Hi and welcome to the first article in the Let's Play blog series. Through these articles, I will be trying to encapsulate the essence of a board game, whilst running through a few key mechanics and giving my gods honest opinion on whether it rocks or flops.
I will be kicking it off with a game I first played at Essen in 2014: Evolution. In this game, you will be adapting your species to try and survive an ever-changing ecosystem, and ultimately have the most successful species on the board.
Well that sounds rather easy doesn't it, especially since at this point we haven't explained the rules, so without further ado lets do a breakdown.
At the start of the game, you will be given one species tile. These tiles show the body size and population of each species, as well as indicating how much food that it has - and believe me, this game is all about feeding! As you can imagine, to continue to survive you will need your critters to feed, and the food tokens are also the game's main source of victory points. Each round, if a species has not claimed enough food to meet their population some of them will bite the dust and if they received no food, well then they will go extinct and we all know how that plays out.
To prevent extinction you must evolve your creatures. Each turn you will receive 3 trait cards plus an additional one for each species you have in play. The interaction of these cards are the core of the game's mechanics, as they are representing traits that your species can gain as well as having a food number. This number will be the amount that it contributes when played into the primordial pool.
Once you have all drawn these cards you will then pick a card to play into the pool, to create the plant food for this round and then each player, in turn order, will use their hand to evolve or create new species. This might be discarding to increase a species population, which denotes how much food they can eat, increasing their body size to help scare off predators, discarding to create a new species tile or by playing the cards face down as traits on one of their creatures - of which each can only have 3.
After this, all traits are turned face up and feeding begins! As I eluded to earlier this is where the game heats up, as each player will take it in turns to do a feeding action for one of your species. Either a single tasty leaf or a chunk of flesh! For carnivores that action will need to have a higher body size than their prey, after all, relevant trait cards are considered, and they will take meat tokens equal to the victim's body size.
The traits you have played on your species will decide which of these it will be, with all species starting as herbivores. The first carnivore will soon shake up the game as everyone panics to get defensive traits into play before the carnivores can eat their precious population. You will continue this cycle of play and discarding cards until the deck of 129 trait cards is diminished, at which point you will reshuffle the discard pile if necessary so that each player has a full hand.
You then proceed to play the final round, and that's where all the core mechanics, interaction between your creatures and the other players is what makes the game a little more complex. but the game itself is very straightforward. Scoring at the end of the game consists of each player getting points for the amount of food their creatures have eaten, the population level of each of your species and the number of traits you have in play.
Thoughts on Evolution
Evolution plays in around 60-90 minutes and takes up to six players. You may be thinking that since it mostly involves the trait cards, there are some overpowering combos and if so isn't everyone going to be running the game creatures?
The box quotes '4000' combinations of traits and there are certainly enough ways to evolve that you are unlikely to have duplicate species on the board. In regards to power plays I haven't encountered any through our 8 games. Certainly there are good combinations but each can be overcome by an opposing trait and the random drawing of trait cards makes it uncertain if you will draw into what you are hoping for. The placing of your tiles is also important as with planning you can create some awesome symbiotic relationships between your species, ranging from warning their neighbouring populations of danger or helping them to feed.
The greatest thing about evolution is how organic and thematic it feels! Your creatures go from small amoeba to towering carnivores and you see the food chain forming as you adapt your species to the world around them.
My only grip is with the trait cards artwork, which I personally find to be rather dull! However I don't see this as an issue as once you start playing cards to evolve your species, your imagination will soon take over. You might even say that had the cards been too vibrant it would not have allowed your imagination to get so involved.
The real testimony to this game's theme and mechanics is the endorsement and coverage given to it by Nature journal, which is one of the worlds most prestigious scientific annals, and the use of the game in Oxford classes to undergraduates by the article's author.
If playing board games to enthuse people about science is not a great idea I don't know what is!!!
In conclusion, Evolution is a good game, not only for gamers but also for kids. It says 10+ on the box and I would agree with this. Perhaps this is the next step in combining teaching and board gaming.
Personally I hope so, more people playing more games and learning at the same time only benefits us and our hobby.
That's all for today, I hope you found this article enlightening and will take a plunge into the primordial pool, you certainly wont come out the same. Don't forget that Evolution is also available through our online store!