Nature Themed Games
Our long Manitoba winter is finally over…
and summer is visibly here. Temperatures have risen to balmy and pleasant degrees and the colours around us are changing from the wintery hues of white and grey to a concert of greens. Trees are exploding with layers of fresh leaves and flowery buds while our rivers and lakes are beaming with various shades of blue. The ever-present seasonal changes of mother nature are unfolding before our very eyes with predictable precision. I am marveled by it – as I am every year.
This familiar and beautiful circle of life has not been lost on board game designers. Especially in recent years more and more titles are entering the market which use the mechanics of nature itself as their basis. And why not? Many historians believe that board games were born out of the strategies and planning of war and conflict. Thus, the familiar term ‘war games.’ So why not shift the focus from the rules of engagement to the rules of nature? After all, the theme lends itself to an already pre-packaged and pre-exiting set of mechanics: The circle of life.
Let’s think about this for a moment. Nature, and life itself, are already ‘rooted’ in many of the core aspects that make a good board game. We have resources and their management in the forms of food, sunlight, energy or reproduction, amongst others. We have external challenges that must be overcome in order to be successful. This could be the weather, deforestation, or the threats of predators, to name just a few. And then we have some winning conditions that could be translated as health, growing and multiplying or just simple survival. The list of cross-similarities goes on and, if you take a moment, I am sure you can think of other examples. Furthermore, it also comes with a strong sense of familiarity. We all know what nature looks like and how it works on a basic level. Animals need food to survive, plants need sunlight and water to flourish. No rule books or explanations necessary to outline what we already witness around us every single day. And finally (and possibly most importantly): Nature is beautiful. There is a never-ending inspiration for components and designs. Be it the vast palate of colours, creatures or shapes that nature offers us willingly for inspiration. All we have to do it to look outside. It is fair to say that most nature-themed games out there have taken that inspiration to heart. Their gaming pieces are often dripping with an ohmage to their theme, be it through wooden tiles, elaborate and colourful artwork, or 3-dimentional representations of various fauna or wildlife.
What about gameplay itself? There is the emotional satisfaction a player might experience while being engaged with a game that is based on nature. Making trees grow or helping an animal species to survive can be more rewarding to a player, than being victorious on the battlefield or accumulating financial wealth. It is a subject that is dear to all of us in real life and a game might help us to realize how precious and fragile our eco system really is.
There are quite a few titles available that base their theme on the magnificent eco system and backdrop of life itself. Here are some of my favourites that might get you into the nature of things.
2-4 players, ages 10 and up
The sun shines brightly on the canopy of the forest, and the trees use this wonderful energy to grow and develop their beautiful foliage. Sow your crops wisely and the shadows of your growing trees could slow your opponents down, but don’t forget that the sun revolves around the forest.
In this elegant game with stunning components, each player is growing a forest. At the start of each turn, players receive points from the sun based on the position of their trees. They can use these points to plant or grow their tress. But be aware if you are in the shadows of another tree, you will not get any points, so wise placement is crucial. But then again, the sun will keep moving to everything might shift for the next round…
2-4 players, ages 12 and up
In this dominos inspired game, each player gets a board with large pieces of wood in the form of turf, bushes, pines and oaks. These plants are used for the majorities on the large valley board. In addition, each player gets a stack of dominoes with two out of ten animal motifs on each of them.
On your turn, place one of the three dominoes in your hand on two brook spaces of the valley board. Of course, the domino must be adjacent to another domino that shows the same animal. If the placed domino borders a free space of a brown area, you can decide whether a tuft of grass or any other of your plants should be placed on that space. You score points for it and every plant piece that is already in this area and has the same or a lower value.
Once a brown area is framed with dominoes, the majority is scored and the player with the highest total plant value in the area gets the points that are printed as a large number on that area’s flower token.
Once all players have run out of dominoes, the game ends. Whoever was able to gather the most points, wins.
2-4 players, ages 8 and up
The spark of life is about to jump from your hands to spread out in the world. Deploy your mountain ranges and your deserts, spread out your oceans and your glaciers. Handle wisely your continents to form environments suitable for the apparition of animal life and maybe you’ll manage to create the most densely populated planet!
Each player receives a 3-dimensional planet core without anything on it. Each turn, players choose a tile with mountain/ice/forest/desert on it and place it on the planet. Then the player who fulfills the most conditions for the appearance of certain animals gains its card. Once the planet is complete the player with the most points wins.
2-6 players, ages 10 and up
Go back in time to an era when different species of animals are starting to develop. Players adapt their species in a dynamic ecosystem where food is scarce, predators lurk, and the climate can swing between scorching hot and icy cold. Traits like a Hard Shell and Horns can protect your species from Carnivores while a Long Neck will help them get food that others cannot reach. Heavy Fur and Migratory can protect your species from the cold while being Nocturnal or Burrowing will provide protection from the cruel desert sun. With over 200,000 ways to evolve your species, every game evolves into a different adventure.
2-5 players, ages 14 and up
Every spring, millions of monarch butterflies leave Mexico to spread out across eastern North America. Every fall, millions fly back to Mexico. However, no single butterfly ever makes the round trip.
Mariposas is a game of movement and set collection that lets players be part of this amazing journey.
The game is played in three seasons. In general, your butterflies try to head north in spring, spread out in summer, and return south in fall. The end of each season brings a scoring round, and at the end of fall, the player with the most successful family of butterflies — i.e., the most victory points — wins the game.
Are you intrigued to try a new nature-themed game? Here are my top suggestions:
Arguably the most important event with regards to the world of board gaming is ‘Das Spiel,’...a fair that is held each October in the German city of Essen. Exhibitors and guests from all around the world gather for 4 days to present and try all of the new and exciting...
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said:...“All I need is a sheet of paper and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside down.” Even though I am almost certain that he did not say this with regards to board games, part of me wonders and...
What defines a great board game?...It is its theme, the accessibility and elegance of the rules, the design and production of the components, the depth of strategy, or the level of enjoyment one experiences when playing it? I believe it is a combination of all of...