Ecosystem Building Game (V1.2)

Game designed by Fenrislorsrai, ColinD , Naturalismus, Wootfish, Forbidding, TheCharles, glunsforddavis, Havoc Jack, Cubist.. Editorial oversight and figures by db
Initial notes in the Phylomon Forum (link) | V1.1 of this rule set can be found here.

– Work out a good number of cards in starting deck (per player) (done)
– Suggest an initial set of cards (including number of species, number of habitats, number of environmental challenges, appropriate terrain/climate stats). This one is especially important, because here we can canvas the web for appropriate images. (done)
– Continue to suggest play effects of Event cards (in particular, ones that promote diversity as oppose to monocultures).
– Beta test these general rules and leave feedback. (done)
– Any other ideas for what a “starter” card might represent?

– – –


Two players work to build an ecosystem around their home that is complete with various habitats and many different species. However, the player with the most points indicating a robust and diverse community at the end of the game is the winner. Can you ensure your victory by strategically (1) setting up your habitats, (2) building variation into your food webs, and (3) calculating migration possibilities: all in an attempt to minimize biodiversity loss should an environmental challenge come your way.


There are three main types of cards:

SPECIES CARDS: These are cards that represent the various organisms on our planet Earth. In essence, all statistics on the card aim to describe the creature as in real life (i.e. the cards are also like fact holders). Species cards have a number of attributes on them that are noteworthy, including #SCALE, #FOODCHAIN, DIET (a colour), as well as habitat information (various combination of TERRAINs and CLIMATEs). Many species will also have other written information on the card. Most common includes information on MOVEment, but there may be other keywords such as POLLINATOR, INVASIVE, PARASITE, MUTUALISTIC (others may be developed as the game evolves).

HABITAT CARDS: These cards define a habitat (with TERRAIN and CLIMATE information). They are arguably the most important cards as species cards can only build from an appropriate habitat card. Note that species cards can only be played when there is an appropriate habitat card on the table. As well, the number on the top of the card, defines the maximum range (i.e. a value of 3 means that you can only place species cards within a maximum range of 3 moves – beyond that you would need to play another habitat card to build further).

EVENT CARDS: These cards define some sort of environmental situation, and is usually played on to of another card. This will often result in a change of some sort that will tend to have a domino effect on the other cards built around the effected card. The number on the top of these cards will signify duration – if there is no number, then the effect is permanent. A strategic element of this game will largely depend on building ecosystems that can adapt to such events.


Two players will sit facing each other, each with a deck of 40 cards. Decks can be thematic (i.e. only locale specific cards), or hand chosen by the player from the Phylo website. NOTE: the number of cards in the starting deck may need to change.

Each player will also place a “starter” card on the table, such that the two starter cards are adjacent to each other. Now, each player will draw 5 cards from their deck. The player with the least number of habitat cards goes first (in the event of a tie, use good old rock, paper, scissors).


Whenever cards are placed down, they are played facing the active player to distinguish possession. During each turn, a player does the following in this order:

1. Draw a card from the deck.

2. Take three actions from the following choices (it’s o.k. to do two or three actions that are the same):

  • Discard 1 card into discard pile to draw 1 card.
  • Play a habitat card (next to any card with at least one matching CLIMATE value).
  • Play a species card (next to a card under your control with appropriate linkage).
  • Play an Event card.
  • MOVE a species card (new position need not be next to a card under your control).
  • Pass and do nothing.

Note that the first card played must be a habitat card, but any habitat card can be built around a “starter” card.

3. Remove cards under your control that are no longer properly connected to a habitat. These go into your discard pile. Your opponent will probably help you out here! (NOTE that this step is done after the three actions so that you have an opportunity to react to ecosystem changes introduced by the other player)

4. Alternate turns. When a player has taken their last card from their deck, the game ends at the conclusion of the other player’s turn.

5. Tally up all the food chain points in species card that are in your possession and still on the table. Winner is the player with the most number of points.


At the beginning, there will be two adjacent “start” cards (one for each player) placed on the table (for example, something like the below).

Let’s say you get to go first. You have 5 cards in your hand, but your first card played must be a habitat card (this will also counts as one action). Place the habitat card facing you and such that it maintains contact with your “starter” card.  Note that the “starter” card is a little like a wild card in that any habitat card (regardless of TERRAIN and CLIMATE values) can be built on a “starter” card.

You can also see from the above figure, that cards can be placed so that they are aligned “exactly” with each other, or they can be placed so that they only “half” touching. Either is o.k., but at times, there may be advantages to one or the other (i.e. sharing cards, etc).

Then you may use your two other actions – examples include the following:

You can play another habitat card. Here, at least one of the CLIMATE values must match. Habitat cards can go adjacent to other habitat cards or species cards.

You can play a species card. Generally, Species cards need to be placed next to card with a #FOODCHAIN value equal to or one below. However, like a real food web, there are some notable exceptions and additional rules.

  • Species with a FOOD CHAIN RANK value of “1” can be played adjacent to any other card (including habitat cards) as long as TERRAIN and CLIMATE match.
  • Omnivores can also be placed next to any of the plant cards (FOOD RANK 1, Yellow colour) regardless of their #FOODCHAIN value.
  • Carnivorous diet linkage must also work in terms of SCALE. In other words, carnivores (or omnivores linked to prey) can only build upon species of smaller or equal SCALE value. This is to ensure that something like a small rodent (which may have a higher #FOODCHAIN value) cannot eat something like a rhino (who happens to have a low #FOODCHAIN rank). Exceptions to this rule can occur when a card explicitly says the smaller creature is capable of pack hunting, or scavenging, etc to override the #SCALE effect).

You can see in the figure below, an example of where the European Honey Bee can be placed, and where it cannot (The position marked X cannot be used because even though there are TERRAIN and CLIMATE matches, the Bee’s #FOODCHAIN value of 2 needs to be placed next to something with a #FOODCHAIN value of 1)

Now let’s say you’re done, and it’s now the other player’s turn. Throughout the game, your opponent will place cards on the table so that they are facing him/her (i.e. in the opposite direction – this is how you can tell each other’s apart).

Note that a player cannot place species cards down, unless they are next to a card under his/her control. Therefore, since we are at the start of the game, this will mean that your opponent will need to first play a habitat card. Here the player can build off of his/her own “starter” card, in a manner similar to what you have already done.  However, he/she also has the option to now place a habitat card down elsewhere.  Let’s explore this move.  For example, see below where the figure illustrates various placements of your opponent’s Forest habitat card should they decide not to build off of their “starter” card. Note, however, that this habitat card must still have a matching CLIMATE value of one of its adjacent card.

From here, your opponent can now build upon that habitat card with his/her remaining actions.

As an example, look at the below figure of where your opponent might want to place a species card. In this case, there are two options shown (A and B): the point of which is to demonstrate that position B is better for your opponent, since placing the card in position A inadvertently protects your Bee card.

Ultimately, the point of the game is to place as many species cards down such that each species card can be linked back to a habitat card through CLIMATE, TERRAIN, #FOODCHAIN, and DIET values.

The below figure shows the valid connections, as defined by these attributes (as well as the range of the habitat), currently in play in the game:

Therefore, at this point in time, the score is 2 species (you) to 1 species (your opponent)!


Movement of Species cards allows protection by moving onto the other player’s habitats, or by escaping the possible effects of an Environmental challenge.

MOVE values are usually shown as text in the middle of the card. The value signifies the distance that card can move each action. For example, the European Honey Bee card has a MOVE value of 2. Therefore it is able to move any two “spots” as long as the final resting place is unoccupied. Examples of how “2 moves” can look is shown in the figure below:

Note that also in this figure, we have a chance to see a bad move (the “X”, since now that card is not properly connected to any habitat and therefore must be removed), versus a good move (the “*”, whereby now the Bee card is now linked to the opponent’s habitat card making it less susceptible to Environmental challenges your opponent might play – although instead it may now be vulnerable to challenges you might play).

As well (and although it’s not necessary, we’d like to encourage playing this version of the game), players can also add strategic value to their species cards if they have actually seen the organism in the wild (say, as documented by a photo on their digital camera). This allows the player to MOVE the organism without using up one of the three actions.


Players may choose to use an Event card as one of their actions. Here, they will place the card on top of any card of their choosing (it can be their card or an opponent’s card) as detailed in the card instructions. Their effect will also be outlined on the card. For example, the below figure illustrates the effects of your opponent playing a Flood Event card. Here, the card will temporarily alter the habitat’s TERRAIN to freshwater for the number of turns (2 turns) as shown on the card.

Essentially, this will disrupt TERRAIN linkage from habitat to species. Specifically, as shown in the figure, this may mean that two species cards will need to be removed. These removed cards will go into a discard pile.

Note that most Event cards are played on habitat cards, but that some may be specific to certain species cards as defined in the description written on the card.


INVASIVE: If a species is considered invasive, the player can play this species card on top of another as instructions dictate. The card underneath is no longer worth a point.

PARASITE: If a species is considered parasitic, the player can play this species card underneath another as instructions dictate. Both cards are worth points.

POLLINATOR: A pollinator if placed adjacent to a plant, can allow the plant to spread. Spreading can be shown by using cards from the person’s hand placed upside down. Note that these extra cards do not provide additional points, but may create better ecosystems by improving how species and habitats are linked to each other. Using a pollinator to place an upside down card will use up an action.

SPREAD: Same as MOVEment except with respect to stationary organisms such as plants. Often the ability to SPREAD requires additional cards (like WIND or POLLINATOR).

(other keywords can be found in the glossary)


When a player has taken their last card from their deck, the game ends at the conclusion of the other player’s turn. Tally up all the food chain points in species card that are in your possession and still on the table. Winner is the player with the most number of points.

3 thoughts on “Ecosystem Building Game (V1.2)

  1. For a ‘starter card’ maybe a single card could be done depicting the world or a variety of habitats on it that any terrain/habitat and climate can link to minimize the game from being confusing. You’d only need one or each player their own, so before you draw cards you’d put down your starting point.

  2. I agree with the above, a start card showing earth would be good then whichever player is holding this card could go first..

  3. In addition to using colors to mark the position of the organism in the food chain, also use shapes to provide that info, which are easier to remember and identify.

    I thought about using circle ○ = photosynthetic, triangle △ = herbivore, square □ = carnivore and pentagon ⬠ = omnivore, each one has more edges than the one before it. But it still is inconsistent in that □ has more edges than ○ but cannot eat ○… and it leaves out “molecular carbon”. And that it’s hard(er) to fit a number inside a △ …

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