Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Sunday 3 March 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Evolution

Game: Evolution

Publisher: North Star Games

Designer: Dominic Crapuchettes, Dmitry Knorre, Sergey Machin

Year: 2014

Evolution would probably count as an evergreen title for North Star Games. A game that really seems to be standing the test of time, with numerous expansions, off-shoot standalone games, an upcoming spin-off on Kickstarter and a recent app implementation for iOS, Android and Steam. I guess it was a new game just before we got into the hobby, and it's one we missed.

Evolution is a competitive card game for 2-6 players, in which players create and adapt their species in an ever-changing landscape of predator vs. prey. Traits like a hard shell, or the ability to climb can help to protect you from carnivores, whist a long neck allows you to collect food that others cannot reach.


In Evolution your objective is to get your species to eat as much of the available food as possible by the time the cards run out. A secondary preference is to keep as many of them alive with stable populations as possible. In order to do this you are going to have to fight with the other player's species over the limited resources, constantly changing your species' abilities in order to outwit your rivals.

Each round every player will draw 3 cards, plus 1 additional card for each living species they currently own. Each player will then choose one of these cards face down onto the food bank as their contribution to the food this round. Cards vary from -2 to +9 so players can have a huge impact on how much food is available. They will then take turns playing their remaining cards in one of several ways. Discarding a card will let you gain a new species with 1 population and 1 size. Alternatively discarding a card can let you increase either the population or size for an existing species. Finally you can play one of your cards onto a species as a new evolution to give it new abilities. These abilities tend to change their eating habits or act as defensive cards for any carnivores out there.

Once all the upgrades have are complete, the food for the round is revealed and then players will take turns feeding their species. On your turn you will typically take one food from the central pond and give it to one of your species, then the next player takes their turn. This continues until your species have one food for each population they have, or the food runs out! However, many cards manipulate the food allocation,  for example long necked creatures can eat a little before the food cards are revealed and fat creatures can eat beyond their population limit. The biggest change though is carnivores, carnivores cannot take the vegetation from the food bank, but instead must try to eat other creatures. When a carnivore attacks it must firstly be bigger than the target, so body size is crucial, it must then be able to bypass any defenses the target has. Should an attack succeed the targets population drops by 1, and the carnivore gets food equal to the target's size. Note that carnivores must try to feed if able, even if the only viable target is one of your own creatures!

After all the food has been eaten or all the species are full then the feeding round ends. At this point any species that didn't have as much food as population will start to die off, losing population until the two are equal! Any species that didn't eat at all will outright go extinct as will any species that lost their last population to a carnivore attack. Finally all the food from your species boards will be hidden behind your player screen and a new round will begin.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Evolution is the process of change to best survive the conditions a species finds itself in. And for that Evolution certainly does the name justice. Creating a swarm of weak species will only see them die swiftly to a competent carnivore, but creating a species that learns to climb out of reach of carnivores or burrow underground once fully fed and you start to have a sound strategy. Of course changing to survive is in everyone's interest so that carnivore might soon learn to climb trees too! Evolution plays this out beautifully, without having to wait millions of years! Being able to discard previous mutations for new traits keeps your opponent guessing and your species safe. Sometimes you are able to perform incredible bluffs such as discarding a trait only to replace it with the same trait (traits are kept secret until everyone has played).

Evolution gives you so many different strategies with it's handful of cards that it's unreal. Defensive cards can be used to starve your opponent's carnivores or force them to attack their own species, but perhaps it's worth having one species that takes the population hit each round in return for being able to eat a crazy amount of food. However if your opponent has a species like that then playing low valued food cards can starve them out. One of the issues with the game is actually this huge variety, with each species being able to have 2 or 3 traits depending on player count it can be hard to tell which creatures you can attack or not. While there are player aids that fully explain each card it's easy to forget exactly what every species on the table can do.

Evolution is a game that you need to play a few times before you can really feel comfortable with the flow of the game. But in return it has a lot of depth for what would be a a simple card game. As soon as carnivores start popping up there is a ton of player interaction as you constantly try to outsmart your opponent. But even without meat-eaters the competition over the limited food can be fierce, it's not unusual to see an entire species starve to death! The limited number of cards you get each round does limit your tactics at times, sometimes your opponent might have a juicy looking defenseless creature but you simply haven't drawn a carnivore card! So you have to go in prepared for a little influence of luck, but nonetheless the mechanics are tight enough to almost guarantee a close game! Overall Evolution is a great, if slightly frustrating, game which I'd highly recommend giving a go!

Fi’s Final Thoughts

I can really see why Evolution has an evergreen appeal. It's a very simple game at its heart, but it really comes to life over multiple games. There are just 24 card varieties, but combining these in groups of two (with 2-players) or three makes for a huge variety in the types of species you can create. The card play is very clever, with multiple uses for every card and in each turn you'll be carefully planning and balancing your species with the amount of food that you believe could be available. There's a lot of fun to be had in carefully tuning your species to have synergies and unique opportunities to pull ahead from an opponent.

Although I admire the game, there are certainly aspects that I personally don't enjoy. There is definitely some bluffing in the game, when you play trait cards face down and it leaves your opponent guessing about whether you are making a carnivore and how they should plan as a result. It definitely adds some very interesting mental gymnastics to your planning, but on the other hand, all of your planning can go very, very badly, to the point where your carnivore ends up eating the other species you own if your opponent defends well. With a two-player game in particular this could be more acutely felt because it's not as though there's anyone else to target.

We are also not the biggest fans of take-that in gaming, especially at two-players, so Evolution can get a little tense. Most of the time, good planning makes attacks defensible, but sometimes you're just wide open to an onslaught due to a bad hand of cards and it's pretty relentless. It's certainly more likely in two-players that you'll build a good defense because you have just two trait cards as an attacker, but this can have the side effect of making some carnivores frustratingly impotent at points during the game.

I'd certainly like to play with three or more players, although I'm sure that keeping track of information becomes a lot more challenging, although perhaps a little less important. It's sometimes hard to know exactly what other players are capable of from the other side of the table, even though there's a very large and comprehensive player aid available, should you wish to analyse every card they play. For me, Evoltuion is a two player experience I enjoy playing when in the mood for some conflict, but for others this may not be an issue and then I'd recommend it as a really great and tight two-player game, with scope for supporting more players.

You Might Like...
  • The game is really thematic with all of the traits making sense.
  • The hand management is really clean and core to the game, with a bit of deception thrown in for good measure.
  • The game plays really quickly, both in terms of fast turns and a quick overall play time.
You Might Not Like...
  • The game can be pretty mean, with very direct conflict at 2-players.
  • It's very hard to keep track of the cards assigned to every species, so you can sometimes make some pretty big mistakes!
The Verdict

7/10 Evolution is a game that rewards multiple plays and familiarity. It packs a lot of theme into a tight card game and has some really fun interactive moments, whilst making you plan and think carefully about the precious food resources and card interactions. For us, at two players it's a little too mean, but it's still  a game we'd highly recommend to other players.

Evolution was a review copy kindly provided to us by CoiledSpring Games.

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