Evolution board game

Evolution Game

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.

There are two expansions, neither of which we tried: Flight and Climate.


  1. Matt G says

    Are there any games out there that DO involve principles of evolution? I know of a few exercises that do, and there is a neat simulation called Boxcar 2D that I’ve found very useful.

    • Matthew Herron says

      “Are there any games out there that DO involve principles of evolution?”
      Not that I know of; I’d love to find some.

  2. Callinectes says

    I’ve played that once (I would play it more, but it wasn’t my copy). I quietly created the only dedicated predator on the table, a large population of small-middle sized creatures capable of punching above their weight, then rapidly sabotaged everyone else’s strategies by devouring all of their various abominations. Victory was delicious.

  3. suttkus says

    While playing the card game, Evolution, I tried pondering how the game could be made to better reflect scientific theory. I realized that there was a fundamental contradiction with that as a concept. The problem is that the fundamental element of evolution that really needs to be communicated is that it’s automatic, while games are fundamentally about choices. If the player is choosing to change a species, it’s not random mutations in a population introducing change. If a player choose to eliminate organisms he dislikes, it’s not natural selection. A scientifically accurate game of evolution is one where the player doesn’t actually make any choices, just plays cards at random and then applies a mechanic to the results. This would be an extremely unsatisfying game.

    • Matthew Herron says

      Yeah, that’s the root of the problem. I think the game is pretty good at being what it is; what it is just isn’t a faithful representation of evolutionary processes. That’s okay as long as what we’re after is a fun game with friends, rather than an educational experience.

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