Review: Evolution – the Beginning
July 26, 2016 /
Designers: Dominic Crapuchettes
Publisher: North Star Games
Category: Strategy Card Game
Board Game Geek Ranking: N/A
One thing players find as they delve deeper into the board game hobby is that it’s easy to forget about the barrier to entry. If you are regularly playing board games, even allegedly “gateway games” like Ticket to Ride or Settlers of Catan, you might forget that these games are not nearly as simple as mass market hits like Apples to Apples or Pie Face. It’s a bad habit among gamers to be condescending and blame the education system when new players are turned off by the complexity of “simple” gateway games, and I think we as a community have a bit of selective memory about this. (After all, Settlers of Catan has an almanac!)
No one knows this lesson better than Dominic Crapuchettes, owner of North Star Games and designer of the brilliant party game Wits & Wagers. When demoing that game around the country, Dominic found that non-gamers could not handle the complexity of simply laying out numerical trivia answers with respect to different odds. The subsequent result was the leaner Wits & Wagers Family and Wits & Wagers Party–the important point being that Dominic met his potential audience where they were at, instead of turning his nose up at people who didn’t want to wade through all the rules before they started playing.
A store that has also learned this lesson is Target. They’ve grown the board game section extensively, and sometimes had trouble with customers who aren’t fully aware of what they’re buying. Target’s become more and more cognizant of this issue, and asked North Star Games to take their strategy game Evolution and trim it down to as simple a game as possible to make it appropriate for Target shelves. The product of that conversation is Evolution: the Beginning, a game exclusively available at Target for its first year starting this August. And if anyone can make a game simpler and even better, North Star Games have already proven that it’s them.
Spiritual Content: None.
Violence: Players can turn species into carnivores and eat other species (including their own other species).
Language/Crude Humor: None.
Sexual Content: None.
Drug/Alcohol Use: None.
Other Negative Themes:
I had already played the original Evolution before playing Evolution: the Beginning, and I thought that the game was good but perhaps a bit rules-intensive for what it was (just barely). And for me, personally, I lean heavily towards games that pack a lot of punch in a short amount of time, so I was excited as anyone else to see how barebones Evolution could become and still be fun.
The artwork and components for Evolution: the Beginning are just as fantastic as the original, which is no surprise, since much of the artwork is borrowed from that release. It’s so beautiful that the self-plagiarism doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The artwork is full of beautiful watercolor paintings of various animals and does a great job evoking the game’s theme. This game comes with much fewer components due to the trimmed-down rules, allowing it to be priced at $24.99 MSRP instead of $54.99. There is one type of token, a board to place them on, and bags to put them in for scoring purposes; but the game is first and foremost about its 88-card deck.
Evolution: the Beginning takes a hint from games like Race for the Galaxy and San Juan, where the cards in the central deck are used for many purposes–to make new species, to increase the population of a species, or to actually be used for its card text as a trait on any species you control. Traits can be added to each species and discarded when they’re no longer useful, loosely simulating the concept of evolution. And the centerpiece of this simulation is the carnivore card, which shows up twice as often as everything else.
The carnivore card allows a species to forego eating from the central watering hole (which has a limited supply) and, instead, attack other species, even possibly other species controlled by the same player. This is hugely beneficial to the carnivore’s owner, since it can kill opposing species and also provides food fairly quickly. Therefore, five of the ten traits are actually ways to stave off carnivores, and the last four are about ways to sneak in extra food and increase population. This means that the game is very combative–a constant back-and-forth between players vying to keep their species alive and gain the most food (which are victory points). It also means that the game is somewhat draw-dependent: although you get three new cards each turn, I’ve played games where a player never drew a single carnivore card and could never approach the game from that angle. To be fair, that meant the player had lots of cards to provide him with food in other ways or to protect himself from carnivores–and he still had a strong showing. Overall, I think the card design allows for a strong mix of strategy and tactics, and is generally forgiving enough to keep players from being frustrated (if your species goes extinct, you get a replacement card for every trait lost).
Perhaps most interesting about the game, and most contentious among Christians, is the game’s theme. Evolution: the Beginning does an expert job simulating the concept of evolution, and the gorgeous artwork and enjoyable gameplay paint it as a beautiful, natural part of life. To its credit, the game does not involve or imply anything about humans; the cards are illustrations of birds, dinosaurs, rodents, and so on.
For me, personally, a game like this with otherwise no offensive content (no foul language or nudity) is a non-issue, just like playing a game with djinns would not imply a concession that genies exist. Furthermore, if the game sparks dialogue, then it’s accomplished an important goal.
But all of this is tangential to the actual reason for the existence of Evolution: the Beginning: can Target shoppers learn the game on their own? I would say, yes. Evolution has been greatly streamlined, with fewer traits, fewer concepts (no more body size or adjacency), and fewer rules interactions; but it has maintained, and even improved, the fun. I love how quick and simple this game is, and I still get to try to work out cool card combos or take advantage of a miscalculation by an opponent. For me, this is the premiere version of Evolution, and I’m happy to keep it in my collection. Hopefully, Target shoppers will feel the same.
Thank you to North Star Games for providing a review copy of Evolution: the Beginning.
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