First released in 2014, Evolution from North Star Games is an award-winning board game where 2 – 6 players adapt species in an ever changing ecosystem with hungry predators and limited resources. On their website, the publisher is keen to point out that this game has been used in the evolutionary biology department at the University of Oxford and featured in the world’s leading scientific journal, Nature.
Evolution: The Beginning takes ideas and concepts from Evolution to make a fun, and very playable, strategy game in which you adapt your species to survive and grow in a changing ecosystem.
The rules of the game are remarkably simple, making it a very easy game to learn, something that is helped immeasurably by the two (very slightly different) player aids which help you remember what you can do and when.
On each player’s turn, the player first places two food tokens in the watering hole and places a card face down in front of them to create a new species. The player then draws three more cards. These can be placed face down to enlarge the population of an existing species or create a new species. Alternatively, these cards can be used to add up to three traits to a species, and this is where the fun begins.
By default, each species can eat only from the watering hole and this supply is very limited indeed. So species will have to adapt — to become carnivores or scavengers so they can prey on other species, or grow long necks in order to reach food from the excess food pile. And once the carnivores evolve, other species will need to gain defensive traits such as flying, burrowing or speed.
As the game progresses, and the ecosystem changes, traits can also be discarded. This becomes important as each species can only have a maximum of three traits.
Once the player has played all of the cards he wants to play, his populations must eat. Any population that has not found food by this point dies and, once a species runs out of population it goes extinct.
When the cards run out, the game is over and points are totted up, the winner being the player who managed to consume the most food.
Over the course of the last week or so, Evolution: The Beginning has quickly become a firm favourite in our household. The game’s theme is so well integrated into the mechanics that each game becomes an evolutionary arms race as we watch species evolve, grow and go extinct.
Appropriately enough, it’s a very tactical game — any grand strategies you might have had vanish as soon as flying carnivores appear on the scene — and one that is beautifully balanced. It may just be us, but every game we have played so far has been surprisingly close.
All in all, Evolution: The Beginning is a marvelously playable and incredibly enjoyable game that also manages to give you a god’s eye view of the interplay between species and their environment.
It’s possible that the relatively limited number of traits may lead to things becoming a bit repetitive at some point in the future but, by the time that happens, we will all be ready to start on the full size version.