Wildlife Web, a card game developed by Pony author Tom Elpel, offers players a chance to see how the many species of Montana interact with one another and with their surroundings. (T. Elpel photo) Wildlife Web, a card game developed by Pony author Tom Elpel, offers players a chance to see how the many species of Montana interact with one another and with their surroundings. (T. Elpel photo)

Wild Game

Pony author creates educational wildlife board game

PONY—Tom Elpel has written books about everything from foraging for mushrooms to masonry and the U.S. economy. But his latest project strays some from his usual outdoor education endeavors: a wildlife-based board game designed to teach young players about the interconnected nature of animals, people and the earth.

“I discovered that games can be a powerful tool to excite kids and adults to learn more about nature,” Elpel explains. “Learning becomes fun and enticing. These games serve as a family friendly alternative to screen time, while providing a bridge to reconnect with the natural world.” 

Inspired by his son’s excitement for card-based games like Pokemon, Elpel wondered to himself if it would be possible to get kids just as excited about animals and real-life natural strategy.

So, he created Wildlife Web, a strategy game that brings together fifty of Montana’s unique wildlife species such as whitetail deer, black bears, mountain lions, turkey vultures and even rabbits. 

Each animal has its own series of strengths, rated from 1 to 5 in each category. An elk, for example, has a size and strength rating of five, which protects it from every predator in the game except mountain lions, grizzly bears, wolverines and wolf packs. Whitetail deer, on the other hand, have a size rating of four and a strength rating of three, making them easier targets.

Elpel uses the example of the rabbit, which may seem to be an easily-defeated foe. However, since bunnies are so adept at hiding, players who have selected a predator such as a coyote must roll the dice just to see if their predator can detect the rabbit in the first place. 

The object of the game? To be the last animal standing, and raise young while you’re at it.

However, there are other circumstances involved than just the strengths assigned to each animal. Just as in the wild, there are natural phenomena to contend with, such as the building of houses in an animal’s habitat, a wildfire or a large storm. 

Animals can also help each other out in Wildlife Web, just as they do in real life. There are bonuses for whitetail deer, which listen to birdcalls in their area to detect danger, and for mountain lions, who are stealthy enough to swipe smaller animals without being detected—even if it isn’t their turn to roll the dice!

There’s even a highway that runs through the center of the playing space. It constitutes a danger for some species, which could be hit by cars, but a scavenging opportunity for others, who may find food sources near the road.

Elpel operates HOPS Press in Pony, which produces books and videos that seek to educate and inspire nature enthusiasts of all ages and interests. He began a Kickstarter campaign aiming to raise $10,000 for putting the game into production, which raised over $13,000 in less than a month. Supporters purchased copies of the game, which, thanks to their support, should be created and delivered sometime this spring. 

“People protect and care about things that are familiar to them,” Elpel says. “Even in rural Montana, we are losing touch with nature. Our only hope is to get kids back into the real world.”

Wildlife Web is Elpel’s second board game, among nearly a dozen books and several instructional DVDs. He produced a plant identification card game companion to his popular book, Shanleya’s Quest: A Botany Adventure. 

And in the meantime, Elpel will be preparing for his next endeavor: retracing the Missouri River section of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail in a dugout canoe he carved himself, the Belladonna Beaver. This summer and fall, he’ll attempt to paddle over 2,000 miles of river from Three Forks to St. Louis, Missouri. 

To learn more about Wildlife Web, donate or explore Elpel’s other projects, visit 

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