DARWIN was an English naturalist, geologist and biologist, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution. He was a very clever and bright man so it is ironic that his name is now associated with evolution in a different, often quite humourous, manner to his lifetimes work towards understanding man's journey from unintelligible cave-dweller to homo-superior where we supposedly are now. Darwinism led to the annual Darwin Awards for the most incompetent humans in the world. This Award is given to humans who have put all sense and sensibility out of their heads when going on to complete an ill-thought out personal mission, generally (or at least very often) resulting in the loss of their lives through their ridiculously erroneous actions. I only mention all this because it is what the title of this new game by Finnish game designers Timo and Tiinaliisa Multamaki. It features the beautiful artwork of Jamie Noble-Frier and is published by Dragon Dawn Productions.
An online definition of DARWINNING! is 'Winning' in a Darwinistic fashion, or on a Darwinistic path. i.e. When you see a really stupid person have something bad happen to them brought on by their own stupidity, Darwin is Winning, and it is a Darwinning occurrence.
DARWINNING! the card game is a Trick-Taking game played over Four Eras of Evolution, with the eventual winner (or Darwinner) being the player who has best evolved to each situation and thus has the largest Population that can inhabit and survive in multiple environments. It is a clever take on a really old card game principle but it isn't as funny as Darwinning or Darwinism. In fact it actually states that it "challenges serious gamers, but also charms the children and plays especially well as a family game".
The copy I have is a Beta prototype that came without the full component package, but of course this wasn't a problem as finding wooden meeples and blocks is never any cause for worry for a gamer. I did have a minor problem with the rules as my printer decided to not want to work, then it refused to print in colour. I finally managed to copy and past the text from the pdf to Word but the computer decided to dump all the text as a continual line / block of text that I then had to go through and painstakingly recreate the paragraphs and sentences. It took longer than expected and thus this preview has taken longer than it should have.
This is more than just a straightforward regular trick-taking card game though. It carries some of the rules associated with trick-taking and some associated with other card games like Whist, Rummy and Poker. Each following player has to lay down a higher or stronger hand or submit by playing any single card hoping that the cards remaining in your hand will be better for you in the next trick.
Before each player is dealt 10 Random cards from the shuffled Deck of Suits (Acorns, Blueberry, Leaf and Flower) 5 Environment cards are removed from the top of the Environment deck and placed face up in a single Row so that all players can see them clearly; the Environment cards show a single hexagonal shape, each with a different coloured background and a specifically different symbol with the bounds of the hexagonal; Wetlands, Underground, Polar, Plains, Oceans, Mountain, Jungle, Highland, Forests and Desert.
There are 10 Player Boards. Each is different from the other and each gives the players slight advantages and disadvantages. These boards are marked 1-10 at the top centre with the number in the plate that sits between the knife & fork cutlery. They should be shuffled and randomly dealt one to each player, being revealed face up once the deal is done. The main illustration on each board is one of the 10 Species (of the game) from Amoebae to Tyrannosaurus Rex. Information on each card is useful to the owner only, each card being different but roughly balanced so that the higher you get from the 1-10 on the Plate (Food Chain) the lesser the other advantages.
When you are dealt your Player Board you should place your Explorer piece onto the Food Chain Track on the number corresponding to the number on your card, on the plate. Player boards also determine how many Population Markers players begin with. There are spaces at the base and top of the Player Boards where cards may be placed to remind you of their effects which are available to you. Environment cards, of which there are 10, are shuffled and a number, according to how many players there are, are placed face up in the centre of the table. At the end of an ERA cards on Player's Boards that match the symbols on the Environment cards in the centre gain Food. Food is important and you need to get it when you can, but this may mean using a card to put off hunger that could have been used for a different and important task; balance in nature has never been more important.
The game DARWINNING! is about playing out your cards in the best possible way to be the first to empty their hand and thus ending an Era. The Start player plays one of the possible card combinations: a Single card, which is worth its face value; Two cards of equal value (aka a Pair), Three cards in a Flush (3 cards from the same suit), Straight - three consecutively numbered cards, Three of A Kind (3 cards of the same value), Three of a Kind - Three cards of the same numerical value. Straight Flush - Three cards of the same suit and in numerical order. Four cards of the same type.
The winner of the first and subsequent Tricks, with the exception of the very last Trick in an ERA, is allowed to take one of the cards that they played to improve their personal Species (playing it on their Player's Board or in one of the available slots). All other cards played by all players in the Trick are discarded. I mentioned the last trick in an ERA as being the exception and indeed it is. Of course you may not always recognise that the last trick is coming because Players do not have to declare how many cards they are holding and the last Trick is only in play once at least one player declares they have no cards remaining in their hand. Players are trying to lose the last Trick as the winner of it gets nothing and all other players are allowed to take one of their played cards to assist in the survival of their own Species. Indeed Survival is the next phase of play, has your Species survived ?
Food is the main requirement of survival; one Food for every Population marker. Not enough Food loses 1 Population marker, but excess Food gains a Population marker. Bite markers are gained unhappily by players whose Species is eaten by a higher ranked Species in the Food Chain whereas the eating Species gains 2 Food for each Species eaten. Multiple Species cannot eat the same Species and some Species may never be eaten because they have a Hard Shell protecting their skin. There are 15 Trait cards as well as each Player card beginning with at least one Trait printed on it - these can be played over if/when necessary. Traits can be obtained from the cards gained by winning a Trick.
Cards gained may be used to Move up the Food Chain, Increase Population, Adapt to an Environment or to Gain a Trait. Traits you already have can be played over by different Traits if you have used all the available slots. If you gain a Trait that you already have you must discard one of them as you may not have two of the same Traits, including those that you started with printed on your Board.
Moving on the Food Chain Track is quite different from any other game I have played, or at least any I can remember. I will use the example from the rules book to explain it. Three players are in positions 1, 5 and 9 on the Food Chain. The Player on space 5 uses a Trait to gain 2 MPs and they spend these thusly. One MP moves their piece to the 7th space, not because 1 MP allows 2 Movement but because the first MP spent moves the piece to the last but one empty space from the next (in this case, leading) piece. The second MP moves the piece from the 7th space to the 8th. If the player on the 1st space also uses a trait for 2MPs they will move to the 6th space (next empty space from the 2nd piece) and then use the 2nd MP to move to the 7th space. This takes a little getting used to and of course the order in which the players take turns to move their pieces is crucial.
Playing DARWINNING! from the printed text rules without pictorial advantage involves a short brainstorming session between the players for the first game to introduce the rules to everyone. Like many of the Finnish games, or games from Finland such as from Arctic Union, the rules are translated to English and are often perhaps a little heavy for quick realisation of what is meant. There are no problems with the rules, in fact the game runs pretty smoothly and efficiently once the rules are understood by all. This is a clever game with more to it than it first appears
All of the artwork is excellent. It is bright and colourful, eye-catching and interesting, with lots of things going on in many of the card art illustrations. The cards themselves I presume will be slightly better quality when the game is completed as being Beta cards they are extremely difficult to shuffle, and because of the edge lines on their flip side it looks as if there is more than one card when you place them face down. Other than these easily sorted adjustments the cards are beautiful in design and clear on description without resorting to any text. The Player boards are quite thin but they are efficient and have the necessary information clearly in pictograms on the top centre and both sides, so although they are likely to be reproduced a little thicker and probably laminated, these more than adequately do the job.