Posted by: gschloesser | August 2, 2011

Evo

Design by:  Philippe Keyaerts
Published by:  EuroGames
3 – 5 Players, 1 ½ hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

(Editor’s Note:  This review also appears in Counter Magazine # 13)

Evo is the very latest design from Philippe Keyaerts, the French designer of last year’s sensation, Vinci.  The game, however, is a distinct departure from world conquering civilizations.  Instead, Evo concentrates on the development, survival and sudden extinction of the dinosaurs. 

I had heard mixed reports on this title, some near ecstatic, with others being so-so.  I am a big fan of Vinci, so I had high hopes for Philippe’s latest release. 

I’ve seen others describe the game as “Ursuppe-lite“, which is a very accurate description.  The mechanics and overall ‘feel’ of the game are very, very similar to that utilized in Doris & Frank’s game of evolving amoebas.  Almost too similar.  One gets the feeling of having done all this before.  Plus, there seemed to be more options and gene combinations present in Ursuppe than what is possible with Evo.

Now, that being said, I’ve enjoyed my multiple playings of Evo.  Of course, I am also a big fan of Ursuppe.  The one big advantage Evo has over Ursuppe is that it is a bit shorter, playing to completion in about 1 – 1 1/2 hours.  Most of our Ursuppe games clock in at over 2 hours.  So, if for no other reason than time, Evo just might make it to the table a bit more often than Ursuppe.

Another attractive feature of Evo is the board design.  The mounted board is printed on both sides and can be arranged in various configurations to handle 3, 4 or 5 players.  This prevents having too much territory in a game with fewer players, forcing players to compete for the scarce regions.  Kinda neat.

Players each begin the game with one dinosaur and a dinosaur mat.  The mat displays a caricature of a dinosaur, which appears to be some sort of distant ancestor of the wiener dog.  Every player initially begins the game with the same ‘genes’, including one egg (for giving birth), one leg (for movement), one parasol (for surviving warm weather) and one patch of fur (for surviving cool weather).  These are printed directly on the dinosaur mat.

The basic idea of the game is to populate the board with your dinosaurs and survive the rapid changes in climate.  To do this, you must ‘evolve’ your dinosaurs by acquiring additional genes so they can adapt to these climatic changes.  New genes can increase the effectiveness of the initial four genes each player possesses, plus provide additional powers and features.  For instance, if a player acquires a second ‘leg’ gene, he now has two movement points instead of one.  Likewise, an additional ‘egg’ gene will allow that player to give birth to two dinosaurs per turn as opposed to only one.  A ‘horn’ gene, however, makes the player’s dinosaurs more formidable in conflict situations.  Get the picture?  In a very creative, and often humorous move, new genes are actually little chits which are placed directly onto the dinosaur caricature on each player’s mat.  Thus, an additional ‘fur’ gene is placed anywhere you wish on your dinosaur.  It’s quite humorous to see where players opt to place these additional genes and observe how each dinosaur mutates.

The game’s duration is 9 – 13 turns, depending upon the number of players and the timing of the meteor impact.  As fellow gamer George Michaels commented, “Why are we bothering playing?  We’re all going to die anyway!”  Yep … the game ends when the meteor smashes into the earth, thereby killing all the evolving beasts.  Still, the player with the most mutation points at that point is victorious.  Kind of a phyrric victory, if you ask me!

Each turn consists of six phases, including initiative, climate adjustment, movement, births, survival & mutation, and meteor movement and evolution.  Initiative is determined in favor of the player who possesses the longest tail (don’t ask me why!).  Tail extensions are acquired during the Evolution phase when players bid for the right to acquire certain genes.  If players tie for initiative, a die is rolled to break this tie. 

Initiative can be critical, especially during later stages of the game when territory becomes scarce and the players rush to move their dinosaurs into areas where they can survive the changing climate.  Unless an opponent has a big advantage in ‘horns’, the game system gives the edge in conflict situations to defense.  So, getting to a terrain first often means survival versus death.

The climate change dictates the players’ actions each turn.  There are four possible temperature levels on the climate chart:  warm, hot, cool and cold.  Whichever space the climate marker is currently located is the ‘safe’ area.  So, for instance, if the climate is on the ‘green’ space (warm), then dinosaurs located in the green spaces on the board (forest) can easily survive.  However, one space removed from this ‘warm’ climate (either ‘hot’ or ‘cool’) can only sustain a limited number of dinosaurs.  This amount is determined by the number of proper genes each player has.  Using our same example, if the climate is on the green space, then initially each player can only have one dinosaur survive in the yellow (hot) spaces and one dinosaur survive in the brown (cool) spaces.  The actual number of dinosaurs which survive in these spaces per player is determined by the number of ‘parasol’ and ‘fur’ genes the player possesses.  So, if a player has two ‘fur’ genes, then two of his dinosaurs can survive in a terrain which is one ‘cooler’ than the current temperature.  Likewise, a player with three ‘parasols’ can have three dinosaurs survive in a terrain which is one ‘warmer’ than the current temperature. 

So what if a player has dinosaurs in a terrain that is two removed from the current temperature?  They die.  No hope for the poor beasts.  Further, since the climate chart is circular and ‘wraps’ at the extremes of hot and cold, there are only two types of territories safe when the temperature is either hot or cold.  This severely reduces the number of territories on the board which can be safely occupied, resulting in a mad dash for these spaces and, usually, ferocious conflict.

During the climate phase, a die is rolled to see if the climate moves forward (3, 4, 5 or 6), remains stationary (2) or actually goes in reverse (1).  The odds are that the season will progress normally, but this cannot be counted upon each and every turn.  Unexpected climate changes can, and often do, cause chaos and wreak havoc upon dinosaur populations.  In either case, as the board becomes more populated with baby dinos, there is never enough territory to safely accommodate all these reptiles.  Conflicts and death will be the end result.

These climatic changes are why, in my opinion, mobility is so important.  With the initial movement allowance of ‘1’, it isn’t long before dinos cannot reach the safety of hospitable terrain and begin dying.  Additional ‘leg’ genes increase a player’s movement allowance by one for each ‘leg’ gene acquired.  Please note that this is a total movement allowance and not a ‘per dino’ allowance.  These are slow and lumbering beasts!  In several games I’ve played, I made a concerted effort to obtain extra ‘leg’ genes to improve my mobility.  Interestingly enough, I won both of those games.  On the other hand, I’ve seen this strategy fail, too.  You see, you can run as fast as you want, but if your tail is short and you are low on the ‘initiative’ totem pole, others will still beat you to the choice terrain.  Further, you also have to keep a wary eye on those aggressive ‘horny’ reptiles, as they are apt to simply barge right in and attempt to devour you.  Rumor has it that the tasty dinosaur meat tastes similar to chicken!

After all players move their dinos, it is the birthing season.  Each player places new dinos onto the board, depending upon the number of ‘egg’ genes they own.  The more eggs … the more dinos.  Lest you think promiscuity is a good thing, however, remember that these dinos need to survive.  Too many dinos on the board means more competition for valuable terrain.  Since each space can only hold one dino, death is inevitable if players have too many babies.  It’s a sad sight to see newborn dinos succumb to the climate.  I’ve seen several players rush to acquire new ‘egg’ genes in the false belief that more is always better.  It just isn’t so!

Immediately following the births, the climatic changes begin to be felt.  All dinosaurs in excess of those a player can protect (based on their genes) expire and are removed from the board.  Survival of the fittest … and most comfortable.  Players then receive mutation points for their surviving dinosaurs.  In a silly design decision, these mutation points are recorded using over-sized cylindrical pieces on the outer rim of the Bidding Board.  The spaces on the mutation track are tiny and can only accommodate one piece each.  However, it is quite common to have numerous players with the same score, so the excess pieces must be placed off board to identify the current score.  Further, due to their size, these pieces are easily knocked over and proceed to roll away.  Why the ever-popular wooden cubes weren’t used is beyond me.

Next, the meteor moves forward one space on the meteor track.  If it reaches one of the spaces marked with a die, a die is rolled to determine if life as they know it ends or continues.  Once reaching this spot, the chance of Armageddon increases over three turns until the meteor inevitably smashes into the earth on the fourth turn, ending the game … and the world as the dinosaurs knew it.

If life does not end, players then begin bidding on new genes.  A number of genes equal to the number of players (or one less if using the official variant) are drawn from a cloth bag and placed on the Bidding Board.  The player with the initiative places his bid marker next to one of the genes he desires.  He may place this bid on any number from 0 – 6 (or greater, but the chart only goes as high as ‘6’).  This is the amount of mutation points he is willing to surrender to acquire that gene.  Then, in initiative order, every player does the same.  If a player opts to bid on a gene upon which another player has already bid on, he must place his marker at least one number higher than that other player.  The other player then immediately removes his bid marker and must bid again … either on the same gene or a different gene.  This process continues until each gene has only one bid marker on it.  Players then subtract the equivalent mutation points from their score and acquire their new gene.  There is one gene, however, which allows a player to pay one less mutation point for each bid he wins.

This bidding system is simple yet extremely effective.  I enjoy watching bids escalate as players fight over a particular gene.  Many times, I drop out of the bidding early and settle for a less desirable gene if I can acquire it at little or no cost in mutation points.  I’ve used this tactic many times and gained 2 or 3 points on most of my opponents since they had engaged in a bidding war over more desirable genes.

Once everyone has acquired their new gene, the turn ends and the entire process is repeated until the meteor smashes into the earth.  When this occurs, the player with the most mutation points is victorious.  Well, sort of.  After all, he’s dead, too.

Additional spice is added to the game by the inclusion of event cards.  Each player initially possesses three such cards, and new ones can be acquired by winning a bid for a ‘card’ gene.  These cards have a wide variety of effects, including altering the climate, giving birth away from an adjacent dinosaur, killing an opponent’s dinosaur, etc.  They can have a significant impact on the game and some of the genes appear a bit too powerful and unbalancing.  Only further experience will reveal which, if any, genes are truly unbalancing and should be modified.

Evo is quite fun to play and lasts just about the right length of time without overstaying its welcome.  It is a simpler, lighter version than Ursuppe, which isn’t all that difficult, either.  I’m not sure if the limited gene combinations and processional nature of the game won’t eventually make the game go the way of the dinosaurs, but, for now, it is entertaining and should hit the table several more times.

 

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Responses

  1. Very much like a wargame. I should like it but I don’t. We always used the official variant where there is one less trait available than players. This feature where one person will not get anything is one of my least favorite systems. (7/10)


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