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 )