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Uncover the mysteries of life with ‘Genotype:  A Mendelian Genetics Game’

Use dice to make Punnett squares! What else do you need to hear?

I go to GenCon, the biggest board game convention in North America, every year. I have since it moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, in 2003, and one of my favorite things to do there is to seek out the smaller companies and demo their new games. Frequently you get to talk with the designers, who value getting feedback from people who love games.

This year, I had the opportunity to talk to John Coveyou, founder and CEO of Genius Games, who make STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics)-based games and books, about their newest, Genotype:  A Mendelian Genetics Game. Since I am a gamer and a science geek, it makes me happy to see the two things combined.

AiPT!: Where did the idea for Genotype come from?

John Coveyou:  Basically, I have always wanted to do a game about Punnett squares. I think the idea that two parents will cross to have child offspring with specific traits that the parents have, and the probabilities of that being shown through a Punnett square, has always been so fascinating to me.

[Gregor] Mendel is a very interesting character; he studied and studied pea plants and in some ways, people thought he was crazy. We look at him as an icon in scientific discovery now, but during his time, people were like, “Look at this weird guy taking hundreds and hundreds of notes about thousands of pea plants,” but from that we can actually extract the data to see the probability of certain offspring, given their parents. This is an amazing feat for scientific advancement. Because I have always been fascinated by that, I thought, hey, why don’t I try and make a game out of this?

That was actually about five years ago, and since then, the game has gone through many, many iterations. It started out as a very simple game where you are betting on the child offspring when you have certain parent pea plants, and that didn’t work very well. Later on, about two or three years into the design, I pulled in a co-designer, Paul Salomon, to help with it. We hit some pretty big barriers with it, and we couldn’t get over it, and we put the game on the shelf again.

Then about four years into the development of the game, we finally said, “We don’t think we can do this, let’s just give this to an outside developer.” We gave it to Ian Zang. Ian took what we had and made a few, kind of like, really simple and intuitive changes, and it really blossomed the entire game. And in the last four to six months, we have been working on the development to get it to where it needs to be to market.

AiPT!: What is the gameplay like?

Coveyou: It is a dice-drafting, worker placement game. I say dice-drafting first because that is probably the most important element of what is happening in the game. Basically what’s happening, is each player starts off with three workers, and the workers represent, essentially, a monk’s capacity to do research. They place these workers on certain spots. Now those certain spots, what it does, it allows them to change the parent pea plant they are crossing for certain traits, or it allows them to do research on certain traits before any of the other players, or it can also allow them to get more pea plants into their research lab, or even get certain tools that allow them to do certain things while doing the research.

Each player has a player mat that represents their research notebook. Once all the players have placed their workers to manipulate the board, essentially their game preference for what they want, we roll a bunch of dice to see what the offspring is going to be like, what traits they will have. Then in turn order, we will draft those traits, pulling the die out of the pool that represents one of the pea plant traits. That mimics them doing research on that trait, and then [they] try and complete their research agendas on the pea plants that are on their player mat.

And throughout the game they can do upgrades and do research to do upgrades on certain abilities. The main focus of the game is on optimizing your worker placement choices so you can most efficiently do your research, using that Punnett square and the genetics behind the Punnett square to show the probability of the traits.

AiPT!: When will the game come out?

Coveyou:  We are hoping that the game will come out in roughly June of 2020 for the retail release, and estimate for backers is April or May. We may be off by a month one way or the other, but once we run the numbers, we will figure out exactly.

AiPT!: So you are pretty much locked down on your design?

Coveyou: Yes, we have most of the artwork done at this point. We have all of the development and the design done. It’s finishing the last touches and getting feedback from playtesters to see what is still confusing, what artwork can be improved, or [if] the iconography can be improved to communicate information more clearly. We are in the last few stages of the game.

One of the nice things about Kickstarter, is we are going to polish the game as much as possible before the launch, but once we launch, we will have a few thousand people who already put their money where their mouth is and have preordered the game, and getting feedback from them on those last few touches is going to be really important. There is a big difference between getting feedback from someone who is your friend, who doesn’t really want the game, and getting feedback from someone who has paid their money and bought the game, who has really invested.

That is one of the nice things about Kickstarter, in addition to getting the money to finish production, it is all the feedback and all the community engagement. Getting those people amped up about this product that they can actually contribute to and actually make better.

Genotype will launch on Kickstarter on September 10, 2019.

AiPT! Science is co-presented by AiPT! Comics and the New York City Skeptics.

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