Evolution is a digital adaptation of the popular board game of the same name. It is developed by North Star Digital Studios and is available on Steam, Google Play, and the Apple App store. Evolution is $14.99 on steam and $9.99 on Android and IOS, but free to try on both. This review was conducted on PC by Joseph Pugh.
Evolution is a board game about evolving dominant species and eating more food than your opponents. It’s easy to learn and manages to retain depth despite its simplicity. At its core, you play cards in an attempt to ensure that your species eats enough food while starving out your foes species.
The devil is in the details and there are numerous ways to accomplish this, all the while you also must keep your species safe from other players carnivores, or perhaps you too will climb the food chain with tooth and claw.
If you have never played the board game before, the digital version does a stellar job of teaching you how to play Evolution in a fun and engaging way. Your first few missions on the campaign are lightly guided, allowing you to play freely, but slowly introducing more and more mechanics in subsequent missions.
Once you have the basics down, you play a series of matches that each have a theme to your engagements, including boss fights. Some of the mechanics get altered slightly for the campaign missions and you unlock profile pictures and additional AI types that you can play against normally, via local match by playing the campaign.
The campaign itself is interesting to play through. Each encounter feels different from each other with the minor mechanical changes, without altering how the core game is played. There is also a more difficult mode you can enable which is also a nice touch if you already have experience with the physical game.
You also, of course, can play online against other players. The game is played by 2 to 4 players (or AI) and each one starts with a single species that is a blank slate. Each turn players draw 3 cards, plus one additional card for every species they have that is still alive.
All the cards in the game are called trait cards, but each one serves multiple functions. At the start of the round, every player bids one of their cards to the watering hole. What card each player contributed is kept secret. Each card has a food number in the upper left corner.
This number dictates how much food that card will tribute to the watering hole later in the round. This is an important part of your strategy because you not only decide which card you are willing to give up to the watering hole, but how much food you want to contribute to the watering hole’s stock. You win the game by eating as much food as possible, but you also want to try and steal the other players of food at every turn. Cruel, but effective.
You have to plan and decide what you think you can do that round, and whether or not you should contribute a card that adds a lot of food, a little or none. Some cards even have negative value, actually removing the contribution of others.
After that, your free to play as many cards as you wish. You can play your traits on your species, each one does something different. For example, the card Foraging, allows your species to take two food from the watering hole at a time. While some cards, such as climbing, help protect your species from carnivores. Each species may have three traits, and you can replace them with another as many times as you want.
You may also spend a card to increase a species population, allowing you to eat more food in the same round. Or you may increase a species body size, carnivores have to have a body size larger than the species they want to attack in order to attack it. Lastly, you can create a brand new species by spending a card.
When the feeding phase begins, the amount of food each player contribute is revealed, and players take turns using species to collect food. One at the time. Normally each species can only take one food from the pool at a time. However, cards like the one I mentioned earlier, foraging, allow you to take more. You can collect food on each species up to their population count.
Carnivores on the board cant take from the watering hole at all. They can only gain food by attacking other species. When they attack, the target loses one population, and the carnivore collects food equal to the victim’s body size. A species with zero population goes extinct. Mother nature, You scary.
Furthermore, a carnivore MUST attack if able until it’s collected enough food for its population. So if they cannot find a valid target among your foes, you may have to attack your own species. Carnivores can turn the tides of the game, killing off other players species, or allowing you to gain food when the watering hole is dry. But it can be risky to turn a species into a carnivore.
At the end of the phase, any species or population that were not able to collect food starve. For example, if a species has two population but only collected one food, it loses a population. All the collected food is then eaten and goes to your bag. At the end of the game, food, population and trait cards are tallied up and the highest number wins the game.
Evolution is all about planning, tactics and countering the other players. If the other players are aggressively emptying the water hole, play traits that allow you to generate food without it, or use carnivores and eat them. If you become the target of a carnivore, raise your body size or play defensive traits. Some cards like Fat tissue, allow you to store additional food for later, which can be great for stealing away extra food from the pool and starving out your foes.
There are numerous combinations of traits and you have to actually strategize the placement of species alongside everything else. Placement matters for certain trait cards. For example, Warning Call stops a carnivore from attacking species adjacent to the one with the warning call trait unless they have the ambush trait.
You could then play the hard shell trait on the same species giving it a +4 to body size for the sake of defense. This would make that species difficult for a carnivore to attack, but without the ambush card, it couldn’t target the species adjacent to the strong defender either.
Some combinations can be hilarious if you imagine what the creature in question looks like. For example, a fat longneck creature that climbs or burrows.
Evolution is a well balanced and strategical card game that is easy to pick up and play but has a high level of mastery. This is true for the physical game and is also true for its digital adaptation. But digital media has a couple of advantages.
The games streamlined automation of certain aspects makes the gameplay flow smoothly and quickly. Everything is presented to the player in a crisp and clear format. You always have all the information you need right in front of you. Misplays from a wrong click rarely ever happen.
The boards you play on have various biomes, and they grow flush with vegetation when the waterhole has a lot of food or become barren if it’s empty. It’s a very cool visual touch.
The cards themselves have cute animations and sound effects. The little player icons turn to vicious looking beasts when a species is turned into a carnivore. It’s amusing to see a creature that resembles a gazelle reveal fangs and look vicious.
It has a lengthy campaign, multiplayer and free play. Most importantly is the game not only features an assortment of AI skill levels that can play the game competently. They have different personalities. There is a regular AI, aptly named Regularus. But you can also unlock AIs that have profoundly different playstyles. Such as Propagatus who tries to have a bunch of species at once, or Carnivorous who values carnivores.
The game has a very enjoyable singleplayer aspect thanks to these AI types and the campaign mode.
Evolution doesn’t stray too far from its physical card game heritage. It’s not super flashy. But the animations and sound effects are well done and add to the game. The card game itself is intense, fun and witty with other players or alone. Information is presented clean and crisp and the automation made possible by being a videogame speed up the experience.
If you like card and board games, physically or digitally. You would be doing yourself a disservice by passing up Evolution. Its mechanics are tight and fun and the digital version brings it some additional charm and the ability to play whenever you want against well crafted AI players, or folk from around the world online. Well worth the price.
- Gameplay is the same as its physical version, which is fun, tactical and well balanced.
- Lengthy campaign mode offers various challenges
- Well done interactive learning experience.
- Online multiplayer and well crafted AI with different skill levels and personalities.
- Doesn’t fully take advantage of its digital nature. It’s by and large Evolution the card game, but on a phone or computer…