World's Fair

If so, you should join this facebook group. Or to discuss further, please go to http://friendfeed.com/phylomon.

Here’s part of what started this group and project: a friend of mine passed on this “letter to Santa:”

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It quite nicely demonstrates an issue with advocates of biodiversity – that is, what can we do to get kids engaged with the wonderful creatures that are all around them? They obviously have the ability and the passion to care about such things, but it appears misplaced – they’ll spend a ton of resources and time tracking down fictional things, when they could easily do the same with the very wildlife around them. As a bonus, if they do learn a little more about biodiversity, they will hopefully appreciate their surroundings a little more, not to mention the possibility of just being outside a little more.


In any event, this is why I’m please to share with you a project coming out of my lab, that will hopefully do a small part in tackling this challenge. And, with the help of a rather large group of young students, we have decided to call it the “Phylomon Project.”

What is this? Well, the website describes it as follows:

…it’s an online initiative aimed at creating a Pokemon card type resource but with real creatures on display in full “character design” wonder. Not only that – but we plan to have the scientific community weigh in to determine the content on such cards (note that the cards above are only a mock-up of what that content might be), as well as folks who love gaming to try and design interesting ways to use the cards. Then to top it all off, members of the teacher community will participate to see whether these cards have educational merit. Best of all, the hope is that this will all occur in a non-commercial-open-access-open-source-because-basically-this-is-good-for-you-your-children-and-your-planet sort of way.

Right now, we have plans to release the website proper in March 2010, but are in the process of getting general word out, as well as asking artists to begin participating through submissions of their artwork (this, you can start to see happening here)

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The main idea is that it addresses the striking observation that children are really really really good at identifying Pokemon creatures, whereas they are really quite terrible at recognizing the plants and animals in their own proverbial backyards.

The study in question that showed this was even published a few years back in Science (Why Conservationists Should Heed Pokemon, Science. 2002 Mar 29;295(5564):2367), and its lead author, Andrew Balmford, has graciously allowed my lab to (so to speak) “have a go.”

At the phylomon.org site, there is a link to a pdf which has a more fleshed out description of the aim of the project, but all in all, it is an exercise in web dynamics.

Consequently, we’re well aware of the cautionary comments about the utility of such things. However. it is one of the luxuries of web projects, in that while the resources sunk in are relatively minor, the results can be quite amazing if the Gods of the Web are happy with what is going on.

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The general idea is to have a web hub that can act as a focal point for a variety of different communities to weigh in. Essentially, we hope to have a community of illustrators who are keen (or at the very least, not opposed) to submit a piece of artwork (and at fairly small dimensions to try and guard against unwarranted use – i.e. we really only need a small image for the card aspect, 360 x 225px)

Secondly, we have folks from the scientific community who will be more or less in charge of trying to figure out what type of content is presented on the card. Here, I have quite a few folks lined up to get this ball rolling from a Vancouver, British Columbia perspective. This is where we hope the scientific literacy angle can come into play.

Thirdly, (and in tandem with what the science folks are doing), we’ll have the gaming community weigh in. This is actually the group I have the least connection with, but from previous mentions about the project (I’ve blogged occasionally on the idea), they tended to be (by far!) the most vocal, so I’m optimistic that there will be some keen contributions there.

Overall – the project flowchart is:

1. we collect interesting images (that can hopefully engage both the artistic community and the children who will ultimately play with the cards)

2. provide content on the card (that fulfills the biodiversity community’s literacy criteria, as well as being rich and fluid enough for gamers to work with), and

3. present mechanisms for gameplay design where the type of games can be quite diverse (i.e. from basic trumps to pokemon-ish rules, where maybe even specific game scenarios are put forth, climate change, habitat encroachment, etc) as well as easily shared.

4. all with a mind that everything is essentially open access, and set up so that card production can easily occur at home – i.e. all free.

Finally, if all goes well, I’m very connected to the local education community to try and test some of these games out (see if the kids like them, are coming away actually learning about organisms, ecology, etc). Currently, also chatting with some education academics to see if any are keen to look at this in a very detailed manner.

For now, the pragmatic goal is to see if we can built a set of at least 50 or so interesting pictures in the next two or so months, but obviously are hoping that people will think this is a cool idea in general and participate to produce a larger set of images. I should also add that the website is being programmed to run on wordpress, so it’ll also be open source for download, etc, in case others want to create a hub they can manage in their own locality.

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Anyway, what do you think of this project? Comments would be greatly greatly appreciated, and it would also be wonderful if you had the means and the will to also spread, spread, SPREAD the word.

Do you think it will help to build a meme around this post? Something like “think of your five favorite organisms and why, suggest it for the Phylomon art community and pass it on?”

Here, I’ll go first. In no particular order:

Starling – because I am always amazed how so few people know what this bird is, despite having had contact with it (they’re everywhere in Vancouver, and indeed most of the temperate climate world!)

E.coli – as a molecular biologist, me and E.coli go a long long way.

Cat – I’m a cat person. Well, right now anyway – my kids really want a dog, so I’m sure this will change.

Daffodils – have always had a soft spot for this flower. Maybe it has something to do with Wordsworth.

Blue Whale – literally, the reason why I started a career in the sciences. That mental picture in my head of when I first saw the life size model of the Blue Whale at the Natural History Museum in London is still awe inspiring!

O.K. you’ve been tagged…

Comments

  1. #1 Lab Rat
    January 12, 2010

    Oh WOW this is amazing! I really, really hope they do bacteria as well, all you need are some good graphic artists to make the bacteria look slightly more ‘lifelike’ (which appeals to kids more, the main reason I stuck with pokemon was because I could give them all personalities based on the pictures) and there are so many crazy and interesting things that they do. And names? If kids are willing to learn dinosaur names, they can learn bacteria names no problem. Dinosaurs just got better PR.

  2. #2 kevin
    January 12, 2010

    Here’s a suggestion:

    Put the scientific name “Vulpes Vulpes” (or, at least, some common shorthand variant of it, “Vulpes”) as the headline, and put only put the common name (“Red Fox”) as some kind of nickname/alias underneath.

    I don’t think it’s important for kids to necessarily learn the scientific names, but I think it would add to the allure.

    My kids would *love* these, by the way.
    -kevin

  3. #3 bioephemera
    January 12, 2010

    You already know I think it’s a great idea – Ping!

    BTW, I agree with kevin. “Vulpes vulpes” sounds vampire-werewolf-Grimm Bros. awesome; red fox, not so much.

  4. #4 neil
    January 12, 2010

    Maybe we could have a Pika as the flagship character….

  5. #5 Scicurious
    January 12, 2010

    This is such a cool idea! Hmmm…could you have a separate game section with microbes? Like, microbes or viruses are combat cards causing infection, and your animals have a certain amount of resistance? This could also work for environmental issues, like warming, habitat destruction, etc.

    My votes:
    Owls: People like owls. Symbols of wisdom and all that.

    Mice: Would presumably be good for gameplay. Breed well, highly adaptable.

    Rats: It’s amazing how many people do not know, by sight, the difference between a mouse and a rat. This is partially because people tend to draw rats as smaller and mice as bigger, so you don’t realize how BIG rats can get! Same advantages as mice, but a little higher on the food chain.

    Groundhogs Something that many kids (on the east coast, at least) will see all the time.

    Bats: interesting, weird looking, kids can learn not to be afraid of them, etc. Echolocation is also cool.

  6. #6 David Ng
    January 12, 2010

    Thanks for all the great feedback (I really like the pika idea too!). It’s cool that folks are starting to sign up and stuff.

  7. #7 rehana
    January 13, 2010

    Bees, because I still can’t identify different kinds.

  8. #8 Psi Wavefunction
    January 13, 2010

    Quick solution: Spread protist SEMs!

    When I get kicked out of academia, I’m so totally gonna make protist cards (Protémon?) and get really rich. You just wait. =P

    There’s just so much really awesome fantasy/sci-fi stuff you can do with microbial life!!!

  9. #9 Psi Wavefunction
    January 13, 2010

    Actually, this may be kind of relevant:
    Some of my own abominations

    Btw, I’m still looking for a decent image of Gruetodinium to make a multi-eyed freakish dinoflagellate monster thing. That would be more fun than the cyclopsean Erythrops-the-Erythropsidinium. Would appreciate some leads!

    Not that I’m obsessed or anything =D

  10. #10 Psi Wavefunction
    January 13, 2010

    Argh, apparently I fail at linking:
    http://skepticwonder.blogspot.com/search/label/comic

    Ok, I’m done spamming this thread now…

  11. #11 falterer
    January 13, 2010

    I think #3 in the project flowchart should be #1. The animals you put into your first deck, and the details you print with them, should be somewhat dependent on the game system. There’s a strategy involved in selecting Pokémon cards that acts as an incentive for kids to revise the details on them: they trade cards and select cards from a vast pool with an eye to building a single deck; there’s a lot of strategy involved in Pokémon deck building. Unless there’s a careful balance between animals on the cards, and a way to make the game’s outcome depend more on such strategy than chance, there’s little incentive for kids to dedicate a similar amount of energy to building an equally encyclopedic knowledge of Phylomon cards.

  12. #12 Amy
    January 13, 2010

    FABULOUS!!! I’m raising a two year old right now, and I’m constantly bombarded with people thinking he should like Elmo, a talking tomato, Mickey, or Pooh. I would so prefer to give him access to REAL animals, biomes, or anything that might have a significantly positive effect on his intelligence. I would help out in this project in any way I could – some ideas might be to include symbiotic relationships, predator/prey status, endangered/extinction possibilities

  13. #13 kestrael
    January 13, 2010

    Really, really awesome idea! I may try to make a picture or two for this. )

    I do agree with falterer, though. I was really into the Pokemon card game when I was in middle school, and there were a TON of different deck-building strategies and a lot of competetion between kids to see who could build the best deck. I still have all my old cards because it took so much effort to collect them all that I didn’t have the heart to get rid of them.

    I had a fun idea pop into my head while I was reading this: what if you could make different sets that have different cards? Like, you could have an African card set, and a marine set, or a rainforest set, or whatever. Just a thought.

  14. #14 David Ng
    January 13, 2010

    I think #3 in the project flowchart should be #1.

    Hey falterer, that’s a good point and one we’ve wrestled with. In the end, we went with starting on the image collection, because of a few reasons:

    1. Logistically, it’s something that can be set up without need for a specific web hub in place – i.e. we can use Flickr for the mechanics of this process. We could set up a forum, or a m=plce to leave comments, etc for the gaming right off the get go, but wanted that element fully immersed in the website itself (which isn’t ready until March – BTW the March date is partly due to avoidance of attention clashing with the winter olympics around these parts).

    2. A big part of how well this project succeeds, is how engaged the web community will be (this is also from the point of view of the immediate contacts my lab has). In this light, we thought a steady build up of interesting images would have more cache in terms of general web interest. (i.e. getting people to link to it). People do like cool images.

    3. The gaming element is coming, and is fluid – i.e. in the finished site, there will be good opportunity for cross reference between graphic artists, scientists, and gamers. In other words, I’m hoping that certain cards will become available (whether its organisms or scenarios, etc) as the gameplay warrants. It’s actually what’s kind of cool about the project. If we do it well, there’s the possibility for all sorts of different types of gameplay coming out of this. Better yet, if these rules can also teach something…

    Anyway, again the key is participation. Would be awesome if your efforts result in a few more folks joining the Flickr groups!

  15. #15 Adam_Y
    January 14, 2010

    Does the kid not realize that most Pokemon are based off of real animals? Its kind of sad too because not only do some of the Pokemon flagrantly look like real life animals but there decription also flagrantly steal from real life animals. Just off of the top of my head the Ceolocanth and the Remora are just two animals that are overtly copied in Pokemon.

  16. #16 Gotchaye
    January 14, 2010

    It’s cool and all, and as something for kids to spend time playing in elementary school science classes it’s a fantastic idea, but I’d like to point out for the benefit of those not terribly familiar with Pokemon that the creatures aren’t just a card game and that it’s probably too much to hope that kids will become as attached to real creatures as they are to Pokemon through something like this.

    Pokemon is an IP created by Nintendo a little more than a decade ago. It originally became hugely popular as a video game, giving rise to many sequels and also to a television show and a card game, among other things. I’d bet that the card game owes most of its popularity to the video game and cartoon show – card games by themselves just aren’t huge among kids – and that many kids’ ability to identify individual Pokemon comes almost entirely from the video games or television show.

    And I have to echo one of the above commenters in saying that the game can’t be under-emphasized here. Pokemon didn’t become hugely popular on the strength of its art or character design (it was originally a black and white 8-bit game on a tiny screen, and, as was said earlier, many of the Pokemon are obviously just everyday creatures with only a couple cosmetic changes). Pokemon is huge first and foremost because the original games were just very fun.

  17. #17 octopod
    January 14, 2010

    Cool idea. So is the “phylo” part of this going to get involved at some point? — that is, will phylogeny be part of the animal’s stat block in any way, and thus available for gameplay?

  18. #18 Adam_Y
    January 14, 2010

    Pokemon is an IP created by Nintendo a little more than a decade ago. It originally became hugely popular as a video game, giving rise to many sequels and also to a television show and a card game, among other things. I’d bet that the card game owes most of its popularity to the video game and cartoon show – card games by themselves just aren’t huge among kids – and that many kids’ ability to identify individual Pokemon comes almost entirely from the video games or television show.

    Are you kidding me? Yugioh. Let’s Du…Du…Du….Duel!! An entire life and death television show based off of a cardcame.

  19. #19 Harman Smith
    January 14, 2010

    I think this is a cool idea because nature’s creatures can be quite amazing. But there is a problem here. The thing about Pokemon is that it has action. Pikachu shoots lightning bolts, I’m not sure what all the other creatures do, but they all have attacks and stuff. This kind of thing facilitates gameplay. How would you go about it when doing something ‘realistic’? You have to understand that doing a gameplay thing with real creatures would be incredibly difficult.
    Many people wonder why videogames are so violent, but the answer is shockingly simple. It’s because violence facilitates gameplay. Grand Theft Auto is a beautiful example. It’s not like kids just love killing people and being a dirty gangster (although the creators of GTA are known to adore movies like Scarface). Kids like the gameplay. A setting like any random GTA game facilitates gameplay.
    Imagine for example, a GTA-like game (free-roaming virtual world with living, breathing cities), but as a cop instead of a badguy. Making a game fun like that would be extremely difficult. For example, you could drive a car… but have to stick to speed limits most of the time. You can’t just shoot people. I would almost say that such a difficult setting would stave off gameplay & fun. There are games that allow you to play as a cop, though. An ex-cop. A very angry, vengeful ex-cop.

    But anyway. It seems to me, very difficult to do a game based on real creatures to increase interest among kids, and perhaps even adults. There are some games that could be used as inspiration. Pokemon Snap was a game that had no violence at all: it was simply you, on a rail track in first-person perspective, trying to take pictures of Pokemon. It was actually quite a lot of fun. The fun came from the difficulty of getting a good shot, and many creatures were very often shy. (As I recall, getting a good picture meant more points.) Something like this could be done with real creatures.

    I’m quite clueless of how something fun could be done with cards. Although I never did anything with collectable cards ever, so I dunno. But anyway, I hope it works. It is in my opinion essential that kids learn stuff about nature. Many creatures can do amazing things, and there is a lot we don’t know (mystery!), so it should be possible to do something that is at very least interesting & captivating.

  20. #20 TJ333
    January 14, 2010

    From the sound of things to make the game out of the cards there will need to be a lot of back and forth on the contents of the cards between the game designers and card designers. I don’t really see the facts being enough to make a good game. Though they could act as part of a “Nightime Animals Save the World” style game.

    Also, habitat cards. I keep coming back to some kind of habitat cards or game board being used to set the field of play.

  21. #21 Lauren
    January 14, 2010

    As an avid gamer in love with biology, the Phylomon Project sparks dual flames of interest.

    Is the plan to eventually expand the cards to have “stats” or special moves that can be played against each other in a Pokemon/Magic card game fashion?

    For example, using the Magic card game as a foundation, in order to play a Squid card, 2 cards of “Ocean” would already have to be on the table as Terrain cards. Creature type would be: Cephalopod, or Mollusc. And say, the special ability would be an ink cloud which would make another Creature card unattackable for a round.

    I think this would be a great way to meld the worlds of biology and gaming in an engaging way. I look forward to following this project!

  22. #22 TJ333
    January 14, 2010

    Can we see a sample of a filled in card? I would really like to see that just to give me an idea of what the game would ahve to work with.
    Hmm, maybe less Pokemon and more boardgame?

    Harman: Most card games leave the action up to the player’s imagination. Older versions of Magic:The Gathering had goblins and dragons running along side the more prosaic wild hores and Grizzly bears. Those cards usualy just showed pictures of the creatures.

    New Card
    http://www.toywiz.com/mtg-9th-246.html
    Old Card
    http://www.gatheringground.com/store/showproductdetails.asp?product=115498&client=

    The text in italics on that card has nothing to do with the game. But when I was younger and just started playing we thought that was rules and it meant a Grizzly Bear could knock down a Wall of Wood if you tried to block with it.

    But at this point I think I need to take my ramblings out of the blogs comments and to the Phylomon Project website.

  23. #23 Harman Smith
    January 14, 2010

    http://scienceblogs.com/clock/2010/01/snake-mimicking_moth.php

    OMG! This could make a great card. You could use this against an animal who normally eats insects.

  24. #24 cedar chest
    January 14, 2010

    I think the Pokemon are real animals too. They only have these different characteristics and they have these powers. My kids are actually fond of this and they are now interested in Science.

  25. #25 AtomX
    January 14, 2010

    Hi Ed,

    I think this is a phenomenal idea, and has the potential to spark a lot of interest in biodiversity. But why limit yourself to extant species! I’m imagining a game that begins even as far back as the Cambrian explosion, where players pick up a certain amount of cards at the beginning, and can only (at first) play very simple organisms. I suppose the purpose of the game would be to have as many as possible of your own species survive at expense of those of all the other players. Each turn could represent 20 million years of time (or so), and could be kept track of via a d20. Each game would play out as a version of Stephen Jay Gould’s idea of “turning the tape back” and allowing evolution to take it’s course afresh. This version of the game would have the added benefit of including DINOSAURS, glyptodonts, giant sea scorpions, etc. Event cards could include mass extinctions such as giant meteorites, ice ages, etc. Players would have to strike a balance between specialist and generalist organisms, as well as animals with various reproductive strategies (R vs K selected). Of course, each game would end at the present day, when man appears and either eats everything or builds a WalMart on top of it.

  26. #26 AtomX
    January 14, 2010

    Oops. Sorry David, my mistake… just realized I called you Ed.

  27. #27 araneaeflick
    January 15, 2010

    rehana: bee submitted! :D

  28. #28 Jesse
    January 15, 2010

    Sounds a lot like Xeko:

    http://www.xeko.com/tcg

  29. #29 stripey_cat
    January 15, 2010

    Barring daffodils, I’m amazed no-one has mentioned plants yet. Major part of the ecosystem!

  30. #30 falterer
    January 15, 2010

    Thanks for your response to my earlier comment. I can understand why you’d like to drum up interest with the pictures first.

    Interesting to hear everyone’s gameplay ideas in this thread; that’s the part of this project I’m most interesting–especially a style of gameplay that in some way reflects nature. :)

    My own idea is that players each have five or so species cards on the table as their ecosystem, and place some tokens on each species card to represent population. In each turn, players draw a new card from the draw pile and swap it for one of the species on the table or discard it; then add a number of tokens to each card on the table according to its species’ fertility rate, or remove tokens according to how many predators or other environmental variables are in play. The goal of the game is to develop a well-balanced ecosystem among the five species cards: if you take a turn without having to alter the number of tokens on the board, you win!

  31. #31 sikiş
    January 15, 2010

    My own idea is that players each have five or so species cards on the table as their ecosystem, and place some tokens on each species card to represent population. In each turn, players draw a new card from the draw pile and swap it for one of the species on the table or discard it; then add a number of tokens to each card on the table according to its species’ fertility rate, or remove tokens according to how many predators or other environmental variables are in play. The goal of the game is to develop a well-balanced ecosystem among the five species cards: if you take a turn without having to alter the number of tokens on the board, you win!

  32. #32 Cory
    January 15, 2010

    I second the idea about extinct species. What person, young or old, wouldn’t get excited about seeing something like Anomalocaris?

  33. #33 David Ng
    January 15, 2010

    Wow… you go offline for one day, and then check in…

    This is all brilliant (I’m so excited!) All of this discussion, I think, is a facet that makes the project really exciting. i.e. there exists the opportunity for such a wide variety of uses in these cards, whether it’s the inclusion of extinct species, someone coming up with a design for gameplay where there is a head to head feel, or whether there is someone who comes up with a gameplay that is more about ecological cooperative play, and the challenge is something external (like habitat cards, human encroachment, disease, or climate change, etc).

    The website will be very much about managing to capture this discussion, so that the “rules” have a place to be available, and with some moderation, a place where “rules” that look particularly promising have a place to be spotlighted.

    Funny – we weren’t actually thinking of aggressively capturing this commentary until the working website was launch in March. In other words, we thought we could initially just get the ball rolling with a two month window to build up an image repository, but it looks like maybe we should set up a public forum, where we can collect all of these great ideas in earnest.

    Looking into it now…

  34. #34 Matt
    January 15, 2010

    Before this forum gets set up, I wanted to add something I didn’t see with other commenters. If anyone can print out these cards, how is the relative scarcity of certain species represented? Kids are not going to appreciate the value of these cards if anyone can print them out at home. Part of the reason I collected baseball cards was because some of them were rare, and I appreciated their scarcity.

  35. #35 David Ng
    January 15, 2010

    “how is the relative scarcity of certain species represented?”

    That’s a very good point, and actually one we’ve discussed at length behind the scenes. We do realize that a big appeal of a lot of these card collecting activities is related to the idea of rare cards. From the vantage point of our plan, it’s something we really can’t provide. In other words, because it is open source, open access, the option of making some cards difficult to print kicks up the “fanciness” of the website considerably, and is something we’re not planning to do. i.e. doing that, whilst maintaining the “this will be totally free in a digital sort of way” is too tricky.

    To address your point, however, a couple of ideas came up with our strategizing:

    1. Idea of rarity could be embedded by making gameplay rules include real life observation. i.e. if a child has actually seen or taken a photo of a raccoon, then the inherent worth of the raccoon card in the game is a bit more (you get +1 when you roll the dice, or whatever). Wouldn’t that be cool? Kids going out looking for wildlife! We can only hope… This is something that is also interesting to us, because it may also help address the issue of pictures (cool and attractive to children though they may be) that start to significantly veer away from looking like the real thing (which from our discussions with various expert folks may actually be the best sort of image to initially vie for).

    2. That because we’re building this platform on wordpress, inevitably the option for someone, with programming chops, to introduce an element in the program where cards do dissappear and are slightly harder to get – because maybe you have to be at the site at the right place at the right time. We know this still isn’t the same as “rare cards” in the conventional sense, since we’re talking about a digital file, but it might be used as something that encourages kids to visit the site even more (which in turn may be useful if we can build other content – say from a twitter feed with a tag for links that kids should check out?)

    Anyway, great comments… keep ‘em coming.

  36. #36 TJ333
    January 16, 2010

    I think you can limit a rare specis in few ways

    How can you play it?
    When can you play it?
    Have a cost to play it.
    The number you can play with, either in play at once or to have in a random deck of cards.
    Can more then one person play with it at a time?

    If it is a rare species and it goes dies/goes extinct what happens?

  37. #37 AtomX
    January 17, 2010

    I like the idea that falterer/stikis presented, namely the in-game approximation of an ecosystem. To take this idea one step further, I was thinking of ways that ecosystem structure could be suggested on the cards themselves. In the game “Magic: The Gathering”, players are reliant on land cards to give them the “mana” necessary to cast spells or summon creatures. No land in a deck pretty much means no casting ability, whereas you don’t want too much in a deck either. What if these ideas were combined in this sort of game, ie. you cannot play an apex predator until you have at least one of each trophic level below it. I also am imagining a battle between players to create the most stable ecosystem, with the possible addition of players being able to take “potshots” at each other’s trophic web in an effort to make it collapse. So, for the ecosystem to be stable, the most important nodes have to be the strongest. For now, let’s only consider an ocean environment. The primary producers (bacteria, plankton, etc) cards would be the closest to the “land” cards in “M:tG”, in that no other organisms can be played without at least one of them already out. Conversely, if all the primary producers at the center of a trophic web are destroyed, the entire web collapses. If on each organism card, there are potential “trophic relationship” lines radiating out at the corners or edges of the card, then it is easy to see who can go where in the trophic web. Suppose primary producers have lines only at all four corners, whereas secondary producers have maybe one line at a corner and one line at a side (or two). Corner lines can only connect with other corner lines, and side lines (top, bottom, left, right) can only hook up to other side lines. If a node in a web is taken out, any cards dependent on it that do not have an “alternate” connection are also eliminated. Thus, extremely valuable cards would have a large number of lines radiating from them, enabling them to have a large number of trophic relationships which would stabilize the trophic web more effectively. Some organisms like apex predators would be special in that they have “double” lines (think like an equals sign) that could connect to any other double line on ANY lower trophic level, not just the one directly below it. This is difficult to describe in text, but using this scheme an ecosystem with 4 trophic levels could have as few as 4 and as many as 17 cards. Now, smart players would double and triple up on the nodes in their web that are most valuable / vulnerable, ie. start stacking up the primary producers in the middle as you go, as they are the foundation.

    Another idea: Will kids have some kind of “account” type system online so they can keep track of which cards they have collected and which ones they still need? It might be possible for players to “unlock” more valuable cards as their collection increases. Or, perhaps some sort of nature-based puzzle could be posed as a challenge? Just an idea. Thanks!

  38. #38 The Science Pundit
    January 18, 2010

    You definitely need some some arthropods in there. Flies (including moths and butterflies) are good because they go through different life stages that don’t look anything like each other–that should be fun for the artists! And of course spiders! There’s some cool looking spiders out there (like the striped tarantula) and some that build awesome webs (such as the orb weaver–speaking of which, the spiny backed orb spider (Gasteracantha cancriformis) is one of those cool looking spiders). Plenty there for the artists to sink their teeth into (so to speak). And there probably should be a crustacean in there somewhere.

    Also, if you want to include a fungus, I vote for Cordyceps. It’s one of the most fascinating parasites I’ve ever seen. Although the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) mushroom might be easier to draw.

  39. #39 Carlie
    January 19, 2010

    My Pokemon-obsessed 10 year old says that it won’t be cool unless they have special moves. For example, the skunk needs stinkbomb powers. Also, he says they need power numbers, their weakness, resistance, resistance cost, and what they evolved from. I guess that’s all bundled into the game play aspect, but the special moves in particular is something that could easily be added.

  40. #40 Alec T
    January 19, 2010

    Pokemon is what got me interested in zoology (I’m 20)

    Here are a few ideas:

    1. Make the game actually work on it’s own so a kid doesn’t necessarily need a prior interest in biology to get into the game

    2. Use the concept of rarity (use extinct species, even!)

    3. Use cool animals that no kid knows (armadillo girdled lizard, silky anteater, birds of paradise, pichi armadillo, fossa, Sumatran rhino, etc.) and not just skunks and foxes and cats, although those are obviously necessary

    4. Copying the rules of Magic and Pokemon cards is a good first step, but don’t make them too similar. Both are very well designed card games, though. The concept of using biomes and ecosystems as mana is a really fantastic idea.

  41. #41 Max
    March 14, 2010

    1) More specificity. Don’t just put cat, put Maine Coon, Siamese Cat, Ocelot

    2) More striking images. While what I have seen so far is very artistic, it doesn’t truly strike to the heart of us philistines. More action (ever see a fox hunt mice?) and a more striking art style (take a look at some of the stuff from magic the gather for an example).

    3)Focus on extinct, threatened, obscure and weird. Preferably a mix of these.

    4)Marketing. If response is positive, market to schools and teachers. Put out actual cards.

  42. #42 sml
    March 14, 2010

    I love this idea. Have a 5-year old who uses a deck of mammal cards (which have the scientific names, sizes on them – and are also regular playing cards) to play a game we made up called “Who Eats Who”. You split the deck in half, and each person puts down a card, and then you determine who would eat whom. For two herbivores we now go by who is bigger than whom. There are obviously some issues (such as two mammals that would never really get the chance to meet to have to face the issue of who eats who), but we have had a lot of good discussion about carnivores, herbivores, omnivores, and about other traits that allow animals to avoid being eaten (i.e. skunks or porcupines). He has not been exposed to all the disney, pokeman, etc, and can name many animals and plants including bird songs. Although I think it is great to have exotic animals, it is very important to know and love and think are cool the animals in your own backyard.

  43. #43 blatext
    May 12, 2010

    This is such a perfect idea, if only it was easier to market it. I’m sure it would do wonders for our planet, considering its current state.

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    September 10, 2011

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  46. #46 bitkisel tedavi
    November 9, 2011

    time tracking down fictional things, when they could easily do the same with the very wildlife around them. As a bonus, if they do learn a little more about biodiversity, they will hopefully appreciate their surroundings a little more, not to mention the possibility of just being outside a little more.

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    November 14, 2011

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