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Comparisons with Pokemon

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1 Comparisons with Pokemon on Sun Oct 13, 2013 11:20 am

Hello, a first post, but I played my first round of Phylo this morning, having played my first game of Pokemon yesterday - same five year old was on the other side of the table both time.

I've seen a few comments here that recognise Pikachu has a greater hold on the five year old imagination, and I'd say that was my experience too (not that the game wasn't enjoyed, it provoked interest in the subject and fun was certainly had). I thought I'd post some of my thoughts on why and some things I might try and do with the cards to address that.

- The brand, this is pretty obvious but it would be lazy to explain it in these terms.

- Dragons and monsters are immediately exciting, any child can engage of imaginative flights with the raw material of Pokemon. Rainbow trout and roses less so. Programmes like Octonauts (watch some if you're not familiar, ten minutes of fun for 4-5 year olds and surprisingly educational).

- Pokemon makes thematic sense; my guys are fighting your guys as part of a tournament backstory, and I have a clearly defined role to occupy (the trainer). I think Phylo is far more abstracted; I'm an ecosystem, that wants to be big but doesn't want your ecosystem to be big and I can't really explain who I am or why I like my ecosystem but not yours. I think the missing role and motive is surprisingly important in engaging with the game imaginatively.

- Some of the text is definitely not aimed at Pokemon aged audience - "sexually dimorphic"? There has got to be something more meaningful to the average person than that. Most children will not have a clue what to make of a card like that and even with dictionary definitions of the two words is going to struggle to pull together the meaning.

Some of these points are much more of a problem for a five year old than a fifteen year old.

So I was thinking I might try and play the game as something more cooperative. We play our hands to build an ecosystem, and after we've both played a turn we turn we flip an event and apply it. We're both then trying to grow the ecosystem against the events and get a combined score. There is drama in what is flipped over and hopefully more opportunity to buy into the drama of the event and its consequences.

Anyway, I think that as a way of stitching together simplified ecosystems it's an extremely successful system. I really admire what's been achieved. I do wonder though if the simulation has come first to the degree that the game is very much second.

With Pokemon there is no doubt the game came first. Phylo is designed to be educational and then fun but it's competing with something designed only to be fun. I think that is always going to be a huge obstacle to serious challenge to Pokemon in the five year old mind share.

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2 Re: Comparisons with Pokemon on Tue Oct 15, 2013 4:09 am

Thanks for a very thoughtful response. We'd love to hear more about the cooperative game mechanic, especially if you do find it adds a degree of enticement.

As far as the general Pokemon versus Phylomon issues (which is more fun, which is viewed as educational etc), this has been something discuss at length in earlier threads, and it does remain an overarching issue. Some of the previous ideas that came up (to try and address these things include):

1. Instead of home cards, make "avatar" cards - i.e. you the player have a card which mechanically can be used the same as how home cards operate. In this case, however, the role might be a little clearer. i.e. you play a tree expert, and therefore you may have a fe special abilities as well as a few disadvantages as you try and build you ecosystem. In general, however, the idea is that you are the ranger, warden, conservationist, etc.

2. A few times in the past, someone has floated the idea of a game where somehow rules are worked out to include both pokemon and phylo cards. Not sure how this would look, but it's always been an intriguing suggestion.

3. I think we'll have to see if we can devote some time to a true "starter deck" - one that tries to avoid biodiversity concepts that are a little trickier for young folks to grasp. he purchasable beaty deck is a little better at this than the online downloaded deck, but there are still come pieces that are a little technical here and there. The fancy stuff can always surface as more "advanced" starter decks (like the coral reef one), or as expansion packs...

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3 Re: Comparisons with Pokemon on Tue Oct 15, 2013 4:09 am

Also, we should note that Phylo has primarily been tested with kids around 8 and up. It's cool though that you were able to still play with your 5 year old.

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4 Re: Comparisons with Pokemon on Mon Oct 21, 2013 1:32 am

I once reviewed a card game called "Bone Wars" designed around the golden age of american field paleontology. In that game, the players were represented by paleontologist cards (O C Marsh, Ed Cope, Barnum Brown, and Chuck Sternberg) that basically served as avatars. Each had their own abilities related to their background. It gave the game some more flavor and worked well as a mechanic. I don't see why it couldn't work for Phylo. A Darwin Deck is in the pipeline and Carl Linnaeus is already a card.

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5 Re: Comparisons with Pokemon on Mon Oct 21, 2013 2:20 pm

I think in some of this there is a clear tendency to put the educational aspect as the first criteria of the game design, more important than drawing in the audience or having fun. I kind of feel that a balance needs to be struck in how those decisions are made. I gave the example of some quite sophisticated language on one card earlier, but I could equally call out the use of latin names as a step which may increase knowledge but probably also acts as a barrier to entry (and really, are eight year olds learning anything when they are presented with latin names? My view is that at that age is probably enough to know they exist, and latin names really tell you nothing about ecology by themselves).

I think that when choosing Linnaeus over some wholly made up, but eight year old relevant character, you probably lock people out of the game unwittingly. Some well considered compromise on the educational content to let in fun and accessible content is almost certainly necessary - have a game that's 20% as educational as this but with 50 times the users and I'd thing that the project's goals are closer to success.

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