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Tokens with animals sit atop tiles with habitats. A pool of pinecones sits in the middle of the table.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

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The rise of nature-themed board games

Bringing the outdoors in

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“Go take a walk.”

How often was that dreaded phrase used to rip us away from our favorite games when we were young? We may have gone outside, yet our minds were still thinking about that next turn. But over the past decade, tabletop developers have come to the aid of indoor kids everywhere. Games with great strategy and replay value have hit the market to bring the outdoors in.

Our tabletops are now acting as portals to the outdoors. The following titles bring the strategy and intricacy of nature to life, so what are you waiting for? We’ve rounded up games that let you experience the great outdoors without the bugs or the sunburn.


Some games go beyond the box to let us explore the world outside. Parks lets players hike different trails, camp, and make memories out in nature. Players then use experience from hikes to achieve their goal of visiting national parks. As the game goes on, seasons shift, and trails become longer. Players learn to spend and manage resources to keep the adventure going. In short, Parks helps us explore the wonders of nature and the joys of hiking from home.


Certain titles help us celebrate the variety of animals we find in nature. Wingspan highlights the variety of bird species and the impacts they have on habitats. Players get the chance to discover and attract over 170 different birds during the game, and over time, they learn which species benefit their wildlife preserves most. With this knowledge, players collect and breed the best birds to gain the most points. Play Wingspan to experience the wonder of nature and see just how different species can be.


But how do all the animals and plants we see interact? Cascadia teaches players the intricacies of habitats in the real world, using the Pacific Northwest as a backdrop. Players combine wildlife tokens and terrain to create habitats. The more of one terrain they match, the larger the habitat grows. Each animal has its own needs, so balancing the ecosystem is essential for victory. Cascadia helps us appreciate complex relationships in nature without ever leaving the table.

Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right

Nature is constantly at war; struggles for life, resources, and territory are going on behind the scenes all the time. Root brings these battles to life on our tabletops. Players all vie for control of the wilderness, but each has a different approach. They use unique strengths to build the perfect habitat and meet their own win condition. Who will survive? Only time and evolving strategy will tell. Root gives us a look at the everyday ferocity of nature and the interactions we would otherwise never see.


When we look closely, we can see that even plants are fighting for survival in nature. Photosynthesis shows how finite resources can make the growing get tough. Players fight for sunlight in a forest of competition. But, like in nature, conditions don’t stay the same for long. The sun revolves around the forest, and players must adapt to grow and thrive. Even plants don’t fight fair, so strategy is important to stay alive and slow the competition. Photosynthesis brings plants’ often forgotten struggles for resources directly to our tabletop.

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