Paleotopia Draft
The Early Work

Jerry Marino
Susan Connell
Matt McNerney

| Instructional Objective | Learners & Context | Object of Game | Game Materials |

| Time Required | Rules | Design Process | References |

We developed three different versions of the game further than we probably should have and have left documentation for the first two versions here (for the time being) to illustrate some of the thought processes and evolution of the development. We submitted a draft of Alternative C (PDF, Requires Acrobat Reader 6) for Play Testing. The final version can be viewed here.

Instructional Objective

Alternatives A and B

Learners will develop a general understanding of the various geological Eras and Periods coupled with the plants, animals and geologic formations associated with each era. The action of the game will be loosely based on the context of paleontological digs.

Alternative C

Learners & Context of Use

Who is the game designed for? Describe them in terms of their age, grade level, affinity towards the subject matter, and anything special about them that the reader should know.

Where would the game be used? If in a school, what accomodations would you need to make to do it in a typical classroom? Is it designed to be played more than once? What would happen prior to the game? What would happen after it?

Object of the Game

Alternative A

The object of the game is to collect the most valuable combination of Funding Dollars and Specimen Cards

Alternative B

Goal is to collect 5 (or more?) Specimen Cards from the same era and get back to the start/end space with some money left in their account.

Alternative C

Go though the dig site, and find fossil specimens and the information about them. Players must match up 5 Specimen Cards with their correct Research Card and be the first to make it back to the University.

Game Materials

Alternatives A and B

  • 6 Playing Pieces
  • 6-Sided Die or Spinner
  • ≈20 Challenge Cards
  • ≈50 (?) Specimen Cards
  • 21 Dig Site Cards
  • $1 Million (?) of "Funding Dollars" or "Paleo Dollars"in denominations of $1,000 to $10,000
  • One Game Board

Alternative C

  • 6 Playing Pieces.. Pieces are Paleo tools. Some typical are: shovels, brushes, toothbrushes, dental tools, jack hammers, bull dozers, ground penetrating radar, jeeps, gps mapping tools.
  • 6-Sided Die or Spinner
  • 25 Event Cards
  • 50 Dig and Corresponding Research Cards
  • One Game Board.

Time Required

Alternatives A and B

The game may be played on a timed basis of 45-60 minutes or it may be played until all players but one run out of Funding Dollars or to any point in between to determine which player has the most valuable combination of Funding Dollars and Specimen Cards.

Alternative C

The game may be played on a timed basis of 45-60 minutes or it may be played until the first player returns with 5 matched cards. If the game is timed, at the end of the time limit the player with the most matched cards wins.

The Rules

Alternative A

  1. 2-6 Players
  2. Each player receives $100,000 in Funding Dollars to start the game
  3. Players throw die or spin spinner (?) to determine the order of play
  4. Starting on the Today space, players throw die/spin (?) to progress around the board in a clockwise direction, unless directed otherwise by a Challenge Card. When landing on a space with a ladder, a player may also choose to skip ahead or back to the space at the other end of the ladder.
  5. Upon landing on a Dig Site, the player may use funding dollars (amount printed on each Dig Site card) to "start a dig" and become the Manager at that site if no digs have previously been started there.
  6. Before receiving the Dig Site card, the player must correctly answer the question printed on the front of that Dig Site Card.
  7. When landing on any dig site (previously established by other players or not) any player may contribute $1000 Funding Dollars to the dig and attempt to obtain Specimen Cards from that Period or Era by answering the question on the front of each Specimen Card for the Era. The proceeds go to the Dig Manager if the Site is occupied or to a Kitty if the site is unmanaged. Any player may keep the Specimen Card earned at any site if the player correctly answers the question. If the answer is incorrect, the Specimen Card goes to the player who is the Manager for that Site or back into the card stack if the site is unmanaged.
  8. The Board contains 3(?) Challenge/Opportunity(?) spaces including the Today starting point space. After the first move, any player landing on one of those spaces must draw a card from the the stack of Challenge Cards and follow whatever direction is given. Directions can include receiving more funding, losing a turn, having an unforeseen expense, winning a prize from Funding Dollars accrued in the Kitty, etc.

Alternative B

  1. Players receive $25,000 Paleo Dollars to start the game.
  2. They move through the board and their goal is to collect ??? Paleo Cards of animals and plants to win the game. They spin a spinner to move through the board. Specimen cards are in one pile in the middle of the board.
  3. There are three types of spaces they can land on: Specimen, Paleo Dig (opportunities and obstacles) and Neutral spaces. They must pay to receive specimen cards as they land on specimen spaces but they can only get specimen cards it if they have a permit to dig in that area.
  4. Players purchase permits to dig in any area. They spin the spinner to see how much a permit costs. Permits cost $1,000 times the number on the spinner.
  5. To receive a specimen card they also spin the spinner and pay $100 times the number on the spinner for that card. (Could also have $$ values on each card and they must pay that amount to earn the card.) Cards have name of animal or plant, era they existed in and a value to keep the card. If a player does not want to purchase the card the card goes to the bottom of the stack.
  6. When they land on a Paleo Dig space they take a Paleo Dig card. These direct them to receive more money, give up cards, lose a turn, pay for repairs, etc. Some spaces have directions on them or have inherent rewards. The start space is a funding source and every time they pass it they receive an additional year of funding, $10,000. Other direction spaces ???

Alternative C

  1. Players start at their University.
  2. Each player rolls the die to move.
  3. Players move the number of spaces indicated on the die and can take any route they want. (Since each space is a grid, players can move in one of 4 directions-up, down, right and left. They cannot rule diagonally.) Players must go around any space another player occupies and cannot move through or occupy any grey squares
  4. As players move around the board and they land on a Dig or Research space they take an appropriate card. They can not take two Dig or Research cards in a row from the same space so they must move to another Dig or Research space for their next card.
  5. If a player lands on an Event square they must draw an event card and follow the directions on the back of the card.
  6. The goal is to match the correct Dig card with its matching Research Card.
  7. When they get 5 matching cards (or when the game ends) they maneuver back to the University.
  8. First one back to the University wins the game.

Design Process

We started the process by trying to create a game to go with a Paleontology video we were developing for another project. We wanted to create a game that would help players associate plants and animals with the type of landscapes and geological formations found in ancient time periods. We also wanted to create a game that would give players a sense of some of the issues involved in a paleo dig.

We reviewed Cardboard Cognition, searched the Internet and went to a few teacher stores and game stores looking for similar games. (This is still in process.) We were also referred to archeology game and activity sites. We found one game (Dig) that was a paleontology game focused on teaching dinosaur facts.

We wanted to make this game encompass more than dinosaurs and wanted to help students make inferences and connections rather than merely teach facts. We worked through the game design process ( individually and then compared notes. We reworked the concept several times, and reworked the board design to align the structure of the game with the content we wanted to convey.

We showed this idea to friends, family and Professor Bernie Dodge for feedback. Bernie's feedback made us go back to the drawing board to redesign the board and rework the rules.

We learned how hard it is to create a board game that aligns content with the structure of the game. We also learned to be more flexible at the beginning of the game design process so we don't paint ourselves into a corner. In addition our future games will probably not have as much content as this one. We discovered how hard it is to research for content and then place the content on game cards.


Books & Journals

  • Parker, S. & Bernor R.L. The Practical Paleontologist. (1990). Simon and Schuster, Inc.
  • Wexo, J. B. (1989). Prehistoric Zoobooks. San Diego, Wildlife Education.



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Last updated Monday, October 20, 2003 2:44 PM