If you haven’t played Evolution from North Star Games, you’ve been missing out. Not only was it incredibly smart, rightly portraying evolution as a raging contest of one-upsmanship between ever-changing species, it was also one of my favorite games of last year, and has been a regular feature at Château de Thurot game nights for so many months that we now play hands in between discussions about our vestigial kidneys and budding telekinetic powers.
Well, for all you creatures who missed out on the first (and second) of Evolution’s appearances, here’s your chance to finally shed that tail. Climate is soon in coming, and it’s set to heat things up a bit.
Of all the details that made Evolution such a clever game, from the way it absolutely nailed its theme to the gorgeous watercolor illustrations that adorned each of its cards, the main thing that stood out was the way it pitched evolution — the process itself — as a breakneck race between species. And not just any old race, but one undertaken in the middle of an avalanche, while starving to death, and alongside a herd of assorted animals who were all so hungry that you started to look like a cartoon steak whenever they glanced your way. Just to survive, you’d evolve into a herd for protection from predators; they’d show up in packs. You’d hang out with another species who would let out a warning cry whenever anything hostile crept too close; the carnivores would evolve the ability to ambush. You’d become fertile and forage all day to out-breed and out-feed your competition; some jerk would grow a long neck and snack on all the best lettuce before you got a chance. The only way to keep on living was to stay in constant motion.
Crucially, the one thing missing from this equation was the way the broader environment might shape a species’ evolution. Cue the Climate expansion.
If nothing else, Climate is determined to throw a monkey wrench into these well-trod proceedings, tampering with your best-laid heritable traits as though the original Evolution formula were simply too easy to handle. With each round representing the passage of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, the very temperature of the planet is liable to shift. Right away, this makes things more interesting than ever. Warmer weather means more food, at least until it gets so hot that all the plant life begins rotting. What’s more, the body size of your various creatures matters more than ever, with large-bodied creatures thriving during the cooler millennia and smaller animals happily scurrying through the endless summer.
Not that body size is the only way of determining whether your species will go extinct thanks to an unfortunate bout of climate change. There are all sorts of new ways to brave the elements. For instance, if it gets too tropical, why not cope by growing fan-like cooling plates, wallowing in the mud, or only going out at night? Each of these traits also bestows some other benefit, like appearing larger to would-be predators, making it harder for carnivores to reach you, or letting you snack in peace while everyone else is sleeping. If it’s cold out, traits like hibernation, huddling together in herds, or growing heavy fur should keep you warm enough to survive. And if the weather vacillates too wildly between extremes, migrating to more temperate climes becomes one of your best options. Just be ready to deal with ambushing predators along your journey.
If the fluctuation in temperature and food availability wasn’t enough to keep your species staggering from one survivable state to another, there are also optional event cards. And right up front, I’ll be clear that these can be real bastards, and the way they haphazardly alter the state of the game certainly won’t appeal to everyone. Placed along the same track that regulates the climate, these might or might not trigger as the temperature rises or falls, possibly upending your plans even further. The calmer ones make it marginally tougher to survive for a little while, while the more devastating ones might just knock you out of the running entirely. Wildfires kill off a few members of every species that doesn’t manage to burrow out of danger, desertification means food won’t be added to the watering hole that round, and sudden volcanic eruptions can shift the temperature from sweltering to glacial immediately, forcing species to brave both the heat and the cold in one go.
Oh, and an asteroid might crunch into the planet. If that happens, be ready for almost everything to die.
In every way, Climate injects even more delicious uncertainty into Evolution. Not only are you competing with other species, but against the land itself. There are new methods for survival, a fresh crop of ways to die, and even more reasons to play it over and over, observing as different combinations of interdependent species, fearsome carnivores, and the climate itself conspire to prevent you from thriving. This is Evolution at its toughest and most rewarding.
From now until March 22nd, you can back Evolution: Climate on Kickstarter.