Ever wondered why we grew legs, and not wings? And how amazing it would be if we had wings? Evolution doesn't answer these questions, but it does give us some insight into why.
Life uh finds a way
The only goal in Evolution: to live and to live well. Which in this day and age is still a struggle, but what about a couple million years ago? When we were still using flip phones, and wearing trench coats. I'm kidding, those times only feel a million years ago. But if we go back to a time where only creatures roamed the earth, the definition of surviving comes down to one thing: access to food.
This is where our game of Evolution begins.
You and up to five of your friends surround the only watering hole on the table. Each round you're given cards based on the number of species you control.
The first thing everyone does, is simultaneously add one face down card to the watering hole. Later, these cards will determine how much juicy, flavourful cardboard food tokens are added. But for now, they're cards you'd rather not give up.
The remaining cards in your hand are all creature traits, like Symbiosis, Fertile, and Defensive Herding. Interestingly these traits are all grounded in science, and while some liberties are taken for the sake of game play. You still get an appreciation for the trait and how it would apply to an animal in real life.
Then in turn order you get play these trait cards.
How to make creatures and influence ecosystems
This is where you'll decide if this game is for you.
As while you'll have trait cards, which can be applied to the creatures in front of you. Giving them fantastic abilities like being able to Climb, have Long Necks to reach food, or to just be Fat. You'll also be able to discard these cards to create new species, or increase their body size or population.
Even with all these options, you'll never feel fully in control when playing Evolution. You're always reacting to the ecosystem, and while you may have one or two turns where you'll have a large impact and introduce a carnivore or two. For the most part you'll be a leaf on the stream of life, being pushed and pulled by the current.
This is a pretty accurate picture of how evolution works out in the wild. Creatures don't instantaneously sprout wings, or walk on land for the fun of it, there has to be some reason for the evolution to occur. This comes to life through the gameplay, and for people wanting to learn or teach evolution, then this is a fantastic and interactive way to do just that.
From a gamer's perspective, I flip back and forth between thinking I have enough agency to feel satisfied, and I don't have enough player agency to control the outcome. You're a leaf remember! And in Evolution it feels at times like you're at the whims of the ecosystem, and the cards you draw. It's not a game where you can build towards a long term strategy, or have in-depth thought processes about your turns. Making it a fantastic game for families, but lacking for those of us who want a richer experience.
I can't state it enough
...Building and manipulating the ecosystem is intensely interesting.
You'll find yourself experimenting with it to see what happens when you interact with it. For instance, if all of a sudden I stop putting food in the watering hole, what's going to happen? Who's going to benefit the most? It's these questions and moments where the game evolves into something special, where you can see the lasting impacts of your actions not only on yourself but on everyone else at the table.
This may sound like an oxymoron, as I'm saying you have a lot of impact on the ecosystem, but at the same time calling you a leaf. And it might be, but if you take a step back you'll notice you're not the only one at the table, and while you have a large impact on the environment. So does everyone else. You're no longer in a stream but a washing machine of peoples' actions.
Now for another episode of Dave's Hot Take
I didn't care for the art.
Wait. No. I didn't care for the graphic design. The use of watercolour for the art gives Evolution a unique look, and the pictures of the animals are a treat for the eyeballs. What I think was a mistake was giving each card a border which is also done in watercolour. It's too much. It's overpowering, and bleeds into the card artwork. I'm glad this has been remedied in the follow up games Evolution Climate, and Oceans.
When Evolution came out, in 2014, it would have been a stellar game. It's a system that's somewhat scientifically accurate and wholly novel to board games. However, as a perhaps too serious board gamer I crave more than what Evolution can give me. Which is a void North Star Games has tried to fill with its follow up titles. Which judging by critical reception, has been very successful.
Still in a world plagued of anti-intelligence and anti-science, games like Evolution are needed to push us and more importantly, our children in the right direction. And for that I applaud anyone and everyone involved in the making of Evolution.
If you're looking for a quick and easy way to try out Evolution to see if it's the game for you. There is a very slick app implementation. I've played it quite a few times, and enjoyed it!
Thanks for reading. Visit Roll to Review, where I'm ranking all games I review.