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Steve Carey
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Introduction

Bios: Genesis (BG) is a late 2016 release from Sierra Madre Games (SMG), the same company who has previously brought us High Frontier, Origins: How We Became Human, and the popular Pax series of games, among others.

SMG is known for often being heavy on the simulation side of game design, and Bios: Genesis is no exception. I've recently spent about 20 hours with the game, so let's take a brief overview at how it pans out.

Presentation

As produced, BG is colorful and attractive. The components are functional and everything looks great when spread out on the table. The box is quite small, so it travels well.

Rules

This game is a monumental beast to learn, and then learn again in order to play correctly. Not since High Frontier has any non-wargame been so difficult for me to fathom. Scientific terms are freely tossed about in shocking abundance, frankly being overwhelming at times. Coming in cold, the 2-page Introduction section confused me beyond words, so I recommend that new players merely skip it. There is a lengthy glossary at the back of the rule book, and it's mandatory reading not only for familiarity but also for actual rules of play.

There is a Living Rules file available from SMG's website, with some very helpful clarifications and corrections having already been made.

Further, I'd like to recommend a series of videos posted here on the Geek by the 'GrayBoardGamer' - they serve as an excellent educational and entertaining series.

Sample of the typical earliest planetary locations in which you can attempt to spark life.


Play

Playing Bios: Genesis is extraordinarily fun and engaging, that is once you know what you're doing. Players first try to create life, then sustain it, then expand it, and then finally evolve it. There will be many obstacles in your way, like random events which may contain a multitude of harmful effects such as ultraviolet radition or oxygen spikes. Other players' parasites may attach and pilfer valuable resources from you. Certain portions of the main tableau can be active or inactive on any given turn, so that's something else you'll have to work around. Chances are that many of your life-giving efforts will be for naught, so be prepared for failure happening (and happening often).

But when life does succeed, it's just wonderful - having your bacteria turn into a marine lifeform, and then having that marine lifeform become a terrestial living thing truly feels like a worthy achievement. So while the gameplay may frustrate you, it can also provide rich rewards.

There are a lot - and I mean a lot - of little rules to keep track of every turn (representing 200 million years per). There's layer upon layer of things happening, some of them not obvious at all. I took handwritten notes to serve as reminders, and even then I goofed on more than one occasion. So be prepared to make (and hopefully learn from) plenty of mistakes.

A nice touch here is that bad luck (there's a lot of dice rolling) can potentially be compensated for, which certainly helps.

The best way to learn Bios: Genesis is to set it up and play right out of the box, seeking to understand each step along the way. If you try to read (and re-read) the rules for full comprehension before diving in, probably not much real progress will be made. As strange as that sounds, learning the game from the rules is not what's best here; actual play experience is going to be the best teacher.

Solitaire

BG plays well solitaire - there is no hidden information and some simple solo rules (e.g., an AI parasite) are included. The randomness of events and die rolls will keep you on your toes. The game is so challenging, the lonesome gamer may become addicted to the struggles of early life in the primordial soup.

Once life has appeared, you'll attempt to mutate it in order to strengthen and defend your organism.


What I'd Like To See

The rules font is so teensy-tiny is places, I actually had a use a magnifiying glass. The aid on the back cover was virtually unreadable to my naked eye, so be prepared to squint (or download a larger sized player aid).

The extended-example-of-play contains errors and skips that will leave you shaking your head. I know from past experience that it is incredibly difficult to construct these examples, so have patience and read the section because it does impart some crucial understanding.

If there's a second print run (as well there should be), the two misprinted cards in the game should be corrected and offered to 1st edition owners.

And that unfriendly rulebook... grrrr.

Conclusions

If you're a fan of Sierra Madre Games then you'll know what to expect from Bios: Genesis. Newbies coming in will likely be blindsided by the high complexity and seemingly impenetrable depth that this design has to offer. I've already seen folk initally turn away because the rules are just too much for them, and I certainly can sympathize. Stick with it, just setup the game and play, and there's a good chance you'll uncover a memorable gem of a game.

Accomodating 1-4 players, the design is quite flexible. The game plays well cooperatively, competititively, and solitaire. Playtime generally runs several hours.

This is a mini-monster masquerding itself in a small box. Play value is off the charts, and replay value appears almost limitless. I consider BG to be a terrific bargain at its price level (around $30, give or take).

There is so much to describe about this design, I can hardly begin to do so in the confines of this review. I'll just point out that the joys of discovery are going to be bountiful and fun.

This is an amazingly unique game. Just amazing. Yes, it requires an extraordinary amount of extra effort (and then some) to learn, but what an incredible journey it will be. The design is creative, thematic, and thoroughly intriguing. Plus there's simply no way to avoid educating yourself along the way.

Phil Eklund is a bloody genius - in fact, I'm not even sure that he's completely human. Whatever the case may be, Bios: Genesis is a significant design achievement for this hobby - it may take another 4 billion years or so for a better game to come along on the same topic.

Yup, Eklund has done it again.

Fossil remnant of sulfur-oxidizing bacterium from 2.52 billion years ago. Life without oxygen!
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Jack Francisco
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Yeah, the rulebook style bug the ever-loving crap out of me. When I make game aids for his games, it's with the primary intent of never having to open the rulebook again.
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Filip Lazov
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I completely agree, this game is just amazing.
The rules as you mentioned are hard to grasp at beginning and that is only due to structure, after a game or two things make perfect sense and are intuitive.
Ever since I played my first game I find myself obsessing about this game.

One thing tho, people that have no interest in this theme might not enjoy the game, for me the theme and the way it is implemented is what makes this game shine.

9 / 10 ( rules structure could use an overhaul)
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Excellent review. I am obsessed with this game right now. And to reiterate....the playthrough video series (up to part 5 now I believe) is immensely helpful, very well done and very entertaining.
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Mike Oberly
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The rules for his science-y games just use so much technical jargon, which only obfuscates the actual game rules. I think that it would be easier to sort of divide those rule books in two -- half just explaining the game mechanics, as if the theme was abstract, and maybe the other half going into the science and technical jargon.

I just received this one, and have only glanced at the rules, which do indeed look intimidating.
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Colin Taylor
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Hi Steve,

I had just about given up on this rule book, and then randomly stumbled across the GB video series on Youtube. I've only watched part 1 so far, but it's a very promising set of videos. I gave Dan some feedback regarding perhaps including more information on strategy, such as why he places enzymes of a certain color on a refugium, but as a teaching aid, it works very nicely. The tempo is slow, but for this game, I really appreciate that.

Now, to watch Parts 2-5.

Colin

Edit - Oh, and every day that passes, I regret more not asking you to teach me the game at the HistCon. Doh!
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Tolga CORAPCI
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Phil Eklund's games are the cheapest way to insert a chip into your brain full of information which makes you speak like a specialist on an unusal subject (or as if you're suffering from autisme)to the ear of an average person. It is unbelieveable how he downloads lots of scientific (or simply chellanging)information to the aspiring boardgame player (against a small price of 1% "artificial unreal catalyst" to transform them into a game).

Disecting the two (the game and the information)from each other is a dangerous matter: The first is a sedimentary equation of "dice + player choice = VP", the second makes your date run crying!

Keep them together and you have a didactically entertaining game.

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An important part of manual writing is to know your audience. If you're not writing for biologists, don't use terms normal people will not understand. I cracked this manual open to make a mod on Tabletop Simulator. I stopped and ran away. I don't know if I'll come back, but your review does make me reconsider.
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Colin Taylor
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broken clock wrote:
An important part of manual writing is to know your audience. If you're not writing for biologists, don't use terms normal people will not understand. I cracked this manual open to make a mod on Tabletop Simulator. I stopped and ran away. I don't know if I'll come back, but your review does make me reconsider.


Seriously, take a look at the video series Steve mentions. It's a lot of time commitment, but probably still shorter than trying to read the rule book (believe me, I've tried that approach already). I think the videos will help me a lot.

Colin
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Rafał Kruczek
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ColintheFlea wrote:
broken clock wrote:
An important part of manual writing is to know your audience. If you're not writing for biologists, don't use terms normal people will not understand. I cracked this manual open to make a mod on Tabletop Simulator. I stopped and ran away. I don't know if I'll come back, but your review does make me reconsider.


Seriously, take a look at the video series Steve mentions. It's a lot of time commitment, but probably still shorter than trying to read the rule book (believe me, I've tried that approach already). I think the videos will help me a lot.

Colin

I bought this game on Essen Spiel on Thursday. Then played demo on Saturday , and on Sunday I spent whole 8h ride home trying to decode manual and fit missing pieces to get whole image.
Now several weeks later and two unfinished tries later I'm feeling that I 'm approaching understanding of the game mechanics.
But my first reaction in confrontation with manual was "WTF of the decade".
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Kenton Henry
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Sir Turquine wrote:
Phil Eklund's games are the cheapest way to insert a chip into your brain full of information which makes you speak like a specialist on an unusal subject (or as if you're suffering from autisme)to the ear of an average person. It is unbelieveable how he downloads lots of scientific (or simply chellanging)information to the aspiring boardgame player (against a small price of 1% "artificial unreal catalyst" to transform them into a game).

Disecting the two (the game and the information)from each other is a dangerous matter: The first is a sedimentary equation of "dice + player choice = VP", the second makes your date run crying!

Keep them together and you have a didactically entertaining game.



Absolutely! When you're forced to learn the real terminology while you learn the rules you can't help but learn explicit and implicit things about the subject. Phil's games are better than a college course for making obscure information stick in your brain.
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Mihnea Cateanu
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Steve Carey wrote:
Coming in cold, the 2-page Introduction section confused me beyond words, so I recommend that new players merely skip it. There is a lengthy glossary at the back of the rule book, and it's mandatory reading not only for familiarity but also for actual rules of play.



Great advice. That introduction makes no sense, at leat for anyone who isn`t a molecular biologist. It took me 4 attempts to try and learn the game, then I decided to just skip the intro. And it can be learned, most of the science stuff is in footnotes so easy to skip. And the scientific terms` meaning gameplay-wise is in the glossary. I followed Phil`s advice and played a simple first game (no Red Queen, parasites, macroorganisms, Foreign Genes) and it`s not that hard to grasp in this way.

My personal advice: if you want to play a learning game solo don`t use the solo variant (the parasite AI just adds extra complexity) play a competitive game (or at least half a game) with 2 colors, leaving the parasites out.

And if you`re interested in the subject matter I very much enjoyed and recommend a book called The Origin of Life by Paul Daviesmeeple
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Steve Carey wrote:
Coming in cold, the 2-page Introduction section confused me beyond words, so I recommend that new players merely skip it.
+1.
Normally, I expect the introduction to give a top-level overview on what the game's about.

In the case of Bios:Genesis I felt it only served to obfuscate the matter. I'm glad I chose to ignore it and just forged ahead.
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senorcoo wrote:
Yeah, the rulebook style bug the ever-loving crap out of me. When I make game aids for his games, it's with the primary intent of never having to open the rulebook again.


They're very appreciated, FYI.
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Mark Turner
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After (eventually) getting through the rules, this game felt somewhat random to me.

Choose a space, roll dice, if you roll your number good, if you don't you suck. Add to that some random deus ex machina effects which may or may not kill you stone dead.

My first play gave me the impression that there was a lot of complexity here for not much game, but ma happy to be otherwise educated!

I did admire its scholarship.
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Blake Cetnar
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I just got this kickstarter delivered today. I was a little surprised at how small the box was. Boy was I blindsided. I opened it and found the rules. Almost 70 pages. 70?? Am I seeing that right? Yup. 70 pages. Holy crap! My other half starts noding off if you try to explain a game that has a rule book more than 10 pages. There is just no way she will make it through this. Even I might have to break up this reading session into a couple of days. But there is yet another problem. I get the impression this game was created by scientists ... because you need a flipping microscope to read the size 3 font the rule book is printed in. Will have to see if there is a copy on pdf so I don't go blind trying to read this thing. If I can, and I can manage to read through the whole thing, will post more here.
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Dom B.
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Topgun505 wrote:
you need a flipping microscope to read the size 3 font the rule book is printed in.

Yes, see here.

There is a (non final) pdf of the 2nd edition rules in the Files section, and you can find the Living Rules on the Sierra Madre Games website.
 
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Adrian Hague
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MikeOberly wrote:
The rules for his science-y games just use so much technical jargon, which only obfuscates the actual game rules. I think that it would be easier to sort of divide those rule books in two -- half just explaining the game mechanics, as if the theme was abstract, and maybe the other half going into the science and technical jargon.

I just received this one, and have only glanced at the rules, which do indeed look intimidating.

I disagree.

We don't separate the 'technical jargon' such as 'orc', axe' and 'dungeon' in other games because these are very common tropes that people understand.

You can't blame Phil for producing games with non-standard tropes.
'But people are not familiar with the science!' you may retort. This may be true, but caveat emptor, some due diligence is beholden to the purchaser to ensure the theme is to their liking and comprehension.

We all know what 'orcs' and 'trolls' are, but try teaching a dungeoneering game to your parent/ grandparents and you would see a similar reaction as the reations some people have to Phil's games.
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