Saturday, 3 September 2011

Evolution: The Origin of Species

Plays: 2Px2, 3Px1.

The Game

This is the other review copy that I received from Right Games, also a card game, but this one much less abstract. You create animal species and evolve them to gain new traits. You try to keep them alive until the end of the game, which is when the card deck runs out, and they'll score points for you.

Every round you get to play as many cards as you want. A card played face down is a new species. If you tuck a card under an existing specie, you are adding a trait. There are all sorts of traits, most helping your species to survive, some hurting others' species.

After everyone has played cards, food abundance is randomly determined, and then players take turns claiming food to feed their animals, until either all animals are fed or food runs out. Any animal not fully fed dies.

The most interesting part of the game are the traits. You can make an animal carnivorous so that it can eat another animal, even your own. You can give your animal camouflage ability, so that it cannot be eaten by a carnivore, unless the carnivore has the sharp vision trait. The fat tissue trait lets an animal store food for future rounds. The big size trait makes an animal vulnerable only to big carnivores, but it increases the food requirement by one. Some traits are played between two animals, e.g. the symbiosis relationship lets one animal protect another, but the symbiont must be fully fed before its dependent.

Box cover on the left. The game box is the slide open type.

You create a new animal specie by playing a card face down, i.e. using a card that you don't plan to play as a trait. After an animal is created, you tuck trait cards under it.

Some traits are shared by two species. If either one goes extinct, the trait is lost.

As the game progresses, some animals starve, some get eaten, some develop many traits. Those that survive till game end score points for you, for the animal itself, the traits, and any increased food requirements. So although increased food requirements make it harder for your animals to survive during the game, they give points at game end if your animals survive.

The Play

I've played two 2-player games against Michelle, and a 3-player game against Han and Allen. It was fun to breed super animals. We used the Parasite card a lot. This is a card that can be played on your opponent's animal to force it to require two additional food. It often results in the targeted animal dying of starvation.

In the first game I was the victim of a number of Parasite cards, and never caught up for the rest of the game. In both the 2-player games that I played, once a super specie was created, it became quite impossible to beat, and it does seem easier to create super species in 2-player games. The 3-player game seems to be more interesting, because the two trailing players can try to gang up on the leading player. There is less risk of a runaway leader. In the 3-player game, Han did quite well most of the game, while I struggled. Both Han and Allen liked being carnivores, so the game was quite vicious. In the early game, both Han and Allen experienced total elimination of their animals, which meant they could start anew by being dealt 6 cards. I struggled with 1 animal most of the time, which meant I could only draw 2 cards every round. We had a few droughts (i.e. low food availability), which killed off many animals. One happened in the second last round, and killed one of Han's strong animals. That was such a sudden and hilarious twist of fate. Because of this drought, I won the game with my single animal specie.

Michelle, sitting opposite, had three carnivores!

My super specie on the left. Traits cannot be repeated, except for Fat Tissue. My animal on the left was so fat that "Yo Momma's so fat" jokes definitely apply. Both my animals had the Hibernation trait, which let them not eat. However this trait could not be used in consecutive rounds, and also not in the final round. Else it would be over-powered.

The Thoughts

The many traits in the game seem daunting at first, but once you understand them, they are easy to remember and they make sense. It is fun to evolve your animals to try to survive. There's a constant race between hunter and prey in trying to outmanoeuvre each other. The uncertainty in food availability creates much tension. It's a brutal survival game.

Despite the many colourful traits, I think the strategy in the game is not really that deep. It seems the best strategy is to create one or two super species. This is harder to do with more than two players, and the game will become more fluid. Parasite cards are very powerful and can unbalance the game, but I think similarly with more players, the luck factor reduces because of the possible ganging up to bring the leader back in line.

I think Evolution is best played with casual gamers. It is a fun experience and is also very thematic. The luck element is a little high for it to be taken too seriously as a strategy game. It should be played as a light game. This game has a magical spark. It's just fun to watch the ecology created during the game and to see how animals mutate through evolution. It's also fun to laugh at how many precious animals get killed by one bad die roll. Both Han and Allen immediately liked the game after their first play.

If you are visiting the Essen game fair in October this year, Right Games will be at Hall No. 7, Booth 7-05.


Paul Owen said...

Now this looks like an intriguing game. The mechanic of evolving species and counter-evolving predator and prey to stay ahead of each other is fascinating. I get the impression that the problems of luck and runaway leader are more significant in the two-player game but tend to balance out with three (and probably more) players. This one has really piqued my curiosity. I'd never heard of Right Games before, so this write-up was very helpful. Thanks for the nice review!

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I think Right Games has been publishing games in Russia for 9 years, and have been quite successful. I wonder whether they'll be partnering with any publisher or distributor in USA or other parts of the world. They have been sending out review copies to many bloggers. Hopefully they'll get more publicity and their games will become more widely distributed.

J.Y said...

wow this game looks really cool! creating your own species! Would really consider getting it if it had more depth/replayability.. Not really keen to spend money on light/filler games :P

Moonglow said...

the expansion Evolution: Time to Fly may add some further depth, but it looks like its going to be about a year before its available in English - well, Right Games say that they will translate their new games and expansions over the next year.

I think the games price point is going to affect its market entry too; Right Games has it listed on ebay for $30 US (+$8 shipping). Considering the grumbles 7 wonders has faced for its pricing - which in the US would be mostly with free shipping - it would seem that Origin of the Species is going to have to offer a lot more than an interesting theme and mechanic to establish a strong fan base outside Russia...


Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

i didn't know the price is $30. that is a little pricey if purely looking at the components. i don't have any problem with the components or artwork, maybe except for the food tokens being rather small, but i can imagine some won't be happy with the components given the price point.

if purely looking at gameplay, i'd say it's a pretty fun game. definitely not a heavy game, or even a medium weight game, but not a mindless filler either.

i wonder whether Right Games will be able to work out some arrangement with distributors outside of Russia so that the game prices would become lower for gamers in other countries.