Someday I hope to do a designer diary for Endangered, but for now here's the story of just one of the scenarios, Monarch Butterflies.
After we had a successful Kickstarter for the New Species expansion, the Center for Biological Diversity approached Grand Gamers Guild and me to do a scenario for them. We had partnered with them for the base game. We talked with them about all the different animals they work with and two stuck out, wolves and monarch butterflies. I couldn't seem to come up with any good ideas for wolves, but I already had an idea that could work with monarchs from an old scenario from a long time ago.
Way back in 2016, when I pitched Endangered to Marc from GGG, I only had five scenarios in mind. Condors, Rhinos, Tigers, Sea Turtles, and Whooping Cranes. Whooping Cranes migrate north in the Spring and south in the Fall. The migration was simulated by picking up the tokens (back then they were just cubes) and dropping them on the board. It was fun because you could get lucky and have a mating pair happen to land together or the tokens could land on deforestation, so it was always a tense moment when they dropped.
So fast forward to 2021, just knowing that Eastern North American monarch butterflies migrate, I decided to use that dropping mechanic. That's right, monarch butterflies is a retheme. And the dropping mechanic makes this one very different from any other scenario.
But, when I started researching I discovered that the monarch butterfly migration is not quite the same as whooping cranes. For one thing, no butterfly makes the full round trip. In Spring and Summer, three generations of butterflies travel north and spread out. Each butterfly in these three generations lives for about 6 weeks. The fourth generation of the year is born around Fall and is called the super generation. They travel 3000 miles south to Mexico. They live for about 8 months. After winter, they travel north a little before mating and dying.
The whooping crane scenario had players picking up and dropping the animals every other turn, migrating south in the Fall and north in the Spring. With monarchs, I needed to change the migration to show the different generations. I can't have a mating pair that just stays together and keeps producing offspring because they don't live long enough to mate more than once. So now, the players will drop some butterflies every turn. I think that ended up being a good change mechanically, also, because it lets every player participate in the fun and tense moment of the game. It also ensures that in a two player game, it's not just a single player doing the migration drops.
After nailing down the mating and destruction rules, the rest of the scenario followed a similar development path as other scenarios. I researched threats and conservation efforts turning those into Impact cards. Then did a few self tests, followed by playtests with friends and family. After that I emailed the fans that have offered to playtest the game. They gave some great feedback.
The main problem the playtesters pointed out was animals flying off the board when being dropped. No one seemed to have a problem with a monarch dying because it landed on a deforestation tile. That's something the players could have done something about if they'd removed the tile. But, there's nothing they could do to save animals that bounced off the board. I'd previously considered those ones eaten by predators, but that just wasn't going to work.
To help the issue I lowered the drop height from 7 inches to 5 inches. I also added three cards called Monarch Waystation that allowed the players to save the ones that fell off the board. At first it was expensive to use the Waystations, but the problem persisted, so now they are way cheaper. I worry they might be too cheap, but the ability to rescue animals that would have been lost makes players happy and gives choices which is usually good for the game.
I mostly used tiger tokens to represent the monarch butterflies, but without the actual tokens I couldn't be sure if the tiger shape made the migration drop easier or harder. So, I bought a copy of Mariposas just for the butterfly tokens! I didn't get to play Mariposas more than twice because I was using those tokens until my copy of the New Species expansion arrived. After that I playtested using each animal shape in that box. I've verified with Marc several times that I will get a pre production copy with the actual monarch butterfly tokens to playtest dropping them before we make the final approval for printing.
This scenario has more good cards in the Impact deck than any other. 8 out of the 18 Impact cards are good cards. In any scenario, I want players to still have a chance at winning when they are down to two animals. I've seen lots of games where players have pulled out a win after reaching the brink of extinction with their last mating pair. With the migration drop being unpredictable sometimes, a less punishing Impact deck allows for a single mating pair to have a chance. I've had two games that were victories when there two monarch butterflies left several turns before the end.
Everyone kind of develops what they think is the best way to drop the tokens. I find the dribble method to be superior, but it's fun to see people test what works best. Some like dropping one token at a time while others prefer all at once. I hope there is a BGG thread about it someday.
Thanks for reading,
Monarch Butterflies preorders are open until 31 Mar!