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[Review] Evo

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tomvasel
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Joined: 03/23/2011

Games Magazine seems to have a hit-or-miss record when it comes to selecting their “Game of the Year”. Of course, such awards are always subject to personal opinion - but if I only picked the awards... (heh). But usually, a game that they pick for the Game of the Year is at least a good game (with the exception of Fossil), so I usually try to get a hold of a copy. Evo (Descartes Editeur Eurogames, 2001 - Phillipe Keyaerts) was the 2002 winner, and the magazine really gave Evo a rather rave review. The internet, however was another story - with many people trashing the game, talking about it’s unworthiness to be a winner, etc.

I, however, found that Games Magazine was, indeed, correct. Evo is a fun game, and really shines no matter how many players are playing (3-5). The components are absolutely incredible (with the exception of the annoying scoreboard), and the mechanics are a lot of fun. There is a degree of chaos in the game, reminiscent of Bruno Faidutti style games (I would compare it to Valley of the Mammoths), but for most people - this chaos adds to the fun. It is not what many people would term as a “heavy” game, but rather is light and theme-filled. And the theme is played out in such a ridiculous fashion that no matter what one thinks of evolution; they should enjoy the game.

A game board is set up in the middle - made up of two half boards (a different combo is used depending on how many players are playing.) On the board are a number of hexes that make up the island on which the players’ dinosaurs will live and evolve. The hexes are one of four different colors, each representing a different type of terrain (yellow = beaches, gray = mountains, brown = hills, and green = plains). Two small boards are placed near the main board. The first is the “information board”, and on it a meteor marker (turn marker) is placed on a turn track - starting position depending on number of players. Also, a black “climate” marker is placed on the yellow space on the climate chart. The second board is the “Bidding” board, which contains the score track. Each player places a marker of their color on the “10” space on this track. Each player is also given a pile of dinosaur tokens - with one of them placed in a starting space on the board (marked by a star). Each player gets an “initiative” marker in their color, and also a “Dino Portrait Card” (showing a picture of a dinosaur with one foot, one fur, one egg, and one parasol). A pile of event cards is shuffled, and each player is dealt three cards. A black cloth bag is filled with some gene tokens, and the game is ready to begin.

Each turn consists of six phases, beginning with initiative. In this phase, the player whose dino portrait sports the longest tail puts their initiative marker in the first spot on the initiative portion of the Information board, denoting that they go first. Ties are broken by whichever player has fewer dinosaurs, then by a die roll. After turn order has been decided, the first player rolls for climate change. One six-sided die is rolled, and the climate marker is moved on the chart accordingly. (A “1” moves the marker one space counter-clockwise, a “2” does nothing, and a “3” - “6” moves the marker one space clockwise.

The movement phase occurs next, with each player (in turn order) moving their dinosaur(s). Each player has a total movement equal to the amount of feet on their dino portrait. The same dino can use all the movement points, if a player wants. Dinos can move to any empty adjacent space - if they try to move to an occupied space, combat occurs. Each player counts the total horns on the dino portrait, and the attacker rolls a die. If the number of horns is the same, the attacker wins on a “1” or “2”. If the attacker has +1 horns, then it wins on a “1” through “4” and with +2 on a “1” through “5”. If the attacker has -1 horn, it only wins on a “1”; and if worse, cannot attack at all! The losing dinosaur token is removed from the board. Immediately following the movement phase is the birth phase. Each player puts as many dinos on the board (adjacent to existing dinos) as they have eggs on their dino portrait.

The Survival phase follows - the one that all the other phases have been building towards. Whichever zone the climate marker is in is considered “moderate”, and all dinosaurs are safe there. Any zone that is “cold”, one zone to the right of the moderate zone - kills all dinosaurs in there - but one dinosaur can survive for each fur on the dino portrait. Any zone that is “hot”, one zone to the left of the moderate zone - kills all dinosaurs there - but one dinosaur can survive fore each parasol on the dino portrait. Any dinosaur in a “deadly” zone (two or three zones to the right or left of the “moderate” zone) die - no questions asked. After this, scoring occurs immediately with each player scoring one point for each dinosaur they still have on the board. The meteor marker is then moved one space, which could end the game.

The last phase of each round is the “Evolution” phase. Gene tiles equal to the number of players playing are placed on the bidding board. Players then place their initiative marker on a number following one of the gene markers. (can be zero) A player can place their marker on a higher number, after which the player they outbid must move their marker to a different space. When all players’ markers are in a different row, they each win the gene marker in that row and place it on their dino portrait (if it’s an egg, tail piece, horn, parasol, fur, or foot). Mutant genes are also placed on the dino portrait - they reduce the cost of future genes, and card genes are discarded, giving the player another event card. Each player loses points equal to their bids and moves their markers accordingly. Event cards state on them when they can be played and can really affect the game if played to their maximum benefit.

When the comet “hits,” which happens randomly on the last couple of spaces on the meteor track, the player with the most points is the winner! (Ties are broken by amount of dinos on the board.)

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: After Days of Wonder, Eurogames certainly have the best components. Evo is stunning when one opens the box, because of the myriad of excellent, top-notch components. The double-sided board is gorgeous, and I specially liked how the different types of terrain were not only different colors but also had different textures and graphics, aiding the color-blind. The wooden dino tokens, while not quite as cool as plastic dinosaurs, are quite functional, and it’s only my obsessive desire to have a perfect thematic game that drives me to wanting to buy little plastic dinosaurs to use instead. In fact, all the wooden bits in the game are impressively big and are quite easy to handle. The cards are easy to read and have humorous illustrations on them. But the best part of the game is the dino portraits. It’s a brilliant component/mechanic how the mutant genes fit on them. It really adds to the flavor of the game, not to mention making it incredibly easy to explain the rules. The tiles are thick, and the cartoonish illustrations on them well match the funny-looking dinosaur on the portrait cards. And everyone gets a good laugh at how ridiculous looking some of the dinosaurs turn out to be. The information board is well done, as is the bidding board. EXCEPT, the scoring track, which is extremely poorly done. The spaces are very small, and the markers are tall, wooden cylinders, which fall over easily, and they barely fit on the spaces. All in all, a bad situation - but one that can be rectified with downloads off the internet. Aside from this small problem, the components exuded excellence.

2.) Rules: The rules sound fairly complicated, and there are many pages and illustrations to show exactly how they work. But the game is very intuitive, especially with how well the theme matches the mechanics. Players can pick up on how the game works quickly; and even with a few bad rounds (due to not understanding what’s going on), a player can easily rebound, as the strategy is fun and easy.

3.) Cards: I found that the game can actually work fairly well, even without the cards (discovered this when teaching the game to kids). The cards have different degrees of power and could possibly alter game play extremely. For me, they add a fun bit of chaos to the game, but purists could leave them out and still be happy.

4.) Bidding: I really liked the friendly bidding aspect, if you really want to get a gene, you could get one for free. (Unless playing the official variant where there is one less gene auctioned than the number of players - nasty!) All the genes are extremely useful, and it’s a great deal of fun, by game’s end, to see the different assortment of dinosaurs that have been created.

5.) Strategy: The strategy for the game is certainly not deep; in fact, some might call the game one of light tactics. I’ve seen that the game, especially when the cards are discussed, is not a big winner with those who prefer “heavy” designer games. Yet I found that the strategy, while benign, is certainly existent, and causes the game to be enjoyable. One can maximize the bidding, trying to create the “perfect” dinosaur. Or one can just take the genes they get, trying to use them for the utmost advantage. Attacking others is a fairly risky proposition, but can be a viable tactic to whittle down the dinosaurs of an opponent. Using cards at just the right time also helps. Everything is not defined either, because the end of the game is variable.

6.) Fun Factor: The theme really makes this game - because it matches the mechanics so well. I was just comparing this game to Wongar - a game where the theme really hurts it, giving evidence to the fact that a fun, good theme can really help make a game enjoyable to play. Watching dinosaurs get wiped out may have been a troubling fact in real life (although I’m not sorry Raptors aren’t running around), but in this game it’s treated in a very cartoonish, humorous way. The dino portraits especially bring fun to the game, and kids especially like how their dinosaurs end up looking.

Evo is an excellent game for the whole family to play, with a fun theme, and easy to learn, simple mechanics. The nonsensical artwork, the humorous dino portraits, and the fun game play makes this an excellent game of choice. There is some conflict, but it’s not needed or really even that profitable, so people who delight in head-to-head confrontation may be disappointed. But I believe that this adds to the family value. If you’re looking for a good “gamer’s game” to add to your collection, this may not be it. But if you’re looking for an excellent family game with a fun, matching theme, then this is right up your alley!

Tom Vasel

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