Spotlight on Games > Analysis
American Megafauna
by Sierra Madre Games
Analysis of the first edition
Wed Mar 1 10:44:50 PST 2000

Stages of a Typical American Megafauna Game:

Stage I: Rapid Growth.

Players essentially double their populations each turn as they race to fill up the "none" and a few other biomes and their corresponding predator triangles. This stage ends when all the "none" biomes have been filled.

Stage II: Jockeying for Position.

This stage is marked by attempts by the better herbivores to see who will win the "none" biome Size niches. At the same time, any herbivore who has managed to develop a "roadrunner" capability, i.e. a, N or S DNA, will attempt to oust herbivores with better dentition, particularly in "none" biome I niches until I DNA becomes available. If I DNA is available early, this process may not occur. Predators are under extreme pressure during this stage to acquire roadrunner DNA.

Stage III: Increasing Specialization.

During this stage, gradually the top herbivore and top predator tend to consolidate their dominance. The "in-between" players now tend to come under extreme pressure to find and defend the unique specialty which will permit them to survive, either as herbivore or predator. At the same time, top herbivores will often collude to adjust their sizes so as to put pressure on the top predator. This tends to result in a specialization by size.

Stage IV: Sex and Death.

By this stage, Sex DNA may well be acquired and start to take its toll on the bidding process. Players without Sex are probably taking turns to work on limiting the gene pool of the player holding it. At the same time, a catastrophe may well have taken place including extreme disruption of biomes and/or extinctions. Players may be returning to the game as a powerful Immigrant at this time. At this time too, probably the first H DNA has appeared and the amount of Mast has probably grown enough to support a viable population. There may well be a Mast war with accompanying pursuit by predators.

Stage V: Stabilization.

Although there are always slight fluctuations, by now herbivores tend to have clearly defined niches and predators clearly-defined single prey. Several turns probably occur with nothing much happening. There may be a great deal of defensive DNA buying, such as purchase of P DNA to expand an ecotype's lead in this category.

Stage VI: End Game.

With the Cenozoic Era looming, ecotypes often retreat from their size 5-6 positions, causing changes and disruption in the previous stability. Predators specializing in Size come under pressure. Bidding becomes more desperate as players seek ways to edge out the competition. Herbivores are looking for roadrunner DNA which the predators try to keep from them while the predators seek ways to oust predatory Immigrants.

Some Ideas for the rrrr player in the 4-player Game

Being neither the best predator nor the best herbivore, rrrr has a tough time in the 4-player game. This plight is made worse by the fact that unlike mmm who is in the same situation, rrrr cannot act as an omnivore and rrrr must always go first. To this problem I would like to suggest the following solution: Go to Sea!

Although marine biomes have difficult requirements, this can be a benefit instead if considered properly as generally only those really trying to live in the sea will succeed there. Few will, so this should leave the sea clear for you.

First of all, rrrr should plan to go marine from the outset. If playing the Balancing Variant, choose MA as your starting DNA. You could choose AA, as either one is just one DNA away from the MAA that you need, but as choosing MA provides 4 more herbivore slots on the starting board, it is probably preferable. There are equal amounts of M and A DNA in the deck.

Your goal is going to be to create one or two herbivores which can match the MAA and MM requirements. Once you manage this, if you manage this, you will attempt to create marine predators which can survive by eating them where other predators may not be able to do so.

This plan is going to require some pretty sharp bidding at the right time. The key to doing this is not to spend genes on superfluous activities. Discipline yourself to only spend genes on the following:

Then, if things are going well – they are going well if there are several marine biomes on the map and you have managed to get a predator for your herbivores living there – you can consider possibly spending on the following: Then, with any luck, especially if the Greenhouse Gas levels don't go down, the Milankovich Cycles don't wipe out all the marine biomes and there aren't too many marine immigrants, you should at least survive the game, if not outright win it.

Ideas for the mmm player in the 4-player Game

Like rrrr, mmm is neither the best predator nor the best herbivore, and thus has a tough time in the 4-player game. The situation is even worse here in the sense that at the start of the game and often during most of it, mmm is lowest on the totem pole when it comes to bidding on genotypes. It is difficult to come up with a unified strategy for mmm victory, but the following tips are offered:

What is the value of the Sex behavior card?

The Sex behavior card in the game doubles the income of any player who has this card expressed (except in a two-player game where I recommend that you adopt the house rule that it instead only enhances income by +1). So what is the expected value in pure income terms of the Sex behavior card?

There are 161 cards in the deck. 51 of them are eventually drawn out and used in play. 51 divided by 161 is approximately 0.317. It seems that for each type of card we should expect about 31.7% of them to appear.

Of the cards that produce income, 36 are biomes which produce income of 1 and 12 are catastrophes which produce income of 5.

36 biome cards @ 1 gene each x .317 is about 11.4 expected gene income.

12 catastrophe cards @ 5 genes each x .317 is about 19 expected gene income.

Therefore, the total amount of income in a game should average about 30 genes (interesting that the expectation is for catastrophes to contribute more than biomes to the total). Therefore, if Sex were bought as the first card of the game, one should expect to earn about 60 and the Sex card should be worth about 30. When the game is half over, it should be worth about 15. When the game is 3/4 over, it should be worth about 7.5. Etc.

On the other hand, as the designer points out, this does not account for inflation. The situation is usually that money supply is increasing in the game, which of course makes everything more expensive in a free market. The calculations seem to be valid if one is trying to make the most money, compared to one's initial investment. But the problem is, given an auction, each penny spent at the beginning of the game is far more valuable than if that same penny is spent at the end of the game, when pennies are much cheaper. At the beginning of the game, one coin can get you the card you want, while at the end, you may have to spend five coins for the same card, all else being equivalent. And this investment may drive you extinct, since you have no money for specializations in the crucial early turns.

Designer Phil Eklund maintains a database of playings, which has recorded 66 American Megafauna games, thus far:

Two-player games:

Three-player games:
Four-player games:

Eklund's conclusions:

Ranking Tables for Tiebreakers


The tables rank the advantages held by each prototype for the 4 types of tiebreakers in the game. First is listed the 4-player game, then the 4 versions of the 3-player game and finally the 6 possible versions of the 2-player game.

The Product is formed by converting the ordinals to cardinals and multiplying them, to get a rough measure of which prototype is most advantaged in a particular combination. The lower the Product, the better off a prototype should be. Of course, this presumes that all tiebreaker advantages are of equal strength, which is probably not the case. It might be more accurate to add to the auction tiebreaker advantages by some postitive factor x to achieve a better rating.


ArchetypeHerbivore SurvivalCarnivore SurvivalMost Reptile Most MammalProduct
MMRRR 1st 4th 2nd 2nd 16
RRRR 2nd 3rd 1st 4th 24
MMM 3rd 2nd 4th 1st 24
RM 4th 1st 3rd 3rd 36

ArchetypeHerbivore SurvivalCarnivore SurvivalMost Reptile Most MammalProduct
MMRRR 1st 3rd 2nd 1st 6
RRRR 2nd 2nd 1st 3rd 12
RM 3rd 1st 3rd 2nd 18
RRRR 1st 3rd 1st 3rd 9
RM 3rd 1st 2nd 2nd 12
MMM 2nd 2nd 3rd 1st 12
MMM 3rd 1st 3rd 1st 9
RRRR 2nd 2nd 1st 3rd 12
MMRRR 1st 3rd 2nd 2nd 12
MMRRR 1st 3rd 1st 2nd 6
MMM 2nd 2nd 3rd 1st 12
RM 3rd 1st 2nd 3rd 18

ArchetypeHerbivore SurvivalCarnivore SurvivalMost Reptile Most MammalProduct
RRRR 1 2 1 2 4
MMM 2 1 2 1 4
RRRR 1 2 1 2 4
RM 2 1 2 1 4
RRRR 2 1 1 2 4
MMRRR 1 2 2 1 4
RM 2 1 2 2 8
MMRRR 1 2 1 1 2
RM 2 1 1 2 4
MMM 1 2 2 1 4
MMRRR 1 2 1 2 4
MMM 2 1 2 1 4

American Megafauna - synopsis analysis errata balancing variant scenarios playback