance of an ecosystem.

Some places where I could use some suggestions:
Point values of cards: I've tested it with 1-3 points and it works well. I want to simulate the idea of a preferred food (each color will be a different tide pool species), and the fact that sea stars are generalists (they will eat many different things). The problem with 1 point cards is that the color doesn't matter. Mismatched colors all count as 1 point. Should I make them 2-4, or does that even matter?

Movement:
I've been testing with movement in any of the 8 directions. Players can either move twice, move then eat, or just eat (no eat then move). Does that make sense?

Sun star:
Currently it moves twice in a turn according to a d8. I have a little compass on the image to indicate directions. This often leaves it moving back and forth, but that seems okay to me. How should I handle it hitting an edge or corner? Re-rolling seems obvious, but when it hits a corner there will be a lot of re-rolls (5/8 of the time).

Thanks for reading! I appreciate any and all comments you may have for me.

Orangebeard
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Joined: 10/13/2011
Darwins_Dog wrote:Sun

Darwins_Dog wrote:
Sun star:
Currently it moves twice in a turn according to a d8. I have a little compass on the image to indicate directions. This often leaves it moving back and forth, but that seems okay to me. How should I handle it hitting an edge or corner?

If the Sun Star moves off the board, is it fair to say it has moved beyond the effective ecosystem of the other Stars for the time being? Perhaps it could return with the next tide?

10 rounds (data points) should be enough to show a small variation in point totals pre and post Sun Star.

Would it be more realistic if food was represented by colored cubes on the board rather than cards? Color matching and point values should still be good, but it would allow players to target high value (matching cubes); potentially at the risk of being eaten by the Sun Star.

Even with the addition of a physical component, I think you could still get away with PNP. I imagine most classrooms can come up with a few dozen pennies, toothpicks, etc. to represent food.

Either way, this sounds like a simple and effective way to illustrate the concept.

Good luck with your design!

Darwins_Dog
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Joined: 05/23/2015
Orangebeard wrote:If the Sun

Orangebeard wrote:
If the Sun Star moves off the board, is it fair to say it has moved beyond the effective ecosystem of the other Stars for the time being? Perhaps it could return with the next tide?

I'm picturing the board as the entire tide pool, so it wouldn't really make sense for the sun star to leave (they don't like being out of water). Plus I want to keep the pressure on the players while the predator is present. That may be something to consider though. I want the rules to keep the game moving. If it gets drawn out then it won't make a good classroom activity.

Orangebeard wrote:
Would it be more realistic if food was represented by colored cubes on the board rather than cards? Color matching and point values should still be good, but it would allow players to target high value (matching cubes); potentially at the risk of being eaten by the Sun Star.

I'm not sure how the colored cubes would work. Do you mean use different sizes for different point values? I like the idea of a physical component, just not able to picture it in action.

Thanks for the input!

Orangebeard
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Joined: 10/13/2011
cubes on board

Each section of the board would have a pile of different colored cubes. Players could move their starfish to a section of the board where they could begin "eating". If they eat a cube of their own color (preferred food) they will get more points than they would eating a non-preferred food.

Over time, the starfish would probably eat all the food on one section or perhaps the Sun Star would move onto a section with food thus blocking access to it for all other starfish.

For this type of game, I don't think it would be a big deal to re-roll Sun Star moves that would take it off the board; or perhaps set a rule that says "if the roll would take you off the board, instead move towards the middle"

chris_mancini
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Joined: 05/01/2015
Sounds like a cool theme

I really like the tide pool theme, and the mechanic of the tide coming in/out is fantastic. I'd challenge you to push this action further than a shuffle of cards...how could the board really "evolve" from this action...especially if it only happens a few times per game? I like the presence of a predator...that's a very significant change...but are there ways in which the board changes for the better as well?

Also the opportunity to plan for incredible art is ripe for this game...while you don't have to actually create before the game itself is finished, the theme is so visually rich, planning for how other species are represented and really tying the art and the mechanics together seems appropriate in this case.

As you intend this game to convey a very specific message or lesson, I would consider which point structures would most enhance the core concept based on the scientific principles, literally in play.

Living in California, I used to go tide-pooling all the time as a kid...so I would have been really into this sort of game!

Icynova
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Joined: 06/02/2015
Tsuro of the Seas

I recommend that you watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWa5RB0aM34

It shows a game called Tsuro of the Seas, which has a similar mechanic. In this case, the playing field is a limited section of ocean, but it is conceptually like the tidepool concept. Your Sun Star is represented by dragons, and the Sea Stars would be the ships.

Basically, each player rolls once for the Sun Star and Once for themselves. However, the Sun Star can encounter any player during any other player's turn. You could adapt the movement mechanic to fit your game.

Tsuro of the seas also uses a player-elimination mechanic, but a near miss doesn't hurt. Eliminated players can switch roles to 'become' the Sun Star and roll for its movement. That keeps them engaged after elimination.

You have a great idea, and I think it shows a lot of promise. Good Luck!

fayinsky
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Joined: 08/02/2014
Darwins_Dog wrote: I'm

Darwins_Dog wrote:

I'm picturing the board as the entire tide pool, so it wouldn't really make sense for the sun star to leave (they don't like being out of water). Plus I want to keep the pressure on the players while the predator is present. That may be something to consider though. I want the rules to keep the game moving. If it gets drawn out then it won't make a good classroom activity.

What if you simply just let the sun star hit the boarder edge and bounce back? For example, you've already reached the upper edge and your next move is towards top left, you then just change it to bottom left according to some rules some where in your rulebook. I think this still makes sense under ecosystem theme.

Darwins_Dog
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Joined: 05/23/2015
Thanks for the ideas

Thanks for the ideas everyone. I've tried them out where I can, and I think I have settled on the answers to my questions.

Point values:
I'll stick to 1-3 points per card. As suggested, I should stick with what conveys the theme best. Sea stars usually have preferred foods, though they can usually eat other things. Eating a small meal of their favorite food (a 1 point card) would be about the same as eating any meal of another food. Not entirely true, but close enough for the abstract nature if this game.

Movement:
I'll let players control their own piece, and keep the movement options that I've started with. Move twice, move then eat, or just eat.

Sun Star:
I've looked at having it move after every turn, and it is simply too much. In a five player game it gets to move five times before a player can respond. Players will end up losing everything on a regular basis, which will get old fast. I'll keep it moving twice at the end of a round.
When it hits the edge of the board, I think the easiest thing is to have it move towards the middle (either diagonally from a corner, or directly away from the edge). It's simple and keeps the action moving.

Responding to some of the other ideas out there...
Food cubes:
I understand what you are suggesting now. I do like the idea (it reminds me of Ursuppa/Primordial Soup), but I think I would lose some of the visual appeal that this game could have. I want to keep the association between predator and prey species.

Expanded tide effects:
I'm still mulling this one over. Given that the tide is such a significant part of life along the shore, it would be nice to make it even more meaningful. Right now it's really just there as a name for the change over.

Thanks again for the input and ideas! Development is moving fairly quickly, and I may even be ready for blind testing in a month or two. I will most likely post updates as I go along.

Orangebeard
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Joined: 10/13/2011
Sounds good

These all sound like solid changes to the game.

Thanks for letting us know how it turned out!

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