David McMillan
United States
Madison
Tennessee
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The world is a harsh place for an emerging species. From environmental factors to reproductive factors to simply locating and maintaining replenish-able nourishment, there is always some difficult obstacle to overcome if a species wants to not only survive, but reproduce and thrive. Only the species that are best able to adapt to these factors and overcome these obstacles will rise to prominence. Those that don't will just become footnotes in the annals of natural history.

In the game of Evolution, you take on the roles of these species and, using cards, you will have to quickly adapt and overcome if you wish to live to see another day. Some species will rise and many will fall along the wayside. It is only through the cunning of the players that they will outsmart, outfeed, outreproduce, and ultimately outlast their competitors. Will your species be at the top of the food chain or will you become the gristle caught between the teeth of your opponents? Only one way to find out...

Now, before I get too much further into this review, I would like to take a moment to thank the folks over at North Star Games for sending me the prototype copy of this, their very first forage into strategy games, game that this review is based upon. Their generosity is much appreciated. However, their generous nature has not affected my opinion of this game at all. Rest assured that if this game is terrible, I will tell you so. If you like what you read here, then I encourage you to go check out their Kickstarter campaign and consider lending them your financial support. You can find their page here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1923120194/evolution-0?...

CONTENTS

I would like to preface this section as well as everything that follows with a reminder that this is a review that is based upon a prototype copy of the game. The following review does not reflect the final quality of any of the pieces or the rules of the game. Nor does this review reflect any stretch goals that may be unlocked during the Kickstarter campaign. That being said...

I came home from work one night a week or so ago to find a notice on my door that FedEx had tried to deliver a package to me, but had unfortunately missed me. Mystified as to what this package could be, I rushed up to the office of my apartment complex the next day to retrieve it. It was a nondescript white box with the word 'Evolution' written on the side of it in black, block lettering. Immediately, I was filled with excitement. I had been reading a lot about this game and it seemed really, really intriguing.

So, I rushed home and carefully cut through the tape and opened the box. The box, as it turns out, was merely a means of conveyance. I cannot comment upon what the final packaging for the game is going to look like, but I can wager a guess that it is going to look something like the image that appears on Kickstarter. If so, it's going to look very fetching. A beast that resembles something between a hyena and a leopard is loping at us in the foreground. It's feathery mane ripples in the sunlight. Behind this creature, we can see a prehistoric landscape. Graceful, long-necked beasts munch on the fronds in a tall tree. An owl like creature stares at us inquisitively and pterodactly-like creatures soar through the air. These animals, while familiar, are somehow foreign and alien at the same time. It's not so much a picture of what was as it is an image of what might have been if things had evolved differently. From this artwork alone, the player is already transported into the game's theme.

Inside of the box, I found a large deck of cards in sleeves, a large bag full of multicolored cubes, 5 small crushed velvet drawstring bags, and about 20 printed out species boards. The cards are actually cards from a different trading card game turned around so that only their backs are showing. These cards act as backing for the printed cards that are also slid into the sleeves. These cards are beautifully illustrated in the same style as the artwork on the front of the box.

There are three colors of cubes and they seem to vary from prototype to prototype. Mine were brown, pink, and white but others I have seen had various shades of greens and a red. These cubes represent the two types of food in the game, plant food and meat food, as well as markers used to track the evolution of the various species that players will introduce into the game as it is played. The color of these cubes for prototype purposes is unimportant and, as I understand it, the cubes that represent plant food and meat food are actually going to be replaced with double-sided tokens in the final product.

The species boards are divided into three distinct horizontal sections. The top section is an area for the storage of food cubes. The area directly beneath that is used to track a species' population and the last area is used to track a species' body size. The food and population areas are colored a bright green and the body size area is a delicate magenta color. Artistically, these prototype species boards are nothing special. They are a practice in function over form. The proposed species board design on the Kickstarter page, though, looks pretty awesome. The population is marked by an increasing number of footprints and the icon for the body size grows larger as one progresses up the body size track. The color scheme has an earthy quality about it that, once again, fits very well with the theme.

SET UP

Setting up the game is easy. First, all of the cards are shuffled together and placed face down into the middle of the table. Then, each player receives one species board each. One evolution marker is placed in the 1 position in both the population and body size rows. Next, each player will receive three cards from the top of the deck plus an extra card for each species that they control. This will be the same way that cards are drawn for the entirety of the game. Since each player will only control a single species at the beginning of the game, each player will receive a total of four cards at the start.

Now a starting player is chosen and they receive the active player token. Play will move in a clockwise direction from now on beginning with the player who possesses the active player token.

THE CARDS

The are a total of 117 different trait cards in this game. Each different trait is represented multiple times in the deck and even though these traits are all different, each of the cards do have a few things in common. At the top of each card is the card's title. Beneath this is an illustration of what the title represents. Underneath that is a description of the card's effect. And finally, in the bottom right hand corner, is a number. This number is crucial because it represents how much Plant food this card is worth during the Feeding phase.

So, let's discuss the various phases so that you can understand how all of these elements come together to form the game.

THE FOOD SELECTION and TRAIT PHASE

In this phase, each player will choose a card from their hand and place it face down into the middle of the table. Later, when that card is flipped up, an amount of food equal to the numerical value of the card will be added to the pool of Plant food.

After each player has selected and placed a card into the Plant food pool, they may then perform one of several actions. These actions are:

- Discard a card to create a new species: the player immediately receives a new species board with its default settings of 1 population and 1 body size

- Discard a card to increase either a single population or a single body size by 1

- Play a trait card face down next to a species. This species will gain the trait at the end of this phase. A species may only have three traits at a time. If another trait is added beyond this point, then an old trait must be discarded

After everyone has performed all of the actions that they are going to perform this turn, all of the traits are flipped face up.

FEEDING PHASE

After all of the trait cards have been turned face up, it is time for all of the players to feed their species. All of the selected food cards are turned face up and an amount of Plant food equal to the sum of all of the numbers on the cards is placed into the middle of the table. Then, the revealed cards are discarded. There are a few abilities that fire off when food is revealed and those would take effect at this stage of the game.

Now, beginning with the active player, each player will take turns feeding one of their species. If a trait would cause something to happen when food is collected, then that trait would fire off at this time. When a species receives food, the food is placed above the population area of the species card beginning with the number 1 position. Once the species has received food equal to its population, it cannot receive anymore food. Generally, this is how every species is fed, but a species with the Carnivore trait has special feeding rules of its own.

Carnivores may never eat Plant food. In order for a Carnivore to receive sustenance, it must eat another creature. A player may attack any species on the board including their own species. If the Carnivore has not eaten during that Feeding phase, the player that controls the Carnivore MUST feed it if they are able, even if that means they have to eat another one of their own species. There are a couple of caveats that must be taken into account when deciding which species to eat. First, the Carnivore's body size must be larger than the target creature's body size. Secondly, the Carnivore must have the traits needed to overcome any of the target creature's defensive traits. If the Carnivore succeeds, then the species population of the target creature is reduced by 1 and the Carnivore's player will add an amount of Meat food equal to the target creature's body size to the food track on the Carnivore's species card. If the target creature's population is reduced to zero, then that species card along with all of its traits are discarded and that species' owner will draw cards equal to the amount of traits discarded in this way.

As an additional note, a player may only feed one species population at a time so, if you have a population of three, it will take you at the very least a total of 3 feedings to feed all three of them (there are a few traits that can improve the speed at which you will receive food).

POST FEEDING PHASE

Once there is no more food in the food supply or once every species has been fed, then the feeding phase will come to an end. Any leftover Plant food will remain in the food pool until the next Feeding phase.

If the food ran out and players were unable to feed all of their species, then they will reduce the population of the unfed species to the amount of food that is present on that species' species board. If, for some reason, a species did not get fed at all, then that species goes extinct and that species board along with any traits that were attached to it are discarded and that species' controller will draw cards equal to the amount of trait cards that were discarded in this way.

Now, each player will place all of the remaining food into their crushed velvet drawstring bag and this food will count as victory points at the end of the game. Once this is done, the active player token is passed to the person to the left of the active player and then you will begin at the beginning.

END OF GAME and SCORING

If the deck ever runs out of cards for any reason, then there will be exactly one last round. At the end of that round, the scores will be totaled and the person with the highest score will win the game. Here's a break down of how the scoring works:

- Each food in a player's bag is worth 1 point

- Each trait on a surviving species is worth 1 point

- Each surviving species is worth points equal to its population

THOUGHTS

Okay, I'm going to take a moment here to tell you a secret, so move in closer. Are you ready? Ok. Good.

I LOVE THIS GAME!

And now that my biases are known, allow me to tell you why I find this game to be so enjoyable. Firstly, the game is very easy to teach, it's easy to set up, and it plays incredibly fast the more players that you add to it. This, to me, seems counter-intuitive. Typically, a game's play time seems to grow exponentially the more people that are introduced into the mix. This just isn't so with Evolution. If you're playing a one on one game with a friend or a spouse or a child or a significant other, the game takes a little while which is perfect for a more intimate gaming session. As you add more people, though, the pool of available cards gets cycled through at an ever increasing rate. The five player games that I played never even made it around the table back to the starting player. Long, drawn out games really tire me out and, in that respect, this game is a breath of fresh air.

And then there's the game play itself. Evolution's design is an exercise in elegant simplicity. You are given some cards and it's up to you to decide what to do with them. Every decision that you make is crucial in the game. A card used to increase a species' body size or population is a card that could have been used to create a brand new species or add a brand new trait. Evolution forces the player to measure what they know they have now against what they are hoping to achieve in the future while all the time trying to guess what they think their opponents are going to do and plan accordingly. It's almost like playing two games in one. The opportunities for strategy abound and are not always immediately apparent. The luck factor is almost non-existent. Being able to decide what you keep and what you discard gives you the requisite choices available to allow you to control your own destiny. Nothing feels quite as good as building a super efficient food engine or constructing an insurmountable defense.

Thematically, mechanically, and artistically, this game just draws you in and goes straight for the throat and doesn't let go until you've stopped struggling. This game is just amazing and I cannot wait for my copy to arrive. Well done, North Star Games! Well done!
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Sight Reader
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Re: Evolution: A Thoroughly Enjoyable Games of Species Building and Domination (a review)
CarcassonneFreak wrote:
Thematically, mechanically, and artistically, this game just draws you in and goes straight for the throat and doesn't let go until you've stopped struggling. This game is just amazing and I cannot wait for my copy to arrive. Well done, North Star Games! Well done!

Oh great. Now I'm going to be lying awake thinking about this game for months.
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