Evolution: The Origin of Species

Dmitry Knorre, Sergey Machin
2-4 (8)
12 - 199
InteractionComponents & Design

Our copy of Evolution – The Origin of Species was kindly supplied by RightGames. Thanks a lot!

Suicide by Evolution
Suicide by Evolution

A few million years ago, the first critters crawled out of the sea and spread across all the land in the world. Some of these critters are our ancestors. If your believes contradict this, then Evolution – The Origin of Species is not the right game for you. Actually, playing the game is perfectly compatible with creationism, but then you’d have to accept the existence of multiple creators that compete for having the meanest, hungriest critter in the world, and you probably don’t want to open that can of worm ancestors. But that’s exactly what happens in Evolution: you, the players, are the almighty creators, preparing your creatures for survival in a hostile environment. Or maybe preparing them to be the hostile environment for other players.

When your critters start out as a face-down card played from your hand they are not hostile to anyone. They are just simple critters without any defence, completely uninterested in devouring each other and generally boring.All they do is eat a single piece of food in the feeding phase. Or starve if there’s no food left. You can play a whole game just having fresh animals like this crawling out of the sea, but then you won’t be having much fun and your opponents will refer to you as snack bar. You’d also be missing the point of the game which is to evolve your animals. You evolve them by adding traits – almost all the cards, when played face up, are traits. The most prominent one, the one that defines the game, is the Carnivorous trait. Making your animal carnivorous opens a very interesting option for you: eat other animals. When feeding time comes around, instead of taking one food token from the supply carnivores may devour any other animal that is not sufficiently defended.

Having carnivores in the game is what makes almost all other traits desirable because they are part of the eternal arms race between predator and breakfast. There are many different kinds of defensive trait, but none of them guaranteed your survival. If your animal is a Runner, for example, you roll a dice and have a 50% chance of escape. Give your animal High Body Weight and it’ll be safe from all those pesky little things crawling around in the grass – but a carnivore with an equally high mass may still bring it down. Camouflage is countered by Sharp Vision. Swimmers can only be eaten by other Swimmers. And Poisonous animals can be eaten like everyone else, but they kill the animal that got them as well. The deck also contains three types of special cards that are not traits. Two of those, Cooperation and Communication, enable one animal to feed when its partner finds food. The third one, symbiosis, makes one animal immortal as long as its symbiont survives – that’s a slightly Star Trek mode of symbiosis, but it works.

The mode of play is as simple as it can be: players take turns creating new animals or evolving their existing ones until all players passed. You don’t draw cards in this phase, so it’s usually over more quickly than you like. When all players passed or have run out of cards, the ominously named feeding phase starts. The food supply is determined by a dice roll and its distribution is almost peaceful: players take turns taking one food tokens and feeding it to one of their animals. Not all animals can survive on that one food token: having High Body Weight adds one to an animals food requirements, as does being Carnivorous. Of course, being Carnivorous means you don’t have to care about food tokens, as long as there are tasty things that will become rabbits in a few million years. Some traits become active during the feeding phase as well: Scavengers, for example, may take some food every time a carnivore kills someone. And if you have Fat Tissue, you can store food for hungry times. All animals without sufficient food at the end of this phase starve – in rare cases it’s worth noting that you can keep your carnivores from starving by eating your own animals.

Feeding Frenzy
Feeding Frenzy

After all your animals did or did not starve, you draw new cards – the more surviving animals you have, the more cards you draw – and go into the next round, until the draw pile runs out. Then, as is usually the case, victory points are counted. Each surviving animal is worth a point, as is each trait . Traits with additional food requirements add the required food as points as well.

Natural selection is a harsh mistress, and it really shows in Evolution: this game is made to be played viciously. If your goal is to peacefully breed your creatures and avoid conflict, then Mr. Darwin would like to have a word. You’ll also be bored. Evolution is build around the predator/prey arms race, so you better race your arms. Another facet of Evolution that may not be popular with everyone is that, quite often, the strong keep getting stronger while the downtrodden dinner remains the downtrodden dinner. The more surviving animals you have the more cards you draw, the more cards you draw the more you can upgrade your animals, the more you upgrade your animals the more they will survive. In the first few games, you’ll feel strongly about this issue, but with a little experience you’ll realise that even a fully armoured T-Rex with laser eyes is not immortal – big animals do require a lot of food, and there are ways to create a food shortage. The leading player still has an advantage, but it’s not hopeless. And it’s very, very satisfying to destroy your opponent’s giant flying octopus on the last turn, just before scoring. Giant flying octopuses are not part of the game, by the way. Making up descriptions and names for your animals is, or at least it should be. I can see no reason not to call my extra heavy, swimming, burrowing herbivore Beaverzilla.

Whenever you can, you should play Evolution with four players: the game is less predictable, there are more potential victims for your carnivores and, most importantly, the risk of one player becoming the food source for the others is smaller. There are rules to play with up to eight people by combining two games. We didn’t have a second game, so we couldn’t test that variant, but my guess is that Evolution should work very well in a larger group: turns are short enough that even with eight people you won’t spend much time waiting and with more players the runaway leader problem is alleviated even more. I know some will want to avoid Evolution – The Origin of Species because of its direct player conflict and generally “negative interaction”, but if you’re not put off by those two things you’ll find Evolution viciously fun.

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