Barnes on Games- Evolution: Flight in Review, XenoShyft, even more Knizia Hobbit stuff

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TEN MILLION DOLLARS. That is how much Dom Crapuchettes is saying that NorthStar Games is investing into Evolution. That’s a lot of damn money to put into a card game. Well, the good news is that it’s a DAMN GOOD card game and one of the best in recent memory. Easy to play but rich with a solid set of scientific/biological themes and with plenty of interaction and depth, it definitely has room to expand. And in the first expansion, Flight, it’s going up. The new flying species add a lot of interesting possibilities to the game and the winged ones need extra food to keep flying. But you can’t score their food.

I really like the add on and I think it’s a must have if you like the base game. Review at No High Scores.

Playing a ton of stuff lately, both solo and with the Gaming by Michael guys.

I’m not reviewing Xenoshyft because it’s my friend’s game and I had some minor input on its design during development (mostly making fun of it and suggesting that he’d never make a dime doing it that way). It’s a very, very cool Starship Troopers-ish “kind of” deckbuilder that has a pretty interesting combat mechanic that speaks to the “meat grinder” theme of battling alien bugs with fleshy human dudes. You buy cards off a display (straight into hand, not discard) and place them into a battle lane- it’s influenced by lane defense video games. You can put gear on them too. If you’re doing multiplayer, any player can play cards to any other player’s lanes. Once everyone is settled, each lane gets four alien cards. You battle each one in succession, with your guys either dyin’ or survivin’. There are instant cards you can play, like “rescue” armor so you can throw a dude a vest real quick to save him or you can throw a bomb at the bugs. If your lane gets wiped out, the collective base gets damaged by whatever is left. And of course, the bugs do rude things like take control of your guys, switch positions, buff each other and so forth.

I really like it a lot. It’s fun, the co-op element is especially cool because instead of just deleting cards from your deck, you pare them out by giving them to other people. I like the resource mechanic, which is really kind of more like Hearthstone in that you just automatically get more Xenosathem (yep) each turn to spend on stuff. And it escalates in three different “waves”, so as the game goes on more powerful  cards become available. So there’s a cool sense of escalation.

Big knocks, however, to the production. It’s cheap and the game shouldn’t be $60 in a sane world. Giant-ass box, which is something I think I’m going to rail against in an upcoming article. Seriously sick of huge ass boxes, especially for card games.

If you ever meet Keren, the designer, be sure to ask him about “Ethereal Contention”. Or that Avatar board game he was working on.

Also have Onirim (“The worst game I’ve ever played”- Pete Ruth) and Sylvion, playing those solo. Really interesting stuff. The product design on these is really nice. Definitely more artful, thoughtful games than usual.

And then Legendary Encounters is still a thing…finally beat the Alien 3 scenario after a couple of tries. Haven’t started going after Alien Resurrection yet. It’s odd, I have absolutely no desire to mix up the sets. I don’t want to have a team of Dallas, Bishop, Call and Aaron 85 doing the Aliens scenario. That would be silly.

Darkest Night also still very hot- it didn’t go over well at Gaming by Michael though, they thought it felt too long. But we kind of sludged through it after a couple of other games, so that could be why. I got the new expansion, so I now have the entire product line. Two part review forthcoming.

On the Minor Reiner front (yes, I think that is what I’m calling this series), I’m playing THE CRAP out of those stupid Hobbit board games that Cryptozooic did for the movies. Well, the first two. It’s a terrific dice game that actually does bring forward some concepts from LOTR. Works great solo, easy and fun with a group because it takes about one minute to explain. I really hate how they released it though, it should have been one release because it is very clearly intended to be one game- but then again, that makes it kind of long. Setup is short, you can knock it out in 20 minutes and MAYBE you’ll win if you use your resources. I can’t beat both of the games put together, I peter out on the third board (out of four). Really good dice game- probably shouldn’t have been marketed as a board game. And it probably shouldn’t have had anything to do with those movies. I got the first one for $10 and the second for $5, so lots of value here. More on these later.

Michael BarnesFollow Michael Barnes Follow Michael Barnes Message Michael Barnes


Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of and as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

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Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #206814 23 Jul 2015 15:26
Will definitely pick up Evolution. It sounds great.
VonTush's Avatar
VonTush replied the topic: #206821 23 Jul 2015 15:48
It was "Meh" for me.
Designed well and nothing fundamentally bad...I"m just getting too jaded I think.
mikecl's Avatar
mikecl replied the topic: #206835 23 Jul 2015 16:58
I have had Darkest Night and the expansion, With an Inner Light, for some time now and what I first loved about it was the variety of characters and their powers. But the more I play it the more I see its simplistic shell. The reason why it's got all these expansions is the game developer kept "fixing" his game with them.

There's not much strategy beyond searching your location. In fact, characters didn't used to move from their locations so they had to make an expansion (Fix #1) with Quests (Inner Light) to give people a reason for moving around. The game is all about searching for keys by rolling 3 or 4 or more depending on the location and it's on a timer to artificially ensure you barely have time to compete it.

The blights are a neat idea, but there's virtually no reason to fight them when you could be searching until they start reaching critical mass and threaten to end your game. I can see why it fell flat on its face in a gaming group. There's few choices and not enough for each character to do. Even solo, it's a frustrating puzzle if the random events and die rolls don't go your way.

In the end, the game made me feel like a hamster on a wheel. If you get lucky with rolling, you make it. If you don't, you don't. Maybe the other expansions offer more variety?
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #206842 23 Jul 2015 17:53
I actually kind of agree with you about the "fix" expansions, which may be the one big ding against it. There are four add-ons, and all of them sort of feel like that- as if development never actually finished. The new one is really significant because it does away with the keys altogether. Instead, you uncover these "mysteries" any time you would get a key and these five you clues as to the whereabouts of the relics. You have to have ten to get one of them. It's MUCH better, IMO, but then you've still got these key icons. And some of the mysteries have key spaces on them to track effects. But in all, it feels like what SHOULD happen is for a second edition to come out that eliminates the keys altogether. But that's not really tenable, or even advisable.

It took me a couple of games to realize a key thing about the game...don't fight the blights unless you just have to. The point of the game, interestingly, is not the usual "battle the bad guys" thing. It's "stay hidden from the bad guys until you are strong enough to fight them. Stealth and searching are more important than combat, and a lot of the characters aren't even combat focused in any way. Last night I ran the new characters- Alchemist, Conjurer, Tamer and Bard. They have SOME combat powers, but they were definitely not intended to go head-to-head with the blights.

It really depends on which four characters you use as to how it unfolds. There's more depth there than just searching the locations, especially once the Necromancer is on your trail and you've got to figure out an escape. The expansion that adds the quests changes things considerably too because it adds some additional priorities other than the main adventure.
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #206851 23 Jul 2015 19:04
i hate being misquoted.

I never said Onirim was the worst game I ever played.

I said it is the worst game I've ever played, in this life and any past lives, or in any alternate reality.

And in the second location, I am heretofore claiming dibs on Darkest Night during the esteemed Mr Barnes' upcoming "Great games I am now offloading like smallpox blankets" sale.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #206854 23 Jul 2015 19:20
Who is to say that all of those games I've sold all of you over the years don't have a little something "extra" like those gifts that Europeans gave to the Native Americans?

I can totally see why you hated Onirim. In fact, I can see why most people would hate it. It is definitely not something everybody is going to like.

Darkest Night will likely stick around since it solos so well and it won't fall into the "someone else I know owns it" or "no one wants to play this with me" brackets.
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #206856 23 Jul 2015 19:25

Michael Barnes wrote: Who is to say that all of those games I've sold all of you over the years don't have a little something "extra" like those gifts that Europeans gave to the Native Americans?

You silly white people!

I can totally see why you hated Onirim. In fact, I can see why most people would hate it. It is definitely not something everybody is going to like.

Darkest Night will likely stick around since it solos so well and it won't fall into the "someone else I know owns it" or "no one wants to play this with me" brackets.

Well, be that as it may, even now that you're making Miniature Market bucks, your need to feed your kids and slaughter racoons will change this fact, maybe. I'm just saying that I'm first in line,
mikecl's Avatar
mikecl replied the topic: #206877 23 Jul 2015 21:47

Michael Barnes wrote: It took me a couple of games to realize a key thing about the game...don't fight the blights unless you just have to.

I agree, but that was my point. They're beautifully rendered. They're an interesting idea, but they're really just another wasted resource although I suppose they restrict player movement, and are of course a factor toward the end of the game, but that's it. Without them being much of a factor, the game needs more than just searching for keys. I guess I'll have to look at the expansion that eliminates the need for this? First I heard of this by the way. Is that the last expansion?

As well until the introduction of Quests which still feels tacked on and can be ignored unless you're using the variant with the Necromancer's Pall of Suffering, you really hardly even had to move.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #206887 24 Jul 2015 01:45
We interviewed the designer of Darkest Nights on the F:atCast a while back.
Grudunza's Avatar
Grudunza replied the topic: #206929 24 Jul 2015 11:09
Evolution was just meh for me, and I was excited to try it, so that was disappointing. But I really need to give it another chance.

Xenoshyft is pretty cool. I traded my KS copy, but only because there's a good iOS version coming soon.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #206962 24 Jul 2015 15:02
Yeah, I was actually going to wait on the IOS version but I found a local seller going cheap in the sales on it, I couldn't resist...a solid IOS version may very well kick it out of the collection. Don't tell my buddy.

On Darkest Night- yes, there is a new expansion "In Tales of Old" that does away with the keys. The blights are interesting because the concept combines physical opposition (monsters) and more environmental/psychological effects. The big impact they have, I've found is that they either a) restrict mobility or b) make it difficult or impossible to park in a location and perform tasks. Now, effects a and b working together in one or more locations often results in tough, risky decisions. I find it really interesting that when you mandatorily fight an "enemy" blight at the end of a turn, all you are basically doing is fending it off. If you want to actually defeat it, you have to spend an action AND lose stealth to take a chance on battle. There are some really neat things going on this game, some subtle design elements that make it more interesting than I expected it to be.
mikecl's Avatar
mikecl replied the topic: #207051 25 Jul 2015 17:29
I missed the part of your post on the Knizia Hobbit games from Cryptozoic. These are actually really well done for a dice game and fun to play. My wife likes them both too which is a bonus.

There's definite strategy at play in how and when to commit resources to influence the odds. And you can keep scaling the difficulty as you get better. Attractive artwork too. I'm guessing they didn't release the third one because the third movie sucked but that's just a guess.