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Holotype: a board game of paleontology


Holotype: a board game of paleontology

Dig, document, and publish!

We here at AIPT love a good science-based board game. Add dinosaurs to the mix, and you’re winning gold. Enter Holotype, a new paleontology-based worker placement game by Brexwerx Games, LLC, in which the players choose dig sites at particular (real-life!) geologic formations, do research, and publish their findings.

Fully funded on Kickstarter (but you can still get in on it today and tomorrow), we emailed with Lex Terenchin, one of the game’s developers, to find out more.

Holotype game dinosaurs

AIPT: For those who haven’t heard of the game, can you talk about the basics of Holotype?

Lex Terenchin: One of the major goals with Holotype was to create a game that would appeal to avid board gamers and paleontology fans alike. The game features 60 unique dinosaurs and marine reptiles from the Mesozoic Era across North America, fossil-bearing geologic formations, and objectives referencing modern paleontology concepts such as cladistics and taxonomy.

It is accessible to both new gamers and seasoned board game strategists, because the core mechanics are simple yet allow for thoughtful decision-making every round. The Personal Objectives, Global Objectives, and player selection of Milestone Achievements make every session of Holotype different, which provides significant replayability.

AIPT: One of the things that immediately became apparent looking at the game was that focus on North American fossils and localities. Can you talk about the decision to narrow the focus of the game to North America?

LT: We wanted to focus on one continent to underscore the fact that certain specimens are unique to certain locations (T. rex can only be found in North America). Also, we wanted to feature specific geologic formations where fossils have been found. As we grow, we plan on releasing other versions of the game focusing on different continents, which will highlight their unique features (Velociraptor can only be found in Asia, Liopluerodon has been discovered in Europe, etc.).

AIPT: Going back to those specimens, the game has some lovely artwork. Can you tell us who the artists are?

LT: For our specimen and trace fossil art, we have partnered with award-winning Ukrainian freelance paleoartist Sergey Krasovskiy. He was awarded the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s John J. Lanzendorf PaleoArt Prize in 2017. For the board art, we partnered with board game/RPG artist Emilio Camarena, and for graphic design we worked with Andre Kornev.

AIPT: With regards to the game design, can you explain how you used [programming language] Python to play test the game to help balance it?

LT: Sure can! Brett [Harrison, Terenchin’s partner at Brexwerx] is a programmer, and he personally built a program in Python to run 10,000+ sessions of the game to ensure balance. He did this after significant human playtesting, when we realized that there were some imbalances with the Victory Point values. After running the simulations, and with additional game tweaking, we were able to make adjustments to ensure that the game wasn’t broken in some unexpected way.

We were also able to make some observations about general gameplay that drove further changes. As an example: in a 2-player game, the game was more likely to end through publishing holotypes, and in a 5-player game, the game was more likely to end through Global Objectives. This helped us make adjustments to the Global Objective completion requirements to further ensure game balance, bringing the weighted likelihood in line with the design goals.

AIPT: As of this writing, you’ve met your Kickstarter funding goal (congratulations!). Are there any plans for stretch goals via another platform? You mentioned possible expansions; is there anything being worked on that you’d like to tease?

LT: We will be using Gamefound as our pledge manager, and after the Kickstarter ends, we will be able to continue to gather pre-order information from people interested in the game through our website. As for stretch goals, we didn’t include those as part of our campaign because we wanted to make a game that already had upgraded game pieces — 2 mm board, black core cards, engraved dice, custom meeples, etc. — all of which are very common stretch goals in campaigns.

As for expansions, outside of including the other continents, we have been discussing making an Index Fossil expansion that will add new mechanics and rewards that can be used with all continents, but that expansion is still in development.

AIPT: Finally, what is your ultimate vision for Holotype? What do you want the game to be in its ultimate form?

LT: When developing Holotype, we wanted to make sure that the game had broad appeal. Not only did we want to make a game that appeals to hobbyist board gamers and dinosaur enthusiasts, but we also wanted to make a gateway game for families to introduce their children to gaming, and an educational resource for those who use strategy games as learning tools. This is why Holotype is more of a light strategy game, and why there are specific instructions on how to remove game components and rules to make it more accessible to younger players.

We are proud to say that we feel we have made that game, and we are thrilled to have received feedback from playtesters, technical consultants, backers, and reviewers who have confirmed the achievement of these goals.

You can still take part in the Kickstarter for Holotype until 1:00 am eastern time Sunday. If you miss that, check later on for pre-orders!

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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