REVIEW: ‘Evolution’ Scratches That Board Game Itch (Switch)

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Evolution

Evolution is a digital strategy board game developed by North Star Games. The goal is to thrive in an ever-changing ecosystem. During play, you gather points for feeding your species, increasing their population, and giving them Traits to best ensure their survival. A game takes about 6 to 8 rounds and finishes when there are no more cards in the deck. At the end of the game, the points get tallied. What’s counted is the amount of food your species have consumed, the population of surviving species, and the number of Trait cards on the surviving species.

We all know that 2020 has been a trying year. Many of us have been holed up at home, obeying the mandates states have put in place. Many have settled in with immediate family, while others are alone the majority of the time. We all miss things. The one thing I miss more than anything on my long list is playing board/card games with my friends. These games have always hit differently from video games due to the togetherness they bring: being in the same room, laughing, and competing to win. While not being in the same room as people, this digital board game for the Nintendo Switch has served to fill that void for me.

Evolution can be played with 2-4 players. The game has an online mode and a local pass-and-play mode. At the time of this review, only a handful of players were on days at a time. Although it was quite a wait to get into a game, matches ran smoothly, and the only issue I had was getting to know some Trait Cards I had not encountered yet in the campaign. I would get flustered at times because, when playing with actual humans, the match has a timer, and you forfeit your turn if you don’t make a play in the allotted time.

When starting a match in Evolution, you are greeted by a Watering Hole in the middle of the play area. At the beginning of each turn, after you are dealt cards, you and other players contribute to the amount of food placed here. Your deck of cards is known as Trait Cards. During the Feeding Phase, you have to choose what card to put in the Watering Hole. In the upper left corner of the card are a leaf and a number. That number indicates the amount of food that is added. These numbers go up to 9 and can be positive or negative numbers.

The card design is very minimalistic despite having a lot of information on it. You have your food cost in the upper left, card art of an animal in the middle, and the description of what the card does underneath it. The description of the Traits can be a bit confusing at first. However, you can always replay the first few tutorial levels of the game or a level where a new card was introduced in the campaign. I got the hang of playing certain Traits by trial and error. I enjoyed the many “Aha!” moments when a Trait finally clicked for one of my animals.

After players add their food cards to the Watering Hole, the Play phase kicks in. The round starts with the player who has the green dinosaur icon, and players take turns in a clockwise manner around the Watering Hole. Players can play any number of cards, and there is no limit to the number of cards you can keep in your hand to use for a later time. When playing cards, you can play a Trait card, create a new species, or increase your species’ body size or population.

In Evolution, a player’s species can have only three Traits, and there can be no duplicates. You can create a new species by selecting or touching the small paw print next to an existing species. Every new species starts with a population of 1 and a body size of 1. But placement is critical. You cannot add a new species between already placed ones, only at the front or end of the row.

You can discard your cards by adding them to your species’ population of body size. The maximum number for population and body size is 6. The only way you can boost this number is with equipped Trait Cards. However, this does not visually raise the body size. It will always remain at 6. Playing species is always tricky because you never know how much food is in the Watering Hole until after the Play Phase. If a species population does not get to eat, you lose one population.

The final phase is the Feeding Phase. Players take turns feeding one species at a time, rushing to eat from a limited food supply. Species are either Plant Eaters or Carnivores. Plant Eaters take Plant Food from the Watering Hole, while Carnivores must attack other species and acquire Meat Food equal to the attacked species’ Body Size.

If there is enough food for plant-eaters in the Watering Hole, the game auto feeds everyone. If Carnivores are on the field, players will have to manually feed by attacking their species or other player’s species if they can. Feeding ends when all species have been fed or choose not to eat. If any species did not eat, their population is lowered by one.

Evolution

Turning your species into a Carnivore is simple: you equip it as a Trait. Devouring other species is a little like battling in Magic: The Gathering. Carnivores are always hungry. A Carnivore must always eat from either you or another player. If your carnivorous species has a population of two and has fed from another player or your species, then that hunger is satisfied. However, a Carnivore’s body size must be larger than the species it is trying to attack. It’s survival of the fittest! The Carnivore can overcome certain species by having certain Traits to overcome the defending species’ Traits. You can equip various sneaky Traits to get around a large Body Size, such as Pack Hunting, which adds your Population Size to your Body Size.

After the Carnivore attacks and feeds, the species that was attacked has its population decreased by one. If the population goes to zero, that species dies out and becomes extinct. Although the species may be extinct, any food that the species collected during the Feeding Phase still counts towards your points for the end of the game.

In the early rounds of Evolution, I found myself adding high amounts of food to ensure all my animals ate. Mid to late game, where most of my species had an adequate body size to protect from Carnivores and Traits that allowed them to feed themselves, I tried to be sneaky and add less food or use a food card that took away food.

When all rounds have been played, scoring begins. The player with the highest score wins. Every Food (Plant or Meat) in their Food Bank is worth one point. Each surviving species is worth points equal to its population. If you have two surviving species with a population of six apiece, that’s 12 points. Each Trait Card on a species is worth a point. I have not encountered a strategy where you don’t want a full three Traits, so these are easy points to gain depending on how you set up your play area.

I have enjoyed my time with Evolution. I am still working my way through the campaign due to some pesky Apex Predators, but I appreciate that the AI in this game gives me a run for my money. As an avid board/card gamer, I love games where I concoct different and exciting strategies to display, whether for friends in real life or, in this case, digitally. The campaign does an excellent job teaching you the game to set you up for success while also challenging you. Many times I’ve learned and bettered myself due to defeat. In the campaign, you can take as much time as you want to plan and look over cards already played.

If you’re looking for an added challenge, Multiplayer is there to allow you to face off against other individuals around the world. Once the game releases and the pool of players increases, we will see who is genuinely the fittest for survival. Matches in multiplayer will take about double the time than a regular campaign match takes, but that can only be expected. I noticed that if a player drops out, there was no delay, and players were notified of the dropped player when it was their turn, along with an addition of “AI” next to the dropped player’s name.

Evolution is an exciting and unique board game with a little bit of everything when it comes to playing solo and competing with others near and far. It’s a great game to add to your library if you’re missing that connection that board games bring when we’re all together.

Evolution is available on Android, iOS, PC, and Nintendo Switch


Evolution
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

Evolution is an exciting and unique board game with a little bit of everything when it comes to playing solo and competing with others near and far. It’s a great game to add to your library if you’re missing that connection that board games bring when we’re all together.