Evolution Kickstarter Preview

[This post is not a review, but a preview for a game currently funding on Kickstarter. There may be differences in art, components, or gameplay between the version I played and the version that eventually gets released.]

If you are reading this it is very likely that you have heard of publisher North Star Games. They have put out some of the best party style games on the market, including Wits and Wagers and Say Anything. As of this posting, North Star is...evolving itself by venturing forth into the realm of strategy games.

Evolution is a light-medium card game that puts players in charge of raising and evolving several different species or animals with unique traits that will hopefully help them to survive and thrive. 

Gameplay is pretty straightforward. In the first phase of a round, after being dealt 3 trait cards (plus one for each species she has), each player must discard a card for its food value. These cards will be revealed later during the feeding phase and will determine how much Plant Food will be available for the round.

Next each player (in turn order) can play as many trait cards from her hand as she wishes. At this point, these cards have 3 possible uses.

 - Play the trait card as a new trait that will modify a species a player already has
 - Discard the trait card in order to start a new species
 - Discard the trait card in order to increase by 1 a species' Population or Body Size.

After each player has played as many cards as they wish (players can hold cards from round to round), play moves to the Feeding Phase.

The trait cards that were set aside in the beginning of the round are revealed, and a number of food tokens are put into the "Watering Hole" according to the total of all the revealed cards' Plant Food numbers.

In turn order, players will feed one of their hungry species. The omnivores can take Plant Food from the Watering Hole, and carnivores can attack other species to get their food. After each species can't eat anymore (because there is nothing left in the Watering Hole or because the species has eaten a number of food equal to its population),  some upkeep occurs.

This species was unable to eat 3 food to match its 3 population, so its population must be reduced to 2.

Species that were unable to eat food equal to their population have their population decreased to match the amount of food it was able to eat. Any leftover food in the Watering Hole is left for the next round and any eaten food gets put into each player's food bag (which is the main source of points at the end of the game). Any species that didn't eat any good goes extinct. 

There are some neat combos to be found in the trait cards.

Play continues in this way until the deck of trait cards needs to be reshuffled. Once this happens, one more round is played, and plays tally their scores. Players receive one point for each of the following:
  • each food token in her food bag
  • each trait card on surviving species 
  • each point of population on each surviving species

Evolution is a game that really surprised me. After reading the rules and glancing at some of the cards, I was really not expecting much before my first play. It seemed very simple and I honestly did not think I was going to enjoy my time with it. I was wrong. I would put Evolution in one of my favorite categories of games - super simple to learn and play, and loads of fun to experience and enjoy. 

One thing that I did not enjoy about Evolution (regular readers of mine can probably guess what's next...) - is that because it is a card game, the luck of the draw can give some players a negative experience. For example, there are certain trait cards that protect against attacks from carnivores. In order for a carnivore to counter some of these cards, they themselves have a have a specific trait. On the flip-side, omnivores can be sitting ducks without those defensive traits. Not drawing the trait you need can be pretty frustrating. The good thing about Evolution is that there are plenty of options for players to put unwanted cards to productive use. 

Something along the same lines that I really like about carnivores attacking in Evolution is that as long as the defending species' population is healthy, being the victim is not all that detrimental. Sure, you lose a little bit, but honestly the biggest thing I was worried about when being attacked by carnivores was that by being unable to defend the attack, I was unable to keep the attacking species from eating (and thus, going extinct - bad for opponents = good for me).

My absolute favorite thing about Evolution is just how thematic is feels to me for such a simple card game. Throughout most of my plays of the game, carnivores didn't show up until the mid-game. This was really fun to see. In the beginning of the game, there is usually plenty of food, and not many species yet, and as the players were feeling each other out, everyone was playing nice and remaining peaceful vegetarians. As the game goes on, however, the food at the Watering Hole becomes more and more scarce, as the game becomes more and more populated by hungry vegetarians. Species that can eat other animals appear as a natural consequence of both the food shortage and also by the presence of fat, tasty leaf-eaters. 

North Star Games has made a name for itself by putting out some of the best party games available. After playing the prototype of Evolution, I can confirm that their first foray into the realm of strategy games has not been a misstep. I absolutely recommend checking out the Kickstarter page and backing North Star Game's campaign in order to get a copy of the game. I have had a lot of fun with the game even in its prototype stage - I can't wait to see what the final version looks like on my table. Just like Wits and Wagers, I can see this title being played for years to come. 

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