Evolution: New World Board Game: 2-4 Players (1-6 with the Butterfly Effect expansion) Published by Rightgames/CrowD Games

Shortly after getting back into hobby board gaming in 2014, I discovered a board game called Evolution, published by NorthStar Games in that same year. It quickly became one of my favorites.

I love Evolution’s theme and overall goal of gameplay: create unique species, add traits to help them evolve, and help them survive (hopefully until the end of the game) or at least long enough so that they’ve consumed lots of food for your bag. There’s a bit more to it, but that’s the gist. Evolve, eat and stay alive. The stunning artwork portraying fictional species and even giving players sciencey words to name the genus and species, only add to the already strong theme in the game.

I played a ton of NorthStar’s version of Evolution and enjoyed it very much. It had a bit of a learning curve for newer gamers, but if I could get people to invest a little bit of effort, they would enjoy it. There was another obstacle to overcome, however, not just with the game, Evolution, but also the whole process of evolution itself. That is, (to quote Thomas Hobbes from Leviathan) life can be “nasty, brutish, and short.”

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Evolution is not for the faint of heart. A mean game, with species literally eating each other, and/or intentionally starving each other by more efficiently taking food from the available supply. Evolution is definitely interactive. So, what I am saying is that while the game’s theme is strong, players also need the “thick skin” trait in order to have fun with it.

Until recently, I did not realize that the NorthStar version was based on a previous game published in 2010 by Rightgames, called Evolution: The Origin Of Species. Also, recently, I discovered that Rightgames and CrowD Games joined up to publish a new version based on the 2010 original. And now that I have gotten the chance to try out the retail version of Evolution: New World, I can tell you what I think about it. Spoiler alert, it’s also not for the faint of heart.

As stated by the publishers, “Evolution: New World is an updated and extended version of the basic Evolution: The Origin of Species game. It includes both well-known animal traits and new ones, complete with refined descriptions and colorful illustrations. Food is now generated using Area cards, and animals can use shelter to hide from predators.”

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Let’s talk about components and art. Evolution: New World contains only cards and tokens. There are no species boards. Instead, a face-down trait card serves as the animal. The game is set on our Earth instead of a fictional one. The art on the cards is still quite colorful and depicts non-fictional animals and habitats beautifully. The cards are quite large and enhance the readability and the artwork.

The publishers indicate that the sleeve size for the cards is 79×110 mm which doesn’t seem easy to find. I am using 79×120 mm sleeves and dealing with the extra plastic on the long edge. I hope to rectify that in the near future. I also wish there were four trait reference cards instead of two. Aside from those two issues, I love the art and components. The food and shelter tokens are colorful and made of wood. Everything in the box is immersive.

Now onto gameplay. The game lasts 6 rounds. At the end of those six rounds, players get 3 points per living species, one point for each trait attached to it, and few of the traits add 1-2 extra points if you have them. That’s it for scoring.

The mechanics are super simple. There are four phases to each round. In the first phase, you play species and traits, alternating one card at a time until everyone passes. Then a random area will be added to the area cards (one per player) already face up on the table. These areas dictate how much food and shelter are available to the animals.

In the third phase, players will alternate taking food or shelter until everyone passes. In the fourth phase, any unfed animals remaining will go extinct, meaning the cards representing that animal and its attached traits are discarded. Ouch. Finally, the players draw two cards into their hands (plus one card for every species remaining) and then discard down to the hand limit of six, if applicable.

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What I love about the gameplay is that the actions are simple. But there are so many tactical decisions to make that the game packs a brain-burning punch. Each card can only be played for one of its three possibilities: either a faced-down species or one of the two traits listed on the face-up side of the card.

The traits can potentially offer combos that can mold your various animals into ferocious hunters or peaceful, but tough-eating machines. You may try to make them hard to kill with protective traits, or hard to escape with offensive ones, and if you’re really good (and a little lucky) maybe both. A few nasty traits, like Parasite and Statis, are played on opponents’ cards and can cause some real problems for them. Each decision seems quite important and that usually makes a game both stressful and rewarding. And for me, that usually makes a game very enjoyable.

Given its theme, Evolution: New World is unsurprisingly a tactical experience. If you are looking for long-term and overarching strategic bliss, it’s probably not the game for you. You can try to make a plan, but even in a two-player game with fewer moving parts, there will be enough “evolving” of the game state to crush the will of a grand strategist.

Obviously, there is some luck any time players are drawing cards in a game. I like to think of it as the gene pool. There are 29 different traits that can be added to your animals in the base game. That’s a lot. There are plenty of combos that can be explored, and a peaceful situation can turn deadly by adding or avoiding a single trait.

The food situation is ever-changing as well. The different types of Area cards provide different amounts of food, and some food is impossible to reach without certain traits. While you always see a number of face-up Area cards equal to the player count, each round one drops off and another is added. However, the new card is not added until phase two of the following round, after players have already played their species and traits. I find these aspects of the game to be super thematic, quite challenging, and definitely fun. But I can see how some might find it too stressful for their liking.

For me, Evolution: New World manages to pack in all of the theme and tension of NorthStar’s Evolution and somehow streamlines it. First of all, there are six definite rounds as opposed to a timer of getting through a large deck of trait cards. Eliminating the need for species boards and population cubes makes the game easier to teach as well, due to fewer moving parts.

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The feeding process is also streamlined by the fact that most of the time an animal only needs to eat once to be fed. Finally, the end game scoring doesn’t take food into account at all, so this makes the game easier to teach at the beginning and easier to score at the end. I think that gives Evolution: New World a better chance to get to the table.

I think a playtime of 30 minutes per player is a good estimate. Maybe once all of the card possibilities are digested after several plays the game could go faster, but the changing game state in between turns requires some analysis when it’s your turn.

I haven’t tried the Cataclysmic Variant listed in the rule book yet, but it sounds promising. In the variant, each player gets a hand of 20 cards and has to play at least 18 of them during a single round and then feed. After extinction is assessed the game is scored. I think this would be especially fun as a two-player sparring experience.

Those are my thoughts on Evolution: New World from Rightgames and CrowD Games. Thanks for paying attention, and keep nerding on!

To see the video version of this review: 

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