So, science is cool. The Magic School Bus is coming back, Bill Nye is getting another show, I think they’re doing something with Mythbusters, and so on. What better way to pay respect to science than playing a science game? In Evolution: Climate, you can do just that, by using pure science to evolve species to get food and such. Over the course of the game, you’ll have to deal with crowds at the watering hole, angry carnivores, and even a malicious climate if you want to survive and get the most food as a species. Can you survive?
Now this is a game with a bit of setup, as opposed to my usual low-setup games. The first thing you’ll notice is the Climate Board:
Set it in view of all players with the correct side up for the number of players you have. Next, there are a bunch of bags — give every player one.
Now, shuffle the Trait cards:
Those will be important, but you won’t generally use the entire deck. Here’s what you do:
- 2 players – remove half the deck (~88 cards)
- 3 players – remove 60 cards
- 4 players – remove 30 cards
- 5/6 players – don’t remove any cards
Next up are Climate cards:
You’ll shuffle those and put the cold ones (ice on the back) on the bottom-left of the Climate board, and the hot ones (desert on the back) on the bottom-right of the Climate board. Flip one from each deck and place them below the spot on the board that has the same Climate Zone as they do.
Give the player of your choice this, the delightful First Player Marker:
And once you’ve done all that, you should be about ready to start:
A game of Evolution: Climate is played over several rounds, with the winner at the end being whatever player can amass the most food (and survive as a species or set of species the best). I’ll go over what happens in each round in order.
This is the start of every round. If you do not have a Species Board in front of you (say, because it’s the first round of the game), take one and put a green cube in the “1” on Population and a brown cube in the “1” on Body Size.
Then, deal each player 4 cards, along with one extra card for every Species Board they have in front of them. So if you’re running 8 separate species (good luck with that), you’d get 12 cards. If there are no cards left, this starts the final round of the game. If you set aside cards (2-4 player games), use those as the draw deck. If not, shuffle the discard pile and use that as the draw deck for the last round.
Each player now selects a card from their hand and places it face-down into the Watering Hole. This is used to determine not only the Food for the round, but also the Climate shift. This is done by looking at the card:
More sun icons tends to push the climate warmer, more snow icons tends to push it colder, as you might expect. The number in the bottom right determines how much food gets added (or taken away, if someone plays negative numbers).
Use Trait Cards
Now, starting with the round’s First Player, each player may play as many Trait Cards as they want. You can use them for a variety of things, provided you follow the requisite rules:
- You can add Trait Cards to your various species. These are played face-down and, too, must follow specific rules:
- You cannot have more than four Trait Cards on a species. Three, if you’re playing a two-player game.
- You cannot have duplicate Trait Cards on a species. This makes sense if you imagine you wanted a species to have two Long Neck cards. If you could, you’d either get one with a super long neck or … this. I suppose there are worse things.
- You may discard Trait Cards for any reason during this phase. Want to replace them with new ones? Go for it. Just worried that Heavy Fur might hurt you if the climate heats up? Makes sense, too.
- You can discard Trait Cards for a variety of effects. You discard Trait Cards face-up. Each Trait Card you discard gains you one (and only one) of the following effects:
- You can gain 1 Population for a species. Move the green cube up by one on the species of your choice. As you might guess, you can’t go above 6.
- You can gain 1 Body Size for a species. Move the brown cube up by one on the species of your choice. This is also capped at 6.
- You can gain a new species. Add another Species Board to either the left or the right of your existing species (never between two existing species), and then give it one Population and one Body Size cube, both starting at 1.
Once you’ve done all that you may discard as many Trait Cards as you like to draw new ones, but you cannot play those new Trait Cards until the next round, so it seems slightly less useful unless you’re trying to hasten the end of the game, which is totally your business.
If you would like, there is a Quick Play variant (mandatory for six players for so many reasons) in which all players play this phase at the same time. I’ll talk in Strategy about why you might not be super jazzed to do that.
After all players have completed Phase 3 in turn order, reveal all played Trait Cards and resolve any “Before the Food Cards are revealed” effects.
So, now, reveal the Food Cards. This will trigger a few things:
- Check the Climate. If there are more Sun Icons than Snowflake Icons on the cards, move the Climate Marker one to the right (towards the hotter part of the board). If there are more Snowflakes than Suns, move it to the left (the Climate gets Colder). If there are none / an equal number, don’t move the Climate Marker. The Climate Marker will, unless otherwise stated, only move one space, maximum.
- Resolve Climate Events. If you are now in a Climate Zone that has a Climate Event, resolve its effect and then put that card on the bottom of the Climate Deck, unless otherwise stated. You can only trigger one Climate Event per round.
- Climate Effects. Some Climate Zones (Ice Age, Freezing, Cold, Tropical, Hot, Scorching) have an effect on species in the game, causing them to lose population based on their Body Size:
- Ice Age: Every species loses 4 Population. (COLD)
- Freezing: Each species of Body Sizes 1–4 loses 2 Population. (COLD)
- Cold: Each species of Body Size 1 or 2 loses 1 Population. (COLD)
- Tropical: Each species of Body Size 5 or 6 loses 1 Population. (HEAT)
- Hot: Each species of Body Sizes 3–6 loses 2 Population. (HEAT)
- Scorching: Every species loses 4 Population. (HEAT)
As you might imagine, this could cause you problems, especially if you lose more population than you have. If this happens, you go Extinct. Discard your Species Board and all your Trait Cards for the extinct species, and then draw a new Trait Card for every Trait your recently-departed species had. Sad!
Some species can protect against the heat or cold with various traits (Mud Wallowing, Cooling Frills, Heavy Fur, Migratory, etc.). If you have these traits, their effects stack but are limited to preventing the effects stated on the card (Heavy Fur protects you against Cold, but does not protect you against heat [it, in fact, makes it worse]).
- Add (or Remove!) Plant Food. So you’ve seen the numbers on the Food Cards. Add those numbers to the number on the Climate Zone you’re in and then add that many Plant Food to the Watering Hole. If the total is negative, remove that many Plant Food from the Watering Hole. If you hit zero Plant Food, well, I hope you can find a place that does take-out or that you have made alternate arrangements.
- Refresh Climate Event Card. So, while you can only trigger one Climate Event per round, you do eventually need to refresh it, so draw the Climate Event of the missing type and add it to its Climate Zone.
Once you’ve done all that, it’s time for feeding.
Starting with the first player, each player must feed a hungry species (a species that has fewer food on its Species board than its Population) if possible. You can choose which species among yours feeds on your turn.
Feeding non-carnivores is easy, since you just take one Plant Food from the Watering Hole. If they have Foraging, you’d take two, sure, but usually you just take one. You cannot (normally) take more food than you have Population, so if you were to take too much, you return the excess Plant Food to wherever you were taking it from.
Feeding carnivores is more complicated. See, carnivores can only eat Meat Food (as opposed to non-carnivores, which usually only eat Plant Food but can eat Meat Food in certain circumstances, such as via the Cooperation or Scavenger abilities), so you need to attack another species. There are some caveats:
- You can only attack smaller species. This means that your Body Size must be strictly greater than theirs (and this can be modified on both sides by Trait Cards).
- You must be able to overcome their defenses. If they have Mud Wallowing (carnivores must discard a card before attacking) and you have no cards in your hand to discard, you cannot attack them, for instance.
If you successfully attack, you reduce their Population by one. If they’ve already fed the species to that Population level, they place the food in their Food Bag (so they get to keep the points they’ve already earned). You then gain Meat Food equal to that species’ Body Size. So if you manage to attack a 6 Body Size species (usually by using Traits), you would get 6 Meat Food from the Supply (not the Watering Hole). If their Population goes to 0, then they go extinct. As I mentioned earlier, they discard their Species Board and all their Trait Cards for the extinct species, and then they draw a new Trait Card for every Trait their recently-departed species had.
The important thing to remember is that a species must feed if it’s hungry until it is full or there are no more things it can eat. For non-carnivores, that’s just over once the Watering Hole is depleted or they’re all full. For carnivores, they have to attack until they’re full or they can’t attack anymore. This means that if the only target available is one with Mud Wallowing and you have cards in your hand, you must attack it. If it’s got Horns (you lose one Population when you attack), you must attack it. If it’s your own species, you must attack it. Plan accordingly.
Once you’ve finished all that up, do the following:
- Leave any excess food on the Watering Hole on the Watering Hole. It’ll stay there until it’s either eaten or removed, and there are strategies to managing that.
- If you still have hungry species, they Starve. Reduce their population to X, where X is however much food they got during the Feeding Phase (so if you had a 3 population species and they only got 3 Food, their Population is now 3).
- Place all eaten Food in your Food Bag. These will count as end-game points.
- If this was not the final round, pass the sweet first-player marker to the player on your left. They will be the first player next round.
Continue until the game ends! At game end, you earn points as follows:
- 1 point per food in your Food Bag
- 1 point per Population on your surviving species
- 1 point per Trait Card on your surviving species
Player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
As someone who drew literally 7 Carnivore cards in one game, I’d say the major difference in player counts is that more cards are in play rather than being limited to the cards you haven’t removed from the game. Does this have a real impact? Mathematically, not really, but it makes me feel better.
I’d say that the major difference is that at larger player counts you have less of an idea what the food / climate situation will look like each round. Sure, you played 4 Sun Icons on your card, but all five other players played 2 Snow Icons so it’s getting colder. Yes, you played a 7 Heavy Fur as your Food Card, but everyone else played 0s so there’s only 7 Food at the Watering Hole.
Other than that, it plays pretty well at every player count. Remember that at two players you can only have three Trait Cards per species, and at six players everyone must play their Trait Cards / handle Population, Body Size, and new species simultaneously. The latter is just so that the game moves at about the same pace.
I would say that Evolution is great at any player count, though I imagine you’d worry a lot less about one player playing a Carnivore than you might about 5+.
Lots of fun strategies for this game. I’ll outline a few I enjoy, but if you’ve got any favorite combinations, lemme know in the comments!
- Long Neck is generally a good card for non-carnivores. It lets you take one food from the Food Bank (rather than the Watering Hole) before Food Cards are revealed. Even if your species gets obliterated by the climate change, you at least get one point to start.
- Pack Hunting is generally a good card for carnivores. It lets you count your Body Size as your Body Size + Population, meaning that at 6 and 6 you’re essentially a 12 Body Size monstrosity. This is how you get those hits in on 6 Body Size mammoths and fill yourself up with food early.
- Keep an eye on the climate and prepare accordingly. If you’ve got Cooling Frills, you might want to push the climate a bit warmer. Heavy Fur? Stay away from the heat. If you can weather severe climates, it might be worth pushing towards there to wipe out your opponents’ species. Make sure to adjust your Body Size to compensate. If you can get your opponent on the ropes, killing off their species via the climate is a great way to force them to draw more cards and accelerate the end of the game.
- Combos. You should always try to get a good combo among your Trait Cards. I’ll talk about a few, but make sure you’re thinking about synergies.
- Long Neck + Foraging + Cooperation is a solid play. Not only do you start with two Plant Food, but the species on the right of this one gets a Food as well, two Food if they have Foraging. You could chain this to get 2 -> 4 -> 6 food if you have three adjacent species with this setup, but there’s no way your opponents would allow you to perpetuate this kind of nonsense.
- If other players are filling the Watering Hole with too much food, Fertile + Fat Tissue might be good cards to play. Fertile lets you gain 1 Population if there is food on the Watering Hole before the Food Cards are revealed. Fat Tissue lets you store additional food up to your Body Size on that card for use in the next round. You can use these to weather future bad rounds by stocking up early.
- Burrowing + Hibernation + Nocturnal is a good defensive play. Burrowing prevents you from being attacked if you’re Hungry, Hibernation lets you ignore 2 unfed Population when determining if you’re Hungry, and Nocturnal lets you take an extra Feed action with this species if they cannot be attacked by any carnivores. It also lets you weather some climate changes.
- Migratory is pretty great, until the local carnivore plays Ambush. Migratory lets you take two food from the Food Bank if the Watering Hole is empty (essentially meaning you’ll never totally starve), but Ambush will allow the Carnivore to negate one of your defensive Trait Cards if you have Migratory. Keep an eye on what your opponents are playing!
- Make sure you pay attention on other players’ turns. You can tell a lot about a player’s plans by what Trait Cards they get rid of or what stats they bulk up on. This is super relevant if you’re not playing with the Quick Play variant, as you might be able to guess what they’re pushing towards.
- Generally if you see another player bulking up on Body Size, they’re either about to push the climate colder or become a carnivore. Plan accordingly.
- If they’re pushing up their Population, they might be attempting to move the climate into a zone where a negative effect will hurt you both. They might push the climate cold and just hope their increased Population can weather it, for instance, or push into a Climate Event that causes you to lose a significant chunk of your Population (or species!). Plan accordingly.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art. Holy natural selection, I hope they paid the artist extra because the work on this game is incredible. The trait cards are beautiful and stylistic, the board is a work of art, and the box is eyecatching and sharp. All around, this is definitely one of the most beautiful games in my collection. It’s bright and colorful and pops at the table. Especially the Climate Board.
- The first-player token is amazing. It’s probably the best one I own.
- A variety of different strategies. There’s no real dominant strategy as far as I can tell, because so much depends on the climate, other players, the cards you draw, carnivores, etc. That’s not to say it feels random, but rather you start making a strategy as you move along with what you have, and it’s very satisfying.
- Synergizing and comboing off of Trait Cards is a good feeling. It feels very rewarding to chain Cooperation between three (or more!) species or to use Migratory to feed all of your species even when there’s no food left in the Watering Hole. If you like strategizing combos and enjoy that kind of payoff, this is definitely a game you should check out.
- Climate Events add a solid sense of urgency. It gives you a short-term goal to shoot for (especially if you’re trying to ward off a certain event) as well as a point of player interaction / conflict that doesn’t necessarily feel explicitly take-that-y.
- I like that the score stays hidden. I am not a huge fan of open-scoring games for the most part, as I feel like they often end up incentivizing crappy behavior from the players. While you can still calculate it, the fact that it’s supposed to be hidden seems to suggest that you shouldn’t, so most players don’t. I imagine the additional cognitive load of trying to hold all that in your memory also is a strong disincentive.
- A good length. It doesn’t feel long, which is nice. It takes the right amount of time, and it feels super polished in that regard. I really appreciate it when games do that well.
- Includes naming schemes for species you create. It’s sort of a side thing, but it’s really nice that the game includes little ways to name your species. It’s a fun bit of additional flavor:
- Some cards are a bit more situational than others. You won’t see a lot of games won with Climbing (requires carnivores to have Climbing to attack you), but if every carnivore has Pack Hunting and they’re gunning for you, Climbing and Horns might because your best friends. I’d contrast this against, say, Long Neck or Foraging, which in general are pretty good.
- It can be difficult to pivot. If your strategy isn’t really working out, it can be hard to pivot if you’re not getting the right cards (say, cards that block the heat or allow you to attack your opponent). It comes down to a bit of luck as to whether or not you’ll draw cards that put you in enough of a good spot to push forward. If it works out, great! If not, you might find yourself scrambling in later rounds.
- Fair amount of cognitive load in your first few plays. It might be frustrating to play against an experienced player who understands carnivore strategy or has a better sense of the Trait Cards since there are so many. It’s an issue only because the game is full of great content, but it’s still an issue that you might run into. For your first game, to decrease this somewhat, you should avoid playing with Climate Events.
- The Quick Play / 6 Player Rules seems like a recipe for occasional frustration. Part of a good strategy, for me, is being able to see what other players are planning based on which traits they replace and how they change their Body Size / population. If all players are playing simultaneously it incentivizes some bad behavior (namely, waiting or stalling until all other players have made their choices and then making yours), or it leaves you without some potentially crucial information. Either way, bit of a bummer.
Overall: 9 / 10
Overall, Evolution: Climate is a triumph, in my opinion. It is a meaty (for me, at least, but for others it might be planty?) game with great art, fun and engaging gameplay, and player interaction that doesn’t always feel like someone’s specifically gunning for you. It’s also a game that’s full of great content and has a ton of replay value as you endeavor each game to try different strategies and survive in a variety of unique conditions. Add in a theme that’s interesting and engaging for just about everyone (who doesn’t want to build their own unique animal species?), and you’ve got a recipe for a huge success. I’d recommend Evolution: Climate to most everyone; it really is, I think, an excellent game.