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Niche is a cute genetics survival game that's now free for schools

(Image credit: Stray Fawn)

Niche is a turn-based survival strategy romp full of adorable fluffy creatures that you need to keep alive. Evoking Spore, you can create your own beasties, customising them and giving them different genetic traits to help them survive. The stuff you make in Niche, however, is all based on real genetics and evolutionary principles, giving you a wee biology lesson while you play with the critters. 

Along with the turn-based strategy elements, where your creatures can explore a hexy, procedurally-generated biome, find prey and avoid predators, you can breed your critters, letting them pass on their genetic code to their kids. Depending on the environment, you might want to adapt them for colder weather, or you might find they need to toughen up to deal with bigger creatures trying to gobble them up.

After a successful Kickstarter that asked for $15,000 but raised more than $70,000, Niche launched in Early Access in 2016 and had a full launch the following year. According to developer Stray Fawn, it was touch and go for a while, with the game failing to recoup development costs during Early Access, though it has since become profitable. Stray Fawn credits the enthusiasm of Niche's players.

As thanks for the support it's received and in response to lots of requests for an educational license, Stray Fawn has made Niche available for free for schools and teachers. Teachers can sign up for the educational version here, where you can also check out the FAQ. The supported languages are English, German, French, Spanish (Spain), Portuguese (Brazil), Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Japanese and Polish. 

Niche touted its educational chops even before it was given out to schools. "While playing Niche, the player is introduced to the scientific mechanics of genetics (featuring dominant-recessive, co-dominant inheritance, etc)," reads the Steam page. "The game also features the five pillars of population genetics (genetic drift, genetic flow, mutation, natural selection, sexual selection). All knowledge is interwoven with the game-mechanics. This creates the effect of learning by playing."

My very first experience with a PC was in school with a BBC Micro, so I'm very fond of educational games. The game selection was slim, but it was also the only game library available to me. And I learned a thing or two, though nothing as complex as genetics. 

If you want to brush up on biology outside of the classroom, Niche is on sale for £9.51/$12.59 on Steam.

Fraser is the sole inhabitant of PC Gamer's mythical Scottish office, conveniently located in his flat. He spends most of his time wrangling the news, but sometimes he sneaks off to write lots of words about strategy games.