North Star Games, $39.99
Board games are great at combining education and fun, and Evolution is a terrific example of why. This card game gives two to six players a chance to take part in natural selection, helping their species evolve over time.
The game aims to mirror the real-life process of natural selection. Each player gets a species board on which they track their species’ population and body size. The games proceeds in rounds, and during each round players select trait cards that list possible evolutionary changes, like a hard shell, a long neck, the ability to cooperate, the ability to ambush others, and so on.
To start each round, players put a card in the middle (by the watering hole) that determines how much plant food will be available. Then they play their cards, either adding new traits to their existing species, creating a new species, or increasing their species’ size or population.
Then you move to the feeding phase. Players take the available plant food until no species need any more, or until there is no more food left. But some species—like carnivores—don’t eat plants. They attack others, reducing that species’ population, in order to eat. And some species stock up food even when they aren’t hungry, leaving less around for others. All of that means there is competition for food. If a species doesn’t get enough, it loses population.
The game proceeds until you run out of cards. At that point, you count up how much food your species’ have eaten (which is how evolutionary biologists often measure how successful a species was!), how big your population is, and how many traits you developed. The player with the highest score wins.
We played Evolution one afternoon. Here’s what we thought:
Ivan Ross, Media Coordinator: All right, good people of Marketing. We’ve played Evolution. Discuss.
Elizabeth Simmons, Website Administrator: I’m a fan since I won.
Matt Hartman, Content Manager: I’m embarrassed by how much joy I got out of becoming a climbing, pack-hunting carnivore that could decimate all of your herbivores.
Evan Owens, Social Media Specialist: If you’re going to play this game, make sure you’ve carved out a good chunk of time because it can take a while to figure out the rules and how certain cards interact with each other. Once you get a grasp of how the game is played and how you should play it, it’s a lot of fun.
Ivan: Yes, the game really turned around for the better once we started playing correctly. (Sorry for leading everyone astray!)
Matt: I do think the game does a good job of condensing the basics of evolution and natural selection (or what I know of them!) into a relatively simply board game.
Ivan: And yes, for first time players, you’re likely to play a card that is essentially worthless. Live and learn. Evolve and learn. Evan quickly learned that intelligence is not necessarily a great trait.
Matt: The parts that are complex—like how all the different traits interact—are that way because there are so many options, just like real life. Or Ivan trying to cooperate and then immediately getting killed by a carnivore.
Ivan: A carnivore named Hannah.
Hannah, Marketing Staff Specialist: IMO it is more beneficial to be an herbivore.
Ivan: If we were to play a second time, things could change. In this case, there was always plenty of food to go around. In future games, the watering hole might dry up. But then Simba would come back into town and save everyone.
Evan: I’d say there’s also a touch of economics in there too, with trying to balance a large population size (in order to increase your final score) with having to gather more food, which can become scarce during the game.
Ivan: John Kane is smiling somewhere right now, and he doesn’t even know why!
Elizabeth: I like that the game develops over time. Matt’s addition of another carnivorous species changed the strategy I had developed to protect my herbivores. I began considering new traits in order to maintain my population.
Ivan: It’s a game that takes patience. Before you devote a bunch of valuable trait cards to a species, you have to consider your position at the table, who else might be able to attack you, how much longer the food supply will be plentiful, etc. Lying in wait and holding onto your cards until the right time can really pay dividends.
Evan: It reminds me a lot of Gloom in terms of game play, with the whole “keeping an eye on what everyone else is doing because it could immediately mess up what you’re trying to accomplish” thing.
Ivan: Yes. And as in Gloom, storytelling could potentially be a part of this game. Matt at one point wondered aloud what his pack-hunting, tree-climbing carnivore might look like and how it might live.
Evan: Which sent us down a rabbit hole about chimpanzees and their sometimes terrifyingly aggressive, borderline sociopathic behavior.
Matt: See, educational and fun! Especially if you’re playing with someone whose job is to read and share weird news stories.
Ivan: Do you all think this game is appropriate for the youngest TIPsters? (I ask because of how relatively complex it is, not because of the sociopathic chimpanzees you might end up talking about.)
Evan: I think so. Provided someone can *clearly* lay out the rules, I think our youngest TIPsters will catch on and eventually enjoy the challenge of the game. And if any of them made it through the stampede scene in The Lion King, then they’ll be fine seeing their species eaten by a friend’s carnivorous creations.
Ivan: And for the older TIPsters, this game is a great way to study for the AP Biology test. Just kidding.
Matt: There are a lot of qualifications—you can do this is you have this card, this card allows you to attack people unless they have this card, this card only works in this situation, etc. That might make it harder for some young students, but I think most will be fine.
Hannah: I like that this can be played with just two.
Elizabeth: My final thoughts: I really like the look of this game; the artwork is beautiful and I appreciated all the little details (like the tiny drumsticks on the food tiles). The game is fairly simple to grasp and the endless variations of species means that most won’t tire quickly of this game. However, that same variability (and the patience required to build your species successfully according to some fairly sophisticated biology) could be frustrating to the youngest talent search participants.
Matt: I agree with Elizabeth! The game allows lots of different approaches, and combining that with the idea of evolution makes it pretty interesting. You do have to be willing to spend some time thinking about all the variations to really enjoy it, though.
Have you played a good board game or video game, read a good book, or seen a good movie? Submit a review to Insights by the time the next issue comes out, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Evolution. Find details on the submission page.