Create the species mode capable of survival and become king of the watering hole.
Android, iOS, & Steam
# of Players
North Star Games
Evolution is a hand management game from North Star Digital. In the game, players use trait cards to create new species of animals and keep them fed throughout the game to earn points. Other players are also trying to feed their animals, and the battle is fierce. The game ends after the round in which the trait cards deck runs out. Points are counted and the victor is the player with the most, a game typically takes about ten minutes.
Evolution is a free-to-try game, this review will discuss the fully unlocked game unless specifically noted.
A turn in Evolution begins with each player being dealt trait cards, the number of which varies based on the number of species they have in front of them. First, players must choose one card to serve as food for the watering hole, the amount of food is determined by a number in the corner of each card. Next, each player takes turns playing their remaining trait cards. Cards may be used to enhance current species or create new species. Players then take turns feeding their species which can either be by grabbing food from the watering hole or by attacking other species if they’ve turned their species into a carnivore, which is done with a trait card in the previous phase. Finally, any species which was not fed goes extinct and is removed from play. Points are then awarded, one for each fed member of your population, and the next round begins.
Cards are dealt each turn, when the deck runs out and needs to be reshuffled, the subsequent round is the last of the game. At the end of the game, players are awarded bonus points for each member of their population, as well as each trait card their surviving species’ have. All of the points are tallied and whoever ends up with the most wins the game.
A few more details to clarify. Each species can hold up to three traits, which can be replaced throughout the game by playing another trait on top of any of the three. Trait cards add some ability to a species, they usually fall into one of three categories: protecting them in some way, bypassing protections on other species, or making feeding easier. You may also use a trait card not to apply the trait, but to increase the population or size of an existing species. If you choose to create a new species (which can be done with any card, the same as increasing population or size), that species arrives with a population and size of one. Population is the number of that species you have, and each population must gather a food, one way or another, before the end of a turn, otherwise that population is lost. If all population of a species are lost, that is when that species goes extinct. Species’ size comes into play when carnivores are trying to attack, as the carnivore’s attack strength (which is equal to its size) must outmatch the size of the species it is attacking.
Got all of that? Create new species, grow them in population in size to increase your point total, but make sure that you can actually feed them each turn otherwise you will lose them. You get points each turn for every fed population you have, one species with a population of five gets the same points at the end of a turn as five species with one population each.
The twist, of course, are in the form of the trait abilities. Turning your creature into a carnivore is the most drastic trait ability in the game as that creature must feed on other creatures in order to survive (even your own, if it comes down to that). Many of the the other traits are aimed at countering carnivores because a successful carnivore attack will reduce the population of a species by one. Warning Call, as an example, may be played on a species and it means neither species to the immediate left or right of the species with Warning Call can be attacked. The species with Warning Call can still be attacked, but it protects its neighbors, how nice! However, there is another trait card, Ambush, which allows a carnivore to overcome the effect of Warning Call and attack anyway. Evolution is often a game of countering enemy moves.
The previous example also shines a light on the push-your-luck nature of Evolution. If there are no carnivores with Ambush in play, you might feel safe not increasing the size of those species which are protected by Warning Call. This may be a great plan for a while, allowing you to keep your body sizes small while using those valuable cards to increase populations, which are the stats which earn points. However, if a carnivore acquires Ambush, your suddenly helpless, small-bodied, big population species could become extinct rather quickly as they become a regular snack for large carnivores.
Evolution is a fun game. Creating new species and giving them survival traits is a great premise for a game, and I think it is pulled off rather well. The constant back-and-forth of looking at the size and traits of the carnivores around the watering hole ensures players must act tactically to survive. The traits will allow you to chain together some very powerful combinations that give you big advantages in feeding, but the trick is being able to keep those chains safe from carnivores and also ensuring you are able to grab enough food from the watering hole each turn. The game will occasionally feel a bit too luck-dependent to some, but your luck is likely to turn around on the next turn, so I don’t feel this is too big of an issue.
Barrier to Entry
Evolution is taught via tutorial. The game has four basic tutorials: Overview, Interface, Herbivore, and Carnivore. These can be access via main menu or by starting the campaign mode. Interface is meant for experienced players and introduces the UI of the app, not the core gameplay rules. After those, the campaign introduces new cards on subsequent stops in order to ease new players into the full suite of traits. Overall, Evolution does a great job teaching new players the game. The tutorials are detailed enough to let the key points sink in and the slow introduction of new cards further helps for a smooth learning process.
A carnivore attacks!
Look and Feel
Evolution looks and plays great. The graphics are well made across the board, the backgrounds on the game areas have different varieties and are very cool. The vegetation around the watering hole grows as more food becomes available, which is a completely unnecessary addition that shows the attention to detail the game received. The menus all carry a fun adventure theme as the various screens are presented as pages in your adventure log book. The campaign mode has a great looking map, and so on. In game, the little tableaus for individual species are fantastic looking and represent a complete overhaul from the more generic, although more practical in a physical sense, versions from the board game.
The interface is equally as well done. Drag-and-drop everything, simple enough. Need to see what a card’s trait does? Click and hold to bring up a zoomed in view. The game also smartly triggers auto-feeding when there are no more carnivores to attack on a turn and there is enough food in the watering hole to feed all remaining population. There is an undo button which I often find myself needing after a particularly dumb move.
Online games can be played either through Find a Match or Private Game mode, online play is cross platform and can be played in real-time or asynchronously. Private games allow you to invite a friend and optionally add AI players to fill out the game. The friend system in Evolution is a simple, easy to use, username based system and works well. If you are elsewhere in the game and get an invite, a popup will allow you to accept the invite. If you are outside of the app, you will get a push notification.
Find a match does exactly what it says, it will attempt to find you a game with players of similar skill levels, there is an online leaderboard. There is a one minute wait period once an opponent has been found, during the time the game looks for more players. Should the timer expire, you will begin a game with whatever players are in the game, with any remaining spots being filled in with AI opponents. Online games run very smoothly, there was nothing unexpected in our games. Randomly matched games have a short timeout which starts showing at 20 seconds if you are inactive when it’s your turn.
The game does feature a local pass-and-play option.
Single player games come in two forms: vs AI and campaign mode. AI games are simply choosing between one and three AI opponents, each of which can be any level: easy, medium, or hard. Each AI also has six variants within those difficulty levels. These variants are unlocked via campaign mode and offer a strategic specialization. The first you unlock, for example, is Carnivora Barbarus which is an attacking AI. These strategies, combined with the three different AI levels, give the solo games a ton of depth. You can play a variety of different opponent types which is significantly more interesting than simply choosing an AI level.
The campaign mode acts as a tutorial to roll out new traits to get you familiar with them. Along the way you take on AI opponents in normal matches or Apex Species battles over 24 levels. The Apex Species battles amount to a boss fight in Evolution. Winning one of these battles opens up that AI specialty for normal AI games. Campaign mode is on Normal by default, but you can switch over to Brutal mode, only once you defeat a human in an online game, however. Overall, the campaign mode is a great addition, it gives some unlockables to chase which actually add something to the game while also giving a series of encounters to tackle which can be more fun than playing a bunch of random AI games.
Evolution is a free-to-try game, you get to play a subset of the modes and must pay via in-app purchase to unlock the full game.
Evolution has only one true expansion: Flight. It does, however, have a handful of standalone titles in the series. Evolution the Video Game is based off of the board game released in 2014 under the title Evolution. It is unclear whether there are any plans to bring either Flight or the other standalone variants to digital form.
In 2021, Climate was released as an expansion. Climate's primary addition is the climate track which players can attempt to manipulate by playing cards for food which have either snow or sun markers on them. When the food cards are revealed, whichever of those two have the most symbols played is the direction which the track moves. In case of a tie, the track doesn't move that turn. The climate track has drastic effects on the game. The freezing side of things initially affects smaller creatures, those incapable of surviving a freeze, while also spoiling food each turn. If the track moves far enough in that direction, even larger animals won't be immune. There are new trait cards which help you mitigate the effects. The heat wave side of things starts affecting larger animals first and adds, rather than removes, food initially. If the track moves to the end of the line in either direction there are drastic food shortages and loss of population for creatures of all sizes.
Climate is a really good addition to the game. Deciding how to play your food was always an important part of Evolution, but Climate takes that to a new, satisfying level. It creates an uneasy tension between players the entire game. It is entirely possible that the climate track is kept from moving very far at all which minimizes the effect as the first space in each direction only add or remove two food. Alternatively, if a player gets traits which allow them to weather a storm, they can push hard in one direction to try to freeze or dry out their opponent's species. Fans of the base game will likely find the decision making that Climate adds to be a fun extension of that found in the base game.
The Wrap Up
Evolution the Video Game follows in a long line of very high quality apps developed in house by board game publishers. There’s an attention to detail when the people being the physical game make the digital game, and that really shines through here.
This is the part where we nitpick issues. Initially, this list was a few items long, but since the initial release North Star Digital has addressed all of the issues. That leaves this space fairly sparse, the app is so well made it’s difficult to find faults. The only potential negative would simply be those who don’t like the game. For all of the polish and streamlining the app does, the game can definitely carry the feeling of “sameness” from time to time. You spend most of the game trying not to get eaten by a carnivore and trying to stay fed. It’s a fun back-and-forth, but not one with a staggering amount of variety.
On the plus side, the app is among the most polished out there. The redesigning of certain aspects for the digital version are fantastic. The app works seamlessly, has a ton of options, and looks fantastic, down to some very minor details that many developers would have overlooked. If Evolution is a game you enjoy, the app will certainly hit the spot for you. If you’ve been curious about trying Evolution, the app provides a great chance to test it out, including very nice learning tools and a progressing campaign mode to ease you in. The highlight of the game, otherwise, are all of the AI options and the smooth online play.