Sometimes when explaining the theory of evolution one sees a glazed-over look on the persons face. To this person the theory seems completely incomprehensible no matter which avenue one takes to explain it. This leads me to think that a game might be a fun alternative. In the process of playing, I suspect that the player might pick up a stronger intuition of how and why it works which would eventually lead to understanding the basics as a whole.

It is easy enough to dream up any number of problems that can be presented as a genetic algorithm with pen and paper, the challenge however is to make it easy to understand and fun to play. Does anyone know of such a game or able to construct such a game?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is asking whether people know of, or know how to create, a game and not about biology. $\endgroup$
    – terdon
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ I think this question can be carried forward in the chat? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 18:19
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    $\begingroup$ The theory of evolution is a big umbrella term for a whole lot of concepts and evidences. What exactly are you trying to explain (genetic drift, natural selection, sexual selection, common descent and the logic of phylogenies, coevolution, ...)? $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ If you are having a hard time to explain it, maybe you don't understand much of it (no offense, I have no idea about your level of knowledge). You might want to follow an intro course such as understanding evolution for example Sometimes, the resistance of some people to understand anything is a failure to understand the basics of philosophy of knowledge as well (such as the fight between a whole bunch of evidence and a naive intuition shaped by a cultural environment). $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 20:36
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    $\begingroup$ Game design, I guess. You're not actually asking any biological question here. You're asking if i) anyone knows of such a game (which is off topic anywhere on the SE network since we don't do such open-ended questions) and ii) can anyone make such a game or, presumably, how to do so. The latter might be on topic on Game Development, but I don't know their scope well. I'd check before posting there. $\endgroup$
    – terdon
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 20:51

1 Answer 1


Not sure if this qualifies as pen-and-paper, but one game I am familiar with to highlight natural selection goes something like this:


Creatures - Small paper pieces of different colors from construction paper - hole-punch remnants work great, or you could cut squares

"Habitats" - Large, colorful surfaces. Whimsical maps work well for this, maybe certain posters, the important thing is to have some diversity.


This is ideally done in multiple groups, each group should start with an equal ratio of creatures of at least two different colors.

One or more people spread the Creatures around the Habitat.

Another student (or multiple) act as the "predators". They sit/stand above the board and close their eyes; then they open their eyes, and harvest the first Creature they see. Close eyes again, and repeat until 1/2 of the Creatures have been eaten.

Count up the paper pieces and note the number of each remaining; for the next Generation, the Creature makeup should be 2X the number of remaining pieces: so if there are 30 Blue and 20 Red remaining, the new generation is 60 Blue and 40 Red.

Repeat over a few generations - the result should be that different habitats lead to different proportions. You can also change things up by suddenly shifting the habitat!

You could possibly include genotypes and recessive traits for an older group (the version I suggested is effectively haploid parthenogenesis), these might be harder to keep track of.

(I don't have a citation for this game but if anyone knows it, please provide in the comments!)

  • $\begingroup$ You could adapt this into a battleships-like game, where the predators choose squares at random, based on dice rolls, and the prey (of different sizes) occupy spaces on grids. If each prey is "killed" when any part of it is selected by a dice roll then, over time, you'd expect the smaller prey to outlive the larger ones (demonstrating natural selection due to a selection pressure). You could also show that predators that are allowed more dice rolls stack up more "kills" and maybe incorporate some kind of resource that's gained from a successful kill. $\endgroup$
    – Jam
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Jam Yes I am sure there could be many variations. One that is nice about the variant I suggested (and that pairs well with your suggestion on the other question about moth coloration) is that it is very straightforward to change the environment and see the results. If you start with a map/"habitat" that has a lot of red on it, the red creatures are likely to survive preferentially, and then you move to a map with mostly green and suddenly red isn't such a good color any more. It's also fun in groups because different groups will get different answers depending on their "habitat." $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 21:00

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