EVOLUTION from NORTH STAR GAMES
Designed by Dominic Crapuchettes, Dmitry Knorre & Sergey Machin. Artwork by Catherine Hamilton, Kurt Miller & John Ariosa
EVOLUTION is a 2-6 player game where the players find new Species and do their best to keep them alive by advancing their growth in the world. By growth I don't mean just size, although there are times when size matters, but how large the Species grows, whether it can get enough food and how the Species evolves physically. The actual Species are represented by fairly deep thick plain rectangular cards with 6 round spaces amd two sets of six small square holes. The round spaces are there to hold food counters and the 12 holes are where wooden markers are placed as the Species grows in size and population. Players begin with one Species card, 2 wooden markers, no food counters and three Trait cards for their hand plus one Trait card. The reason this isn't noted as 4 Trait cards to start with is that players are always dealt 3 cards at the start of each Round and then they get one extra card for every Species card in front of them. Trait cards have several things going for them. If placed abov a Species card then that Species gains the Trait on the card. This could be a long neck, horns, harder exterior body shell, the ability to gather more food or even to make the Species a Carnivore and thus in need of meat as food. Meat often comes in the form of your own or other players Species.
Each player has a reference sheet/player aid that has the definitions of each Trait card plus the game phases and order of play. On the back of these six folded sheets there is a list of Scientific Names, three have Traits, Prefix & Suffix and three have Traits, Genus and Species none of which actually means anything in the gameplay; they are there only if you want to have a bit of fun and name your Species. It would have cost a little more in production but it would have been fun if these name options had been on separate small tags so that you could set the name atop each new Species (a bit like how you can name your characters in Guardians Chronicles from IELLO). The Player Aids are useful but you quickly don't need them as the rules are simple.
Species mainly eat Grass or Green food unless they are Carnivores in which case they only ever eat meat, never Grass. Food is shown on the counters, Grass one side, Meat the other. A few Trait cards give meat but mainly if you are going to make your Species Carnivores you should build them up in Population and Size so that they can attack other Species and eat them. One Species generally has to have certain Traits (one being Carnivore) and be larger to attack another. There are several good things connected to carnivorous activity; one is that you can attack your own Species, so basically growing your own food, two is that by attacking other player's Species you may eventually make one extinct ( a Species goes extinct when its population drops to below 1) and this means that the Species card is removed from in front of its owner and the owner loses VPs. A neat touch is that at the end of each round, after all Species have been fed and population gained or lost, the food eaten by your Species - even those that were attacked and/or made extinct, goes into your own personal sack and counts towards your VPs at the end of the game. This is good because it means you don't spend time building up a Species only to have it attacked, killed off, and you get nothing for it; there is a reward for evolution.
NORTH STAR GAMES are not known for this type of family strategy game being best known for the fun game "WITS & WAGERS" so it is good to see them branching out into an area out of their regular comfort zone and coming up with such an enjoyable and clever game first time. The quality of the game is excellent throughout, though (being picky) I would have liked the art on the bags to be a little brighter. The pastel colouring is really cool and the illustrations are neat I just think that they aren't doing themselves or the artist justice being so pale. The publishers have added a huge wooden dinosaur piece to be the first player token. This piece could be seen as being totally unnecessary because a cardboard token would satisfy the need just as well. However being such a large model it is a focal point that draws players towards the game and thus it performs another function making it instead quite a valuable part of the game.
The card artwork is amusing and practical, the rules booklet is short and well aired thoughout with large text, colour, lots of illustrations, and an easy to follow set of simplistic rules; you really can't go wrong with them. Players have a number of cards at the start of each round and they can use these in various ways. One way is us cards to "buy" a new Species card, another way is to place them above the Species cards thus allocating that specific Trait to the Species - though only 3 Trait cards may be given to a single Species so don't just do it without thinking. Cards are also used at the start of the Round to determine how many food tokens will be available. Each player places a face down Trait card onto the Water Hole and when the time in the turn comes all cards on the Water Hole are turned over and the food numbers (in the bottom right of the card) are totalled and that many food tokens placed on the Water Hole. In turn order going clockwise each player takes one food token - at this point no meat tokens may be taken only Green - and places the token on one of their Species. They may never place more food than they have population, which is why players should be looking to grow their population when they can.
Any Species that doesn't have enough food to feed its current population loses population (move the marker backwards) until the marker stops under a food token. If there are no food tokens for the Species then the Species dies out completely. Although the rules are simple the game really does represent Evolution very well. The stronger (usually) survive, the weaker die or get eaten by the stronger, and those that evolve to match their situation, such as grow horns or tougher skin, or have lots of babies so their population is many, will last longer than most other Species. The game is clever, intuitive, has a little bit of rivalry, allows for some sort of working together and is fun to play.
At the end of the game each Food token in your bag is worth a VP as is each Trait card on surviving Species plus your get VPs to the value of the population of each Species you own that survived. EVOLUTION is pleasant and playable, two traits not on any of the Trait cards but just as necessary to make it a good game.
On our first game, several games ago, we somehow misread the rules, and we cannot for the life of us understand how we managed to do this. We thought that you could only do each of the card Actions only once each per turn. This isn't correct as you can play out your cards doing the actions in any order until you decide to stop. If you don't use all your cards you keep them until the next Round and if all the Food Tokens aren't removed from the Water Hole then you have them to add to those added for the next Round. Saving cards for the next Round can mean you get better options but it also means you may not have built up your Species with the Traits available and thus perhaps not given that Species the necessary protection. Since that first game we have played many times with different players of all ages and have yet to hear a disparaging word about EVOLUTION; It is a cool, fun game and we like it a lot.