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Green Family Values: Games That Teach About Endangered Animals

"Be a force of nature" is the motto of Xeko, a trading card game created by the Matter Group in collaboration with Conservation International. This eco-game asks children (and adults) to take on the critical mission of creating the strongest ecosystems in the threatened hotspots of our planet. By playing Xeko, children learn about the complexities of ecosystems while trying to save them.

Xeko doesn’t just talk the eco-talk, though: it walks the eco-walk. All of the playing cards are made of recycled stock and printed with soy inks. In addition, players are encouraged to return their card wrappers to the company and earn Green Star points, which can be traded for free downloads. Furthermore, four percent of profits are donated to Conservation International for work to save the hotspots. What are hotspots? Hotspots provide the setting for Xeko missions, and are "the most threatened and species-rich places on Earth."

Currently numbered at 34, the hotspots contain 75 percent of the
planet’s most threatened mammals, birds and amphibians while covering
just 2.3 percent of the Earth’s surface. An estimated 50 percent of all
vascular plants and 42 percent of land vertebrates exist only in these

I found Xeko somewhat confusing to play, but I have never been one to enjoy games with complex rules (I don’t even know how to play chess). Players begin by matching their species cards to the hotspot card. If two species come into conflict, the players have a turf war. The species with the highest energy number wins, but boost cards can be played to increase your species’ energy number. There are other cards, too, like Xeko cards, that also come into play in the game. The game ends when one player runs out of cards; eco-points are totaled then to see who wins the game. I had to modify the rules and simplify the scoring to play the game with my six-year-old daughter. She enjoyed playing the game and asked to play over and over again. The game is definitely geared for older children, and I could see it as a fun way to learn about different ecosystems, such as Madagascar and Indonesia, in a science classroom.

Besides confusing directions, I dislike the fact that Xeko is a competitive game. I would like to see an eco-game along the same lines that was cooperative in nature. Part of why there are hotspots on our planet has to do with the competitive nature of business. The only way ecosystems will be protected is through cooperative effort, thus I feel the game should reflect this aspect of conservation.

Along with our Xeko game, we were given the cutest plush hairy-eared dwarf lemur. The lemur is made of soysilk, a material made from the proteins in soy. The hairy-eared dwarf lemur (Allocebus trichotis) was discovered in 1875 and considered extinct until 1966. It lives near Mananara, Madagascar, and its current population is estimated between 100 and 1000. It is listed as endangered due to deforestations and local inhabitants eating them. I hope the folks at Xeko will continue producing soysilk plush toys of rare creatures to accompany their trading card games. Endangered species toys are a great way to introduce young children to the diversity of our planet. I would also like Xeko to develop similar games for younger children.


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