Update (12/15/2020): It has come to my attention that there is currently a bug in Evolution which causes Pro Controllers to not work with the game. A patch for this problem is supposed to be working through certification, but I have no information on when this might go live.
Original Review Follows
One of the biggest things I’ve missed during the pandemic is the ability to gather together with friends for a rowdy night of board games. Thankfully, more developers are bringing board games to the digital realm, which not only allows me to play with my friends in these times, but also to play against AI when they’re not available. The newest of these titles on Nintendo Switch is Evolution Board Game, a strategic card game about the ever-changing balance found within developing ecosystems. I had never heard of this award-winning game until now, but Evolution has quickly become one of my favorite digital board game experiences.
In Evolution Board Game, you’re competing for resources to grow and maintain species within a fragile ecosystem. The game takes place across several rounds, with each round consisting of three phases. First, every player must choose a card to populate the watering hole with food. Cards can have positive values (which adds food to the ecosystem), negative values (which takes food away), or even zero. Exactly how much food will be added is based on the total food value of all cards played during this phase. However, the actual total remains a mystery until later in the round. Leftover food carries over between rounds, so you’ll need to take this into consideration as well.
The next phase has players growing their portion of the ecosystem using the cards in their hands. There are four main ways to do so. First, you can create a new species to the extreme right or left of your already established creatures. Second, you can increase the population of an existing species by one. Third, you can increase the body size of an existing species by one. Lastly, you can give an existing species a trait (up to three), as defined on the card used for this process.
Each of these is important to your overall success in Evolution. Increased populations can help your species stay alive longer, but you run the risk of starvation if you can’t feed them all. Increased body size can help protect your species from carnivorous attacks. Traits can help you gain food or protect yourself from extinction. Creating a new species gives you an additional blank slate to develop if you’re worried about your current creatures being too risky.
Once everyone develops their creature pool, the feeding phase starts. It’s only here that the food total is updated from Phase 1. In order, starting with the first player, creatures take turns either grabbing food from the watering hole (if it’s an herbivore) or attacking another species in the case of carnivores. Play then passes clockwise until either all creatures have been fully fed or the food supply runs out, at which point any populations that have not been fed die off. You then gain one victory point for each of the food tokens you collected during that round. The next round then starts, and this process is repeated until the deck runs out of cards.
Of course, this is a generalized overview of the game and there is more depth than described here. One of Evolution Board Game‘s great strengths is how it explains its mechanics though. Throughout my time in the campaign, Evolution would introduce mechanics gradually, which allowed me to master things progressively instead of throwing me into the deep end. For example, at the beginning of the campaign, all creatures are herbivores, so you get used to playing with those specific mechanics. It’s not until you’ve won a few matches that carnivores are added in, which rely on a completely distinct set of rules for feeding. Not only does this drip feed help players understand the game better, but it also adds a sense of progression since you’re always getting new stuff.
Outside of the gameplay proper, Evolution has all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a digital board game. The controls are straightforward and responsive. In Phase 2 of the gameplay, you can easily undo actions if you make a mistake or change strategies partway through. There’s also a wealth of multiplayer options, including local pass and play, which makes it a nice option for a game night with family or friends (after the pandemic, of course).
As a digital board game, Evolution does a pretty standard job in other aspects of the experience. That’s not to say it doesn’t handle these aspects well, but there’s not a lot to make it stand out from the crowd. This is fine though, because the game itself is why people come to packages like this. Performance-wise, I never had any hiccups and everything felt appropriately paced. Graphically, the backgrounds look good, but they’re nothing to write home about. The exceptions come via the card art and the loading screen sketches, which are some of the best I’ve seen in a digital board game.
Evolution Board Game is one of the best overall digital board game experiences I’ve had. I found it easy to pick up and learn without any prior knowledge of the game. Even as I progressed through the campaign, I never felt that things got too easy or too hard. There’s a nice sense of progression as new abilities and mechanics get introduced over time, which keeps things fresh. The rest of the package isn’t necessarily anything to write home about, but there’s nothing wrong with it either. Overall, if you’re in the market for a nice, strategic board game, Evolution should be towards the top of your list.
A review code was provided by the publisher.