Recommend
90 
 Thumb up
 Hide
9 Posts

Bios: Megafauna» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Bios Megafauna: Eklund Learns to Speak Euro rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Cole Wehrle
United States
St. Paul
Minnesota
flag msg tools
designer
badge
"Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation"
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Disclaimer: You will not find a rules summary within this review.

Welcome to the Jungle

A little over a year ago I found myself in an expansive game shop in Austin, Texas. I had just moved from the Mid-West to attend graduate school at the University of Texas and was eager to get a sense of the local gaming scene. To say the least, I was impressed. The game store itself covered a wide range of genres with an apparently even hand, almost refusing specialization. Additionally, the back room swarmed with gamers gleefully playing games that carried that same catholic scope. Among the groups I watched several players engage in a pirate game, which, when set against the sleek components of the other tables, seemed laughable. Little folded tents marked sugar mills and fleets, and small hand cut paper cards crowded around the tiny board. I’ve never been that enchanted with a nice set of components and so the game’s rudimentary appearance seemed bold and beckoned me. The game was Phil Eklund’s 2006 game, Lords of the Spanish Main. I sat speechless for an hour as I watched the story of the 17th Century Caribbean unfold with immense detail. When I expressing some interest in the designer, one of the players pointed me to different table where another of his games, Origins: How We Became Human was in full swing. Little did I know I was witnessing a cosmic aberration: two Eklund titles were being played at the same time, in the same place. A few hours ago I had hardly heard of this man and now I seemed to be surrounded by acolytes. Origins pulled me in with the same force of the other title and my mind eagerly soaked in the plethora of information that littered every component.

I promptly plucked copies of some of his games off the shelves and gleefully biked home to explore them. The rules were dense, heavily footnoted affairs, and I’d be lying if I said they were easy to learn. Nevertheless, undaunted, I assembled a few friends together to give the games a spin a few weeks later. To my surprise, they were incredibly easy to teach. Once understood the concepts were remarkably easy to convey to the other players and soon the turns flew by and we reenacted the birth of human consciousness and high jinks in revolutionary Mexico. Moreover, long after the games were packed away my friends and I continued to discuss the stories they told and the world our little counters, cubes, and tents, represented.

You might then imagine my eagerness when, a couple of weeks ago, a package was placed at my door. Eklund’s first entry in the Bios series had arrived.

Bios: MegaEuro

The Bios Series provides space for a revamp of some of Eklund’s earlier titles as well as some new ones as well. When stitched together all the games will attempt tell the story of life on earth from before it existed, till after it leaves. Along these lines, Bios: Megafauna is a redux of Eklund’s earlier American Megafauna. American Megafauna is a much more expansive, marathon of a game which, though covering a similar area, takes between 3 and 4 times as long to play. Despite its fans, AMF’s new edition had languished in the pre-publication queue of a company which did not seem to have the time to give the title justice. Several fans interested in a potential new edition, including myself, shot out emails asking Eklund when a new edition might crop up. He responded by bracketing production of the series chronologically first title, Bios: Genesis, in order to redevelop AMF.

Anyone who plays Eklund’s games chronologically will surely note the growth of "European game mechanics" in his later titles. And, unsurprisingly, Eklund was clear about his desire to make AMF more accessible through a greater abstraction with these tricks as well as a totally new, professional set of components. On these counts Bios: Megafauna delivers. The card, counter and map design are fantastic. Though I’ve got some qualms with choice of typeface, and layout, this is easily one of his prettiest games and holds its own in today’s marketplace. Though it might not carry the dense (overwrought) graphical motifs of most modern game graphic design, Eklund rightly opted on the "science textbook" look for his game. What other choice could possibly fit without anachronism a game whose turns represent two million years? Additionally, Eklund gives his players wicked cool meeples that come in eight varieties (four different mammals and four different dinosaurs) which represent different animal families. These little wooden trinkets will likely provide a big draw to those who are not enchanted by Eklund’s other graphical choices, and it certainly helped me convince many prospective players to give the game a shot. Eklund also deserves considerable praise for picking a box of the correct size to hold his game’s components. Everything fits snuggly, with just enough room for printed copy of the latest set of rules.

Not that the game’s original rules are bad in execution, mind you. By Eklund’s standards I think these rules measure up nicely to the high standards of Lords of the Spanish Main in clarity. I did miss the High Frontier style glossary in the back but I understand that deep, informed footnotes are necessarily a selling point for everyone and the game does include some very nice notes as is. However, despite these strengths everyone purchasing this game needs to be aware of the living rules. Thankfully I had been stalking the discussion on the yahoo group for several months as was aware of a couple of changes that were made shortly after the game was printed. Principally (for those of you reading who don’t have a copy of the living rules) is the addition of the action, "Roadrunner Club," which allows the phasing player to pay two genes to the leftmost card on the display and then advance on one of the roadrunner tracks. This nicely smooths the effects of poor display draws which otherwise stall the game. Not that poor draws don’t happen on occasion. Any group worried about card draws might easily come up with a representative selection of cards for the era decks to insure a limited number of catastrophes and the like but we’ve found that such atypical draws tell interesting stories in and of themselves. In a recent game a spell of poor draws whittled down the number of biomes to perilously low numbers and earth nearly became both hothouse and snowball in the same game.

You say you want an Evolution?

Though I’ve previously alluded to the scope of this game, it bears repeating. Bios: Megafauna is epic on a scale unparalleled by any other game I’ve ever played. Though it may not be as long as Empire in Arms, or as detailed as ASL, Bios: Megafauna simply dwarfs the competition (even among games like Dominate Species). Every single action in this game represents a cool two million years with each card draw illustrating the passage of ten million years. A prospective buyer might rightly wonder how, given this scope, the player could represent anything of value within the game. In this game the players themselves nominally represent different animal species grouped into families by their placeholder cards. Throughout the game they will start new families and come to guide a whole range of animals through their evolutionary history. However, it might be easier to think of players as representing rational action and the passage of time itself. Like many of Sierra Madre Games, Bios: Megafauna demands that players understand the rules that created the world as we know it and must act within their boundaries. Species that have prospective feeding grounds will expand in that direction. There is of course room for strategic play, but such considerations work beneath the surface of the game’s central story arc which seems to characterize such clever play into a moment of historic chance.

Speaking of clever play, evolution games generally misrepresent the process of evolution by transforming the acquisition of traits into a RPG style level bonanza where, in the end, super creatures wander the earth, unable to be stopped by any circumstance. Eklund dodges this in two ways. First, the game operates with a closed currency where each "dollar" represents genetic diversity. DNA augmentations are paid to the selection of random mutations on the display with these "genes." This keeps the players roughly at par with each other’s chances of scoring a useful mutation. Secondly, overspecialization is a recipe for disaster. Throughout the game various catastrophes will hound creatures with a litany of DNA traits, encouraging players to keep it simple and establish a diverse range of species. Furthermore, the more specialized a family is, the more of its tokens must be used outside of the biomes, which limits its expansion e.g. your super advanced and culture dolphins may have achieved every cultural bonus but they’ve only got enough pieces left to be in one bio and when victory points roll around, they aren’t going to be able to match your ubiquitous husking sloths in the fossil record.

Of course, those culture spots will give you a bonus in final scoring. But, like other Eklund games, timing the explosions and collapses is at the heart of the game. Don’t be alarmed with a catastrophe wipes out half the map; know that those destroyed biomes will ossify your species and ensure that critters immortality within the fossil record.

After the Quake

When I packed up for my winter break at home, Bios: Megafauna made the cut. Despite, or perhaps because of its theme, the game has managed to pique the interest of many who had little curiosity in board games in general until they played this game. Simply put, this game deserves a general audience with the scientifically inclined minds. The last few weeks have seen numerous plays with a very diverse set of gaming groups. Just last night I played a three player game with my fiancée and her mother and we had a blast trying to survive a very hostile Earth. While it does require some effort to learn, it can be a pretty easy game to teach. I find it’s best to start with the goal of population growth, then describe what a biome is and who can live there, then move right to the actions and use them to explain the different types of DNA and the other facets of the game. Don’t bother to talk about acculturation or even predator/herbivore contests until the first few rounds have passed and they become more relevant. The replayability is unbelievable. Though certain parts of the game are scripted, the diversity of biomes and cards allow for a tremendous range of worlds and creatures. Additionally the possibly of a linked mega game with Origins and High Frontier should be a big draw for anyone curious about a way we might have gotten to be who we are today, and where we might be going.

I’ve long been interested in the proto-discussion around games as a communicative art form, and I’ve thought hard about reading the games of designers like Martin Wallace as "texts" in the critical sense. But if anyone deserves a critical treatment it’s Eklund. His games are explicit statements that provoke debate and learning. Bios: Megafauna has a lot to say about evolution, it’s true, but it also speaks to the power and scope of the game form and it’s a message worth listening to.
  • [+] Dice rolls
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
flag msg tools
badge
Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Quote:
Disclaimer: You will not find a rules summary within this review.


Thumbed for this alone. Wonderful review! I've played once and really want another go soon.
11 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Andrew Laws
Canada
British Columbia
flag msg tools
designer
"I play to win, as much or more than any egoist who thinks he's going to win by other means. I want to win the match. But I don't give in to tactical reasoning as the only way to win, rather I believe that efficacy is not divorced from beauty."
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Cole Wehrle wrote:
However, despite these strengths every purchasing of this game needs to be aware of the living rules. Thankfully I had been stalking the discussion on the yahoo group for several months as was aware of a couple of changes that were made shortly after the game was printed.


This can't be emphasised enough.

I really enjoy High Frontier and Bios Megafauna and the sheer scope of Eklund's ambition can't be faulted. I have a feeling that one day he'll produce a true masterpiece.

However, the fact that several rules that fundamentally change how Bios Megafauna plays were added to the living rules after release really do make me wonder..



7 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Cole Wehrle
United States
St. Paul
Minnesota
flag msg tools
designer
badge
"Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation"
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
HarlemMimeSchool wrote:
Cole Wehrle wrote:
However, despite these strengths every purchasing of this game needs to be aware of the living rules. Thankfully I had been stalking the discussion on the yahoo group for several months as was aware of a couple of changes that were made shortly after the game was printed.


This can't be emphasised enough.

I really enjoy High Frontier and Bios Megafauna and the sheer scope of Eklund's ambition can't be faulted. I have a feeling that one day he'll produce a true masterpiece.

However, the fact that several rules that fundamentally change how Bios Megafauna plays were added to the living rules after release really do make me wonder..



I think its clear that Phil designed this game under serious pressure (he is after all transitioning between jobs and countries). It could have certainly used a little polishing but it had to be out by Essen. Regardless, those changes in the Living Rules do dramatically polish the game.

Also thanks for inadvertently helping my proofread this review--it too was written in haste.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Chuck Parrott
United States
Wilmington
North Carolina
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
I'd like to point out that the rules changes don't 'fix' anything broken per se, they lessen the blunt force hammer of chaos and randomness that the game can have at times. Many of the game elements are decidedly slanted towards the fact that species evolved and died off due to no other factor than pure luck and the unstable nature of the cosmos in which we live. Makes for great simulation, but maybe not so great gaming sessions at times.

So I think the 'pressure' was players wanting more decisions and less simulation. The game will play perfectly fine out of the box, but your players will need to accept that sometimes the game will just give them lemons and very little hope for winning. Or you can add the optional rules being discussed for more player control and balance, but less of a story of evolution. Fortunately for us, Phil is one of those rare designers that will easily accept changes to his game AND publish those changes to make the game fun for anyone regardless of where your taste towards games falls.
15 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
yegods
United States
Campbell
CA
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
this is VERY true. I have had a terrible experience with Bios Megafauna, and I really wanted to like it. But the randomness was just merciless. My quick replay of the game for me and another player is: grab a DNA, put dino out, die, repeat (alternatively, no DNA available that I can use, pass. Never had two dinos on the board until the very last turn. Ended with 3 victory points, while the leader had over 30. Left a very big distaste in my mouth, that I can't quite shake.

Better luck next time, I guess. Except, with that kind of ebbs, not sure I would ever play again.

cparrott wrote:
I'd like to point out that the rules changes don't 'fix' anything broken per se, they lessen the blunt force hammer of chaos and randomness that the game can have at times. Many of the game elements are decidedly slanted towards the fact that species evolved and died off due to no other factor than pure luck and the unstable nature of the cosmos in which we live. Makes for great simulation, but maybe not so great gaming sessions at times.

So I think the 'pressure' was players wanting more decisions and less simulation. The game will play perfectly fine out of the box, but your players will need to accept that sometimes the game will just give them lemons and very little hope for winning. Or you can add the optional rules being discussed for more player control and balance, but less of a story of evolution. Fortunately for us, Phil is one of those rare designers that will easily accept changes to his game AND publish those changes to make the game fun for anyone regardless of where your taste towards games falls.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Cole Wehrle
United States
St. Paul
Minnesota
flag msg tools
designer
badge
"Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation"
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
yegods wrote:
this is VERY true. I have had a terrible experience with Bios Megafauna, and I really wanted to like it. But the randomness was just merciless. My quick replay of the game for me and another player is: grab a DNA, put dino out, die, repeat (alternatively, no DNA available that I can use, pass. Never had two dinos on the board until the very last turn. Ended with 3 victory points, while the leader had over 30. Left a very big distaste in my mouth, that I can't quite shake.

Better luck next time, I guess. Except, with that kind of ebbs, not sure I would ever play again.



I think this feeling of helplessness is elemental. Any game on this subject with any more top-down control would be an exercise in creationism.
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
yegods
United States
Campbell
CA
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Cole Wehrle wrote:
yegods wrote:
this is VERY true. I have had a terrible experience with Bios Megafauna, and I really wanted to like it. But the randomness was just merciless. My quick replay of the game for me and another player is: grab a DNA, put dino out, die, repeat (alternatively, no DNA available that I can use, pass. Never had two dinos on the board until the very last turn. Ended with 3 victory points, while the leader had over 30. Left a very big distaste in my mouth, that I can't quite shake.

Better luck next time, I guess. Except, with that kind of ebbs, not sure I would ever play again.



I think this feeling of helplessness is elemental. Any game on this subject with any more top-down control would be an exercise in creationism.


I can definitely understand the desire to remain true to the science (especially for Phil), but it just doesn't make a very fun game if you're on the unfavorable side of the randomness.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Cole Wehrle
United States
St. Paul
Minnesota
flag msg tools
designer
badge
"Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation"
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
yegods wrote:
Cole Wehrle wrote:
yegods wrote:
this is VERY true. I have had a terrible experience with Bios Megafauna, and I really wanted to like it. But the randomness was just merciless. My quick replay of the game for me and another player is: grab a DNA, put dino out, die, repeat (alternatively, no DNA available that I can use, pass. Never had two dinos on the board until the very last turn. Ended with 3 victory points, while the leader had over 30. Left a very big distaste in my mouth, that I can't quite shake.

Better luck next time, I guess. Except, with that kind of ebbs, not sure I would ever play again.



I think this feeling of helplessness is elemental. Any game on this subject with any more top-down control would be an exercise in creationism.


I can definitely understand the desire to remain true to the science (especially for Phil), but it just doesn't make a very fun game if you're on the unfavorable side of the randomness.


That can be true. Often in Phil's games players in poor positions must either enjoy the general story or live vicariously through the other players, hah.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.