As a paleontologist, I love the crap out of the board game Evolution. Designed by a Russian biologist, you win Evolution by having the most successful (i.e., most populated) made-up species. You can have more than one species who can even cooperate with each other to help you win the game.
A simple concept but it’s the animal’s traits that really seal the deal for the game. Giving your animal “Horns” or “Hard Shell” can help deter would-be predators. Giving your animal “Long Neck” or “Scavenger” can help them survive tough rounds when food supply is low. Giving your predator “Pack Hunting” or “Ambush” can give your animal an edge over the harder-to-kill prey. You can add or change new traits as you progress through the game providing you the ability to adapt to your opponents’ strategies.
This is a fun game to play and I know I’m not the only one who enjoys it. Many of my friends who have played this game once or twice are immediately hooked by its simple but endearing concept.
But unfortunately, there are a few problems with it that I feel need to be addressed.
Let me start with a problem that occurs depending on who you play with. At the beginning of each round you add food tokens to the Watering Hole and these food tokens are what your species eat. If there are not enough food tokens for all the species, your animal can starve and potentially go extinct. This is determined by the cards you add to the watering hold which can range from negative to positive numbers. The problem is that many of my friends throw in positive numbers in fear of the watering hole running out of food tokens. As such, the starvation aspect of the game is downplayed so much that it can cause the game to be imbalanced towards already highly successful species.
But some people want to watch the world burn and purposely throw in negative numbers making for more enjoyable and competitive games. So this is a minor issue.
An actual issue I have is the runaway success between two traits that can be exploited easily. In the game, if one of your species has the “Warning Call” trait, it prevents another one of your species to be attacked by your predator. If you pair this up with the “Symbiosis” trait (a species prevents a smaller species from being eaten), then you get an unwinnable combination that is hard to stop. Sure, you can get the “Ambush” card to negate the “Warning Call” trait but you still have to be bigger than the “Symbiosis” species in order to deal any real damage to it (not to mention the “Ambush” card is an uncommon card).
There are other traits (e.g., “Hard Shell” and “Defensive Herding” in particular) that can be exploited to various degrees but none are as effective as this winning combo. More often than not, herbivores dominate the board game landscape even when the predators get the amazing “Pack Hunting” trait at their call. It’s rare to have a predator that is actual top dog.
If you’re a reader of my site then you know that I’m a paleontologist. As such, as I’m playing through this board game with all my friends, I keep thinking what I can do to improve it, to refine it, and to enhance the quality of the game while embracing the awesomeness of evolution. There are so many animal characteristics out there that can be exploited that this game hasn’t even touched like camouflage or flight.
And guess what!?!? The creators behind Evolution are doing an expansion for Evolution called the “Flight Expansion!” Not only have they gone back and refined the original cards, they also added so many new traits as well including flight, camouflage, keen eyesight, and more! And oh my god the changes!
Oh. My. Arceus. Yes. All the problems I had in the first game are now being addressed. This kind of response to balance issues in board games is simply great. I can’t wait to get this game. The expansion is on Kickstarter right now. We still got two weeks until this Kickstarter is done but don’t worry as they are already well past funding! I was very happy I found out about the Kickstarter thanks primarily by blogger http://ohjoystick.com/
Okay, so the Flight Expansion looks promising.
But I want to indulge a bit in what I think would be a great Evolution expansion.
As I already briefly talked about, there can be a runaway effect in Evolution where one person’s species becomes so large that no other animal can take it down. They can then just up their population count and continue to eat a lot of food prompting them to win the game. The updated “Pack Hunting” trait can solve that issue thankfully but even still, I would like to see some change on a major scale.
Evolution has been greatly affected by extinctions from a local to a global scale. Species survive, outcompete, or die out due to changes in their environment. The ruling class dies and the underdogs rise up to take their place as kings. The characters may be different and the setting may be new but the plot is still the same.
And so I say, why not have an Extinction Expansion for the Evolution Board Game?
This expansion can upset the game’s foundation to the point that people who may be succeeding during the game now find themselves in a dire situation. Those who were struggling now have the opportunity to overtake their now weakened (or even dead) competitors. The possibility of different extinction events affecting species with various sizes, populations and traits is amazing and I feel giddy just thinking about it.
So, how would it work? The way I imagine it is that at the end of every round, an extinction event card is drawn to determine if an extinction has occurred. 3/4th of the time, nothing happens. However, for that 1/4th of the time that something occurs, the players have to do what the card says. Here are the ideas I came up with (and feel free to contribute or change anything).
Ice Age: If a species has a body size>4 or if a species has the “Fat Tissue” Trait then its population size increases by one. Climbers go extinct (no trees). Watering Hole’s food supply is halved.
Tar Pits: Every time a species with the “Scavengers” Trait feeds in the following round, their population size goes down by one.
Meteor Impact: Body size>4 goes extinct. Watering Hole’s food supply is halved.
Desert World: All species’ population size goes down by two except species with the “Burrowing” Trait as their population size increase by two instead. Watering Hole’s food supply is halved.
Plague: All species’ population size goes down by one.
Invasive Species: Species with three traits are too specialized and are outcompeted (i.e., goes extinct) by an invasive species.
Humans: If a species has a body size>4 then their population size is reduced by two. If a species has horns then its population is reduced by one.
Those are all of the ideas I have come up with at this time. I know there are some more extinction ideas out there but I haven’t quite figured out how I should use them in the game.
The best part about this expansion idea is that I can make this all by myself! Since it’s entirely separate from the board game and does not rely on any pre-existing cards, I can just make my own extinction cards and apply it here! I have yet to test it out but I’m looking forward to it.
Regardless, this is a fun game and if you haven’t played it, you should, it’s highly entertaining, and if you have a few dollars more to spare, you should contribute to the Kickstarter as well. Who knows, there may even be a second expansion next year (fingers crossed for Swimming Expansion)!
The Extinction Expansion actually sounds great. Have you pitched it to them? Could be next year’s project.
I tweeted to them this article but that’s all I did. I’m just glad they’re having an expansion at all with some nice new traits