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'EvoHom': human evolution board game on Kickstarter


‘EvoHom’: human evolution board game on Kickstarter

Just like in life, the outcome isn’t certain!

Want to help people learn about human evolution? There’s a board game for that!  EvoHom, by new publisher STEMsapien Games, is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter, with the goal to bring the game to homes and classrooms around the world. One of the game’s creators, Rose Leach Basom, recently served as a Curator of Natural Science for the Memphis Museum of Science & History, and is currently finishing her PhD in anthropology at Kent State University, with a focus on comparative primate studies.

EvoHom how to play

As an avid tabletop board-gamer and anthropologist who teaches human evolution, I’ve eagerly following the development of EvoHom for almost two years. The game got its start as a result of seed funding from the STEM Advocacy Institute in 2021, when Leach Basom saw the technology-access problems teachers were facing during the early days of the COVID pandemic, and realized board games could work around it.

“Board games are a great way to have the package without the technology,” she says. “It’s accessible, and you have everything you need to play the game in the box!”

In EvoHom, players take on the role of a hominin (a bipedal early human ancestor), and seek to survive against the odds stacked against them. Leach Basom describes the game mechanics as “primarily worker placement with elements of semi-cooperation, because you can collaborate with each other to go on big game hunts. You can’t really hunt on your own as a hominin!” The game includes a genetic recombination mechanic where “you’re able to combine another player’s traits with your hominin’s traits to simulate what genetic recombination would be like,” Leach Basom says.

Much like in actual evolution, environmental scenarios can greatly impact the outcome of the game and keep players on their toes. Throughout EvoHom, there’s an emphasis on both engaging play and scientific accuracy. I greatly appreciate this aspect of the game, as even the best students in my intro classes arrive with many misconceptions about what evolution is and how it functions.  Because of the famous (or infamous) illustration The March of Progress, by Rudolph Zallinger, people are often prone to think of human evolution as occurring in a linear fashion, and perhaps with predictable or even predestined outcomes.

Evolution on the other hand is the product of natural selection, genetic drift, gene flow, and mutation, all of which lack any particular sense of ambition.  But, as Leach Basom says, “we know a lot of board gamers, and they want a way to win!” So STEMsapien created two different player modes for EvoHom, one to satisfy competitive players, and “another mode that really simulates evolution, where players start off with an environmental scenario that’s based on research done by anthropologists.” In this version, players can strategize to survive their environment, but are still at the mercy of evolutionary forces (in the form of dice rolls), just as their own hominin ancestors once were.

Leach Basom notes that it was important to her team to create an accessible introduction to the subject of human evolution. Within popular understandings of evolution “there is a sense of comfortability at a bacterial level, but when it comes to humans, it’s a touchy topic.” So much so that many of my own college students have told me their high school teachers tried to avoid the subject entirely. The scientific consensus on evolution, at both the bacterial and human levels, has been clear for well over a century.  And yet, the legacy of the Scopes Monkey Trial and political attempts to outlaw the teaching of science still loom large.

Educational outreach is a core part of STEMsapien Games’ approach to producing EvoHom. In addition to the game itself, the designers have created lesson plans based on Common Core requirements, and supplementary education resources are available through the company’s website.  Additionally, the crowdfunding launch page notes that the company will donate one game to a classroom for each copy pledged on Kickstarter.

'EvoHom': human evolution board game on Kickstarter

EvoHom has great potential to let students set aside fears they might have about studying human evolution and focus on engaging with a game instead. And while trying to best their peers, they can learn a thing or two along the way!

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

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