Creating your own weird species and and pitting them against your friends’ equally weird species has been a pretty good theme for a lot of games over the years, and one of the absolute best was North Star Games’ 2014 board game Evolution. Upgraded over the years with a handful of expansions and twists, it’s a stalwart in my collection and I’ve no intention of getting rid of it any time soon. At the recent Origins game fair I got a chance to sit down with the digital adaptation of Evolution, Kickstarted last year and coming this fall, and found that the digital version is going to a have a lot to recommend it. It’s a flashier, higher touch adaptation than a lot of board game ports, seemingly optimized for larger computer or tablet screens than squashed down to fit a phone.
In Evolution players create and evolve species of creatures, attempting to keep them fed, expanding their populations, and trying to starve out the competition. Each turn they play cards from their hands, either to increase their species’ populations, start new species, or give their species a special trait printed on the card like a hard shell, fat deposits, or the ability to climb. They play those same cards, from their limited hand, to add food to the shared watering hole. The trick is placing enough food to be sure that others can’t snatch it all first while trying to make your opponents go hungry—that, or bypassing the cycle altogether by evolving carnivores to directly attack and diminish your opponents’ population.
It’s a game that’s a balance of tense play and counterplay. As opponents evolve new capabilities, you evolve counters to them. Perhaps an opponent is using cooperative species to suck up the food supply quickly, so you evolve long necks to get access to food they can’t. There are also tense decisions: Do you put out just enough food for your species, hoping that opponents do the same, or do you oversupply the watering hole so that even if enemies put in small amounts of food or evolve to gobble up quickly your species will live?
The videogame takes full advantage of the wild, animalistic theme and gorgeous pastel nature art from the tabletop game. Most of the game is animated and felt alive, with food cubes floating back and forth across the watering hole. The little paws representing species move as you use them, snatching food from the center of the board. They also change, growing claws and swiping at enemies when they’re made into carnivores. Other players’ species, their traits, and the deck of cards that serves as the game timer were all centrally presented and visually distinct—once I knew where everything was located I barely had to mouse over other creatures to know what was going on with them.
The demo also included a snappy guided tutorial with a little explorer character, effectively introducing the rules and strategies of the game. I was particularly impressed by how it outlined the somewhat-complicated rules surrounding carnivore attacks using a scenario-driven approach.
After a tutorial and a few full games, I was pretty impressed by what I saw and am convinced this one’s going to be a worthwhile adaptation. Though delayed from its original mid 2018 release date, Evolution: The Video Game is scheduled to release late summer or early fall on Steam, iOS, and Android, with cross play between all three platforms. The game’s official site is right here.