Review – In the Footsteps of Darwin

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Designer Grégory Grard, Matthieu Verdier

Artist Maud Briand, David Sitbon

Publisher Sorry We Are French

Category Set Collection

Length 20-30 minutes

Release Date 2023

Player Count 2-5

In the Footsteps of Darwin is a family game of set collection, with a simple rondel mechanism. The game takes place in 1856, and players are naturalists seeking to continue Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking research. Ready to set sail?

Review

In the Footsteps of Darwin invites players to explore the regions of the world not covered in Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

The goal of the game is to earn the most points. The game is played on a central board, on which the Beagle vessel will sail around a 3×3 grid of tiles. Each player keeps an individual tableau, which tracks the animals they have studied, the theories they have formulated, and the writings they have published.

At the start of the game, the animal and character tiles are shuffled together to form a draw pile. From this pile, 9 tiles are drawn and placed on the main board’s display. On a player’s turn, they begin by selecting a tile from the row or column that is adjacent to the Beagle’s current location.

If the player chooses an animal tile, they add it to their tableau in the appropriate space, based on the animal’s class and region. Otherwise, if they choose a character, they place it off to the side in the character section.

In either case, if the tile shows an immediate bonus, such as drawing a guide token, the player resolves it right away. Some bonuses—the ones that award points—are instead resolved at game-end.

Then, the player moves the Beagle along the outside of the tile display. The distance moved depends on which tile the player took and how many spaces away it was from the Beagle—1, 2, or 3. The player moves the ship that many spaces, and then draws a new tile to replace the one they took.

Some tile bonuses allow players to collect different kinds of tokens. Guide tokens, for instance, let players move the Beagle forward or backward 1 space, or sweep the active row/column and draw new tiles. Compass tokens are used during endgame scoring, and are multiplied by the number of chart icons a player has on their tiles.

If a player takes an animal tile for a spot they have already covered, they place the new tile over the existing one and earn a theory token. Theories are worth points for different sets of things, such as birds a player has studied.

The game continues until each player has taken their 12th tile. At that time, scores are calculated, and the player with the most points wins.


I found In the Footsteps of Darwin to be a fun surprise. This is a light, pleasant family game that is easy to learn and quick to play. Mechanically, the game is somewhat abstract, so it could have had any number of themes, but the theme of naturalist exploration works fine.

In the Footsteps of Darwin has meaningful decisions, but the strategy is fairly simple. On a typical turn, the active player has 3 tiles to choose from, so their choice usually boils down to which tile—A, B, or C—will be the best in terms of set collection, bonuses, endgame scoring, etc. Rarely will a player care how far the Beagle moves; that only matters to the next player, and this is not the kind of game where folks will be trying to hose their opponents. Overall, it’s pretty friendly and laid-back.

The artwork and production are attractive, though the game is mostly just cardboard components. The iconography is easy to understand, and the rules are clear and thorough. I like that the rulebook includes detailed historical background about Darwin’s life, his journeys, and his writings. This info doesn’t make the game feel any more thematic, but it does add a certain educational element, which I consider a plus.

Bottom line, In the Footsteps of Darwin is a good entry in the family game category. While it doesn’t break much new ground in terms of design, I like its simple, breezy gameplay. If that sounds like your kind of thing, check it out.

A review copy was provided by Hachette Boardgames.

The Bottom Line

In the Footsteps of Darwin is a fun surprise. It is a breezy, rules-light game that works well for families and gamers alike. Recommended.

 

8.0

Author: Stephen Hall

A bard pretending to be a cleric. Possibly a Cylon, too. I was there when they dug up the "E.T." cartridges.