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Rediscover nature in 'The Search for Lost Species'


Rediscover nature in ‘The Search for Lost Species’

Evan Bernstein interviews the board game’s designers!

We all have a sense of what “endangered species” means, but what’s a “lost species”? In the new board game The Search for Lost Species, players will compete to find animals that are known to science, but haven’t been seen in decades. Is one of them still out there? You could be the one to find it!

Publisher Renegade Games has partnered with the conservation organization Re:wild for this deduction game that is currently over 1,000% funded on Kickstarter, with still more than two weeks to go in the campaign. Evan Bernstein of the Which Game First and Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcasts recently spoke with the designers of The Search for Lost Species to find out why this subject interested them, and how the game plays.

Search for Lost Species components

Evan Bernstein: What inspired you to make The Search for Lost Species?

Ben Rosett: Well, we had made a previous game a couple of years ago called the Search for Planet X, which is a logical deduction game about the real-world search that’s happening right now for another planet in our solar system. And we really were happy with the response to the game, and wanted to make another game in the series, the kind of “Search for” series. And we wanted to pick another topic in science, another real search that’s really happening right now.

Matthew and I did some research and thought about it, and I actually had known about this real world search for lost species that was happening, before Matthew brought it to my attention, and right away, when we hit on that, we just thought this is incredible. This is something that’s happening. It’s something tangible. It’s something that people can go out and actually do themselves here on Earth, and [we] loved the idea right away about making a game about conservation and saving some amazing animals.

EB: Your game has features of a conventional board game, plus an app. Tell us first about some of the basic features of the game. What can we expect when we play the game?

BR: Well, the game is, as I mentioned, a logical deduction game, which means you are gonna be put onto an island in Indonesia or Papua New Guinea, which is where the gameplay takes place. We’re focusing on real lost species from that region of the world, and you are going to be competing with your other fellow scientists to find this lost species, which lives somewhere on the island, but you don’t know where it is.

And so you are going to be visiting different areas on the island, searching to see what is there, [and] getting back information from the companion app that is used to randomize the location of all of the animals during the game. And based on the information that you get back from the app, you do logical deductions to figure out where different animals are across the islands, eventually learning enough to figure out where the lost species must be.

And along the way, you’re gonna be publishing your findings, or what we call in the game “confirming sightings,” which is one of the ways that you score points in the game. And then eventually somebody is going to make a sighting of the lost species. It will be confirmed, and the lost species will be found and saved.

Matthew O’Malley: This is a little bit different than the real world search, because every time you sit down to play the game, there is a lost species out there and you’re gonna be able to find it during that one game.

EB: Right. Exactly. And the map is double-sided. I take it one; maybe it has a few fewer features than the other island, and a faster gameplay.

BR: One of them is kind of an easier, more introductory island to get the hang of the deduction system, and then once you are comfortable with that, you can flip the board over to a more difficult island on the backside of the board, and give yourself a little bit more of a challenge. There are also six different lost species that the game comes with, and you always play with [only] one of them during the game. So you can switch those out every game that you play, to be looking for a different species.

MO: And because we’re using an app to manage some of the information that’s given out at the very beginning of the game, you get to choose how much you want to challenge yourself that particular game, and each individual player can choose that. So some of the players can choose to get no little starting clues, and if somebody is sitting down to play and has never played a deduction game before, they can get 12 little pieces of information, and you can take any number from zero to 12. And so the different players at the table can try to balance things between themselves.

EB: Oh, that’s a clever application. Was this part of the original thought or designs that you had for the game, that you were gonna have an app with this?

BR: It was part of the original idea for the game right away. When we first started designing The Search for Planet X, we knew that we wanted all the players to play the game. We didn’t want someone to have to GM the game. We didn’t want someone to have to not be a participating player and giving the answers to people.

And so it made sense right away for there to be an app that randomizes the layout of all of the objects in Planet X, or animals in The Search for Lost Species, so that each game would be different, each game would be unique, and all the players could play. You didn’t have to have somebody running the game for you. So there was a plan right from the beginning to have an app be part of the game.

MO: And a beneficial side effect of that is that when a lot of other deduction games have players giving information to the other players, like when somebody says, “Do you have this particular card?” And then you get that information from the other player, but sometimes that information is wrong, if a player just makes a mistake. And you don’t have that problem with the app, so you can still make your own mistakes about what you’re doing with that information, but you don’t get the wrong information from the app.

EB: How much consultation with scientists took place during the design of the game?

MO: A fair bit. As soon as we knew that we were gonna start working on The Search for Lost Species, I got in touch with Re:wild and used their database to figure out which lost species we were gonna be tracking down. I talked with some of the people there to find out what sorts of things the researchers do when they’re going to an island, when they’re looking around, and just kept in touch with them throughout the design process.

EB: I hope they were kind of enthused, or at least intrigued by the fact that these pieces of information and knowledge about their field would make their way onto the tabletops of homes across the world.

MO: Yeah. And it was always our intent also to try to shine a light on the true life project. So we put an information sheet about the search for lost species, the real-life search for lost species in the game box, and there’s information in the rulebook about the real-life species that are in the game.

EB: Was there ever a time during the idea phase of the project where you thought, well, instead of actual animal species, let’s make it a search for cryptids instead? You know, like, Loch Ness monster, chupacabra. We touch on those kinds of themes on [Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe], and why those things are considered cryptids and pseudoscience. Did that ever cross your minds?

BR: It crossed our minds, but it’s never something that we seriously considered doing. We really wanted to base the game in real-life science and not create a fantasy type of experience for the players. Matthew and I are very interested in real-world applications for games, actually modeling systems that are really happening in the real world, and so it’s definitely our preference to shine the light on real scientific research that’s being done, as opposed to going into that realm of pseudoscience.

EB: Were there challenges incorporating some of these themes of science into The Search for Lost Species?

MO: I don’t think there were particular challenges. I think maybe it’s just because we’re used to this process.

BR: Yeah. I think Matthew did a lot of work on getting the setting right for the game, so once we decided on the lost species, there are lost species all over the world. So we had to figure out which ones were gonna be in the game, where was the game gonna take place, [and] what are the other animals. Besides the lost species itself, there are other native species around the island that you are finding, to help to use in your deduction. Once you find where those are, you can help to deduce where the lost species must be.

So getting those animals right, and then also making sure when we partnered with Renegade Games to publish the game, that the art was depicting the real people that live on these islands, and that the art of the game was depicting as much as possible the real kind of natural landscape. So we did want to get that as right as possible. And yeah, Matthew really took the lead in making sure we were on the right path there.

EB: Oh that’s smart, because the people who are indigenous to the island would definitely be a help and a valuable assistance to the researchers.

MO: Well, and often the researchers are people from those islands. They’re doing local searches, and so Re:wild frequently tries to get in touch with scientists from wherever the location is, who are already there, citizen scientists or professional scientists, and do that work. I didn’t see that as a challenge so much as just, I spent a lot of time doing it.

EB: At the Kickstarter page, there’s a lot of emphasis on the fact that the production of the game is using materials and techniques with environmental considerations. It’s obviously an important issue for you. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that?

MO: Yeah, I was pretty adamant about trying to make this game as environmentally conscious as possible, and so we eliminated almost all plastic from production. There are two little sticker tabs on the sides of the box; I think that’s the only plastic in there. The bags for the components are paper. They’re little envelopes; everything else is cardboard and wood. They found these cards that are made out of sugarcane pulp, which grows really quickly. After getting that push from me, Renegade took it and ran with it, and did an amazing job working with a factory that uses solar power and recycles gray water, and finding all of these great resources for conservation-focused production.

EB: What did the two of you have planned for the rest of 2023 and beyond? What’s coming next?

BR: Well, as I mentioned, Matthew and I tend to design games that model either historical or current real-world systems, and [we] just have an interest in how the world works. And there’s one game that’s coming out later this year from us called First In Flight. This is by a different publisher, Genius Games, and it is a game about the Wright Brothers and the invention of powered flight. In the game, you are an early aviation pioneer who is building an airplane and trying to sustain yourself in heavier than air flight. So that’s one thing we’ve got coming out later this year that we’re really excited about.

MO: And then we’re also looking at possibly doing other “Search for” games. So we’ll see if that comes to be.

The Search for Lost Species is seeking funding on Kickstarter until March 2, so you still have time to contribute, and grab a copy of Search for Planet X, too!

Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AIPT cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. All month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture, and skepticism *OF* pop culture.  AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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