American Museum of Natural History’s “Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs” deck


Well, this is pretty cool.  This deck has been worked on for a couple months now, and is finally ready for folks to check out. Essentially, it’s a deck that utilizes an abundance of media content that the museum was producing and curating for their new special exhibit Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs (which just opened a few weeks back). It’s also a nice addition to the Phylo universe in that this deck has a few extra interesting nuances associated with it.

1. The deck was designed by a group of students who enrolled in a game design workshop. This was facilitated by Barry Joseph at the AMNH, and was essentially a great exercise in getting youth to engage in the scientific topic (in this case, pterosaurs) by trying to design a game mechanic around the content. Barry, and his crew, also provided commentary on this process in the form of blog posts. These you can catch up with here, here, here, here, and here; but as an example of some of the enthusiasm going on, I’ve highlighted the below passage:

When receiving their own copy to take home of the professionally printed cards for the first time, in the previous session, the teens were heard exclaiming: “I don’t even want to open it;” “It’s more than I ever thought it would be!” “I want to play it right now!” and “They are really freakin’ pretty!”

2. These students also tweaked the game mechanics a bit, primarily to address issues related to working with extinct organisms, and extinct organisms whereby specific scientific information was occasionally hard to validate (i.e. sometimes, science can only guess at certain attributes of these wonderful creatures because of the available fossil evidence). As well, this also meant that geological timeframes were an added consideration, which meant that the cards would potentially need even more information on them. This in turn could distract from the game, as it may make it even more complicated than it needs to be.

To get around these considerations, it was quickly realized that all cards essentially inhabited very similar terrains and climates, and so it was possible to simplify the existing habitat data. Furthermore, this game decided to not provide specific trophic information (herbivore, carnivore, omnivore, etc), but instead simplify the cards to highlighting itself as having one of three levels of numbers on the trophic food chain. In other words, all cards were simply denoted with a “1,” “2,” or a “3,” (the Food Chain value) rather than having this number and also worrying about the colour (trophic strategy). Finally, the team elected to completely do away with the scale data, as it was simply not needed (all the pterosaurs were so big, that they were always larger than the prey cards provided).

Overall, this meant that the cards were simplified, which is why the Phylo project has moved to label it a “basic” starter deck. In other words, you have decks which follow the core game mechanic (like the Beaty Deck), as well as projects which look at more unconventional ecosystems that may be a bit non-intuitive to the casual gamer (henceforth labeled “expert” decks, an example of which might be the WSF Coral Reef deck). This sets up a three tier system, dependant on the level of scientific technicality the deck might happen to have. It will be interesting to see whether such a categorization will be useful or not, and I guess only time will tell.

3. This deck has an accompanying mobile app (very cool!), which augments the content by a simple scan of certain cards. In this case, the scan will bring up a small three dimensional (and moving) image of the said pterosaur! This is brilliant in crowdsourcing terms, because it provides a real life tangible example of what Phylo might encompass in terms of the digital realm. Here, it’s very much about bringing additional value to the cards, but it will also be interesting to see if folks will try to emulate or adapt the game for digital gaming purposes as well.


Anyway, the deck is definitely worth checking out. The only thing that is a bit problematic is that we forgot to explicitly state that these cards need to utilize the universal card back. As such, the notion of mixing and matching this deck with others will be less obvious as they have a different pterosaur specific back (also very nicely done). Still, this is something that the Phylo project has learned from, and there’s a chance that one day this deck will also adopt the universal back, more so if the AMNH ends up being interested in making more decks!

Link to web home for the deck.
Link to AMNH home for the deck.
Link to Mobile App.
Link to online AMNH gift shop (for purchasing the deck)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *