On the Origin of Species, from Artana Games, drew me immediately toward it because of its subject matter, Darwin’s HMS Beagle traveling the Galápagos Islands in search of new species. Add in that it offers streamlined and simple gameplay that clocks in about an hour of playing time, which translates to more table-hitting opportunities with less hardcore gamers in my circle. Finally, polish all of the above with evocative, thematic art and colors. Is it fit? Will it survive? I say yes!

In On the Origin of Species, 2-4 players take simple turns, either placing cubes on species tiles or spending previously placed cubes to discover more valuable species. As these discoveries are made, the discovering player will gain points, draw cards and advance the HMS Beagle on its journey through the islands. At three locations along the route, players will score objectives that are randomly drawn at the game’s beginning. Once the Beagle makes it to the final space on the board, the journey ends and the player with the most points wins. End game point totals are easily calculated, adding just a point for each tile a player has collected during the game as well as scoring one public objective card. The cards that players acquire can be used to provide bonus resources, break placement rules for tile placement, and some will simply be held for set collection points during mid and endgame objectives.

One of my favorite aspects of the game is the strategy involved in placing species tiles as they are researched. There is a puzzle element involved because a new tile can only be placed (absent a card breaking this rule) in a space adjacent to all the tiles whose cubes were used to purchase it. This requirement also adds strategy as to where you put cubes in the first place. Adding a little bit more strategy to tile placement is the ability to block another player’s chances of researching a tile subsequently — as she may not be able to spend cubes in adjacent spaces. Finally, a tile can replace an already placed tile of lesser value. If this happens, the player who effectuates the move gets to keep the replaced tile and cash it in for a point at the end of the game. These strategic elements are nuanced and should not affect casual enjoyment of the game, but I believe they will stoke more tense competition amongst seasoned players. That range of accessibility should make the game appealing to more diverse gaming groups.

I am very pleased with On the Origin of Species. I am also excited to add a game to my collection with pleasing aesthetics and engaging but simple enough gameplay to get it to the table more frequently than not. I think the game could provide a solid amount of fun for more advanced board gamers who are looking for relaxing, more than cutthroat, gameplay. There is still decent interaction here, but not “in your face” interaction. In addition, the game’s allowance for randomizing starting locations, mid-game objective cards and end-game scoring cards provide a good bit of replayability and modularity. Appropriately, this game’s adaptability should equate to its survivability. I sure hope so.

Thanks for reading, stay safe and keep nerding on.

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This review was originally published 9/29/20



Rob Fenimore
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