Bee Facts Behind Bee Lives

The game mechanics in Bee Lives We Will Only Know Summer were created to model real honey bee behavior when possible. Though you do not need to know all of the reasons behind the game design decisions that went into Bee Lives to enjoy the game, we know many of you would like to learn more about bees. On this section of the website we will take you through how and why bees do some of the things they do and how those actions are represented within the game.

Two map tiles from Bee Lives, one with Bartram's Garden on it and the other with a Langstroth style hive.
Two map tiles from Bee Lives, one with Bartram’s Garden on it and the other with a Langstroth style hive.

Brief History of Philadelphia Bees

Apis Mellifera, more commonly known as the Western Honey Bee, is a species of insect that has been spread to 6 continents by mankind thanks to its benefits to agriculture and economies through pollination, wax production, and honey production. These bees were first brought to North America by ship in 1622, where they assisted the European settlers in altering the indigenous landscape by pollinating the grasses and other plants brought to the land from Europe. These plants allowed the colonists to work with crops they were accustomed to, and grow pasture for imported livestock.

As honey bees were brought to new lands they had to adapt to different climates and ecosystems. The environment in which a hive resides greatly impacts how it survives and interacts with other life. For this reason, much of the flow of Bee Lives is closely tied to the Philadelphia , Pennsylvania region where it is staged. Philadelphia holds much history related to bees and beekeeping, which can be seen in things such as Francis Daniel Pastorius’s 1701 Monthly Monitor, where he writes about beekeeping and agriculture; Bartram’s Garden, the United States’s oldest surviving arboretum and garden (originally founded in 1728); and, most famously, Lorenzo Langstroth, who in the mid 19th century applied the concept of “Bee Space” to develop a top opening hive with removable frames spaced 3/8 of an inch apart to create a standardized frame and brood box that launched the industrialization of bee keeping in North America.

A variety of map tiles from Bee Lives representing the spring, summer, and fall seasons
A variety of map tiles from Bee Lives representing the spring, summer, and fall seasons

Seasons and Flow in Philadelphia

Philadelphia has 4 seasons. Spring and fall tend to be mild, with hot and humid summers and a somewhat cold winter. More importantly, for the bees, are the patterns of bloom within the region. Philadelphia has 2 times of good flow, or periods of time where there are large amounts of flowering plants bees can collect nectar and pollen from. Bees evolved with the ability to keep their colony warm over winter by gathering as a ball within the hive and shivering to keep each other warm. This is one of the main reasons they store honey, so they can save up enough energy to keep this activity up during the cold months. This allows them to leave the hive as early as possible when trees begin to flower in March and ramp up brood production to build a strong population and swarm in the spring.

Beekeepers in Philadelphia know that the spring flow has begun in earnest when the Dandelions first appear. This flow continues until roughly the end of June. The second flow in this region occurs from the end of August until partway through September. This smaller flow, consisting largely of Golden Rod, is not as long as the spring flow but is still vitally important for the bees to build up their winter stores. Between these two flows, during the summer months, is a period of time local beekeepers call the dearth. This is a time when few indigenous plants are producing nectar, and the bees have to rely on their spring honey stores and taking advantage of weaker bee hives through a behavior known as robbing, where they will overpower hives and take what honey they can from them.

The Season board and the backs of the season cards in Bee Lievs
The Season board and the backs of the season cards

Seasons in a Game of Bee Lives

You see much of the above play out in Bee Lives through the season board, season cards, and map tiles. These game components set the tone of the game through the environment in which it takes place. If you were to set Bee Lives in an area with a different amount of seasons, or different periods of flow and dearth, you could reflect that by altering the season board and cards. Bee Lives begins in the spring, and as such you start the game right off in a strong flow. Nectar to make honey and pollen for brood is plentiful, and as such you can easily collect resources and build up your bee population. With the start of summer comes the dearth, however, and it quickly becomes difficult for your hive to collect resources from the environment and other hives become a more tempting target for your honey needs. Finally, the first year of gameplay ends in the fall with a weak flow refocusing the attention of hives from each other back, somewhat, to blooming plants. By creating new season cards and adjusting how long each season lasts, or if it even occurs, could drastically change the tone of Bee Lives and reflect other ecosystems honey bees reside in outside of the Philadelphia region.

The map tiles also play an important part in setting the tone of the environment in Bee Lives. There are 14 wet tiles and 22 of the other 3 types of tiles in each game. This ratio was set up in large part for game balance, but also to represent the importance of when different types of flora bloom is to bees. Adjusting the ratio of tiles within a game of Bee Lives would also have an impact on the game that would reflect the different environments in which bees live.

Facts from Inside the Hive