Bios: Genesis (second edition) (image credit: Phil Eklund)

We’ve enjoyed board games since childhood. Recently we’ve started to use them in the classroom.  In Spring of 2019, we embarked on an upper-level course titled Endless Forms and Imperfect Simulations: a gamified introduction to historical and contemporary biogeography.  Our course examined the mechanisms that drive the evolution and maintenance of biodiversity through geological time. The course explored novel active learning techniques to teach difficult concepts. The class format included discussion of primary scientific literature coupled with hands-on exercises (in the form of computer simulations or analog simulations using strategic board games) and course projects (i.e. modifying a boardgame to increase biological realism).

The deciding game for the ‘dominant species’ class award

In preparation for the course, our research group played many of the currently available evolution themed strategy board games. Below we provide detailed reviews of the games and their potential educational value.

Reviews

written reviews are currently hosted on the Brown Lab webpage (www.jasonleebrown.org)

Our Top Choices

We’ve used  Evolution: The Beginning, Evolution: Climate, Biosphere, Bios: Megafauna (2nd ed.), Bios: Genesis (2nd ed.) in our courses. The games were chosen due to their strong link of gameplay to key biological concepts. As we progressed through the four games, as ordered above, they increased in complexity and spatio-temporal scope, moving from population-level processes over short periods of time to global processes over half a billion years.

The class in action! Note that no limbs were lost during game play.

Other Quality Strategy Games Useful for Science Education

We haven’t played all of these, but have heard great things

The games required me to evaluate evolution rather than simply read and memorize

Katie Eckhoff

By playing these games, I gained an appreciation for the many synergistic factors involved in evolutionary processes… I also was surprised by how cataclysmic events have repeatedly shaped our biodiversity!

Jeremy A. Hartsock

Definitely reinforced my knowledge of evolution, as I frequently found myself comparing the natural world to these games

Andrew O. Rubio

Citation:

Muell MR, Guillory WX, Kellerman A, Rubio AO, Scott-Elliston A, Morales O, Eckhoff K, Barfknecht D, Hartsock JA, Weber JJ, & Brown JL (2020). Gaming natural selection: using board games as simulations to teach evolution. Evolution