Review: Evolution: The Video Game12 Feb 2019 8
Review: Evolution: The Video Game
Released 12 Feb 2019
Charles Darwin claimed, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Now you have the opportunity to put this theory to test in this adaptation of the popular board game, Evolution.
In Evolution, players adapt their species to compete against their opponents in a world where food is scarce and predators are on the hunt for a tasty snack. The board game has been featured in Nature magazines and used as a learning aid within universities. Don’t be too intimidated because you don’t need a PhD to understand the rules, and the tutorial does an excellent job of teaching you the game as you play. This is also a very excellent digital adaptation of a game.
Each player begins the game with a single species and a hand of cards. The cards have multiple uses and deciding how and when to use them is a key element to success. At the beginning of each round, all players will secretly place a card in the watering hole. Cards have different values and the total of all the cards played will determine how much plant-based food will be available. You are then free to use the rest of your cards as you wish. Cards can be discarded to increase the population or the physical size of an established species. You can also use a card to start developing a new creature. These will initially be weak but if it manages to survive then your diversity will increase, which means that in future turns you will be able to draw extra cards.
The real fun starts when you use cards to add traits to a species. Each species has the potential to evolve three of these and you can even replace traits with new ones. One of the key traits is carnivorous, which will turn a peace-loving herbivore into a slavering ball of fangs and teeth. To combat this there are traits that will help prevent your animals from becoming fast food. An animal with the altruistic warning call trait will protect those to its left and right unless the predator has the ambush trait. Adding a hard shell to an animal adds a bonus of four to its body size. This is a great form of protection since carnivores can only attack creatures with a smaller body size than their own. Other traits will enhance an animal’s ability to gather food; a species with the cooperation trait will share its food with a neighbour, foraging enables an animal to take extra food, whilst having a long neck allows them to grab food before any other species gets a chance. In total, there are seventeen different traits, which means that players can create over 25,000 different species. The interplay between the traits is balanced, thought-provoking and makes perfect thematic sense.
Once all of the players have finished using their cards then it’s time to ring the dinner gong. The food cards placed in the watering hole at the beginning of the turn are revealed; their total represents the amount of plant-based food available. Each animal’s food requirement depends upon its population size. Obviously, carnivores aren’t interested in waiting in line at the salad bar. Instead, they can attack any other unprotected species that are of a smaller size. Doing so will reduce the population size of the unwitting meal and may even completely decimate the species. Be careful though; if you have a hungry carnivore that is short of meat it is possible that it will chow down on your own animals.
The game ends when the deck of cards runs out. Points are scored for the amount of food gathered throughout the game. Extra points are awarded for the population size and remaining traits of each of your surviving species. The watercolour style graphics are nicely done. The card illustrations are distinctive and colourful and even the cartoon characters are likable. I love the way that the environment blooms into life whenever feeding time arrives. The primal backing music, complete with additional ambient sounds makes a fine accompaniment. My only real niggle is that there appears to be a lot of dead space on the screen. The watering hole takes up a large chunk of space, maybe at the expense of larger, easier to read cards.
The best feature of the digital version is the introduction of a terrific campaign mode. This pits you against a range of challenges like surviving in a harsh desert environment. This mode introduces new traits at a gradual rate and is the perfect place to refine your skills. With twenty-four challenges and two levels of difficulty, it should keep you entertained for quite some time. You can also set up a local game against AI opponents, but sadly there is no pass-and-play option at the moment. The asynchronous online mode is also still being worked on, but the simultaneous online mode works well, and with games only taking ten minutes it will not tie up too much of your time.
Evolution is all about the constant battle for food and competing for survival against the opposition. You need to not only focus on your own cards but also keep a constant eye on what your opponents are up to. It is no use developing a huge and fearsome killing machine if your perspective dinner has the ability to escape by climbing trees. Since some cards are played in secret whilst others are public knowledge, which results in the mind games growing in complexity. The current start player gets to visit the watering hole first so may not have to donate a high value food card. However, a player pursuing a carnivore strategy may not be interested in visiting the watering hole at all. They may even play a negative value food card, further increasing the food scarcity.
It may sound deceptively simple, but start playing and you will soon realise just how clever the design is. The multiuse cards lead to many tantalising decisions. Do I sacrifice a valuable trait to the watering hole in order to ensure a good supply of food? Shall I be greedy and rapidly increase the population size of a species in order to gobble-up more valuable food points? Or, should I play it safe and introduce traits that will enhance a creature’s chance of survival?
Evolution is a game in a state of constant flux. Some years there will be food aplenty, enabling your animals to develop and prosper. At other times, food will be in short supply and all but the best-adapted creatures will dwindle and die, becoming just another footnote in the fossil timeline. Fortunately, the game never feels too harsh. Players are never eliminated, when a player loses a species, they get to draw extra cards and if they have no species left then they will get a new one for free. Whatever the situation, Evolution invariably reaches a satisfying climax as the players add more species and the deck begins to thin at an alarming rate.
Let us finish with a final observation from Mr Darwin: “An American monkey, after getting drunk on brandy, would never touch it again, and thus is much wiser than most men.”
A note on pricing: The game is free to download on both app stores, and after the tutorial players are free to play up to one multiplayer game a day, and then up to level 7 of the campaign. The full game is unlocked via an IAP that costs $10/£10 (currently running a launch discount). At the time of writing, there were some slight issues with the paywall that might be causing some confusion.