27th Feb2019

‘Evolution Climate’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

evolution-climate-box

Games that focus on natural history and the environment are relatively few and far between, with most of those that do exist occupying the extreme ends of the complexity spectrum – catering as either educational tools for children, or taking the form of very heavy euro style games. North Star Games’ Evolution Climate is one of the rare games that occupies the space in between. With an incredible art style that brings each and every card to life in some of the most vibrant colours ever used in a board game, Evolution Climate is an unusual treat that brings broad appeal despite its unusual mechanics.

At the beginning of the game, each player takes a single species board and places one population and one size cube in it. They also take a food bag of their own and place it nearby. Somewhere in the centre of the board, the climate track will be placed, and on it, you’ll find a climate tracker and a deck of cards for both hot and cold sides. Depending on the player count, the huge deck of trait cards will potentially be reduced (halved at two players, with smaller reductions made at three and four players and no reduction for five or six.)

Just in case you hadn’t guessed, it’s the trait deck running out that signals the end of the game, but the objective is a little more complex than simply running a deck down. All scoring is completed in a single endgame phase, with several factors to keep in mind. Firstly, players will score points as the result of any food that their various species have consumed (which is added to their personal food bag.) After scoring one point per food token, the players then score a point for each population point on their species board(s.) Finally, every trait card that is linked to a surviving species will also score one point. The winner will be the player who scores the most points overall.

Whilst population is the species feature that will score points at the end of the game (as well as gather more food during it) each species board also features a rating for body size. Body size is important for the more interactive elements of the game, namely those dealing with carnivores. Among the many, many traits available are those which allow a species to become carnivorous and to then predate on other species. As a broad rule of thumb, a carnivore can only attack a smaller creature, but there are many traits that modify this rule in favour of either the carnivore or the potential prey.

For herbivore species, the players will refer to the watering hole, which will have an amount of food placed on it at the beginning of each game round. The amount of food available depends upon trait cards that are discarded secretly by the players during the opening phase of the round. In a rather interesting twist, these cards also affect which way (if at all) the climate track moves at the end of the round, so there’s an interesting interplay here between ensuring that there will be enough food in the pool to feed your species whilst also attempting to protect it from a climate event that might be bad for it – for example extreme hot or cold.

I’ve already talked a lot about trait cards, but let’s discuss how they are actually used. During what is probably the main phase of the game, players will take turns to play the cards that were drawn at the beginning of the round. Players draw four cards under all circumstances, but will also draw one extra trait card for every species they have at the beginning of the round. Players can place as many trait cards as they wish, and they can be either added to a species (up to a maximum of four) or discarded in order to add one population or body size to a species. In a variant mode which I used in more or less every game, it’s also permissible for players to place all their cards simultaneously, revealing them all together (and giving away a slight hint at their plans because others might see body size or population cubes being added and be able to react.)

In a typical round of Evolution Climate, a species that began as a small mammal with two population size and the ability to hibernate might become a medium sized predator with the ability to ambush. An already large creature might develop a long neck and a hard shell, enabling it to gather food that other species can’t access and resist predators that are somewhat larger due to it’s natural armour. An already carnivorous creature might continue to get larger or learn to cooperate so that it can counteract the hard shell and predate on either of the other two creatures when it comes to feeding.

The real balance of the original Evolution was in reading the changing nature of the adversary species and working to outcompete them, with players specifically intending to ensure their own survival. In Evolution Climate, the concept is exactly the same, but now players must keep an eye on the somewhat unpredictable nature of the weather. A colder climate tends to favour larger animals (because smaller ones die) whilst the opposite is true in the heat. Cold, however, can have a negative effect on plant based food, whilst up to a point, heat has the opposite affect. Both literally and mechanically, Evolution Climate is a game about adapting to change.

As regular readers will know, I love it when the theme of a game ties in to the mechanical elements in this way, but Evolution Climate is just a masterclass on the subject. The basic gameplay is a little unusual in so much as that it doesn’t really replicate any other game, but it makes such logical sense once you’ve been through a game or two. The artwork is the icing on the cake, given that it features such incredible painterly images and a vivid, luminescent palette that is both incredibly bold and very, very beautiful. Both as a design and as a product, Evolution Climate is pretty spectacular and I might even go so far as to say that it’s a work of art that any board game lover should own, or at least try.

****½  4.5/5

A copy of Evolution Climate was supplied by Coiledspring and North Star Games for review

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