“We got a game about dinosaurs?!”, I asked in stunned confusion.
I don’t always know what games are arriving on my doorstep next. You see, as my company took on another business partner, the division of responsibility was adjusted, and the new partner took on some of the work. What work did she take responsibility for? Well, she is now the head of game acquisition. What this entails is explaining to companies why they might like to send their game to us, so that we can continue bringing you reviews on the latest and greatest. The result was that I really had no idea that this game was going to be landing on my doorstep, and as usual, I was skeptical of the subject matter.
Dinosaurs? Am I a seven year old boy? I’ve played kids games before for the sake of a review, it wouldn’t really hurt me to do it again. I started looking over the box. The play time is an hour. The game is for two to five people. The age group is 14+. Wait. What? 14+? That’s not a children’s game. Time to start delving in and figuring out what is going on.
When I sat down to start reading the rules, I was greeted with lively full colored instructions with lots of pictures. I love games that give me illustrations. Sometimes you can learn more from one picture of the set up than you can from ten paragraphs of explanation. The instructions were pretty clear, and it only took a few minutes to read through them all.
So what is Evo? Well… did you ever play the video game “Spore”? It’s kinda like that. You are trying to get your dinosaurs to evolve so that they can survive the harsh landscape, and each other. The more that live from round to round, the more mutation points you gain to further the species along. The player with the most remaining mutation points at the end of the game wins.
The game is played for 9-11 rounds, which varies based upon when a giant meteorite shows up and destroys all of the dinosaurs. Each of these rounds are divided into six sections, which include phases such as mutation, moving, breeding, and survival.
The mutation phase is the heart and soul of the game. During this phase a given number of gene tokens are randomly pulled from an opaque bag. Once drawn the players take turns bidding on the genes, using their mutation points as currency. The rules for bidding are different than usual, which lent more strategy to that process, which basically boiled down to: you can’t bid on the same gene immediately after being outbid. Once a winner has been decided on each of the genes, the players pay those points to the bank and place their new genes on their play mats.
Moving is pretty simple, in theory. For each pair of legs on your play mat, players have one more movement point to shuffle their dinosaurs around. The board is bigger or smaller, depending on the number of players, with the result being that there is never ample room. You are nearly always stepping on each others toes, which causes strife, and combat.
Combat was kept extremely simple, for better or for worse. It all comes down to a single die roll. You can help skew the odds in your favor by having horns (yet another gene that can be bid upon). If you have more horns than your opponent, you have better odds. Regardless of your dinosaurs horns there is always a one in six chance of instant failure.
Breeding is equally as simple, for every egg gene on your play mat, you get to place one new dinosaur on an unoccupied space, adjacent to a previous dinosaur. Unless you have killer babies.
What? Huh? Killer Babies!?
Twelve unique genes come with the game including: Wings, Hard Shells, Cave Dwelling, and oh yeah, killer babies. Each one has it’s own unique ability. I became notorious, and someone hated, for the deadly infants. You see, killer babies allow you to birth an offspring into a territory with another dinosaur. Then you roll a die to see if you successfully breed. It’s a 2/3 chance you’ll survive the birth and devour their dino. Odds that I liked, and my opponents really didn’t. Combine that with “Hard Shell” which lets you birth a baby up to three spaces away, and you have a cocktail for annihilation. It’s a tactic that I referred to as “Slingshotted Killer Babies!” and my opponents referred to as “annoying” and “overpowered”.
After you mutate, move around, and breed, it’s time to see if you survive the change in climate. A round spinner determines what land is cold this turn, which land is hot, which land is deadly, and which land is ideal. This is all decided at the start of the turn, prior to mutation, but the effects do not take place until the very end. If your dinos don’t have fur, the cold will freeze them to death. If your dinos don’t have thermal regulation, they will die of heat stroke. At this point you remove all dinosaurs that don’t survive from the board, take mutation points equal to the number that are left, and go on to the next round!
A few notes, I really didn’t like the manner in which the climate changed. Each round you flip a tile which tells you which direction the climate spinner moves, and how many spaces. The vast majority of the time, the climate spinner simply moved one space, clockwise, on the track. For this reason, it really wasn’t very random at all. I would have loved to see a lot more variance in these tiles.
Secondly, the board is made up of beach, snowy mountains, lush grass, and barren dirt. Each round, these have the possibility to change climate. Suddenly the lush grass might be freezing cold, the snowy mountains might be burning up, the barren dirt becomes ideal climate, and the beeches become uninhabitable. Does that make sense? No. And for this reason my players got confused on more than one occasion. It would have made a lot more sense to just use colored spaces: red, blue, green, and yellow. Granted it wouldn’t have been as pretty, but it would have helped with the game play.
Lastly on my list of complaints, do you remember those rules that I read through quickly, and had great pictures? Well, they are a bit lacking on a few of the finer points, and became down right confusing on one very specific issue. You see, you get one movement point for each “pair of legs” your dinosaur has. Each of the dinosaur movement gene tiles picture a single leg. So for the majority of the first game, people thought you had to acquire two of those tiles to gain one movement point. It makes sense. But no, the name of the movement gene tile is called “pair or legs”, even though it only features a single leg. Either the tile should have pictured two legs or the rules should have been adjusted to say “each leg tile” rather than “each pair of legs”. Major confusion.
So despite some complaints, the game was great. Tristan can’t seem to get enough of it. The game play is good. It’s challenging, there is lots of player interaction, and it’s very engaging. Even one of my players who doesn’t normally enjoy really meaty games liked it, and my “hard core” gamers love it. This is definitely one I think will continue to be played, even after this review is posted.