Review – Climate & Evolution Bundle (Steam)

Climate Evolution Bundle

 

Designer Dominic Crapuchettes, Dmitry Knorre, Sergey Machin

Artist Ben Goldman, Catherine Hamilton

Publisher North Star Games

Category Digital Board Game

Length 15-60 min

Release Date May 4th, 2021

Player Count 1-4

Price $19.98 on Steam

Evolution Board Game on Steam is a digital adaptation of North Star’s award-winning board game Evolution. Climate is a DLC for Evolution that adds cards and introduces weather changes that affect everyone’s species. Is the digital adaptation worthy of the award-winning board game that almost perfectly blended theme and gameplay? Read on to find out!

Review

In Evolution, players control a tableau of species that they need to feed to win. Everyone starts with one species, one population of that species, and some cards. The goal of the game is to consume the most food at the end of the final round. If a population doesn’t receive food during the eating phase, they die off, so players must ensure their species get fed if they want to keep them on the table. 

The numbers on the green leafs determine how much food your card will add to the watering hole before the feeding phase.

Each round, players will play a card to the watering hole, influencing how much food will be available for the feeding phase. Each player will choose one of their species to eat, then play proceeds until there’s nothing left to eat. The watering hole serves as the main source of player interaction because players can starve each others’ species out and steal food from other players’ species. Certain trait cards will make some species take extra food from the watering hole, so players can choose whether to feed their biggest eater first, or feed a species that only eats one food and hope that there’s still food left in the watering hole when it comes back around to them. Players also interact via carnivores eating other species (carnivores can’t eat from the watering hole), but the watering hole is where most of the player interaction takes place, which fits the game’s theme perfectly.

I’ve never played the physical versions of Evolution or Climate, but I was able to complete the tutorial in around 30 minutes. I felt fully equipped to play the game; the only additional learning I needed would come with experiencing all the card combinations Evolution has to offer. 

The feeding phase, where all species vie for food from the watering hole.

And what the card combinations in Evolution have to offer is a lot. It’s a joy to create your own species that can munch three foods and share a food with a neighbor all in one turn; it’s also a joy to create a carnivorous species that eats opponent players’ species. Creativity is highly encouraged as each species can have up to 3 traits which, given the number of different trait cards available, leave room for over 12,000 unique species. It’s also hilarious to create silly creatures (a foraging, long-necked burrower is one of my favorites). 

Evolution features a 24-game campaign that teaches you how to play in the first five games and then takes you through different AIs with different play styles. The campaign was fun and it never felt like the same game over and over again because the AI was different each time. The AIs range in difficulty and strategy, as some will turn predatory the first chance they get, some will build up their defenses, and some will create as many species as possible. There are multiple AI personalities in the game that you unlock throughout the campaign, and no single strategy will work against them all. 

Play through different watering holes in the campaign
Play through different watering holes in the campaign.

The other game modes in Evolution are single player, weekly challenge, online game, asynchronous online game, and pass-and-play. Single player is perfect for honing different strategies because players can select up to three unlocked AI to play against and the AI’s difficulty can be adjusted across three levels. Weekly challenge is a blast because it alters how the game is played or challenges players to win against AI without a specific trait. Online games work well and it’s easy to invite players into games, and you can choose the asynchronous option if you only want to play when it’s your turn. 

Pass-and-play is fine, but it is the weakest of the additional modes because of a few bugs. Moreover, it seems there’s too much passing; everyone has to select a card of the watering hole and take their turn separately. It would make much more sense to have players select their watering hole cards and take their turn, then play can pass to the next person. It felt tedious to pass the laptop twice per player each round. However, I notified North Star, and they said they will try and work on a solution.

My favorite moments in Evolution are when I created an awesome combo where one of my species is taking 4 food from the watering hole each time it eats, when I created a species that’s indestructible and slowly builds up my score round after round, when I starved out the watering hole so only my species could eat while my opponents’ all died off, and when I built an apex predator to make an opponent’s overpowered, gluttonous herbivore go extinct. The expansion, Climate, only adds more enjoyable moments to Evolution

The carnivore trait card allows (and forces) a species to eat other species for food.

Upon downloading the Climate expansion, the game takes you through a short tutorial. Essentially, what changes is that players can now influence the temperature when they put their food into the watering hole. A climate tracker shows the players where the temperature is at and what disasters they will trigger if the temperature gets too cold or too hot. Moreover, players will be able to play up to 4 trait cards on species instead of the usual 3. This leaves room for some of the Climate-specific cards like mud wallowing, cooling frills, and heavy coats that help protect creatures from climate change. The additional cards and 4 trait slots also increase the number of possible species from over 12,000 to over 200,000.

The climate tracker shows players what happens when certain temperatures are hit.

I would highly recommend Climate if you want additional strategic depth. It provides another playground for players to play in, and the 4 trait cards per species allows for some really fun combinations that were impossible in standard Evolution. Moreover, sometimes you just don’t draw the cards you need to take out an opponent’s gluttonous herbivore or insatiable carnivor, but with Climate, you can push the temperature to an extreme that kills off the overpowered species without having to use one of your species to keep them under control. 

The graphics in the game fit the theme well. The tutorial guide is cartoony, but the creatures are very detailed and beautiful, with most of the artwork taken strait from the physical game. The sounds and animations that happen through a game are thematic: ice creeps around the corners of the screen when subzero temperatures hit, predators make a satisfying (but not intense) chomp when they eat prey, and a monkey will even join your tableau if you play an intelligent species adaptation. Evolution translates to Steam well. I’m not a big laptop gamer (I have less than 20 total hours logged playing games other than Evolution on Steam), but everything about this felt natural. 

The nocturnal trait protects a species from heat and predators.

There’s not many downsides to speak of. I prefer physical tabletop games over digital ones, but Evolution is so well-designed and the animations are so engaging that I thoroughly enjoyed it. The fact that I could sit down and play a game that usually takes 3 or more people 1 or more hours to play in 20 minutes by myself and still have a good time is wonderful. Yes, the table banter and social interaction loss is felt, but the convenience of the digital version doing all the set-up, managing, and tear-down, and the 20-minute playtime evens it out. 

Even if none of your friends own Evolution on Steam, I can still recommend it and the Climate DLC. The campaign is engaging and fun, and you can even replay again on brutal difficulty (which is very difficult, and satisfying, to win against). The single-player campaign captures the feeling of evolving and adapting that the original board game captured so perfectly. A digital adaption of a board game should take everything the board game does well and integrate it into what video games do well. Evolution does an excellent job at both, and if you like Evolution, Climate gives you more of what you already like, with a few fun wrinkles thrown in. 

Review copy kindly provided by Stride PR and North Star Games

The Bottom Line

A digital adaptation should take everything the board game does well and integrate it into what video games do well. Evolution does an excellent job at both.

 

9

Spencer Patterson

I'm a teacher, writer, and board game reviewer. I especially love board games that pull me in like a good book. My wife is my favorite gaming partner. Twitter: @spencerspen_sir