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Subject: Thoughts on balance, play style, and things I would like to see in an expansion rss

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Rahn
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Preface
This may be a matter of preference and perspective. I’m looking for a deep strategy game here. I know this is marketed as more of a casual/family game however, I see the potential for a real gamer’s game underneath.

My main concern is that the luck of a draw plays too strong an impact on the winner. There is a lot of luck and there is a lot of strategy to the game. But I still think between equally matched players the one who draws the powerful cards and/or combos will have an overly significant advantage. Yes I know a silly complaint for a card game. However, this is a highly interactive card game where on the surface it looks like players should be able to defeat a player who got a better draw through interaction. Especially via carnivores, the only direct form of destructive/negative player interaction. Reducing the plant food supply via card play or by traits that take early or take more than the usual share is indirect negative player interaction.

Carnivore Concerns
Carnivores serve 3 purposes. 1) Alternate food supply late game when plant matter runs out, 2) a mechanism to disrupt your opponents by making them waste valuable trait spots with defensive abilities, and 3) player interaction to reign in a leader. I think they work well in regards to 1 and 2. I could almost see an argument to say that they are overly strong in requiring opponents to waste trait spots on defence. However, this is a large part of the game and the number of defensive traits and cards in the deck is balanced appropriately for that.

My balance (or perhaps playstyle) concern is that carnivores are not as good as they should be at purpose 3: reigning in other players. It is too easy to make your species near invincible or in the “it costs me too much to pursue” basket (i.e. horns or a trait that requires intelligence to get around). I like cutthroat and vicious competitive games. Perhaps I should look elsewhere for this experience. I don’t mind luck in a game if it can be counter balanced by good play and some mechanisms that allow player interaction. I can understand why the designers limited this impact because lower confrontation with carnivores is more family and casual friendly. Casual players would expect that if you work hard building a species you could make it so that it will survive. But this game is so tantalisingly close to something more. Perhaps a cutthroat expansion could make the game play well with both types of groups.
I would like to see more negative player interaction (i.e. ways to harm those in the lead). This could come from balancing carnivores differently. Option 1: a slight relaxation in the strength of defence cards this would have to be balanced by another mechanic (no ideas right now) to step in and take up the slack though so that carnivores weren’t too dominant. Option 2: some new cards providing some versatile cards in the carnivore’s toolkit.
Or some new mechanics could be introduced that allowed another level of negative player interaction. Perhaps through event cards or other options. More on this later.

Cards that I think are too strong:
Fertile. The most powerful card in the game. Cards are a very precious commodity. It is always a tough choice of which cards to use for boosting population/body size or to use as a trait. This is because the number of cards you have is strictly limited that you often have to use great cards just to increase your population/body size. Fertile provides what is effectively an extra card draw of a useless trait every turn. Which is a fantastic ability. Once the population is maxed out this can then be replaced by a more helpful food card like foraging or cooperation. Fertile nets you 1 point a turn in increased population + extra points if you manage to continue feeding this extra population. Instead of reducing the power of Fertile I would love to see an expansion with more cards that were equal in power to Fertile. So that on average players would have a more equal chance of drawing powerful traits.
Symbiosis. A single card nearly undefeatable defence. You keep this species next to a larger one. You keep its body size at 1 requiring no wasted cards on body size. A carnivore could target this species with intelligence but for 1 food it’s not worth wasting 1 card. This species now has 2 free slots for some traits that help you steal food from the centre faster like cooperation or foraging. This card has no counter trait either. My suggested errata for this card would be if the carnivore is big enough to eat the host species to the right that the carnivore can also eat the smaller species with Symbiosis.

I feel Intelligence is a little underpowered. Trading a card (which also = a point if you use it to boost population instead and even more points if you manage to feed this extra population) to eat another player’s species isn’t the best deal. You lose a point (and possibly more in the long term) and they lose a point. Every other player at the table is now up 2+ points on you. Both players will be worse off compared to everyone else at the table. Intelligence can be helpful to get a carnivore out of a pinch and stop it from going extinct. However at the very rich card/point trade off required to activate it I would rather just replace my carnivore trait with something else, turn back into a herbivore, and compete for plants with the rest of the chumps.


Things that I would like to see that balance the powerful cards, add more direct player interaction, or are just nifty ideas I had:

New Cards
More traits that provide “card advantage” like fertile does. Increase your body size by 1 every round. A trait that you can discard to draw 2 cards if the species with it survives. If this species is fully fed draw a card. After feeding you may discard 1 food from this species to draw 2 cards (this species does not lose any population). Draw a card when you perform X or when X happens (probably limited to the first time a turn depending on how easy the condition is). General: draw a card the first time an animal is eaten by a carnivore. Specific: draw a card every time an animal with a body size of 3 or more is eaten. Carnivore trait: draw a card for the first successful kill this species makes this feeding phase. Defensive trait: draw a card the first time this species is eaten this feeding phase.

Cards that take resources from other players like stealing food from other player’s species instead of taking from the centre pile. This would have to be limited in some manner to stop it from being overpowered and unfun. Perhaps it can still from each species once a turn. Or it has some rules for eligibility like it must be much smaller than the target creature.
Cards that allow you to impact other player’s traits. Selective herding allows you to discard a card to destroy an opponent’s trait. Mimic lets you copy the trait of another species.

Too many new cards would thin out the defensive traits and their counters. To keep this from diluting the base game experience I think a good portion of the cards should help with card draw or card cycling (going through more cards looking for what you want). Or that there should perhaps be a public drafting row of traits with a Ticket to Ride style draw system. Draw a face up trait or one from the deck.

Double Edged Traits: a super good ability balanced by a negative drawback.
Can ignore all/one defensive trait(s) but loses 1 population for each attack action even if they didn’t need to use this ability to eat their prey. Take all food needed for this species in 1 action then discard 2 food from your bag at the end of the round. This species cannot eat until all other species have eaten: if it is fully fed at the end of the round draw 2 cards.

A New Resource
I’d like to see a third resource (cards, food, and something else). This resource would be spendable for effects: drawing cards, activating traits (including one similar to intelligence), defending against a carnivore attack, steal food from another species, etc… Not sure what resource to use: water, DNA, meteorite fragments? All a little abstract and not as thematic as other parts of the game. DNA could be justified by saying if it’s easy for your animals to eat that gives them extra survivability and room for more adaptations. It’s hard to spend food or cards for abilities because they are both scarce and worth 1 point so you would have to gain something pretty good to make it worth it. This 3rd resource could perhaps be gained if it came back to your turn to feed and your species were all fed, you could then take some water or whatever it is called instead. It could have fixed usage regardless of traits: use 3 to increase population, body size, or start a new species. As well as usage on individual traits cards. This would make some viable low population species builds that would be fun. As well as allowing the resource to be useful even if you didn’t have a new trait card. It would also be an indirect catch up mechanic. Those with the most population, food, and points are allowing other players to gain a resource while they continue to feed.


Global events. A separate event deck where 1 card is flipped over every turn.
Each player gets ride of one trait card of their choice from a species belonging to the player to their left. This would break up some killer combos but would also hurt all other players almost as much. This should apply before new traits are applied to give everyone a chance to react.
Each player creates a new species. Each player draws a card. Each player may increases the population / body size of 1/all of their species by 1/x.
Species can have 4 trait cards for the next x turns, discard down to 3 traits at the end.
Species can only have 2 trait cards for the next x turns. Choose one to discard if greater than 3 (or flip it face down until event runs out then return it to play).
Plant shortage. Remove all/half/x plant food. All species are carnivorous for this turn.
Species with a population above x lose y population. Species with a population above x lose a trait.
Species with a body size above x lose y population. Species with a body size above x lose a trait. Species with a body size above x lose y body size.
If species body size is greater than population, increase population by x. If species population is greater than body size, increase body size by x.
Each species loses a defensive trait if possible.
The largest species goes extinct. The smallest species goes extinct. The most populous species goes extinct. The least populous species goes extinct.
The player who has the greatest total population among species loses 1 population for each species. The player with the greatest total population loses 1 trait, the player to his left chooses.

There are a few ideas above that would inject too much chaos or luck if applied immediately. My idea to balance this would be to have some of these apply in x (probably 3) turns instead of immediately. No more new event cards are played until this activates. Place a food marker on it each turn to keep track. This gives players a chance to adapt before the card applies. Or alternatively you could see 1 or 2 event cards in advance: so you flip over this turns event card as well as the top card of the event deck so you see what happens next turn. Events would also make the game play out differently every time by placing different restrictions, penalties, or bonuses for different builds. Some of these events allow players to negatively impact leaders. Other cards indirectly discourage leading by applying penalties to players or species with high population. A nice mix of delayed and immediate events would create for further variance.

Player Events:
Events could enable the starting player to take some action. This could be beneficial to them or hurtful to other players. Or event cards could be added to the trait deck. I'm not a huge fan of take that mechanics so I haven't given this one much thought.

Conclusion
Some of my ideas above will contradict my initial rant about luck of the draw and lack of player interaction (especially some of the event ideas). However, I think there is enough in there that from these ideas some mechanics could be incorporated and balanced into the game to provide further direct player interaction as well as have room for some more loose, fun, and chaotic stuff like events. Any thoughts?
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Rahn
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A clarification: we play a pretty food lean game with food running out for herbivores. This does reign in the leader who will have the most unfed animals but they usually have already had a few early turns feeding them as we make our way through the surplus food from the first few rounds and already have more points then everyone else. So a reduction in their species size to be in line with other players only hurts a little.

A few of the players in the group are still new and less aggressive than I think is optimal in terms of food shortage. So some of my opinions may change as the food economy tightens up. The short term leaders could then be ousted by those with better feeding traits: long-neck, cooperation, foraging, etc... But again if a player draws a good combo for 1 of their species of something like Fertile and a strong defensive trait like Symbiosis as well as setting up another species with with a good defensive trait and a good feeding trait. Even food shortage won't reign in their lead.
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Nick Bentley
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Quote:
My main concern is that the luck of a draw plays too strong an impact on the winner. There is a lot of luck and there is a lot of strategy to the game. But I still think between equally matched players the one who draws the powerful cards and/or combos will have an overly significant advantage. Yes I know a silly complaint for a card game.


One thing I want to emphasize: this game is considerably less lucky than it seems on your first play, or first 10 plays even. For example: Dominic, the guy who re-developed the game, has never lost a game to anyone outside our office. Not even once, in tons of plays. Likewise I can beat nearly everyone I play, but I can't beat Dominic.

The thing we're struggling with in marketing this game is that most people don't realize there are deeper layers of play inside, and so it's getting pegged as lighter than it really is. Any ideas on how to deal with this issue would be most welcome!
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Nick Bentley
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I like a lot of these expansion ideas. I'm helping Dom develop the expansions and this is very useful to read. We've gotten requests for an environmental effects/ event deck from a whole bunch of people, and that one has moved up our list of expansions to do. There's a good chance it'll be the next expansion after the one we're about to Kickstart (Flight).
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Nick Bentley
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Re: negative player interaction. We couldn't really include too much of it in the base game because it's a bit of a crossover game that families play and too much negative interaction can kill a game for that market.

However, it could work for an expansion. I'd love to develop a "bloody" expansion that does nothing but unleash carnage!
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Nick Bentley
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And one other thing relating to both depth and the power of Carnivores: at high-level play, carnivores are very powerful. In fact, we're beginning to wonder if it's even possible to win against a table of skilled players without bringing out a carnivore at least once. It took us a long time and a lot of play to fully understand and exploit the power of carnivores.
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J Kaemmer
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I have to agree that oftentimes it is hard for a carnivore to slow down a runaway leader. Or even a marginal leader gaining momentum. We play evolution typically 5-7 people and if somebody is taking off and you fo us on slowing them down odds are you just fell.behind one of the other players who stayed the course... not to say carnivores are not good. I just don't think they are the solution by themselves. Oftentimes a leader will also through down defensive traits.galore once he sets up shop and that sucks to bring down. Starvation works but what if the leader is playing carnivore(s) TOO!?

I love the strategy and how quick it plays. Optimizing your own cards is a great game.by itself and player interaction great too.

I say this b/c last night we played 3 games of evolution and I crushed my friends. About halfway through each game they realized they had no chance and I was on pace to double their scores. I got good cards and I played them well. Anybody who challenged me typically took last. I don't want them to be punished for trying, but I also don't think it should require table-wide collusion to slow down 1 player. The first game I played a forager and an intelligent carnivore- only played negative food, sucked up my share then mauled whoever was in second. I never went hungry but they all did, time and time again. If they got something going I tended to eat it before it became a threat. Was I untouchable? No. Did anybody have a realistic expectation of stopping me AND winning? No. So their main goals were just to do their best and get second. The second game I got an engine going without carnivores but there were 3 on the table, all intelligent! Unfortunately once I got set up I created a wall of defensive traits on my various species. One guy literally took it upon himself to try to stop me- it cost him 3 cards to attack anything and he wasn't even going to get much food for it. Even with his aggressiveness, I won handily. It was a lucky night for me but I've been on the other side- desperately losing trying to stop the leader from winning at all costs, forget my own score. It's almost never worked...

Strategy is important, card draw is a still a prevalent but manageable factor but my complaint lies only with the fact that in a large game you have almost 0 chance of stopping somebody once they pull out front of the rest by turn 3. I love the game, it is 90% perfect to me in its simple elegance. Waiting to lose is really sucky, though.
 
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Nick Bentley
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iswearihaveajob wrote:
We play evolution typically 5-7 people


Note the game wasn't designed for 7 players and we don't vouch for it at this number. Please do not judge the game from your 7-player plays.
 
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Hmm I swore it supportes 7 but now that I look, I appear to complely crazy. Well, that was only once. I've just never done less than 5, I guess should be the real take away from that. I needed a strategic game that accomodates more than 4 but still plays fast- so I bought evolution.
 
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Dominic Crapuchettes
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TumbleSteak wrote:
Preface
This may be a matter of preference and perspective. I’m looking for a deep strategy game here. I know this is marketed as more of a casual/family game however, I see the potential for a real gamer’s game underneath.

Why do you think that we marketed this game as a "casual/family" game? Our goal with Evolution was to cater to the gamer market with a deep strategy game that has the potential for a tournament scene. As a former a pro-Magic player, this is something near and dear to my heart. In my opinion, Evolution is definitely NOT a family game (though I have been working on a family edition to be released sometime in the future).

TumbleSteak wrote:
My balance (or perhaps playstyle) concern is that carnivores are not as good as they should be at purpose 3: reigning in other players.

Woot! I tested many iterations of this game and I'm glad to hear that Evolution is working exactly as I intended. When Carnivores are powerful enough that they become good at "reigning in other players", the game turns into a diplomatic game (like Diplomacy or Game of Thrones). Those are both fantastic games that that are dear to my heart, but the negotiation and "balance of power" element of those games doesn't work with the theme of Evolution. I worked hard at making Carnivores help reign in the leader a little, but not enough to prompt widespread negotiation. I have played Chess and Magic competitively and I like how there is no negotiation in those games. Although it is very difficult to create a multi-player game without negotiation (unless you turn the game into multi-player solitaire), that was the loftly goal we were shooting for.

TumbleSteak wrote:
Fertile. The most powerful card in the game.

Agreed! This was the most powerful card in the game, and it was too powerful. So we reduced the power of Fertile in the 2nd and 3rd print runs. I'll post an errata on our BGG blog at some point. Subscribe if you want to keep up to date: https://boardgamegeek.com/blog/308

TumbleSteak wrote:
I feel Intelligence is a little underpowered.

I don't agree with this assessment. There are situations where Intelligence is one of the most powerful cards in the game and situations where it is not powerful at all. In most situations, the power of Intelligence is somewhere in the middle. Figuring out the right time to play the card is tricky, and that's the point of the game! Evolution is about learning how to adapt to the changing ecosystem, and how to manipulate the ecosystem to favor your position.

TumbleSteak wrote:
Conclusion
Some of my ideas above will contradict my initial rant about luck of the draw and lack of player interaction (especially some of the event ideas). However, I think there is enough in there that from these ideas some mechanics could be incorporated and balanced into the game to provide further direct player interaction as well as have room for some more loose, fun, and chaotic stuff like events. Any thoughts?

You've got lot's of great ideas. Thanks for sharing. We've been batting around most of these ideas over the past year and a half so hopefully the next expansion will bring out some of the elements that you long to see. Cheers!
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milomilo122 wrote:
The thing we're struggling with in marketing this game is that most people don't realize there are deeper layers of play inside, and so it's getting pegged as lighter than it really is. Any ideas on how to deal with this issue would be most welcome!


milomilo122 wrote:
Re: negative player interaction. We couldn't really include too much of it in the base game because it's a bit of a crossover game that families play and too much negative interaction can kill a game for that market.


domcrap wrote:
Why do you think that we marketed this game as a "casual/family" game? Our goal with Evolution was to cater to the gamer market with a deep strategy game that has the potential for a tournament scene. As a former a pro-Magic player, this is something near and dear to my heart. In my opinion, Evolution is definitely NOT a family game (though I have been working on a family edition to be released sometime in the future).


This is part of the problem right here. You're designing a game for serious gamers but making considerations to still make it applicable to a different market.

In my day job I work in digital marketing and product management which has a lot of parallels to game development. I guide the development of digital products (websites, software, and web services) to find a target market, develop the features wanted by that market, and then find a way to voice the benefits of this product in a way that resonates with the target market.

I've worked with a number of small startups that have a great product but try to be everything to everyone with only mediocre success. Their messaging is confused. Some of the feature sets start to get bloated and unfocused. It's a long journey to convince someone to cut off revenue from a potential stream but as soon as I can get them to specialise and really work to their singular biggest audience the growth explodes.

From an outsider it sounds like a little bit of this is happening with Evolution given Nick's comments about keeping the game family friendly. Have a look at the messaging you're putting out on BGG as well. The game is listed as part of the Family Games subdomain.

Secondly you will be experiencing some teething problems as you are trying to grow your brand to include games other than party games. People familiar with your brand will associate your games with a certain kind of atmosphere and game weight. These perceptions will carry over to your new games. This perception will gradually change as you release more serious games. Another option here would be to create a sub-brand under Northstar. You still want to keep your association with Northstar because this proves that you are a viable company with a solid track record of production and delivery. You could create something like NorthSerious by NorthStar. (Worst Sample name ever)

If I were to hazard a guess I would say that what you were hoping for was a game that would gain critical praise from serious gamers and also sit on the shelves of Target and Walmart like Wits & Wagers and Say Anything. In my mind the level of subtlety and deep strategy in this game percludes it from the Target and Walmart audience. Not many games can successfully straddle this gap. If I were marketing this game I would make a push for the serious gamers market at the expense of the family market.

I would do that by:
Considering a sub brand of NorthStar to release serious games under.
Change the messaging and targeting of Evolution. Remove the family games subdomain. Edit the copy on BGG. The description of the game focuses on how simple the game is. This guides people's perceptions and is likely to make them gloss over the depth of the game. I would change the messaging here to focus on how complex/strategic/interesting the interactions are instead. You can get a little bit of both worlds with something like "Our goal was to design a deep game with a minimal ruleset. We wanted the rules to get out of the way so that the players could instead focus on the deep strategy, card synergies/combos, and the player interaction."

The box art is good for serious gamers. The card art is a little bright and cheerful but still passable in communicating the seriousness (the art quality itself is great btw).

Remove the cartoony silhouettes on the back of the box as it looks too childish for the game.

Include copy on the box art that also describes how good the game is for gamers.

Get the game into the hands of serious gamers. Especially given your Magic background. Get copies of this game to GPs and PTs for Magic players to play inbetween matches. Dominion, Ascent, and Star Realms benefited from this. Find some serious gamers interested in exploring this game in depth and then have them do a review after 20 games. I could recommend Joel Eddy (AKA eekamouse) as a video reviewer.
Communicate that this is a serious game and has some very deep strategy that unveils itself after multiple plays.

This messaging is also easier to address in releasing an expansion. Especially the "Bloody" one Nick mentioned. "By Gamers for Gamers" on the front. This is mean, nasty, and strategic. Survival of the Fittest Gamer. I would add some more player interaction to this expansion. It doesn't have to be negative. Some features also speak more to strategic gamers. For instance adding in a card row you can draft from increases perceived choice and provides foreknowledge of what other players have picked up or might pick up in the future and use that to guide your strategy.

If you want to bounce any further ideas off me business or game wise please send me a GM. Happy to help and to play test.
 
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domcrap wrote:
TumbleSteak wrote:
My balance (or perhaps playstyle) concern is that carnivores are not as good as they should be at purpose 3: reigning in other players.

Woot! I tested many iterations of this game and I'm glad to hear that Evolution is working exactly as I intended. When Carnivores are powerful enough that they become good at "reigning in other players", the game turns into a diplomatic game (like Diplomacy or Game of Thrones). Those are both fantastic games that that are dear to my heart, but the negotiation and "balance of power" element of those games doesn't work with the theme of Evolution. I worked hard at making Carnivores help reign in the leader a little, but not enough to prompt widespread negotiation. I have played Chess and Magic competitively and I like how there is no negotiation in those games. Although it is very difficult to create a multi-player game without negotiation (unless you turn the game into multi-player solitaire), that was the loftly goal we were shooting for.


Very interesting point. I wouldn't want this to turn into a game of "whoever gets bashed up the least wins". An overly powerful gang up on the leader mechanic would make the game vastly different (and uninteresting to me). However, I don't believe it's black or white. There is a spectrum and a balance you could achieve. Currently if you see someone as a clear leader there is very little you can do to react to their strategy. There is no way to counter it. You can only do things to the general food supply (increasing/reducing food added or stealing more from this sooner with traits). Many games allow you to adapt to the leader's strategy by choosing a different one without devolving into a political gang up on the leader game. I would broadly classify ways to react into 3 types: 1) take an action to hurt the leader with no loss to you relative to other moves, 2) take an action to hurt the leader at a slight loss to you relative to other moves 3) adopt a different strategy that is powerful against the other player. Allowing option 1 will make the devolve into gang up on the leader and a political game. Option 2 allows smart players to tactically chip away at a leader at the right times, too much and you put yourself out of contention to a 3rd player, but just right and you can even the gap. Option 2 is good. Option 3 is great and the holy grail. The simplest example would be Rock, Paper, Scissors. My opponent keeps throwing scissors so I should start choosing rock instead of paper.


domcrap wrote:
Agreed! This was the most powerful card in the game, and it was too powerful. So we reduced the power of Fertile in the 2nd and 3rd print runs. I'll post an errata on our BGG blog at some point. Subscribe if you want to keep up to date: https://boardgamegeek.com/blog/308


What change did you make?


domcrap wrote:
I don't agree with this assessment. There are situations where Intelligence is one of the most powerful cards in the game and situations where it is not powerful at all. In most situations, the power of Intelligence is somewhere in the middle. Figuring out the right time to play the card is tricky, and that's the point of the game! Evolution is about learning how to adapt to the changing ecosystem, and how to manipulate the ecosystem to favor your position.


Will you hold on to Intelligence instead of playing it? I occasionally hold onto cards for the next turn but it can be a hard trade off to make when using it to increase population (provided their is adequate food) is worth 2 points (1 for the population and 1 for the food collected this turn). A card that is mediocre in most of the game is to me underpowered. I would rather have a card that is always solid (any of the nice food traits). The low number of cards you have in this game and their value for winning makes situational cards less appealing to me. I think Intelligence would be more interesting if you could spend another resource on it like the Water/DNA I mentioned in the original post.


domcrap wrote:
You've got lot's of great ideas. Thanks for sharing. We've been batting around most of these ideas over the past year and a half so hopefully the next expansion will bring out some of the elements that you long to see. Cheers!


Looking forward to seeing some of this in action! It's also lovely being able to chat with the designer directly! I love how board gaming is so tight knit that this is possible. Thanks Dom and Nick!
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Dominic Crapuchettes
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TumbleSteak wrote:
...From an outsider it sounds like a little bit of this is happening with Evolution given Nick's comments about keeping the game family friendly. Have a look at the messaging you're putting out on BGG as well. The game is listed as part of the Family Games subdomain.


Yeah, we might be a little bit confused about the best way to return to our roots. Evolution was definitely designed for gamers, but I think there are certain gamers that are well suited for our brand, and others that are not. Gamers attracted to teenage angst, excessive violence/gore, and scantily clad women in chain-mail bikinis is a segment better catered to by another board game company. I'd commit suicide before building a board game brand that was offensive to my wife. My goal is to make board gaming approachable to everyone. I hate the image that my favorite pastime has garnered for most of my life (though I think it's changing now with the advent of German style board games and the rise of the geek culture). So yes, the opinion of wives and families are of consideration, but that does not mean Evolution was designed for wives and families. It wasn't. It was designed for gamers. The fact that it is listed in the Family Game subdomain is unfortunate. This was not done by me. It was voted upon by BGG users (and in my opinion, the BGG taken as a whole tends to confuse "lot's of rules" with depth).

TumbleSteak wrote:
Secondly you will be experiencing some teething problems as you are trying to grow your brand to include games other than party games. People familiar with your brand will associate your games with a certain kind of atmosphere and game weight. These perceptions will carry over to your new games. This perception will gradually change as you release more serious games. Another option here would be to create a sub-brand under Northstar. You still want to keep your association with Northstar because this proves that you are a viable company with a solid track record of production and delivery. You could create something like NorthSerious by NorthStar. (Worst Sample name ever)

We have a list of 20+ names that were considered. Meteor Games (AKA meatier games), Sirius Games (or Sirius Star Games), and NorthStar Gold were among the remaining few after we culled the list, but nothing seemed perfect.

TumbleSteak wrote:
If I were to hazard a guess I would say that what you were hoping for was a game that would gain critical praise from serious gamers and also sit on the shelves of Target and Walmart like Wits & Wagers and Say Anything.

I don't think we have any illusions of Evolution getting picked up by Target or Walmart unless we win the Spiel des Jahres and grow the brand for 10+ years. Evolution was designed to gain credibility among gamers in the hopes that some of our lighter games in the future would be embraced by hobby gamers (like King of Tokyo) and then possibly have the chance of getting into the mass market.

TumbleSteak wrote:
I would do that by:
Considering a sub brand of NorthStar to release serious games under.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on what name to choose.

TumbleSteak wrote:
... Edit the copy on BGG. The description of the game focuses on how simple the game is. This guides people's perceptions and is likely to make them gloss over the depth of the game. I would change the messaging here to focus on how complex/strategic/interesting the interactions are instead. You can get a little bit of both worlds with something like "Our goal was to design a deep game with a minimal ruleset. We wanted the rules to get out of the way so that the players could instead focus on the deep strategy, card synergies/combos, and the player interaction."

I love this idea. Help us out!!! We're not marketers by training. I'm a liberal arts major who loves designing games and decided to start a company to pursue my dream.

TumbleSteak wrote:
The box art is good for serious gamers. The card art is a little bright and cheerful but still passable in communicating the seriousness (the art quality itself is great btw).

Remove the cartoony silhouettes on the back of the box as it looks too childish for the game.

You're going to HATE HATE HATE the cover of the 3rd print run. We commissioned art from the card illustrator for the cover (I don't like the current cover of the box - it looks like a computer game). And I changed my mind and decided to put the cartoony silhouettes on the FRONT of the box!! surprise We put so much sweat and toil into all of our games that I wanted gamers to associate all of our games with the same company. Did I just kill our company? Should I go jump of a bridge?

TumbleSteak wrote:
Get the game into the hands of serious gamers. Especially given your Magic background. Get copies of this game to GPs and PTs for Magic players to play inbetween matches. Dominion, Ascent, and Star Realms benefited from this.

Yeah, these games were designed by people who were bigger name brands in the Magic world than me when I decided to leave nearly 20 years ago (though I was somewhere close at the time depending upon the circle). I don't have the pull now to get anything going at Magic tournaments.

TumbleSteak wrote:
Find some serious gamers interested in exploring this game in depth and then have them do a review after 20 games. I could recommend Joel Eddy (AKA eekamouse) as a video reviewer.

Really? Might this be something that Joel Eddy would do?!! I would LOVE for this to happen. I was hoping that Drakkenstrike would do something like that. Here is a link (https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/178409/item/3405499#item3...) to something he wrote several months ago:

"Evolution is a spectacularly designed and developed game, one that is both incredibly simple, yet intricately complex when played with experienced gamers. The games ability to constantly change directions with just a simple introduction of different animal "traits" to ones species is fantastic, creating a really dynamic game of cat and mouse between its players. The balance of Population, Body Size, and Hand/Resource Management is so incredibly well polished and woven into it's theme that it still amazes me at just how much complexity this game generates with just a handful of 20 or so unique Trait Cards and nothing else.

Incredible game, one that does more than most games could imagine with far fewer moving parts. "


TumbleSteak wrote:
If you want to bounce any further ideas off me business or game wise please send me a GM. Happy to help and to play test.

Sign me up! Is there a 1-800 number I can call?!! I'll send you a GM now...
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I really, really, REALLY love that the 3rd print is going to have different box art. It just seemed so weird that the box art and cards looked so different.
 
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That's some beautiful artwork there Dom. Should look great and stand out even if some chumps (like me) think it might slightly confuse the serious and family gamers. Anything you lose in that confusion will be more than offset by how fetching the art is. That should really stand out on the shelf.

I would consider adding a small area of copy on the front cover addressing that it's a gamers game. This could be your words or perhaps the words of a well known reviewer. For instance a little badge that says "By Gamers. For Gamers."
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TumbleSteak wrote:
I would consider adding a small area of copy on the front cover addressing that it's a gamers game. This could be your words or perhaps the words of a well known reviewer. For instance a little badge that says "By Gamers. For Gamers."


Very interesting idea. Unfortunately it's too late for the first print run of 2nd edition.

I'm still wanting to skype with you and Nick Bentley (he's on our marketing team) but I'm too swamped right now with the Flight expansion, starting up a digital division, and working on a tv game show.

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domcrap wrote:
TumbleSteak wrote:
I would consider adding a small area of copy on the front cover addressing that it's a gamers game. This could be your words or perhaps the words of a well known reviewer. For instance a little badge that says "By Gamers. For Gamers."


Very interesting idea. Unfortunately it's too late for the first print run of 2nd edition.

I'm still wanting to skype with you and Nick Bentley (he's on our marketing team) but I'm too swamped right now with the Flight expansion, starting up a digital division, and working on a tv game show.



I'm Nick Bentley and I wanna do this! I'll PM you.
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I love the first edition box cover so much more. I'm glad I got in on the Kickstarter
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It'll be a collector's item!
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I see a young me in you.

All joking aside I know you've read my geeklist about my very similar concerns with the game. I feel very differently about the game nowadays through not only playing several times with the folks at North Star Games but also being able to playtest the upcoming expansion for the game I've seen the process that goes into them creating content for it as well.

I honestly think they feel very similar to you as far as what they want Evolution "to be". They want a rich, deep, varied strategy game with many paths and interactions but they also want it incredibly accessible and streamlined. They ALSO want it to be very thematic. Finding the right balance between all of this is incredibly difficult as you can imagine and they honestly do their very best to succeed and from what I've seen they are accomplishing this.

And as far as luck of the draw; sure, this exists. The last game I played I actually thought I had a shot at unseating Dom but I needed a carnivore in the last two or three rounds to start attacking him and decreasing his board position and I didn't draw one in about 12+ cards. That sucks and it also brought up a conversation after the game about how important the carnivore role is. But Dom wins SO consistently that it is hard to argue there is more skill to the game than luck.

I'm honestly not just sucking up because they've been so nice to me and allowed me to see and participate in something few other people have. I've just interacted with them and this game so much by now I have a much deeper understanding of this company and game than almost any others.

Carnivores are tricky.

These are arguably the most important cards in the game. I believe there are more carnivores than any other card in the deck and even more so cards deal directly with defenses (or overcoming defenses) specifically from being chowed down on by another creature. There is a lot of investment involved in making a carnivore with a large enough body size and collection of traits to ensure its survival. It's almost like playing poker with how seat position matters when deciding what defensive traits to play, when to up your body size, and when to actually play that carnivore.

I think the reason I've still never won this game, besides the fact that I play with Dom a lot, is I haven't learned how to play carnivores properly. I am a very passive player preferring to create sustain chains and very defensive creatures and let the other players duke it out. I can do reasonably well playing this way but I've seen more experienced players like Dom rock the carnivores at exactly the right moment in exactly the right way.

Strong cards

The fact that Fertile only triggers if there was food in the bank from the previous round is what keeps it reigned in, honestly. I've actually always found it a bit of a weaker card. It provides no defensive benefit yet it paints a big target on your species back. It is also self-balancing. The higher the species population, the greater the food tax on the watering hole and eventually it is going to deactivate. Not only that but still only taking one food a turn means that with increased population it is going to take you more trips around the table to feed that species, unless you put something like Long Neck or Foraging on it, which again, means less spots for defending a valuable creature.

And if you think Symbiosis is powerful now I would get your use out of it while you can. Flight cancels Symbiosis in the expansion and most of the people I've played with find it to be a bit of a dead card now.

I've found in the games I play that Pack Hunting is one of the most powerful cards in the game. Pack Hunting Carnivores are hard to avoid, especially if you've already spent resources protecting yourself by increasing body size since body size ostensibly doesn't translate to points at the end of the game. If there is one card I think needs toned down it is that one.

Intelligence can be an incredibly powerful card. It basically ensures a species will be able to feed at the cost of a card. I've seen this used to incredible effect before. The opportunity cost for this card needs to be considered but if a species can't feed you are losing population, one population loss is essentially like losing a card so often the benefit of Intelligence outweighs that cost.

I think the weakest card in the game right now is Defensive Herding. In a vacuum it offers no extra defensive benefit. A carnivore can't attack another species without being greater body size anyway and the only card I can think of that gets around that is Pack Hunting (see above) and Defensive Herding really only gives a marginal benefit against that. By virtue of the Pack Hunting trait that carnivore is going to have a high population anyway.

The only cards, post-expansion, I think are a bit too weak are Climbing and Symbiosis. Since Flight cancels both of these out and they have no ancillary benefits they will probably be played very rarely with the expansion. There's just no way to avoid the threat of a flying species since it is always available to any player.

As for "double-edged" traits Flying itself is a bit of this with the upkeep required before you can feed a flying species. And many of the new traits NEED to be placed on a flying species so by the transitive property they too have this same upkeep.

All in all, the expansion is going to address some of the things you are concerned about and honestly just a bit more playing of the game and really exploring what it has to offer is going to resolve a lot more.

I like really dense games, something this game certainly isn't and I am growing quite fond of it. If I can be converted like that, anyone can.
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soccastar001 wrote:
The only cards, post-expansion, I think are a bit too weak are Climbing and Symbiosis. Since Flight cancels both of these out and they have no ancillary benefits they will probably be played very rarely with the expansion. There's just no way to avoid the threat of a flying species since it is always available to any player.


Here is the wording on the Flight trait that we are going to test today:

Can take food from the Cliffs.
A Carnivore must have Flight to attack this species.
Discard a card: Negate Symbiosis, Warning Call, or Climbing for this species’ next attack.
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That was a great read. Thanks for posting. If I'm ever in the area I'd love to meet up with Dominic and yourself. You sound like great people and great opponents.

Really enjoyed your description of the game. Not enough reviewers talk about games the way I like. Might be time to finally throw my hat into the video review arena. Will have a start with my favourite game Chicago Express and see how I go.

soccastar001 wrote:
I like really dense games, something this game certainly isn't and I am growing quite fond of it. If I can be converted like that, anyone can.


I agree with Dominic that dense does not equal deep. If I ever make it your way, I'll bring Chicago Express with me and play a few games with the both of you. Rules explanation in 10 minutes and greater depth of play than Terra Mystica, Vinhos, KANBAN, Game of Thrones, Here I Stand, or any of the other games I've played with hour plus rules explanations. To me depth comes from player interaction not from a ruleset. It's easy to confuse dense rules as a depth. It is a more obvious puzzle to figure out how a dense ruleset works than to figure out the subtle ways players actions influence other players. So at first a dense game feels deep because it takes you a few plays to learn how to use the mechanics in your favour. But I find the real continuing depth comes from an understanding of how to manipulate the position of all other player's at the table. This is done through interaction. Dense rules only serve to obfuscate these movements and makes analysis of flow on effects very difficult. In a dense game it's hard to analyse the best move for yourself in a vacuum where you ignore the moves of all other players. This is because there are so many options to consider. This makes it very difficult to also analyse other player's positions and how your selected move might impact their decision. I also dislike games that are too open as it is difficult to 1) predict what an opponent will do or 2) make a move that will change their incentives (if they have a plethora of almost equally good options making one worse will not really hurt their position or help you predict where they might go).

In Chicago Express every single move you make changes the incentives of all of the other players at the table. If you build a railroad it 1) makes the railroad more valuable and makes it more likely that someone else will try and get a share of your company. It also 2) puts your company in a better position to cut off other companies now that it's ahead and cause serious damage to their long term profitability. This will make the other player's threatened try and race you so they don't get trapped (they may have to forgo an otherwise strong move that would hurt you to do so). It will make anyone who is also in your company tempted to do a follow up build to block a company that they have no shares in (this will be great if you have no shares in that company as well but you might have to build in a different direction to protect one of your other investments if you have a partner who might block your other company). If you auction a share it changes the incentive structures at the entire table. Have you just created an equal partnership in a company where both players equally split the rewards of advancement? If so they will work together to make that company progress twice as fast and offset any amount you diluted their earnings very quickly. Have you made the share split in a company awkward so that now 1 player gets more than the others or 3 players all get the same amount? Why waste your build actions when you don't get enough benefit on the rest of the table. Watch that company flop until the share structure can be changed again. Develop a town to increase it's value? Companies may now choose to divert their track to hit this city for short term income at the expense of their long term goals. This is a game of puppetmasters. I've one a game with a minimum number of track build actions and just playing a shrewd auctioning game. I've one the game with one share of every company by investing at the right time. I've won the game by tanking a really strong company I was in but an opponent had more shares. I've won the game with a strong single company pursuit. I've won the game with a double or triple company pursuit. I've won the game by ending the game early. I've taken risks and paid higher than normal prices for shares betting on a long game and then used my actions to increase the game length and also won that way. It's a giant sandbox where everything you do impacts other players.

Nice tangent of me btw
Oh yeah, Evolution is also awesome. I want it to get to Chicago Express levels for me. Right now the player interaction is pretty high. However, most of the player interaction is about avoiding other players. Still not many ways to directly impact them. Either to hurt their position or even better to incentivize them to improve yours (my favourite part of Chicago Express is making someone else dance to your tune and build your companies for you). I expect to see some more of this interaction reveal itself after more experience with the base game and the addition of some expansions.

Lastly some more of my related thoughts that I posted on Joel Eddy's recent review are in this comment here.
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domcrap wrote:
soccastar001 wrote:
The only cards, post-expansion, I think are a bit too weak are Climbing and Symbiosis. Since Flight cancels both of these out and they have no ancillary benefits they will probably be played very rarely with the expansion. There's just no way to avoid the threat of a flying species since it is always available to any player.


Here is the wording on the Flight trait that we are going to test today:

Can take food from the Cliffs.
A Carnivore must have Flight to attack this species.
Discard a card: Negate Symbiosis, Warning Call, or Climbing for this species’ next attack.


Played it twice today with the new rules and it was amazing both times. I think we finally found the last lynch to hold everything together just perfectly! I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on Monday...
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domcrap wrote:
soccastar001 wrote:
The only cards, post-expansion, I think are a bit too weak are Climbing and Symbiosis. Since Flight cancels both of these out and they have no ancillary benefits they will probably be played very rarely with the expansion. There's just no way to avoid the threat of a flying species since it is always available to any player.


Here is the wording on the Flight trait that we are going to test today:

Can take food from the Cliffs.
A Carnivore must have Flight to attack this species.
Discard a card: Negate Symbiosis, Warning Call, or Climbing for this species’ next attack.


Have you thought about allowing carnivores with Ambush to attack species with flight? As a thematic element, this is pretty accurate as you often see birds resting on the surface of the water to be surprised by the shark/gator underneath them. It also gives another use for Ambush since it seems to be on the weaker end of the spectrum (it only cancels one card, though Warning Call is pretty potent from my experience).
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