Full disclosure, I really don't enjoy the full version of the game. The idea is great-evolving your critters throughout to avoid being preyed upon and maximizing the amount of food you get each turn. Should be a winner, but goodness I find it tedious. So imagine my surprise at seeing this one at Target and it appearing to condense the experience into a 30-minute game. Does it deliver?
What's the point?
In this game, you are really trying to maximize the amount of food (ie VP) you get each turn by carefully making sure that you a)grow populations of creatures you currently have, b)evolve them so that they are defended from predators, and c)occasionally go after other players' creatures or even your own for points. It's all really calculated risk and reading the table, fun stuff.
How do you play?
Each player does the following on their turn: put out two food at the old watering hole for your herbivorous creatures to eat, take the top card and place it face down to represent a new species, draw three cards, play those cards to their creatures in various ways, and then feed from either the watering hole or other creatures.
In the card play section, things get interesting as you can use those cards to either grow populations of existing creatures by placing cards face down, create new ones by placing cards face down, or for their printed abilities ("traits") to make creatures either herbivores or carnivores with different abilities (max 3/population). Herbivores eat at the watering hole or from the reserve, carnivores eat other animals (yours, other players', or even from the same carnivore stack if we played that right). All eating results in points that go in your point sack. If you can't feed a creature, it loses a population. Herbivores primarily get one point for feeding, carnivores two. Lose all population in a stack, and that creature is extinct. If someone attacks and kills off one of your species, draw new cards for each card played to that creature (max 3). Run through the deck, take one last turn, score it up.
What do you think?
A success. This game distils the distinctly Euro-feel of the original, with everyone taking part of their turn and then moving to feed at the end, to each players' turn. Streamlined to say the very least, and that's a great move for this game. Turns feel like you have a lot of choice in trying to min/max your food haul each turn, and making decisions as to whom to feed feels both meaningful and intuitive-can't grow too fast without a means of getting fed.
I really hope more cards come out for this game in the future. It comes with a micro-expansion or preview for the full game that I thought was an interesting touch (as this is a gateway to the full version). I'll stick to this one for now, but more cards would be a lot of fun to have and keep the streamlined version alive longer.
In short, I'd say go get this game for your next game night. It's relatively inexpensive (I got mine for $21 at Target) and it's a welcome addition to the collection.