Survival of the fittest
Evolution – a theory which has been causing controversy since someone (you know, the guy from that thing) thought it up. It’s the theory that mankind has developed over the centuries from cave dwelling ape-like folk to the high functioning members of society and sociopathic board game reviewers that we are today. If you ask me, it’s an interesting theory expanding on the “survival of the fittest” viewpoint, but I am also of the opinion that everyone is entitled to their own point of view – especially me.
However, there are always going to be people which don’t agree with any point of view and that is another interesting facet of humanity which evolution has brought us… opinions!
So, I suppose as this point you could be wondering what the point of me waffling on about Darwinian theory is; that’d be the game I’m reviewing for your viewing pleasure. Evolution: Climate.
Evolving the game
The basis of Evolution Climate is that you all start off as a fledgling species trying to survive and evolve to stay alive. Sounds a lot like the everyday struggle right? So how do you go about it?
At the start of the game, you’re given a board to track your species’ success and a hand of cards with evolutionary traits on it. The main aim of the game is to ensure that your species is fed and doesn’t die out by starving or being eaten by another species.
All species start out as herbivores, but with the certain evolution trait cards mentioned, you do have the ability to turn your species into a carnivore. More on this later on.
Evolution is a shining example of using cards for multiple purposes. They can be used to add evolutionary traits to your species and increase your chances of skipping the light fandango for the whole game, but they can also be discarded to increase the amount of animals in your species’ pack, increase the body size of your species, or start an entirely new species. Perhaps most importantly though, one of your cards each turn has to be used to generate food for everybody.
In the bottom corner of each of the cards is a leaf symbol which shows how much food the card is worth. The more food you have in the “watering hole” then the safer your species is likely to be and further away from starving, and the food tokens which you eat are used as points at the end of the game.
The evolutionary traits on each card can have varying effects, but every single one of them is useful. You can have some outright game saving ones such as “fat tissue” where you can store extra food for another turn on your card, thereby reducing the worry that you’re not going to be able to feed your species on a turn, or you can have something a little more defensive such as “horns” or “climbing” which improves your chances of not being attacked and eaten by a carnivore.
Of course, as I have alluded to already, you can make your mystery species a carnivore for a more aggressive game. The carnivore in evolution, instead of being able to eat from the watering hole like the herbivores, has to attack another species to get meat to eat. You can only attack another species if you have a bigger body size than them and their population is decreased by one every time you eat them, so you have to choose your battles wisely.
A round of Evolution Climate is pure simplicity to follow and happens like so:
Deal cards to each player (4 plus 1 additional card for each species they have)
Select your food card and place it in the watering hole
Play your cards (as mentioned these can be used for gaining a new species, increasing your body size or herd size, or used for playing as an evolutionary trait)
Trigger any cards which resolve before the feeding phase
Reveal the Food cards and check for changes in climate
Adjust population if necessary
Add food tokens to the watering hole
EAT! (each species eats one plant from the watering hole or attacks the other players if they’re a carnivore and continue to do so until all of their species are fully fed).
That, in a nutshell is how to play Evolution and as far as I am able to tell, that is the meat and potatoes of Evolution (prime); but what does the Climate suffix add to the game, save for a larger dent in your piggy bank?
On the board which is used as the watering hole is a track showing the current heat and a hot side, and cold side deck of cards. These are placed on the mentioned sections on the top of the cards and are triggered when the temperature hits the right spot. On some of the cards which are used for food, is also a symbol for hot and cold (a sun and snowflake respectively). When you resolve the food cards you need to adjust the temperature accordingly and deal with any effects of the cards if the need arises.
Unlike the evolution cards, the event cards can help or hinder you along your way. Obviously, as the temperature increases, it makes the land much more lush and fertile and so it produces more food… until it gets to scorching at which point everything dies because it’s too hot and nothing can grow. Also, by the same token, once it gets too warm, your larger species start dying off because they’re too big to cope with heat. The same also applies once the temperature starts to drop; it will reduce the amount of available food in the watering hole (a good plan if you’re a carnivore) and the smaller animals start to die off once it gets cold. Once it hits the ice age though, basically everything dies. That tends to spoil any species’ day somewhat.
The card trigger effects can help or hinder you too (mostly hinder from what I have seen though). You can have a heat wave which can add 10 extra food to the watering hole, which is great; but it also kills of 1 population for some smaller body sized species. On the other side of the heat scale, you could have a sudden cold snap which will kill off some of your species, as well as a whole bunch of food which adds a small challenge to the game should it happen.
Evolution or Revolution
I have to admit that Evolution is a game which had been on my radar for about a year or so. I had someone very enthusiastically tell me at a convention about the merits of evolution and that it had been used as part of a university study and that’s what spurred me on to grab myself a copy. So the million dollar question is: Was it worth it?
First, there are a lot of things that I really love about the Evolution: Climate which I feel I need to share. Like Darwin who came up with the theory of evolution, it’s very clever and it knows it. I feel a lot mentally sharper after a game, especially if I have managed to put down a shockingly good combination of evolutionary traits to ensure that my species’ have been well fed and not eaten.
The rulebook (my often time board game nemesis) is ridiculously simple to read and understand and you’re supplied with good quality cheat sheets in case you forget the round structure.
The components; board, cards and tokens are all great quality and would be perfect, were it not for the first player marker.
Oh yes, I couldn’t get through the whole review without talking about it.
Look at it! It’s pretty cool as far as first player markers go, and thematic too; but just crazily over sized. I’m actually tempted to give it to a small child to play with instead of using it as a player marker.
I have to say though that, as with a lot of games, Evolution isn’t perfect though. It is a destroyer of table space for a start. I think that North Star Games knew that this was likely to happen and made allowances for it in the species boards, as you can have them horizontal or vertical if you’re getting strapped for space, but still, it takes up a whole lot of room when you start breeding new species like some kind of evolutionary Ron Jeremy. Luckily, the watering hole/climate board is quite small, but your species will end up everywhere!
Also, the game ends once you have worked your way through a set amount of cards so there’s no rigid set amount of rounds or anything which can end up feeling a little bit vague, and sometimes a little anti-climactic if you suddenly run out of cards because you’re too far in the zone making and supporting your species.
Another thing which doesn’t sit wholly right with me is that the end game win condition being based mostly on the amount of food you have eaten feels a little odd. It is countered by the fact that you score additional points on how evolved your species are; a choice which feels a little more thematic to me, but still a little bit weird.
Evolving an opinion
I managed to play this with my first born which is always a good litmus test on how family friendly games are. When I asked him how he felt about the game once we had finished he said:
“Evolution is good fun, and I enjoyed it. It’s strategic and a challenge. I like it, but it’s not something I could play too often; maybe once every few months”.
I think I must be doing something right, that boy is terribly astute.
My thoughts echo his somewhat too. Evolution is a good game and the climate aspect adds something which would have been a game changer had I grabbed the game in it’s original state. Luckily for those people, there is a conversion kit so you can add climate to your game should you wish, and it is well worthwhile.
Evolution definitely has a space in my collection. It is fun to play and as I mentioned earlier on, it feels rewarding at the end of the game; even if the end game scoring feels a little disjointed. That being said, the facets added to the game by the event cards on the board can add some pretty deep strategy and the choices you’re faced with given which trait cards you’re handed at the beginning of the round can add a lot of replay value. It’s going to take a lot of plays before you have 2 games the same; if you ever do.
Much like my son Eddie, I am not sure that Evolution is going to grace my table all of the time, but it definitely will be gracing my table again. I give Evolution Climate a species scorching, cold snap instigating 7 out of 10. Worth having as a game for a change of pace.
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.