New game shows how animals choose their mate

A challenge to bring fun and creativity to the classroom has sparked an ambitious side-project for one researcher at The Australian National University (ANU). 

Image: Tracey Nearmy/ANU.

Along with a colleague based in Singapore, PhD scholar Ivan Vinogradov has developed Time to Mate, a board game all about how animals choose their mates in the wild.  

‘We got the idea from a biology course being taught here at ANU, where they were incorporating some quirky activities to make it more engaging for the students,” Vinogradov says. 

“Biology has a lot of interesting concepts and in some ways is a lot like a game — there are certain strategies you can use to get an advantage. For example, you can deceive your competitors, or you can cooperate with them.  

“My colleague and I thought it might be possible to incorporate all of this into a board game.” 

The creators hope Time to Mate will help demonstrate some of the strategies animals use to choose their partners.  

“The game has a traditional board players move around, but there is no dice, because we wanted to make it quite competitive and strategic rather than based on luck,” Vinogradov says. 

“To win you need to collect the most DNA points.” 

As they move around the board players can choose to improve one of two biological traits – reproduction or survival.  

“It’s a trade-off. If you don’t invest in survival, you might not live long enough to find a partner. But if you only invest in survival, you won’t get that much benefit when you do find one,” Vinogradov says.  

“We’ve found whenever we’ve played it’s generated some interesting discussions across the table.”  

The creators say the concepts present in the game are relevant to their biological work.  

“We didn’t want to focus on any specific animals, so you don’t play as monkeys for example or butterflies. We came up with our own characters called Mates, who resemble reproductive cells,” Vinogradov says. 

“The female characters have to skip a turn to give birth, so are absent from the mating pool for a while. That is the only difference biologically in the game, but it sets a chain of events in motion.”  

A kickstarter campaign will run until Thursday 3 March, allowing people to pre-order a copy of Time to Mate.  

If successful it is hoped around 1,000 copies of the game will be produced and distributed by the end of the year.