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Subject: Thoughts on Genes rss

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Eric Clason
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In this post I give some of my thoughts on each of the genes in Primordial Soup. These thoughts include how, when, and why a gene might be useful as well as a gene’s strengths and weaknesses compared to similar genes.

Movement I, II, Speed, and Holding are movement genes. They all improve an amoeba’s chance of getting to a space it wants to. Streamlining is an honorary member of the group. It doesn’t directly improve movement, it just makes it cheaper.

Movement I, when moving has choice of 2 die rolls, 3 BP 2 MP
This gene gives a better value (bang for the buck) than any other gene. Its cost of 3 BP is tied for 2nd, only Intelligence (which doesn’t do anything) is cheaper. And Movement I’s 2 MP is less than any other gene. Movement I’s most common use is to increase the chance that a move will be to a space where the amoeba can feed. True, move cost 1 BP but it has the potential to save 3 BP if starvation is avoided, and Movement I increases this chance. Movement I is synergistic with many of the other genes. Any gene, which works better if an amoeba ends his move in some spaces rather than others, is helped by Movement I. These genes include: Substitution, Frugality, Parasitism, Tentacle, Escape, and Struggle for Survival. (If Movement I and Struggle for Survival are both used, the cost is 2 BP to avoid starvation whose cost is 3 BP, so the direct benefit is not that great. But there is also the indirect benefit of another player being hurt.). I’m not saying that Movement I should always be picked when available. I am saying it is seldom a bad choice.

Movement II, may move to any adjacent space for 1 BP, 5 BP 5 MP, advanced gene prerequisite Movement I
If any space next to an amoeba has adequate food, and the player has the 1 BP cost to move, Movement II ensures that the amoeba won’t starve. Of course there are occasions when none of the spaces next to an amoeba have adequate food, no gene or gene combination can guarantee that a player’s amoeba’s will never starve. Movement II is synergistic with all the genes that Movement I is. Movement II is the only advanced gene that is useful without Struggle for Survival being in the game.

Speed, moves 2 twice, 4 BP 3 MP
In one way Speed is like Movement I in that an amoeba gets 2 die rolls to try and move to a space with the content it wants. For this reason Speed is synergistic with the same genes that Movement I and II are. But with Speed you have a chance to get to over twice as many spaces, so it’s highly unlikely that all of them will be bad for your amoeba. If a player wants Movement I, but it’s not available, Speed may work as a substitute. If a player already has Movement I or II, Speed can increase his amoeba’s range. If both Movement I and Speed are available, in most cases it would be better to get Movement I first since it’s cheaper (both BP and MP).

Streamlining, free movement, 5 BP 4 MP
This gene will probably pay for itself (BP) in a couple of rounds or less. Although Streamlining works when an amoeba moves regardless of other genes, it would probably not be worth acquiring unless a player already has or intends to acquire Movement I, II, or Speed.

Holding, doesn’t drift and move with another amoeba, 5 BP 4 MP
Holding is another way for an amoeba to end up on a space it wouldn’t have drifted to. However it works very unlike Movement I or Speed. On the pro side, Holding doesn’t cost any BP to activate and exactly what space an amoeba is going to go to if Holding is used is known before the commitment is made. In contrast, an amoeba has to commit to using Movement I and paying the 1 BP before the dice are rolled. On the con side, other than drift or stay in the same space, Holding only allows an amoeba to go to a space where another amoeba, that started in the same space, is going. This is usually a narrower choice than Movement I gives. In addition the amoeba held on to will eat before the amoeba with Holding. Holding works best if the player’s amoebas go last in phase 1. That way they can grab an amoeba that is either going to a space with adequate food or going to a space where the amoeba can drift to a space with adequate food. If a player’s amoebas go first, he won’t know the drift direction for next turn when deciding whether or not to grab an amoeba. Holding is not particularly synergistic with the other move related genes (Movement I, II, Speed, Streamlining), otherwise it is synergistic with the same genes that Movement I, II, and Speed are except Escape.

Life Expectancy, takes 3 DP to die, 5 BP 5 MP
This gene reduces the cost of a DP from 3 BP to 2 BP. The more amoebas a player has, the more the short term benefit (amoebas already born can take 1 more DP) of Life Expectancy increases its desirability versus Division Rate. Also, given an amoeba can’t be bought back the round that is dies, Life Expectancy’s lower turn over rate may allow it to build closer to the 7 amoeba max more often than Division Rate would. The round Life Expectancy is bought by a player, he will not lose any amoebas to DP accumulation. Life Expectancy is one of the genes that can have an effect (beyond scoring for being a gene) if bought on the last round of the game (if the player has amoebas with 2 DP).

Division Rate, division cost 4 BP, 6 BP 5 MP
Like Life Expectancy, this gene reduces the cost of a DP from 3 BP to 2 BP. The fewer amoebas a player has, the more the short term benefit (amoebas can be built quickly because they’re cheap) of Division Rate increases its desirability version Life Expectancy. Also if amoebas are killed for reasons other than DP accumulation (Struggle for Survival), unlike Life Expectancy, Division Rate still provides its benefit. Division Rate is one of the genes that can have an effect (beyond scoring for being a gene) if bought on the last round of the game (if the player has 5 or fewer amoebas).

Spores, new amoebas are placed anywhere, 3 BP 3 MP
I have seen it happen where all of a player’s amoebas are on one side of the board (this is more likely if a player usually allows his amoebas to drift because he doesn’t have any genes that impact movement.) When this happens there is a high likelihood that there are more meals for his amoebas on the other side for the board. With Spores, this scenario is much less likely to happen to a player. And if it does, it can be corrected more quickly. A player might consider Spores if he finds himself with all his amoebas on one side of the board or as a preventative measure if he is not planning on buying any of the movement genes (Movement I, II, Speed, or Holding.) Spores works well with Division Rate as amoebas are usually bought more frequently.

Ray Protection, protects against gene defects, 5 BP -2 MP
Since this gene does not count for scoring, a player should only buy Ray Protection if he expects that it will save him more BP by the end of the game than its cost. There are 2 ways Ray Protection can save BP. First any turn where the ozone layer thickness would have been less than a player’s total MP without Ray Protection, it saves the player 1 or 2 BP. The following table shows the expected per turn savings from Ray Protection given a player’s total MP without it.
MP BP
6 0.0
7 0.1
8 0.2
9 0.3
10 0.5
11 1.0
12 1.4
13 1.5
14 1.7
15 1.9
16 2.0

The second way BP can be saved is, if the ozone would have been 3 or more below a player’s total MP without Ray Protection, it a can be discarded to save an additional 1 or 2 BP.
When deciding whether to buy Ray Protection it may be important to remember if the 6 and (to a lesser extent) 8 ozone level Environment cards are still in the deck. If a player has an MP total of 12 or above and the 6 or 8 Environment card comes up, he can make back 4 of his 5 BP investment by discarding Ray Protection.

Intelligence, nothing, 2 BP 3 MP
This is the only gene that has a BP lower than it’s MP. That means a player may be better off losing it to radiation in Phase 2 and buying it back for 2 BP in Phase 3 than he is paying 3 BP in Phase 2 to prevent losing it to gene defect. If a player already has his gene combo completed, 6 or 7 amoebas, and he has a couple extra BPs in Phase 3, he should consider buying Intelligence for 2 BP. It will get him at least 1 extra VP, even if it is lost as a gene defect next round. Also towards the end of the game, when genes are bought more for the scoring potential since there is little time left for a gene’s power to be used much, Intelligence becomes more attractive.

Substitution, Frugality, Parasitism, Tentacle, and Struggle for Survival are all eating genes. They increase the likelihood that a given space will have a meal. (Parasitism, Tentacle, and Struggle for Survival have additional effects as well.)

Substitution, eat 1 less color but 2 more cubes, 4 BP 4 MP
A space with the starting 8 food cubes (or 8 food cubes from a death) plus 2 feed/poop actions from 2 different colored amoebas will yield a space with 3 cubes of each of 2 colors and no cubes in the other 2 colors. Since this is not an uncommon occurrence, a player with Substitution will find numerous opportunities to use it over the course of the game.

Frugality, eat 1 fewer cube, 6 BP 5 MP
Frugality is arguably the single gene with the greatest ability to reduce starvation in a player’s amoebas.

Parasitism, eat 1 fewer cube another player loses 1 BP, 6 BP 5 MP
As far as direct benefit to its owner, Parasitism is like Frugality with the drawback that an amoeba of another player must be in the space with the amoeba consuming 1 less food cube. In return for this shortcoming, Parasitism hurts that other player by causing him to lose 1 BP. It might be surprising how often the loss of 1 BP can upset a player’s gene purchase plan.

Tentacle, carry 3 food cubes, 5 BP 4 MP
An amoeba with this gene can eat if the food cubes it needs are in the space it started in combined with the space it ended up in. In addition, Tentacle can be used to move food cubes around to make it difficult for other player’s amoebas to find a space with a meal in it.

Struggle for Survival, Aggression, Escape, Defense, Armor, and Persistence are all related to Struggle for Survival in that if no player has Struggle for Survival (or Aggression which has Struggle for Survival’s abilities) none of these genes have any benefit beyond scoring for being a gene.

Struggle for Survival, eat other amoeba for 1 BP, 6 BP 4 MP
When a player buys this gene, he will find lots of easy prey at first. The other players will acquire counter measures (Escape, Defense, and Armor) quickly though and in a couple of rounds or so, Struggle for Survival’s usefulness will fade a lot. The best time to buy Struggle for Survival is when you are in last place and therefore buy genes last. This should give you 1 round where none of the other players have any counter measures. In addition, if you buy it when you have a low MP total and some of the other players have an MP total around 10 or above, when they buy their counter measure genes, those players will have a significant radiation problem.

Aggression, kill 1 amoeba in Death phase for 1 BP, 5 BP 5 MP, Advanced gene prerequisite Struggle for Survival
Several genes allow a player to hurt another player (Parasitism, Tentacle, Struggle for Survival) but Aggression is the only gene that not only can hurt another player, but also doesn’t directly help the owner (other than towards scoring for being a gene). Aggression is one of the genes that can have an effect (beyond scoring for being a gene) if bought on the last round of the game.

Escape, Defense, and Armor are only useful if another player has Struggle for Survival or Aggression. They are seldom bought until someone buys Struggle for Survival.

Escape, 1 BP to try to move away when attacked, 4 BP 4 MP
Escape cost the same as Defense. But an amoeba using Escape usually has a better chance to avoid being eaten, especially if the player also has Movement I, II, or Speed. In certain circumstances (another player has Aggression) Escape can have an effect if bought on the last round of the game. (This means that if a player already has Escape then Movement I, II, Speed, or Streamlining, can also have an effect if bought on the last round.)

Defense, 1 BP for 50% to stop attack, 4 BP 4 MP
See Escape. The only reason I can see for buying Defense is if there are not any Escape genes left or the player has Persistence. In certain circumstances (another player has Aggression) Defense can have an effect if bought on the last round of the game.

Armor, Immune to Struggle for Survival & only take 1 DP from Aggression, 6 BP 6MP, Advanced gene prerequisite Escape or Defense
Unlike with the other advanced genes, with Armor a player actually loses the ability from the gene given up. With Movement II, there is no need for the Movement I ability. Both Aggression and Persistence include the ability of Struggle for Survival or Speed respectively. However Armor does not have the ability of either Defense or Escape. Against Struggle for Survival this is not important. But against Aggression it would be nice if the Escape or Defense ability could be used in addition to the Armor ability. I’m not saying that a player shouldn’t trade up to Armor. The fact that it’s 100% effective versus Struggle for Survival and doesn’t cost 1 BP to activate means that a player would almost always prefer to have Armor over Escape or Defense (the exception would be if a player had Escape, Streamlining, and Movement II). Just be aware of Armor’s shortcoming.

Persistence, 2nd free attempt for Struggle for Survival & Defense & Aggression, 4 BP 4 MP, Advanced gene prerequisite Speed
Although it’s prerequisite is Speed, Persistence doesn’t do any good unless the player also has either Struggle for Survival, Aggression, or Defense. Persistence does have a lower MP than any other advanced gene. If a player has Speed he may want to buy Persistence just because it provides an additional gene for only 1 additional MP. Persistence is one of the genes that can have an effect (beyond scoring for being a gene) if bought on the last round of the game, if Aggression is in play.
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Joe Grundy
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Nice writeup. You don't highlight (for the "improve your ability to eat" genes) that Managing To Eat = Saving 1 DP. You could make a direct comparison of the benefits of the eating genes vs the benefits of Life Expectancy or Division Rate.
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