Kickstarter Tabletop Alert: ‘Evolution’ Goes Digital

Evolution Digital banner

Evolution is a process in which species develop and diversify, gaining new traits and sometimes losing others in a race to survive. Evolution is a tabletop game in which you choose the traits for your species, acquiring enough food to keep them from going extinct. And now, Evolution is evolving again: it’s going digital!

What Is Evolution – The Video Game?

Evolution – The Video Game is a digital adaptation of North Star Games’ fantastic strategy board game. It will be for 1 to 4 players, ages 9 and up, and will appear on PC, Mac, Android, and iOS Devices. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with various pledge tiers available: $10 for mobile devices, $15 for Steam (PC/Mac), and some higher tiers if you also want some physical goodies like a copy of the physical board game as well. (Spoiler alert: you do.) Note: if you back the Kickstarter campaign, you will get access to the beta version of the app immediately as soon as the campaign ends, and then the full game once it is completed.

I was given early access to a beta version of the videogame to try it out—the beta only has single-player mode so far.

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How to Play Evolution – The Video Game

The video game plays quite similarly to the board game, so if you’ve already read my original review of the base game or you’ve played it before, you’re mostly all set. If not, here’s a quick overview. (The digital version also has a tutorial that will walk you through a sample game, limiting the number of options you have available and introducing new rules as you go.)

Evolution video game open book
The menu screen starts with an opening book.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to score the most points by having species that survive until the end of the game, putting traits on them, and feeding them throughout the course of the game.

Evolution video game

Starting Up

The great thing about a digital game, of course, is that it sets everything up for you.

Evolution video game
Pick an animal avatar for yourself!

In the app, you have some fun options like picking an animal avatar, and you can also pick how many AI opponents you want and what difficulty level each one should be.

Evolution video game
Select up to 3 opponents, with different difficulty levels.

In the finished game, there will also be online multiplayer available, with a system that matches you automatically with opponents of similar skill level.

Each player starts with 4 of trait cards and one species of population 1, body size 1.

Evolution video game - pick food cards

Pick Food Cards

Each round, the first thing you’ll do is pick a food card. Each of your trait cards has a food value (positive, zero, or even negative) and each player must select one and put it into the watering hole, which will determine how much food will be present for that round. The nice thing about the app is that the food values are magnified and highlighted during this step of the game—and it also won’t let you continue until you’ve chosen one. (In the tabletop game, players often forget and start planning out their evolution, only to realize that they haven’t picked a food card yet.)

Evolution video game trait cards
Play trait cards to evolve your species or make new species.

Play Trait Cards

Once everyone has chosen a food card, you may spend the rest of your cards to evolve! Each species can have up to three traits on it (and you can replace existing traits if desired). You may also spend trait cards to create a new species (up to 5 total), increase population of a species (the green number on the left), or increase the body size of a species (the blue number on the right).

During the single-player mode, you may play your trait cards at any time (and hit the “undo” button to back up), but the AI opponents will play cards in turn order, beginning with the start player (who has the dinosaur meeple). So you can wait and see what players before you do, to some extent—you can see if they’re creating new species or increasing population and body size, but if they play cards as traits, they show up face-down until everyone has already chosen.

Evolution video game carnivore
Becoming a carnivore.

Once you’re ready, you hit “End Turn” to continue. The trait cards will be revealed. If any species has become a carnivore, the app plays a little animation, showing some claws appear on the paw symbol. The population number also switches from red to green, the paw gets a darker color, and the avatar switches to an aggressive version. Beware!

Evolution video game feeding
Time to eat!

Feeding

Now it’s time to feed your species! The food cards are revealed, and the total food is added to the watering hole.

In turn order, each player may feed one of their species—this continues until everyone is fed or there’s nothing left to eat. Your species must eat one food per population. When it’s your turn, you drag one of your species to its food source. The herbivores eat from the watering hole as long as there’s food available. Carnivores, of course, only eat meat.

Evolution video game carnivore
If a species is protected from your carnivore, you’ll get a little pop-up message.
Evolution video game attack
It’s like watching a nature documentary.

If you pick a valid target for your carnivore, the app plays a little animation of the paw leaping up and attacking the target species (accompanied by a vicious growl and slash sound). Your carnivore gains food equal to the target’s body size, and the target loses one population. If that was the last of their population, they go extinct. (If you lose a species, you may get a consolation prize—one card per trait on the deceased species.)

Evolution video game starvation
Creatures who can’t find food don’t survive.

Starvation

Once there’s no more available food, creatures that didn’t get to eat die of starvation. First, if you have more population than food, those population die off. (Above, the bottom creature had 6 population but only 3 food, so 3 population died). If a species did not manage to eat any food, then it goes extinct, with a little animation showing the paw turning into bones, and then crumbling away into dust.

Evolution video game scoring
Score points for all the food you ate this round.

Scoring

Finally, you score points for all of the food you’ve eaten this round. The app shows all the food lined up in a row for each player, and then the tokens to into each player’s scoring bag on the edge of the screen. You can only see your own cumulative score—for other players, you’ll have to rely on memory to know how they’re doing.

Next Round

A new round begins. The dinosaur meeple is passed clockwise, and each player gets some new cards: 3 cards plus 1 more for each surviving species.

Evolution video game end
I’m the dominant species!

Game End

The game ends when the deck runs out of cards. The app announces the round number at the beginning of each round, and will say “Last Round” before the final round. You can tap on the deck of cards to see how many cards remain at any point during the game.

At the end of the game, each player scores:

  • 1 point per food eaten
  • 1 point per population of surviving species
  • 1 point per trait on surviving species

The highest score is crowned the Dominant Species, and everyone else is a Sub-Species.

Why You Should Back Evolution – The Video Game

I’ve already described before why I like Evolution so much as a game, so here I’ll just focus on what makes the digital version stand out.

I heartily recommend Evolution – The Video Game: it’s an excellent adaptation of the board game, which is itself terrific, but adds some great features. Evolution is a deeply strategic game that demonstrates how evolution works in an engaging, personal way. It’s one thing to read about survival of the fittest and adaptation in a book, but it’s another to engage in an evolutionary arms race yourself, trying to outsmart your opponent’s carnivore so they can’t eat you—or maybe trying to overcome your opponent’s defenses with your own carnivore.

Even if you already own the board game version, it’s worth taking a look at this Kickstarter campaign. First, there’s a tier that’s designed just for those who already own the game: it includes a dino sticker for your first player meeple, plus a neoprene watering hole playmat. But also, the app plays a lot more quickly than the physical game—there’s just less setup, card dealing, food counting, and so on. It’s great to have the app enforce the rules and make sure that nobody forgets to use their Long Neck to get food ahead of time (or to take it from the supply instead of the watering hole).

If you haven’t played the board game version, never fear! The tutorial walks you through the game, showing you the basic concepts. It lets you play a little bit but with limitations, so that you learn how things like the “undo” button work, how to set up your traits and create new species, and so on. If you’ve already played the tabletop version before, you might be able to skip this, though it can be helpful just for learning the interface. I did find for the most part that the interface is fairly intuitive if you’re familiar with the game rules.

Evolution video game tutorial
The friendly professor walks you through the basics of the game…
Evolution videogame tutorial
The professor demonstrates some of the traits, and explains how to handle carnivores.

I always love playing the physical game when possible, simply because one of the things I love about tabletop games is getting people together face-to-face and interacting in person. However, there are definite benefits to the digital version, too: in addition to the speedier play I mentioned earlier, I will also be able to play with people who for whatever reason can’t play Evolution in my basement with me: friends who live in other cities, or other parents who can’t leave the house when the kids are in bed but could sit down with an iPad and play a game or two. Plus, of course, if you’re a gamer who can’t always find a gaming group near you, the match-finding aspect of this will pair you up with worthy opponents automatically.

The app will also be fully cross-platform, which is great. You’re playing on your PC but your friend has an Android tablet? No problem!

The Kickstarter page also mentions campaigns. I don’t know much about those yet, but I like the idea of having some ways to mix up single-player mode with special challenges or things to unlock. It’s a way to add another layer onto the game.

There are some nice little touches that happen when certain traits are triggered, playing off the artwork for the traits. For instance, when a predator with the Ambush trait gets around the Warning Call defense, you see an alligator slip into the watering hole. If you add Intelligence to your species, the little orange monkey from the card scampers onto the rocks nearby. These are cool little features that don’t change the gameplay, but just help illustrate the various traits a little more.

I really like that Evolution – The Video Game doesn’t just look like the cardboard game on the screen. North Star Digital preserved the feel of the game, while also making it fit its new environment—you know, almost as if Evolution had gained some new traits and adapted to changing conditions.

For more information, or to pledge for a copy, visit the Evolution – The Video Game Kickstarter page.

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Disclosure: GeekDad received beta access to this game for review purposes.

Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit.