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Terra Evolution – inspired mechanics, but less replay value

Are dinosaurs coming back into vogue?  Are they the next zombie, pirate, or ninja?  The reason I ask is this is the second dinosaur game, in as many months, to arrive on my door step.  However, this is the first dinosaur deck building game I have ever seen.

Terra Evolution is a game about evolving your planet the fastest.  The end goal is to have birds and mammals on your planet and have a suitably large fossil record before any other player.  This is done via a bank of cards that can be purchased each round.  The purchasable cards include critters for your planet (bacteria, insects, fish, lizards, birds, and mammals) as well as disaster cards which you can smite your opponents with. The mechanics of this game are very unique.  I have to give the designer a hand for rethinking some of these old mechanics, because they really put a coat of shine on them.

1.) Money.

Every deck building game requires some kind of money.  In Dominion, there are simply separate money cards that go into your deck.  In Thunderstone the money is printed on cards that do other things and can be used for one or the other.  In Terra Evolution, population acts as your money.  This in and of itself is not ground breaking.  You can call your money whatever you want.  What is ground breaking is how it is handled.  Population is represented by population cards that are mixed into your deck.  At the beginning of your turn you play down all the population that is in your hand into your population pool.  At the end of your turn, you do not discard these cards, they hang over to the next round.  When you spend your population (money) it gets put back into your hand, and in turn shuffled to the bottom of your draw pile. This lets you plot and scheme a little more.  You have to be careful, because not only does population count as money but it also is your form of protection against disasters.

2.) Play Area.

One of the continent cards that make up your planet.

One of the continent cards that make up your planet.

In most deck building games, you play down your cards and they do what they are going to do.  Then you clear all those cards off the table and put them into your discard pile, leaving you with a fresh and clean slate for next turn.  This is not the case with Terra Evolution.

Planets are not built in a day, and neither is your planet.  Each turn you can add a creature to your planet, and you can add a land mass. Creatures are played onto land masses and stay there from turn to turn.  You have to upgrade from one kind of creature to another, so you must keep your critters around.  Otherwise you are destined to lose.

3.) Discarding.

At the end of your turn, cards that are still in your hand get discarded.  But unlike most deck building games, they do not go to a discard pile.  Instead they get shuffled and put on the bottom of your deck.  Any cards you bought that round will go into your hand and thus end up in the collection at the bottom.  What does this mean for the game play overall?  Less lucky draws.  If you have played other deck building games, you are aware that when you are nearing the end of your deck, if you buy a big power card and put it into your discard, your chances of getting it next turn is well within the realm of possibility. This is because you take the entire discard pile and shuffle it, thus the card you just bought could be anywhere in it, including the top.  However Terra Evolution’s approach forces these cards to the bottom of your deck, and thus it is likely to be a turn or two in between purchasing a card and using that card.  The only way to get it on the next turn is to have an incredibly small deck.

Now that I have given this game lots of praise, it’s time to hear the flip side.  This game has limited replay ability, and very little imagination with it’s cards.  Consequently these are problems that likely go hand in hand. Each of the attack cards in the game do the same thing: Damage.  One attack card might do four damage while the next does eight damage, but any way you slice that up, you are still just doing damage.  Damage kills off your opponents population and can even wipe one of their species off their planet, or perhaps even take out a contient.  However it’s still just damage.  Where are the cards that mess with hand size?  Or force skipped turns?  Where are the defense cards that help you block this damage?  All and all the attack cards simply were not robust.

A look at the species available for purchase.

A look at the species available for purchase.

Consequently, the cards in general were not very robust.  Every planet had to evolve in the following order:  bacteria ->  fish -> lizard -> bird or mammal.  The only one that wasn’t crucial that you could buy are the insects, which would help drive up the population on your planet but are an evolutionary dead end.   This left players with very few differences in their deck, and with very little in the way of differing strategies.  And given that you play with all the cards every game, there isn’t much difference from game to game.  For this reason, the game doesn’t have a whole lot of replay ability.  It’s the same game every time you play, and players have the same strategies.  So this game is interesting the first few times you play it, but after that, it becomes dull. There is one subject that I keep looking at more and more, and I haven’t decided if it’s something I regularly want to discuss or not:  price.  This used to be something that I steered clear of.  One persons perception of value is different from the next, however, in a tough economy the issue of a price tag seems to come up more and more when choosing games.  Before knowing the MSRP for this game, it was asked around the table what people thought this game would run.  I actually estimated the highest, guessing $34.99.  Other people guessed between $25 and $30.  Then we went and looked up the actual MSRP:  $40.  Even I, who guessed the highest, came up short.  There aren’t a ton of cards in this game, nor any special plastic components or boards.  The box and cards are full colored illustrations though.  I’m not sure why the price tag is so high, but there you have it. All and all, this game is worth playing a few times.  The changes in the mechanics from a traditional deck builder are inspired.  The theme, while I am perplexed about the sudden seeming popularity, is different then all other deck builders.  All in all, you’re likely to only have a good time with this one a half dozen times, and then like us, you’re likely to be “over it”.  I have heard that an expansion is due out some time this year, and at first glance it appears that it might help spice things up a little, but we’ll see.  That is of course if you are willing to purchase a $40 game, and then go out and purchase it’s expansion pack too.

This entry was posted by The_Null_Entry on Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 at 8:00 am and is filed under Board Game Reviews, Resource Management Games .
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