Heads up: New Deck being worked on for Genetics Society of America.

Just a quick recap of some recent activity happening with regards to a new collaboration with the Genetics Society of America.


Basically, we’re on board with making a genetics’ themed Phylo deck, and this one we’re also working on with a mind to introduce some new variant game mechanics to the mix. At this point, student job positions were fielded out (see here), and we’ve got a stellar four person team (2 undergrads and 2 graduate students) who will be working on this mechanic over the summer.

Right now, we are still discussing specifics, but we do have a number of known priorities which can be loosely summarized as:

1. Inclusiveness. Launch date for the deck will be at the convergence of a variety of model organism conferences held in 2016. Note that the 2016 meetings include mouse, drosophilia, zebrafish, c. elegans, yeast, ciliates, and population/evolutionary/quantitative genetics. Therefore, somehow producing a deck that will highlight the diversity in this mix is key.

2. Some educational objective. Particularly, interest in embedding the notion of the societal value of genetic research, as well as perhaps provide insight into the science process of how this sort of research may be done.

3. Option to take advantage of existing GSA media (examples would include things like http://www.drosophila-images.org/)

Since the summer position ads went out, there were a few bites in the sense of crowd folks thinking about what this game might look like. Below is a summary of a current possibility, that happens to be quite nicely thought out.

How about a possible “Mahjong game mechanic” (a bit like Gin Rummy except only the first person out/completing a hand collects points. This sets up a race like element in that you can hold out for a better hand (which is worth more points), but opponents going for easier low scoring points may finish first.

Essentially, game revolves around species cards that are actually tweaked to be more or less like a “discovery obtained in species” card. In this, the species cards also states a discover/result/data/hypothesis, as well as the required cards needed to complete this hand. Such cards generally provide insight into the process required to obtain that discovery (i.e. you need a wet lab work card, field work card, DNA sequencing card, bioinformatics card, grant application card, publishing card, etc). Hands that require more cards are worth more points (exponential scale?)

We discussed this a bit earlier, as this idea is rather clever, given that it does address all three priorities, as well as (and this is also cool) provide a portal for researchers to independently make their own species/discovery cards.

Still, the role of the students is to evaluate this option, and decide whether to adopt it, adapt it, or come up with something different altogether. Stay tuned.

New Game Rules Variant: Codename, Phylo Poker.

O.K. This is pretty cool. There now exists a new variation on the core ecosystem building rules. This one takes advantage of familiar poker terminology, and is essentially the game built to work in a 5 card hand format.

Below is a slide of the rules, as well as links to a pdf. This was playtested at Science World last Saturday and seemed to work quite nicely. More importantly, this set of rules might generally fare better at festival, classroom type scenarios as a single hand of a game takes only a few minutes, unlike the core game which tends to take 20 to 30minutes.

The 5 card scenario also addresses possible challenges with designing a mobile app that emulates the game. Essentially, past attempts have more or less faltered because the game (due to its spreading all over a table format) doesn’t translate well to the small real estate screen size of a phone or even an iPad.

Anyway, we’ll update the “play” section of this website, once we think we’ve worked out the kinks on this rule set.

Link to pdf. You can also click on the below image/slide to get to a larger image.


Freshwater pond deck (in progress)

Just a quick heads up. In collaboration with Patrick Keeling at UBC, there will soon be a freshwater pond deck. This will be particularly useful for folks doing microscopy labs with pond scum samples. Below are a few cards, but note that the content is still being checked for scientific correctness.


This is also being prepped for use by the Science Creative Literary Symposia field trip at the Michael Smith Laboratories.

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)

Video of playing the Phylo Game.

Here is a video that essentially shows Dave (the academic who’s lab hosts the Phylo project) and his daughter playing a round of Phylo. It’s a bit ad-hoc (essentially, they just played the game with some commentary, and there’s also a bit where their dog starts barking crazily), but hopefully it’s still helpful.

One of these days, it would be great if we could get a member of the community to make a more polished video tutorial for our players!