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A Brief History of Backyard Birding

Updated: Oct 28, 2018


The evolution of the Backyard Birding game cards.

By Jeff Morgenroth


About four years ago I shipped my first Kickstarter game: Tropes. It was a success, and it got me thinking about what might come next.


I wanted a game that was a bit more light-hearted, and with broad appeal. My thinking was that “everyone likes animals, especially kids,” so I played around with an “Animal Rescue” concept. This was the first iteration of what would become Backyard Birding.


The Beginning

Animal Rescue featured lots of cute animals, and just like in Backyard Birding, players competed to rescue them from a constantly refreshing pool. There were puppies, dolphins, lizards, foxes, cats, crocodiles, and lots of birds; basically a whole zoo of creatures to play with. The game worked well. It played fast, and people loved collecting animals for their menagerie. Of course, don’t ask what happened when the animals “flew away” when their number came up on the dice.


The game’s basic mechanic—using food and environment to attract the animal—was established early, although the early version of the game had a bit more math to do at each turn.


I remember sharing the game with my in-laws, who’s gaming experience is basically non-existent, and they had a blast, even though the game was in the “rough draft” form. It was encouraging. If my mother-in-law enjoyed playing, I imagined that anyone will.


However, life gets weird from time and time and something distracted me from the concept. Animal Rescue sat in my idea bucket for a while.


A Teammate Joins the Flock

That is, until I became friends with Jeremy, my eventual game development partner, at work. Jeremy is a bird nerd, and happily outspoken about it. I remember seeing him walking around the trail at our workplace wearing his tilley hat and laden with his birding binoculars and camera. I don’t remember what bird he was watching—but I do remember being a little miffed that he assumed I didn’t know what it was, too.


A few more friendly conversations (about bird and non-bird stuff) got me thinking: there are tons of birds in my old Animal Rescue card game. Could the game adapted to feature only birds, and would my new bird-nerd friend be interested in helping me getting the game out there into the world?


The answer to both questions was yes!


The New Game Takes Shape

Backyard Birding was a natural outgrowth of the game play of Animal Rescue. My slapped together prototype served us well, and soon we were making revisions and focusing the game in ways I couldn’t get it to years ago.


When you play Backyard Birding today, you’re experiencing the 7th or 8th iteration of the core game play.


Long story short, here are some ways that Backyard Birding is improved over my original ideas:

  • Better scoring. The Season-based scoring system supports the theme and makes finding out who wins much more fun

  • Smoother attraction. Getting birds into your collection is fast, and you get more of them

  • More interest, more learning. The game has substance. In playing it you’ll learn about the birds, while also get practice spotting the bird from the card’s visuals


The result: a fast, fun game which brings out exciting play and friendly competition—that also gives you the chance to learn something along the way!