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A while back I described a rather complex game we created that simulated genetic reassortment. A couple days ago we re-created this game in a somewhat easier and more interesting way.

The whole thing can be played with just pens and your old, unused business cards (who uses business cards anymore!?), a coin, a 4-sided die, and a 10-sided die. Here’s a picture of the game someplace in the middle of play (the calculator isn’t needed; it was just sitting on the table):

Give each player 5 blank cards. Players divide each of their cards into 4 sections (see pic), and label each section with what phenotypic characteristic they represent. In this case we had “S” for size, “A” for number of arms, “E” for number of eyes, and “B” for brain power (intelligence). You create your initial creatures by entering a number for each creature feature, with the only constraint that they must add to 20. Then you pile them all up, shuffle them, and hand them back out to the players randomly.  (This randomization is optional; the creator of the creatures may wish to keep their own hoards.)

Each round of play consist of these steps:

1. Each player chooses two creatures to mate and puts them in front of him.
2. A new creature is created with empty features.
3. Reassortment: You flip a coin for each feature to see if the new creature will inherit the feature value from the “mother” (heads, for example) or “father” (tails), and write in the appropriate value. So you’d flip four times for S, A, E, and B.
4. Random Mutation: Next you roll the four sided die ONCE to see which feature is mutated. (You could use a 5-sided die, and let 5 be “no mutations”.) So, say I roll a 2, then I’m going to mutate the Arms (A) in the offspring. Then I roll the ten sided die to decide what the new mutated value is. So, if you look at the 4th card from the left in the above picture there’s what appears to have been a mutation of B from 3 to 5. Note that this breaks the “sums to 20” rule — no problem; that rule only applies to initial setup.
5. Survival of the Fittest: Finally, the offspring “battle” in the usual Pokemon sense. You can make these battles as complex or simple as you like, using the different features differently. We just added up the feature values and the creature with the greatest total wins.
6. The winning creature goes back into the player’s hand, but he has to toss out one card (you can only have 5 cards at a time).
7. The losing creature is destroyed. (And the player who held it does not have to destroy any cards).

This simple games turns out to actually be quite fun; we played it for a while!