Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game. This post was a paid preview, you can find out more information here.
I have worked in educational publishing for 20+ years and the last eight in the Science K-12 discipline. Over the years I have seen many educational changes and trends. One that has had a seemingly positive effect in my professional and private life is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Professionally my company’s science content now includes STEM activity options which customers have been seeking for more student interaction and engagement instead of drill and kill testing. Privately both of my children have gone through STEM programs at their elementary schools, and both loved and excelled at it. STEM has even moved into the gaming industry with these games becoming more common options for younger and family gamers.
This brings us to today’s preview of the set collection, STEM card game: Fossil Canyon from Polymath Play. It’s intended for 2-6 players (ages 6+ and up) and it plays in about 30 minutes.
The theme of Fossil Canyon has each player is acting as a paleontologist who is seeking to find and try to complete the most dinosaur skeletons. Certain skeletons will bring in visitors to their museum and the goal is to have the most visitors which makes for the most successful museum.
The set-up is quick and should be easy for players of all ages in Fossil Canyon. Each player selects a color, and they receive their corresponding player token, museum token, and player reference card. The playing card deck of 64 cards is shuffled, 4 cards are removed, and this forms the dig site. Each player then draws a specific number of playing cards from the dig site depending on the player count.
Each player sees if they can build a complete dinosaur, and if not, then they need to decide which cards will be face up for all players to see but can only put a maximum of 3 cards facedown (hidden hand).
The playing cards represent dinosaur fossil skeletal sections and action cards. The dinosaur fossils are what players are trying to collect a complete set for to build their dinosaurs and range from 2-4 cards (numbered sequentially) to build.
Starting with the first player they will do the following actions each round:
- Dig: draw 1 card from the dig site
- Trade: you may do this multiple times, but each additional trade increases the number of cards the current player must trade
- Bonus card: if a player completes a skeleton, then that player can draw a card from the dig site but only one max even if multiple skeletons are completed
- Adjust your hand: only at the end of a player’s turn can a player rearrange their face up and their hidden hand cards.
The game ends when there are no cards left in the dig site and if no players can complete any more dinosaurs. The player with the most annual visitors to their museum is the winner.
I must admit that when I see games listed as STEM, I’m usually skeptical but Fossil Canyon delivers as soon as you open the box. Its focus is on the self-discovery and exploration aspect of STEM and it’s spot on. I know my kids and I’m sure most enjoy learning on their own and Fossil Canyon allows that to happen through play or just reading through the game components. What also helps Fossil Canyon succeed at being a STEM game is that it’s accessible to gamers of all ages and most will walk away from the table having learned new facts about dinosaurs, different aspects of the periods of the Mesozoic Era, and maybe even want to learn more about paleontology.
Polymath Play partnered with the Field Museum in Chicago and it shows in Fossil Canyon. First and foremost are the fossil cards give highly detailed information of the dinosaur fossil. The information is rich but surprisingly concise on each card. The cards include the fossil name with phonetic pronunciation, the Mesozoic Era it was found, its diet, its size and weight, and overall physical description. Also, the rule book has excellent detailed information of fossil science ranging from different geological periods of the earth, how dinosaurs relate to animals today, and how fossils are created just to name a few pieces. Overall Fossil Canyon has rich information for all ages, and it has the feel as if you took a stroll through a museum exhibit.
One of the things that my family loved about Fossil Canyon was the unique puzzle Score tracker. This component is great because it easily shows which player is currently in the lead and what fossil skeletons have been completed. The former also highlights that the completed dinosaur skeletons will have more visitors than others and are sized accordingly making some more desirable. The latter was an important strategic element as you decide which you are trying to complete and knowing that some pieces might become harder to find in the dig site. Overall, excellent visual and mechanic for players to reference and watch throughout the game.
The other game mechanic that is not a new one but essential to Fossil Canyon is the option to Trade. There will be luck of the draw and because you remove some cards at the start of the game some skeletons that will not be able to be completed so trading gives players a sense of control. Now, that’s easier said than done if none is willing to trade with you. There was not much trading at the start of the game for my family but towards the end and especially when the dig site runs out of cards then trades become much more common and we had lots of fun wheeling and dealing trying to complete our skeletons.
Fossil Canyon’s theme fits perfectly with this set collection, STEM game. Now, I think most kids want to have more fun than learn when playing a game, but they’ll be surprised that Fossil Canyon will teach them new facts about dinosaurs, Mesozoic Era, and even increase their interest in paleontology without them even realizing it.
It’s hard not to be impressed with the information packed into Fossil Canyon. Unique mechanics like the puzzle score tracker provides an excellent visual of who’s in the lead and which fossil skeletons have been completed. Also, familiar and welcomed mechanics like trading cards will give players a great way to mitigate luck and gives a nice sense of control. Overall, it’s a great light strategy game that’s accessible, educational, and especially fun for all ages.