Evolution The Board Game Review

Evolution is by Northstar Games.

I like games where one piece of the game fills multiple roles. In Evoluton, your generic creatures are modified by trait cards. Those trait cards are things like Horned, or Long necked, or carnivore. You can add a trait to a species, or you can use those cards as currency. They also are used to generate the pool of food available to all of the creatures in the game. This means you get a bunch of meaningful choices right off the bat.

The game itself is for 2-6 players. Each player has one or more species that they are controlling. Each turn you can buy a new generic species that starts at a body and population rank of 1. You can spend cards to increase the size of any of your species bodies or their populations. You can add new traits to a species, up to three traits per species, things that change how they feed and how they are fed upon.

The play space is a watering hole that has plants added to it each turn, based on the value of the cards that each player trashes during their turn.

Each species must eat food equal to their population rating or they their population will shrink to match the amount of food they eat. There are abilities that let you take extra food from the watering hole, that let you eat other animals instead of plants (including the ability to sort of be an omnivore, by scavenging food after a carnivore species has eaten.) , that let you eat food that doesn’t come from the watering hole or other animals, and that let you work with other species you control to optimize food collection.
There are abilities that increase how well you eat, that change how your population grows, that make it harder for carnivores to prey on you, and that allow carnivores to counter other species defenses.
Scoring is based on a combination of your total population of all of your species and the number of food tokens you have consumed over the game. You can never consume more food than your population, so for scoring, the things that matter are how many species you have with what size population and how much they eat. All of the other uses of cards (adding traits, adding body size) detract from your score, though body size makes you harder to prey on (which decreases your population and can cause you to go extinct) and the traits can do all sorts of things to you.
One of the people I was playing with expressed frustration that species could develop defensive abilities in the absence of carnivores, which isn’t totally unreasonable, though behavioral and physical adaptations that protect you from predators often originate for other purposes and happen to help vs. predation.
My big complaint was that it was not possible to build a non-scavenger based omnivore. A lot of fairly successful creatures are not obligate predators and the ability to use multiple food sources is a strong survival trait. Bears and humans are not particularly restricted to eating meat that other carnivores eat.
The pieces are mostly thematic. The food tokens are on one side plants and on the other side the legs of various animals. The species tracking tiles are super generic and plane, but I think that works pretty well for them. We didn’t work with the naming chart, but from staring at it, I think it would have benefitted us to have had more options for each trait.
The watering hole is probably the one thing that the game misses on. The art is gorgeous and hit the teme well, but you place food tokens on it and they disappear, having very little contrast with the watering hole art. The other issue is that you are moving a lot of tokens from a pile on the table to a piece of cardboard. If the watering hole had been embedded in a larger board, possibly with a few other organizational spaces, sliding food from the bank to the watering hole would have been easier (and I like it when games give a physical object that helps you place the components of the game in useful places. Play mats are my friend.

Those are some minor quibbles and or possible places to go to for the (hopefully) inevitable expansion. I enjoyed the game a lot, and while I’m probably not going to skip lunches to buy it, it is going on my list of games to buy sooner rather than later.
I’d give it an 8/10 with problems that can be solved by add on card decks. (the card deck also acts as the game timer… I love that that one piece does so many different jobs. Love love love.)

Obviously I suggest going to your FLGS and getting this one (or absent a friendly or local game store try this http://www.amazon.com/North-Star-Games-500-NSG-Evolution/dp/B00NP7EWNG )

Don’t Turn Your Back Review

A lot of ragged people disappear each year. Some of them move on, some die quietly and unremarked, and some of them, the ones who just can’ sleep, slip over the line between our world and the Sleepless City. The sleepless often lose themselves in their habits and patterns, becoming part of the background, becoming prey for the nightmares. Some though, some have a spark that keeps them active and aware, that grants them power for their exhaustion and their madness. These people can stand up to the nightmares, as they edge ever closer and closer to becoming a nightmare. These people play the influence game in the Sleepless City, carving out a home for themselves, or seeking a way home.

In Don’t Turn Your Back, you play one of the sleepless as you build a power base among the nightmares to fuel your ascension or escape.
Each player has a color coded deck of starting cards representing the nightmares they have influence over. Those cards are played one at a time on spaces on a board representing the Sleepless City’s districts. Some cards can’t be played in certain districts, which is marked With a letter code and a graphic that is only completed when you play the cards in a legal district. This game is full of multiple codings for key information. Which is good, because the coloring is very thematic, and occasionally the color coding is not incredibly clear. (In my first game, players mixed up the two green characters, in a well lit area, though the greens are not very similar. In my second game, which was 3 players, one of the players who is, I think, Red-Green colorblind requested we leave out the olive character because it was too close to the purple/blue one for them.)
There are a few little problems like that. I found the colors and art in the main book made it a little difficult to use as a learning tool, but Fred Hicks being Fred Hicks, there are multiple routes to learning the game, including an excellent 10 minute how to play video (http://www.evilhat.com/home/dont-turn-your-back-video-tutorial/) and the book works fine as a reference for me after I learned to play the game, (There is also some splendid setting fiction in the rules…)
Game play is fun. Where you play your cards changes the effects of the cards. I think the player decks are a little small, but I have that complaint about a lot of games that use cards as a resource/randomizer.

A few points of particular interest:

The 13th district is an area that changes every round as a new law is put into effect. You have to decide each round if you want to compete there or not.

The Bizarre Bazaar is where you trade your influence for special effects, ranging from extra card draw to attacks and defenses against attack.

The Highschool is a card sink that doesn’t get cleared between rounds. Clever play here can net you lots of points for several rounds in a row.

The City Slumbering district is where you trade the pain of your current minions for the influence to get new ones.

And the Wax Kingdom plays 2 roles, the ever important “getting rid of useless cards from my deck” and determining how one scores a deck at the end of the game.

Some design musings:
I’m considering splitting the law deck into more mundane laws and more out there laws so I can shuffle them seperately and then play with the more mundane ones on top and the weirder ones as you get lower. We had a very standard scoring law in the last round of the game after a bunch of more interesting ones, making the 13th district sort of boring in the last bit.

The Law cards could have effects on the rest of the board if you wanted to expand on the game. Letting Officer Tock impact the rest of the City in unusual ways has potential.

While there were a few Attack and Defense cards for the Bazaar, I think more of them, and more varied cards would be a good idea. More character interaction and backstabbery would fit the setting well.

The one major thing I wanted for this game was to have the player acquisition decks be different. If each player has influence over a different subset of the city an different feels that tie into the player’s backstory, I think that would do more for immersive theme than all of the art together. Even just making the Favor (starting) decks different, and having the acquisition decks be the same could have a big impact on the feeling of the game. (I’ve played deck builders where the starting resources for each faction are different, giving each faction a very different feel even though the cards they buy are from the same pool)

I’d love to see all of the acquisition cards come from a community pile, maybe with more different cards. I get that the current game mechanism wants unique cards, but a token or marker or something could adequately identify ownership for most areas (except the wax king)

Given the need for the acquisition cards to be identified as owned by specific players, I could also see expansion decks, with a deck building rule set (You have x points to spend on influence values, and must have y number of cards in your deck.)

My first play was a little rough because 2 of the players really weren’t grokking the area control aspect of the game and they really didn’t want to have any thing explained. Learn from play doesn’t wrk when you don’t have a strong grounding in the basics of play. The second game was a lot more fun, though I was the only one familiar with the setting.

I think Atlas Games should license this system and do an Al Amarja game…

#RPGaDay2015 Day 22

Perfect Gaming Environment: Around a table with a home cooked meal and a bunch of friends. The rest depends on the specific game.

#RPGaDAY2015 Day 21

Favorite RPG setting:
Eberron. It is probably the most flexible of fantasy settings.I love it especially for Pulpy 3 musketeers style games.

#RPGaDAY2015 Day 20

Favorite Horror RPG

Essoterrorists. It is like the Laundry without being BRP, and Like Trail of Cthuhllu without being Cthuhllu.
Once it is published, the Fate mod of Eclipse Phase might take this spot.

#RPGaDAY2015 Day 19

Favorite Supers RPG

Maybe 5th level Pathfinder? Especially with the new Occult books and the upcoming Vigilante class/

I’ve already had one Fate Game, but either Spirit of the Century or FAE with a “we are doing x style super heroes” pitch might work for me.

Bubblegum Crisis is street level supers kind of the way that D&D is fantasy supers…

Marvel Heroic is going to take it though. It does a great job capturing the feel of a comic book while letting you plat wildly divergent power levels.

#RPGaDAY2015 Day 18

Favorite SF rpg:

Something in the Traveller Family, Mechwarrior, Traveller, Firefly, etc

I’m going to go with Diaspora, which is a second cousin to Traveller. It is a pretty solid implementation of the headspace of Traveller into a very non-Traveller backbone. I think the game itself could benefit from being updated to the newer edition of Fate, and maybe abstracting some of the mini-games back to straight up fate, but it is still one of my favorite Fate settings, and the world building is delightful.

#RPGaDay2015 Day 17

Favorite Fantasy RPG
I’m going to say Amber Diceless, though it fits in at least 4 of the next four genres. Other days I might have said Dungeon World, Pathfinder, or 5th ed D&D.,

#RPGaDAY2015 Day 16

Longest Session Played:
This goes back to high school again. We used to play all weekend, occasionally starting after school on Friday (5pmish?) and playing until well after dawn Saturday. Going to sleep, and often gaming again after we wake and eat and stuff.

#RPGaDAY2015 Day 15

Longest campaign played:

Probably Brad’s Campaign back in high school. These days I’m not super engaged with the idea of super long campaigns. A pathfinder adventure path can be completed in half a year of weekly sessions, and that is about as long as I want a game to be.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 177 other followers