I host a semi-regular game night, and last night we tried out the game Evolution. I’ve been meaning to try it for a while, even ordered a used copy from an Amazon seller who turned out to be a scammer.
Overall, we enjoyed the game. I’m not sure I agree with the Amazon description’s “Intuitive rules allow players to grasp the game quickly,” but then we represented a sort of worst-case scenario. None of us had played or even looked at the rules before, and there may have been some beer involved. I think we had it more or less figured out by the end of a practice game, but I wouldn’t say it’s as easy to learn as, say, Dominion.
The basic idea is that you start with one species and can gain more as the game goes on. You can also upgrade your species with traits that improve their offensive, defensive, and resource utilization capabilities. Each species also has a population size and a body size. Body size affects things like what can eat your species, and if population size goes to zero, the species goes extinct.
There’s very little to do with evolutionary biology, so forget about using it to reinforce principles of population genetics or anything like that. The only thing that even comes close is that there’s a bit of a public goods game when it comes to food: each round, everyone contributes food to a pool that is used by everyone. Players have some control over the amount they contribute, which can even be negative (I’m afraid I was a frequent defector).
The artwork is great, colorful and imaginative. My initial impression of the strategy is that it can be quite deep, with costs and benefits strongly dependent on what everyone else is doing (frequency-dependent selection?). There are benefits to having more species, but more species usually means weaker species (smaller body size, smaller population, or fewer beneficial traits). Investing early in more species (as I did) has a sort of compounding interest benefit, but it can spread you too thin and make it hard to keep them all alive.