The board game Endangered shows just how hard conservation can be

The survival of (small, wooden) tigers and otters is in your hands

The game Endangered

In the game Endangered, players assume various roles, including philanthropist, environmental lawyer and zoologist, to save an endangered species from extinction.

S. Zielinski

Saving endangered species isn’t easy. Doing so requires the cooperation of many people — from scientists and conservation organizations to governments and local residents — as well as a bit of luck. That’s as true in real life as it is in Endangered, a new board game from Grand Gamers Guild.

Endangered is a cooperative game for one to five players. Each person takes on a role — zoologist, philanthropist, lobbyist, environmental lawyer or TV wildlife show host — and players work together to convince at least four ambassadors to save a species. (In a one-player game, two roles are played simultaneously.) If you get too few “yes” votes, or let habitat destruction spread too much, or if your animal population dies out, everyone loses.

The game starts with a set of animals in their habitat, either tigers or sea otters, depending on which of the game’s two story lines you play. Each player’s turn consists of a series of phases. In the first, a player takes actions, such as moving animals to let them mate or obtaining money.

In the offspring phase, animal reproduction is controlled by the role of a die. The die also controls where habitation destruction — either deforestation or pollution — spreads. A card draw then brings on other events, from clear-cutting of forests to a shark attack to an animal rescue.

After each player takes a turn, the year ends. And after a set number of years, the ambassadors are consulted. Each ambassador has a different preset list of conditions that must be met to vote “yes.”

The game is modular, and each story line has its own challenges and adorable, animal-shaped wooden meeples. (A third story line, giant pandas, is available in an expansion pack, and a Kickstarter that began this month is raising funds for additional animal packs.) Each story line has three levels of difficulty, which, combined with the multiple role-playing options, provide plenty of variety throughout multiple plays of the game.

But while the game is fairly simple to set up and learn, winning proved deceptively difficult. Just when I thought I’d get enough ambassadors on my side, I found myself losing all my tigers or awash in pollution.

The game’s scenarios, while simplified, recognize real-world problems for these animals. Poachers and habitat fragmentation indeed threaten tigers, just as oil spills and Toxoplasma gondii parasites endanger sea otters. “I wanted a theme that players can relate to, something engaging and emotional,” says Joe Hopkins, the game’s designer. Endangered’s publisher, Marc Specter, notes that the game’s developers consulted with the Center for Biological Diversity to ensure scientific accuracy. And Specter says he plans on donating some of the profits from Endangered to the nonprofit organization.

If there is any downside to the game, it’s that Endangered can never hope to encompass the truly vast scope of the extinction problem. A study published in the June 16 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, for example, estimates that 515 land-dwelling vertebrate species alone are on the brink of extinction. And scientists have warned that the planet is in the midst of the sixth mass extinction (SN: 11/14/15).

But Endangered does hold an important lesson for how to move forward. Saving species is not something that scientists or philanthropists or lawyers or any other single group can do on its own. Only by working together do we have any chance of success.

Sarah Zielinski is the Editor, Print at Science News Explores. She has a B.A. in biology from Cornell University and an M.A. in journalism from New York University. She writes about ecology, plants and animals.

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