Evo - The Last Gasp of the Dinosaurs
Guide your dinosaur species through time, evolving them to survive the tough climatic conditions, and the horns of other dino species, in a fight for survival. Hey, what's that bright red ball in the sky...
Evo is a somewhat light, somewhat dry, game of survival of the fittest. Fitness being determined primarily by the ability to survive climatic changes, and the ability to reproduce. The board, which is modular and changes in size depending on the number of players, shows an island, with areas in different colors, representing the terrain, (climatic conditions), present in that space. Every turn the climate is likely to change, making various spaces more or less inhabitable by your dinos. Players move their dinos, fight with others whose spaces they attempt to occupy, and place new dinos onto the board. The dinos that are unable to survive due to being in the wrong climate are removed from the board. Genes, which increase your dinos fitness are then auctioned with a unique mechanism and players get a victory point for each dino they have on the board, and the sequence repeats. The semi-random arrival of a comet ends the game, destroying all of the dinos... Winner of the Games Magazine Game of the Year 2002 award.
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The modular board is laid out in the configuration applicable for the number of players, and all players place one of their dinos onto specially marked starting spaces on opposite sides of the island. the board shows spaces of four different colors, representing the climate in that space. Yellow spaces, (sand), are the hottest, and are found on the coast of the island or slightly inland. Green spaces, (jungles), are cooler than sand, and are found on the coasts and a bit further inland than the sand. Brown spaces, (hills), are cooler than the jungles, and tend to be found more near the center of the island. Gray, (rocky), spaces are the coldest areas, and are found throughout the island, but comprise the majority of the spaces near the center of the island.
Each player gets a small mat which contains the picture of a one-legged, short tailed, hornless dinosaur with one patch of fur. There is also one egg shown on this mat, and one parasol. This is the starting genetic configuration for all of the players. Each player gets three event cards, (which allow for rule breaking and other special events). The comet marker is placed on a turn track, dependant on the number of players. The climate marker is placed on the yellow space at one end and the game begins.
Each turn follows a set sequence of phases. Play proceeds through the phases, and at the end of a turn, the comet is moved forward along the turn track. Eventually this will reach a space with a die symbol on it, at which point a die is rolled. If the number rolled is less than or equal to the pips shown on the symbol, the comet arrives, and the game ends. The pips shown on the symbol increase from 2 to 4 to 5, with the comet inevitably arriving the next turn.
The player whose dinosaur has the longest tail is said to have the initiative, and therefore will go first. Ties are resolved by the number of dinos each player has on the board, and then by a die roll.
The climate track is a rectangular track with 4 spaces. Every turn during the climate phase, a die is rolled. the majority of the time this will cause the climate to shift one space in a clockwise direction. The spaces are , (from left to right), Yellow, Green, Brown, Gray. The middle two spaces are divided with a line, to create a circular impression, while the end spaces are full height, (as these are the wrap-around spaces where the climate starts heading to the other extreme). The climate can, however, stay in the same spot or can even move in a counter-clockwise direction. The four colors shown on the climate track correspond to the four colors shown on the board. The color shown on the climate track shows which spaces on the board have the current "optimal" climate. What's a bit odd is that when thinking about this, if the climate marking is moving to the gray zone, you might be wanting to say, "ooh it's getting colder", when in fact the exact opposite is happening. It's actually getting hotter, so the optimal climate spaces are the coldest spots on the board.
Each player, in initiative order, now moves their dinosaurs. Each player looks at their dino mat, and counts the number of legs their dinosaur has. In the first turn this will always be one. This is the total number of spaces they may move dinosaurs. By total, I mean just that. If you have one leg, you may move one dinosaur one space. If you have two legs, you may move one dinosaur two spaces, or two dinosaurs one space. If a player moves a dinosaur into a space occupied by another player's dinosaur, a combat will occur. Each space on the board can only have one dinosaur, so you cannot move through a space occupied by one of your own dinosaurs.
Combat is handled by comparing the number of horns each player's dinosaurs have. If the number of horns is equal, the attacker wins on a die roll of 1-2. If the attacker has one more horn than the defender the attacker wins on a 1-4, +2 or more on a 1-5. The loser of a combat is removed from the board.
Again, in initiative order, each player can place onto the board, in an unoccupied space adjacent to an existing dino, a new dino for each egg they have on their dino mat.
After all new dinosaurs have been birthed, dinos die out due to being in unfavorable climates. All dinos in the current "optimal" climate shown on the climate chart survive. For dinos in a hotter or colder climate, each player looks at the parasol or fur genes shown on their dino mat. The number of fur genes is the number of their dinos that will be able to survive in spaces one climate zone cooler than the optimal climate. The number of parasols shows the number of their dinos that can survive in spaces one climate zone hotter than the optimal climate. All dinos in a space either two zones hotter or colder than the optimal zone are eliminated. Some examples: The climate marker is in a green zone. All dinos on a green space survive. The yellow zone is the hotter zone, (parasols help), and the brown zone is the cooler zone, (furs help). Any dinos on the gray spaces are dead. The climate marker is on the gray zone. The brown zone is the hotter zone, (parasols help), and there is no cooler zone. All dinos on yellow or green spaces die. Players remove their dinos that cannot survive.
After dinos have been removed, each player now receives mutation points based on the number of dinos they have on the board.
The comet is now moved one space on the scoring track. If the comet reaches the space marked with the comet symbol, the game ends. Prior to that, there are three spaces with dice symbols on them. When the comet reaches the first of these, a die is rolled. If the number on the die is greater than 2, the game continues, other wise the game ends. This is followed by spaces with 4 and 5 symbols. This provides a variable ending to the game, as you never know when the comet is going to arrive, (they're dinosaurs not astronomers!). If the comet doesn't arrive the evolution phase begins
The Evolution Phase
In this phase a number of gene markers equal to the number of players in the game are pulled, sight unseen, from a bag, and placed on the auction board. Each player, again in initiative order, then places their initiative marker onto a space, representing a bid for a specific gene. If another player has already bid on that gene, that player removes their marker, and replaces it on another bid. This can either be a higher bid on the same gene, or on a completely different gene. The bids start at zero, so it is possible for a player to get a gene for free. After all players have placed, (and replaced), their bids, each player takes the gene they won, places it on their dino mat, (often in humorous locations), and pays for their bid in victory points, (called mutation points).
The available gene types are tail, fur, parasol, horns, leg, egg, card, and mutant. The first six and their purposes have all been discussed above. Card genes allow the winning bidder to take an additional event card. Mutant genes allow the winning bidder to pay one less mutation point per mutant gene than they bid in all subsequent auctions.
Whoever has the most mutation points when the comet hits is the winner.
The event cards provide a great deal of the spice in Evo, as they can have a tremendous impact on the game. They allow you to do things such as cause the climate to move in a particular direction, prevent any births from occurring, make your dinos stronger on the defense, make all of you dinos in a cooler or hotter zone survive, lay eggs up to three spaces away from an existing dinosaur, prevent combat, etc. They all have humorous titles, and some have humorous graphics (see note below). They are not however, incredibly balanced, as some are much better than others. Luckily, all of the event cards are one shot deals, so you use them and they're gone.
Well "great" might be a bit strong. I have some serious problems with Evo. That being said, it is thematically very good. The auction mechanism is excellent. The genes are very well balanced, and there are a variety of genetic strategies you can employ. "Legs and Eggs" is a big favorite in my house. Though it doesn't matter how many eggs you can drop if none of them are able to survive due to a lack of parasols and furs. Tail genes seem to be the weakest overall, but when the board starts to get crowded, getting to a safe space first becomes important, as the combat system favors the defender. All in all, it is a very balanced system. Combat is a bit iffy, as it's very depressing to have a one horn advantage, and still lose due to rolling a 5 or 6. Given the fact that you may not have too many dinos on the board, losing even one can be a major setback.
I have already mentioned the imbalance in the value of the event cards. some of them just aren't very good. I'm thinking of trying a variant where you can draw two or three, and choose the one you want to keep, to help mitigate this.
The game is very dry and processional. Or perhaps dry isn't the right word. The play on the board is very limited. Due to the low movement of dinos, and the fact that you know how many dinos you can keep alive in the various climate zones, a player tends to have very few decisions to make regarding where their dinos are going to move. You have two legs, and three dinos are going to die, and there are two more safe spaces you can move to, so you move them there and that's that. If you have horns or an opponent does, you may need to factor that in, but again, due to limited legs, there's only so much you can do. Once you've finally gotten your dinos beefed up to a point where you can start using them on the board effectively, the game ends.
So what the game really comes down to is that it is an auction game, masquerading as a board game. While the proper timing of the use of the event cards is important, the fact that the auction takes up only about one fifth of the gameplay, makes Evo overall a bit of a letdown. There is a variant described in the rules where instead of a number of genes equal to the number of players are auctioned, one less than the number of players are auctioned. This makes the auction quite a bit more ruthless, as not getting any genes for a turn or two can be seriously damaging to your species' survival. I've used this variant almost exclusively, and think it makes the game better. Another part of this variant states that when using this rule, the comet doesn't move after the first two turns. This is even better and helps to alleviate the problem mentioned in the previous paragraph. I need to try playing the basic game with this not moving the comet rule to see how that works out, but haven't done so yet.
So in the end, Evo ends up being an interesting game, but not nearly as much "fun" as the light, humorous graphic presentation suggests that it will be. I'll gladly play it, but I may not request it as often as some games.
Before buying Evo I made the mistake of posting a question to the Spielfrieks yahoo group about what I felt might be somewhat questionable content on the cards. I play a lot of games with my kids, and there were a couple of cards that I potentially had issues with, and asked if there were any others. The cards in question were "You're not my husband" showing two dinos, (of obviously differing species), in bed; "Missing Link" showing a nude caveman with a black "censored" box over his groin: "Tough Babies", depicting a baby dino breaking out of its shell packing a machine gun. I knew the game came with two blank cards, so I could replace two of the offending cards, and wanted to know if there were any more "questionable" cards. This touched off a firestorm of debate, which started to get a bit nasty. In the end, I decided to replace the "not my husband" card with a blank one, was able to shrug off the missing link's censored box with an offhand comment which I haven't had to go into detail with my children about, and decided that the MG packing baby dino was acceptable. However, if you are the sort who would be offended by the missing link's nudity, (I wasn't, it was the censored box I didn't want to explain the rationale for in depth), the inner box bottom does have pictures of all the cards, and the censored box isn't there in that one.
Buy/Read about Evo now at Funagain
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