Having just reviewed Wingspan, the prospect of playing another successful board game port had me champing at the bit. The game of Evolution, unsurprisingly, is a card game that revolves around the idea of competing and surviving in a habitat while simultaneously battling the prospect of extinction. The goal is to consume the most food and grow your animals’ population as your opponent tries to do the same. Unfortunately, where Wingspan’s mechanics and playability shone through in its PC port, Evolution struggles to do the same, ultimately defined by a bug-laden port with repetitive gameplay.
After a helpful tutorial, I feel like I have a solid grasp on the game. In Evolution, you draw from a singular, shared deck, against a number of players (up to 4), and try to gather the most food tokens. From the deck you draw trait cards which help determine characteristics about the animals you’ve played. For instance, you can turn your animal into a “Carnivore” by playing that card. Your animal, instead of eating food from the center, preys on other players’ animal cards and eliminates them from the board. Alternatively, you could play a trait card that helps protect your animals from carnivores such as the “Climbing” card, which forces any opposing carnivores to have the same trait applied to attack you.
In the first phase of each turn, you play trait cards into the center and turn them into food. Each card has a numerical value in the top left corner that defines how much food they add to the pool. Note that you lose this trait card permanently, so choose wisely. This is followed by a round of feeding, and, if any carnivores are played, attacking. You are then granted points based on the amount of food you consumed from the communal pile and points for successful carnivorous attacks.
I personally find balancing to be one of the most important aspects for board games, and Evolution mostly staves off these issues by having you draw from a single deck, but in 4 player matches it is nearly impossible to determine a winning strategy. For nearly every card you can play, there is an effective counter. That’s fair. This is probably preferable to the opposite situation where a counter doesn’t exist, but in big games against AI, the outcome begins to feel fairly random. When I try to play a defensive strategy and protect my flanking cards via my card in the middle, an AI inevitably gets the “Ambush” card and crushes my hopes and dreams. The next round, playing now for population growth, the AI seems to focus its carnivorous attacks solely on my animals.
It never felt like I was in a spot where I was in control of my own destiny. Instead, the game felt much like crossing my fingers each round that I would be ignored by the other players. I was a passive participant in the game.
Fine. That’s all well and good, maybe that’s the way that Evolution is meant to be played. Perhaps, I’m just not very good at the game. But, by the 6th or 7th game, I’m starting to feel like there is only a handful of viable strategies in a seemingly complex game. There seems to be a massive advantage to playing at least one “Carnivore,” as there aren’t many effective ways to completely defend yourself from such attacks, and they require the other player to waste trait slots on their animals without much added benefit. It’s unlikely you ever find yourself in a situation where your potential prey are all perfectly defended.
Also by this point, I’ve crashed to desktop twice. Even when entering my username after the tutorial, the game completely seizes up. For what seems to be a fairly straightforward port, Evolution is disproportionately plagued by bugs. It’s not just my experience either. Sifting through other reviews reveals this to be a fairly common occurrence. I’m not sure what’s causing the problem here. The port is fairly simple. The UI even seems downright utilitarian—reminiscent of games that come preinstalled on computers of days gone by like Minesweeper or Full Tilt! Pinball.
For me, by the time I encounter my third bug, my time in Evolution has come to an end. With my interest already waning, these glitches are the final nail in the coffin. To be fair, I can imagine there are plenty of people out there who might love this game, but I can’t recommend it over the other quality board game ports that are available. Once the small issues are ironed out, Evolution could fill-in a niche spot for board game fanatics, but as it is even diehard fans would be hard pressed to ignore the problems.