Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(North Star Games, 2 to 6 players, ages 10 and up, 60 minutes; $54.99)

evolutionboxMan was not the first animal to inhabit Earth. Long before man appeared, dinosaurs were the dominant species on this planet. Those days return as dinosaurs try to adapt to a changing environment and survive hostile creatures as they travel the road of Evolution.

Evolution, a reworking of Evolution: The Origin of Species that first appeared in 2011, is credited to Dominic Crapuchettes, Dmitry Knorre and Sergie Machin. This marks the first strategy game from North Star Games.

Players begin with one species represented by a “species board”. The board has slots for body size and population (both set at “1”) and a track for food. They also receive their own food token bag. The “watering hole” board is placed in the center of the table. Every round of play consists of four phases: Deal (each player receives 3 trait cards plus 1 card for each species they have in their display), Select Food, Play Cards and Feeding.

Trait cards depict a species of prehistoric creature (and the artwork is excellent). More importantly, in game terms, is what the cards can do. Cards can be used in several ways.

All cards carry a number (on the lower right) which, if played during the Select Food phase, is the number of food tokens added to the watering hole. During the Play cards phase, cards still in hand function differently. One way is by placing, face down, traits (abilities) to be assigned to a specific species. (Each species is limited to a maximum of three traits but traits can be discarded and replaced if so desired.) If preferred, trait cards may instead be discarded in order to increase (by one per card) the body size and/or population of a specific species. Finally, a card may be discarded to create an entirely new species which means the player will now take another species board for his display with this new species beginning with 1 values for population and body size, ready to be assigned traits.

After cards are revealed in the Select Food phase and food tokens placed in the watering hole, players feed their animals. If an animal is a plant-eater, one food token at a time in turn order is placed on one of a player’s species’ food track until the track matches the size of the population. (No excess is collected and remaining food tokens stay in the watering hole.) If an animal is a carnivore, they cannot eat plant-eater food. Instead, they must attack another species!

evolution2Carnivores are restricted to attacking species that have a smaller body size. Some trait cards will add defensive abilities to a vulnerable species. (The Horns trait card on a plant-eater, for example, will discourage an attack as it will reduce an attacking Carnivore’s population by one.) Carnivores will have to accept those consequences if they choose or are forced to attack. A successful attack reduces the population of the victimized species by 1 while the carnivore receives food equal to the body size of the attacked species. Feeding continues until food equal to population has been received. At that point, food tokens on each species board are placed in the owning player’s food token bag. A species not “filling up” has its population reduced to the amount fed. Completely unfed species become extinct. Their species board and any cards associated with it are removed from play.

Rounds continue until the draw deck runs out. Points are scored for food in a player’s bag (1 point per food token). In addition, each species is worth points equal to its population plus 1 point for each trait card remaining on a surviving species. High score wins!

Not surprisingly, Evolution’s strength lies in the way it evolves. Many card combinations are interactive. A plant-eater with Warning Call, for example, will protect species to the left and right of it. But a carnivore with Ambush can attack those protected species anyway! Not only are there so many trait combinations to keep each play different, the evaluation of how to develop your species changes too. Factors determining whether to create species that feed on plants or carnivores that feed on other animals or a bit of both (but how much) can alter from game to game based not only on your own proclivities and card draws but in reaction to what other players do. (There are only 17 carnivore cards in the deck of 129 so there will be a predominance of plant-eaters but having a few carnivores in the game can significantly impact on other species and other player’s point totals.) In implementing strategy, each card’s abilities needs to be weighed to maximize effect. You need to grow your holdings; winning with only one species is very difficult. But discarding cards to create and grow your species means their valuable trait powers are tossed aside. Tough choices abound.

As a byproduct of species expansion, plan to have a larger table as players tend to spread out as their displays grow. With a larger group of players, this can make spotting the tempting targets of vulnerable dinosaurs among your farther away opponents easy to miss. Stay alert! A big plus is the play aids given to each player which are extraordinary. They summarize the play phases but, more importantly, summarize the different types of trait cards for easy reference. This makes getting a handle of all of these various abilities much easier. And the first player marker – a large dinosaur piece – is a charming addition.

The secret to winning at Evolution is to create a card engine of traits to keep species large and well fed. If your herd is mainly plant-eaters, you need to strive to make them, if not invulnerable to attacks, at least a less appealing food source. If you opt for carnivores, then aggression is the key.

Action is continuous in Evolution. The rise and fall of species is a constant source of challenges that manages to hold your interest throughout. Evolution is an auspicious beginning for strategy games from North Star as they undergo their own evolution of gaming style.

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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