Teaching Evolution Through Board Games
Evo (second edition)
Playtime: 60 minutes
Teach time: 20 minutes
Game difficulty: Medium-Light
Timespan: Mesozoic Era: Jurassic Period (199.6-145.5 million years ago)
Key educational concepts: natural selection, population expansion, competition, evolution arms races, physiological adaptation, niche evolution
Favorite rules video: Dice Tower
Associated materials: paper: ‘What really is Evolution?’, paper: “Human Evolution Out of Africa: The Role of Refugia and Climate Change”, paper: “Population Genetics and Demography Unite Ecology and Evolution”, paper: “Simulating evolution: how close do computer models come to reality?”
In Evo, players control a species of dinosaur at the dawn of its arrival to a vast, uncolonized island. At start of the game, each player’s species is poorly adapted to the new landscape, but through gameplay, you adapt your species to outcompete other players’ dinosaurs and survive the changing climates. During the game, players evolve their species to increase its reproduction rate, movement, and tolerance to extreme climates (to name a few). As the game progresses, each species radiates across the mosaic of available biomes. Players gain mutation points for each territory occupied at the end of every round. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
Learning and teaching the game
The game is fairly easy to understand and can be taught in a short period once you master the rules. The rulebook is mostly clear and provides decent examples of most rules. We recommend that you make a cheat-sheet of the phases of each round as a reference (obviously it’s in the rulebook, but since there are several boards to this game, we liked freeing the table space). We also felt that the bookkeeping of the actions in the movement phase were slightly taxing and worked against a player’s focusing on the game tactics and strategies. During the Movement phase, players take turns moving their dinosaurs around the board. Players have the ability to evolve the number of movement actions of their species to mitigate the negative impacts of climate or simply to colonize the landscape. In execution, this often means each player’s allotted movements per round are not the same. Also, the rules require the movement points to be evenly split among each of their dinosaurs, meaning that many times each dinosaur can only be moved once. This requires players to remember which dinosaurs moved and how many movement actions you have taken, which can be quite taxing. Occasionally, a desired biome is occupied by another player's dinosaur. If you choose, you can battle the other player's dinosaur for the space. This is super exciting, but causes a break in the movement phase actions – further begging you to forget your movement stats. To reduce booking errors, we suggest the following modifications: 1) we required players to lay a dinosaur on its side when it moved each round and at the end of the game round (after extinctions occur); all dinosaurs were returned to standing positions; 2) we used wooded cubes (could be anything, i.e. pennies) to count used movement actions by placing the cube on their player board. This worked pretty well and allows players to focus on their strategies (vs. bookkeeping).
Evo is an area-control game where each player’s species radiates across the unoccupied island. Players start with a small amount of mutations points (the same currency used to determine the game winner) to bid on the range of different traits that will allow your dinosaurs to adapt. Some examples include horns for fighting, legs for walking, fur for cold climates, thermoregulation layers for dealing with warmer climates, and eggs for reproduction. The number of dinosaurs that survive each round give victory points (called mutation points). Play continues until someone draws the meteorite token, at which point play ends immediately and all points are counted.
This game consists of a series of rounds, each containing 6 game phases. The Climate phase adjusts the climate and dictates which regions of the island are hospitable to the dinosaurs that round. The climate is adjusted according to the randomly drawn climate token; if the meteorite token appears (which is randomly mixed into the bottom of climate token stack), the game stops immediately and the winner is determined. In the Mutation phase, players bid on mutations for their species. This is the most exciting phase and dictates how to evolve your dinosaur. During the Initiate phase, player order is determined by the order of player markers on the mutation auction board and remains unchanged until the next Initiative phase. Players then move their dinosaurs around the island in initiative order in the Movement phase. This can cause fights to occur, which are immediately resolved by comparing both involved players’ corresponding attack and defensive traits (which are evolvable) to a value rolled on the ‘combat dice’ rolled by the attacker. After movement is complete, players place new dinosaurs in initiative order in the Birth phase. At end of the round, during the Survival phase, the starting player verifies that all the dinosaurs can survive in the spaces where they are currently located based on the current climate. Each player then earns mutation points depending on the number of dinosaurs present on the island at the end of the Survival phase.
The artwork and production of this game are amazing and second only to the Evolution series games. The artwork masterfully projects the evolutionary theme onto Evo’s robust and light gameplay.
We chose to modify the publisher’s theme and gameplay a bit to make the gameplay more educational. We entirely ignored the human/alien races in the theme and removed the ‘Alchemical vial’ gene from the game, which makes buying future traits easier (but is mediated by the human/alien race) (also see gameplay changes mentioned above).
Evo is a great companion to an introduction to evolutionary theory. It is particularly well suited to reinforce curriculum on evolutionary arms races, adaptations, natural selection, and interspecific interactions. It was our top choice of the ‘easier’ evolution themed games we evaluated with broadest education utility, edging out the higher-rated Evolution: the Beginning. In the end, we chose not to use it in our course because it has been out of print for several years and can be very difficult to get. I have one copy and I purchased it for a lot more than the suggested retail price. Further, though the climate wheel mechanism is great in terms of demonstrating ecological adaptations, it doesn’t make too much sense in the context of physical geography and climatology. There are four terrain types in the game: mountains, glacial, desert and forests. Each round the terrain types randomly become a combination of the following four climates: ‘hot’ where only heat-adapted species can survive, ‘cold’ where only cold-adapted species can survive, ‘death’ where no individual can survive, and ‘normal’ where everyone can survive. As stated above, the climate/terrain combinations really don't make much sense. Though this a rather minor quibble, it speaks to the quality of evolution themed games currently being made.
Evo is a great game! The mix of modifying your species’ genes and the brawling area-control is fantastic! If you can find a copy of this game for a reasonable price, I highly recommend grabbing it!
Box cover (image credit: LudiGaume)
The two player island board (image credit: binraix)
Some of the 'genes' used to evolve your species (image credit: sleven38)
A player board with several adaptations (image credit: sleven38)
Mid game dino brawl (image credit: PressStartUA)
A three player game (image credit: jenny70)