Evolution has always been a game of counting calories, though in a different sense than most of us are accustomed to. It’s anything goes all the time, with everyone consuming every last leaf, berry, and scrap of meat they can clamp their jaws around. I’ve both written and spoken about my love for Evolution in the past, but now it’s time to explain why Climate is the pinnacle of the series thus far.
For those who don’t know the basics of Evolution, they couldn’t be simpler. Every turn sees you picking up a hand of cards, each of which boasts a trait. There are a bunch of these, though few enough that it’s pretty easy to learn all the options within a couple games. There’s fertility for the occasional population boom, long necks and foraging and nocturnal for gathering extra food, climbing and burrowing and warning calls for evading predators. Or, if meat-munching is more your speed, you can transform your species into a carnivore, maybe slap an ambush or pack hunting card on there to help bring down whichever species has been trying to avoid becoming you-kibble. And if you don’t like what you’re holding, go ahead and bump up your population or body size. There’s no such thing as a worthless hand. Or, well, very rarely.
Where Evolution comes alive is once everyone has their own species, all assembled from some combination of a handful of traits, not to mention differing populations and body sizes. At its best —and this is a game that is very often at its best — you’re presented with an ever-changing board state. The food at the watering hole begins to run out, so animals begin to evolve long necks, store energy in fat tissue, and cooperate. Predators appear to chow down on those walking columns of sirloin, so animals begin to evolve horns and defensive herding. In response, the carnivores learn new means of attack, or stalk particular prey, or just go back to eating tree bark. Everyone is running as fast as they can just to stay in the same place, and no two games play out the same way.
Climate takes that formula and shakes it until the fruit falls out. Now everyone is competing not only against one another, but also against the environment itself.
The way this is handled is pleasantly straightforward, wedged into the original turn structure with almost surgical precision. Everyone deposits a card into the watering hole — same as before — which will determine how much food is added that round. In addition to this little blind bid, many cards now include symbols that will either heat or cool the planet, tugging the climate track in one direction or the other.
There are a few implications to this. First of all, those species who rely on lots of food in the watering hole had better watch out for winter, because plants flourish when it’s hot (though they’ll start to die off once it gets too warm), adding a bunch of extra food tokens every round. The real impact, however, is that hot or cold enough temperatures will start to mess with your species more directly. Cold weather, for example, will start to kill off smaller creatures unless they figure out a way to cope by huddling together or growing fur. Meanwhile, big-bodied animals will start to die off when the thermometer starts to rise, at least unless they waste a bunch of time wallowing in mud or waving around their oh-so-attractive cooling frills.
In one of our recent games, I had a buddy who was dominating the scene with a pair of species that cooperated with each other to terrifying effect. One was an enormous carnivore that shared food with its smaller scavenger pal. Because the big guys were climbing and ambushing, they could blubber after pretty much anybody on the table, while thanks to their fat tissue, they could eat and eat and barely ever have to slow down. They even had big coats of fur to stave off the cold. Basically, picture a herd of overfed bison rolling up the tree you climbed to get away from them and you’ll get the idea.
Cue the climate track. Over the course of the next few turns, everyone else at the table started seeding cards into the watering hole that would warm up the globe. At first, the effect was negligible, as my buddy’s super-species just shrugged off the losses by eating us some more. But by the next turn, his heavy fur became his downfall as his main species sweated itself to death, plummeting from the dominant species on the table to a handful of endangered stragglers. His scavenging species, which had been living off the scraps left behind by his big guy, was suddenly robbed of food. He scrambled to evolve out of the niche the weather had erased, but it was too late. One turn later, both were extinct.
And that’s just one example. As I said above, no two games play out quite the same way. Different combinations of traits, different carnivores, and changing temperatures force everyone at the table to remain on their toes. It’s even possible for extinction-level events like volcanic eruptions and meteor strikes to occur, forcing everyone to compete for ever-diminishing resources. Not that these ever occur randomly — they’re out there on the climate track, just waiting for somebody to nudge the weather in that direction in order to get ahead. In fact, clever players will find that the changing climate is the perfect way to claw their way to the top of the heap.
Evolution has been one of my favorite lighter-fare card games for a long while. Climate takes that formula and improves it in nearly every way, pitting its species not only against one another, but against the land itself. As I wrote in my preview a few months back, this is Evolution at its toughest and most rewarding.