A to Z Gaming: Evolution

We helped some new species develop the traits needed to survive in the harsh world in Evolution, the next game in our A to Z game-shelf play-through.

Basic Info: Evolution
Players: 2-6
Time: 60 Minutes
Designers: Dominic Crapuchettes, Dmitry Knorre, Sergey Machin
Artists: JJ Ariosa, Giorgio De Michele, Catherine Hamilton, Kurt Miller, Jacoby O’Connor
Publisher:  North Star Games


In Evolution, players make and adapt species to survive in a food-strapped landscape. Traits like scavenging, cooperation, or horns can help species gather more food or fend off carnivores so they can grow in size or population and survive.

The game is set up with the watering hole in the center of the table. Each player receives a single species with population one and size one and a bag to hold their food tokens. The trait cards are shuffled and each player gets four to start – three cards plus the number of species they have. The start player is chosen randomly and given the start player marker.

Each round, players first get new cards and choose one to play secretly to the watering hole. The cards all have a number in the lower right corner (inside a leaf), which represents food that will be made available later in the round. However players don’t know how much will be available until later.

Players then determine how they will play the rest of their cards (or not – no need to play them all) – the possible actions are: playing a trait on a species, with a max of three on any given species, or discarding a card to create a new species or to increase the size or population of a species. These actions are revealed all at once (unless you want to play the slower version of the game – which isn’t a bad idea, at least for the first few rounds, if you or some of the players are new to the game).

The cards in the watering hole are then revealed and the numbers in the lower right totaled up. That many food tokens are added to the watering hole – this represents the vegetarian food available to species that round.

Then, starting with the start player, everyone takes one food at a time until their species are full-up (to their population number) or until the food is gone. During the phase, players have the choice of taking a food from the watering hole or using one of their carnivores to take one population from a species they are able to attack. In fact, by the end of the round, the carnivore *must* attack a species to fill itself up, even if a player has to attack their own species.

After everyone has finished feeding their species, they first adjust the population of any species that wasn’t fully fed, then take their food from that round and put it in their bags. On to the next round!

When the trait deck is depleted, discarded cards are shuffled just to get everyone through to the end of this round – the last round. At game end, players get one point for the population of each species, one point for each trait on their species, and one point for each food in their food bag. The player with the most points wins.

I love the puzzle of determining how to protect my various species while maximizing food. For example, I could make my leftmost species symbiotic with the one on its right…and as long as I keep the one on the right bigger, that leftmost one can’t be attacked by a carnivore. Then if I make one cooperative as well, they both get food when that cooperative one feeds. However, how to protect the one on the right? Maybe make it burrowing, so that once it has fed, it can no longer be eaten? Or give it horns so it will take out a carnivore if attacked?

Then there’s the question of how much food to put in the watering hole at the beginning of the round. Maybe my “7” food is on my best trait, but the trait I’m willing to give up is a “-1” (yes, they can be negative!). Will I be able to feed all of my population? Can I get mine fed while shutting someone else out?

There is quite a bit of player interaction – between the carnivores and watering hole – but also opportunities to just concentrate on your own game. I like that balance. And there’s always a tension, wondering who will create the first carnivore species…maybe it will be you, but have you made a carnivore large enough or with the right traits to eat? Or will you end up eating your own species? Or killing off your carnivore by accident?

I Kickstarted this game back in 2014 – in fact, it was the first game I ever backed on Kickstarter. Please don’t ask how many I’m on now. I was drawn to the game for the theme and the art, it’s a bonus that it’s a great game.

How is it as a 2-player game?  Evolution is okay as a 2-player game, but much, much better with more players. The game has a couple modifications for 2-players: forty random cards are removed from the game – I assume this is to keep the game from lasting forever – and the max number of traits each species can have is two. I believe the second modification is to keep players from being able to make their species impossible to attack.

With just two players, when one player makes their first carnivore, the game becomes very combative. It feels more balanced if you can spread out the carnage.

How about the art and component quality?  I love the art – the various animals depicting the traits on the cards is gorgeous. The watering hole is great quality cardboard and the design beautiful (though the food tokens get lost in it). I love the start player marker (the wooden dinosaur) – the Kickstarter version came with a plastic dinosaur, but I really like the wooden one better! Even the food tokens are great – good quality, and thoughtful art. On one side there is a leaf or fruit, and on the other is a leg of some sort for the carnivores.

Will this stay in my collection?  Yes – we like this one. It doesn’t come out often, but we enjoy it when it does.

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