ToysBulletin.com reviews a new type of game from North Star Games.
The Toys Bulletin staff has never played a game anything like “Evolution.” As far as we know, its basic concept and format is unlike any other game around. “Evolution” explores the world of animal species, having players develop their own species, nurture and protect them. The object of the game is for each player to earn points based on the number of surviving species and their corresponding traits, the population of the species and the amount of food consumed by the species. “Evolution” is suggested for 2-6 players ages 12 years old and up.
The game contents include one watering hole board, where available food tokens are stored, 129 trait cards, 24 species boards, 240 food tokens, 48 wooden markers (24 brown-24 green), six fabric food token bags, six player aid cards, a wooden first player marker and a fully illustrated easy-to-follow 12 page rule book.
It should be noted that the trait cards represent the key to developing a successful species. Each species can have 2 or 3 different traits, depending on the number of players playing the game. Certain of the traits will protect a species from harm, like the “Horns” or “Hard Shell” traits, while other traits like the “Long Neck” provides additional food, or the “Fertile” trait allows a species to grow in population. The species can be either non-carnivore (plant eating) or carnivore (meat eating). Each of the trait cards includes not only a description of the trait, but also has a plant food number (ranging from minus 3 to a positive 8) on the bottom right corner of the card.
To set things up, the watering hole is placed in the middle of the table and all food tokens are placed off to the side, representing the food bank. Each player receives one food token bag, one species board (with 1 green marker and 1 brown marker, each placed on the “1” space for population and body size, respectively). Next, the entire deck of trait cards is shuffled and placed face down near the watering hole, and the player who goes first receives the first player marker.
To begin play, each player is dealt 3 of the trait cards, plus 1 additional trait card for each species board in front of them. Both players, at the same time, must choose one trait card from their hand, which will supply plant food at the end of the round. Each player places that trait card face down on the watering hole. The player with the first player marker, and then the other players in clockwise order can do three things on their respective turns. A player can play one or more trait cards face down above their species board, or discard a trait card and get another species board (complete with the green and brown starting markers), or discard a trait card, and move the green (population) or brown (body size) marker up one position on one of their existing species boards. Players must also keep in mind that there are 17 carnivore trait cards available. Species with the carnivore trait cannot eat plant food, so when feeding time begins, the carnivore will have to attack other species for food.
Once the players have completed their normal turn, all played trait cards, including those on the watering hole, are turned face up. It is now feeding time. The numbers on the trait cards on the watering hole are added up to reveal the total food tokens available to eat. Beginning with the person holding the first player marker, and then clockwise, each player must first feed his non-carnivore species. Each non-carnivore species must eat enough food to equal the population of the species. The appropriate food tokens are taken from the watering hole and placed on the species board above the green population track.
Now, the fun really begins, it is time to feed the carnivores. Unfortunately, the carnivores cannot eat plant food from the watering hole, so a carnivore must attack another species to survive. A carnivore can attack another species if his body size (brown marker on species board) is a higher number than the species he is attacking. As mentioned earlier, certain defensive trait cards, like “Horns” or “Hard Shell” may actually stop an attack, even if the body size on the species board favors the carnivore. But, if the carnivore is successful, the population of the attacked species is reduced by one (green marker), and if the population would happen to be reduced to zero, that attacked species goes extinct and the species board is removed from the game. The carnivore can then add food tokens from the food bank (equal to the attacked species body size) to his species board.
Once feeding is completed, all food tokens eaten during the round are placed in that player’s food token bag. However, if a species did not eat enough food to equal its population, the population is reduced accordingly. If a species did not eat any food, that species automatically goes extinct. The game continues with another round and ends when the deck of trait cards is exhausted. Players then determine their total point score by adding up all tokens in their food token bag, plus the number of trait cards they have in play and then adding the total population of all species held. The player with the most points is the winner. A game generally can be completed in around an hour.
Wow, we had a lot of fun playing “Evolution.” Some of the trait cards can really change the game, and when the watering hole runs short of food, look out, species will go extinct quickly. The carnivore factor is critical and can also change the entire game in a round or two. There is strategy in choosing that first card to place on the watering hole (which controls the amount of food that round), and even more strategy in choosing the right trait cards. A player must somehow balance trying to add species, grow populations and gain body size, while somehow looking out for carnivores at the same time. When you think about it, isn’t that what new species must have faced millions of years ago? Somehow, “Evolution” has captured the feel and sense of that time long ago.
This is a must game for your bookshelf, and a perfect family game experience. “Evolution” retails for $54.99 and can be purchased directly from the North Star Games website.