[Review] Evolution Board Game – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: North Star Games
  • Publisher: North Star Games
  • Release Date: 10/12/2020
  • Price: £14.99 / $19.99
  • Review code provided by North Star Games

Introducing: Evolution

North Star Games have quite a pedigree of board games to their name. Their most well known title is probably the “Wits and Wagers,” series of party games which received huge acclaim in 2007. But in 2014 they produced a board game that not only made waves in the board gaming world but earning a number of nominations in the academic world too.

The game has since gone the way of many popular board games and created a digital version. Initially on iOS, Android and Steam, the game has now ported it’s way to the Nintendo Switch along with rumours of the already popular expansion set to follow.

Considering the board game prompted a professor of Evolutionary Biology to sing it’s praises in one of the most popularly read journals in the world (Nature) I felt compelled to don my false Charles Darwin beard, grab a beagle and avoid any references to the David Duchovny film of the same name (darn it!)

Lets play Evolution….

Now with 60% more frog…

Evolution, like life, makes a watering hole it’s central theme.

Evolution is a hand management game where you compete to become the dominant species in a given area, earning you points based on the amount of food you accumulate each round. You possess a finite amount of resource in the form of a hand of cards each round. Playing these cards allows you to alter the size or number of species you control or gives an existing species a trait.

Trait cards are the games engine. They provide the ability to alter the game board either for you, or your opponents and is what gives the game both its variation and its replay value. Where the challenge is built in is that a good trait could be tied to a high amount of food to add to your pool. So choosing the correct card for each round is crucial. The traits themselves are linked to genuine evolutionary traits and give benefits such as collecting more food each turn, sharing food among other species you control or becoming a carnivore.

Carnivores act as both a goal and a threat within Evolution. Whilst you can evolve your species into a carnivore, and give it suitable traits, other players can also do the same. There are ways to protect your species, but having a carnivore on the field turns you into a target quickly. Instead of taking food from the plant source at the watering hole, you attack and devour your competitors species.

At the end of each round the amount of food you have managed to collect is secretly added to your existing total. After all the rounds have been played these points are tallied up and the winner is the player with the most points.

It’s survival of the fittest

Being a carnivore can be fun, but there’s always a bigger fish!

The gameplay is fun and challenging. It definitely fits into the “easy to learn, difficult to master” category. Luckily there is a comprehensive tutorial for new players which eases you into the single player campaign. At times this felt a little too “hand holding” but it’s clear to see why and while it continues through the campaign, you can leave this early on.

The single player campaign eases you into the mechanics of the game, with difficulty increased and completion unlocking said difficulty for later play modes, specifically single player games of Evolution.

The other game modes are to play the actual game of Evolution. This can be done in a surprisingly diverse range of ways. Either against an AI similar to a number of board games, with different difficulties in AI being unlocked in the campaign. Or you can play more traditionally, in multiplayer mode. This game has clearly worked so hard to ensure that anyone can play Evolution in any possible way. With local and online multiplayers as well as, frankly, the gold standard in digital board games, the ability to “pass and play”.

It was difficult to review the online elements of the game as the features were unavailable at the time. However, what is promised is a huge range of ways to play. From online matchmaking designed to group you based on your current ability, to weekly challenges that unlock in game art assets. The great thing being advertised is that there is the ability to play asynchronous games, thereby being able to play with friends where scheduling issues might make it difficult.

Aesthetics – does it want to attract us, or warn us?

Asynchronous gaming – Because I can never get my friends together for game night!

It is safe to say that Evolution is visually stunning. With a mixture of hand drawn and watercolour-esque art assets you get a real sense for completing field notes on new species in the early 20th century. Each card has a great use of colour both to highlight the features, but also in the card itself. Animals are often conveyed in a false colour aspect that helps add to its own unique twist.

Musically, the game won’t win any awards, but it isn’t a defining feature of the game. The backgrounds have a suitable soundtrack and there is adequate accompaniment from sound effects. For example changing to a carnivore gives out a roaring sound that feels well merged into the background soundtrack. At no point do transitions between sounds feel noticeable and the sound adds to rather than takes away from the overall experience.

Where the aesthetics steal the show though is in the collectibles. The game contains the ability to unlock “sketches” throughout. These are hand drawn illustrations of in game assets. Each is accompanied with the name of the original artist and adds a real sense of achievement to the completionist library. These sketches and rewards are also linked to weekly challenges that are live upon release. There really is so much content to unlock that replay value is not going to be an issue.

Evolution: Edutainment at it’s finest!

Card choice can make or break your survival

I have to admit, evolution spoke to me on more than a gaming level. The game tries to educate as well as entertain, and unlike a lot of edutainment, it manages it well!

Throughout the regular game there are snippets of text that talk you though actual evolutionary adaptations an animal might have developed. But the game itself is established on sound evolutionary principles also. So much so infact that the original board game is used as a teaching tool at one of the UK’s top Universities.

Mutations aren’t always beneficial, and neither was this…

Sketches – Beautifully designed

Under the hood the game runs fine with very little issues. The only problem I found however was a bit of a big one. On trying to play the game with my wireless controller (Horipad) I was unable to navigate the game at all. Thinking I had just been lazy and not charged the controller for a while I plugged it in and nothing. Then realising I could still navigate out to the home menu made me question whether the game was only optimized for Joy-Con. Hopefully this is an issue that is patched early on. In fact, after writing this review, news came through that the developers are aware and working on a fix for this very issue. Until then, Joy-Cons will have to be the preferred choice.

Outside of the Game, Evolution keeps on giving!

Pass and Move – It’s the Evolution groove

I really wanted to include this at the end though. While researching for this review I came across something that tugged at the science teacher heartstrings.

Evolution has an “education edition” designed for use as a teaching tool. The game is packed with more facts and information about the topic of evolution and is optimised for classroom teaching. Chat functions are disabled and the ability to share the game across devices means schools can access it safely. The game’s website also has links for educators to gain discounts on copies as well as suggested lesson resources. Really this is a lovely addition that didn’t have to be there.

Final Thoughts – A must have for tabletop fans

Traverse a new land, without all that annoying Scurvy.

Evolution has proven itself a popular title in the tabletop board game world. But it is quite easy for a game, even a big box title, to have a lack luster digital copy. Similar titles like “Catan” and “Carcassone” felt average after a while, despite me being a fan of both. I also try to forget the catastrophe that was Asmodee’s attempt at bringing “Munchkin” to the masses.

What Evolution does is take the time and effort to make sure the tabletop game works digitally. The assets have the right amount of polish, the mechanics in game have been ported well and time has been spent to make sure that the biggest aspect of a board game, playing with friends, actually is incorporated into the fabric of the game itself. As digital board games go, it leads the pack.

Pros

  • Gorgeous hand drawn and watercolour looking assets
  • Great amount of replay value regardless of your preferences
  • Edutainment done correctly

Cons

  • Some issue with using wireless controllers
  • Tutorial felt a little too “hand holding” at times

Verdict

Evolution is an apex predator in the digital board game market, a must have!

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