I received a review copy from the publisher. No money changed hands. My copy is a pre-release preview copy, and may differ from what is actually published.
The game: Darwin’s Choice by Marc Dür, Samuel Luterbacher and Elio Reinschmidt. The game is presented in Kickstarter by Treecer in 2018.
Elevator pitch: This game of evolution has players mutating and migrating their hybrid animal species in a changing environment. The most suitable animals gain points, but those points are only scored if the animal survives until the end of the game.
What’s in the box? Lots of cards and cardboard counters. The cards depict either animal parts (heads, bodies, feet, wings, tails), vegetation zones or big events.
Everything is illustrated by Rozenn Grosjean, and the watercolour art is fantastic. It’s really pretty, and the animal cards look really good.
In the preview copy there are duplicate cards in the deck, but if stretch goals turn out well, all duplicate cards will be replaced with functionally identical cards with different animal pictures, increasing the amount of pretty artwork.
The components are generally quite practical, but the cards take up a lot of space. The preview copy has bigger cards than the release copy, and it’s a huge table space hog. The smaller cards are an improvement here, even if the art would look better with bigger cards. Even with the smaller cards, a six-player game will take lots of space.
What do you do in the game? There’s a bunch of vegetation zones with different parameters: how much food there is, what kind of animals can live there, what attributes determine which animals are the best.
Players use their hand cards to create animals. Each animal must have a head and a body, and can also add legs (either two cards or one card), wings, and tail. Each card adds symbols that increase the capabilities of the animal, but more cards usually means the animal requires more food, and sometimes you don’t want to have certain capabilities (in desert, for example, animals need to have the “hot environment” capability, but must not have the “cold environment” capability).
The existing animals can be modified. Each animal can be activated once per round. Animals can be mutated by adding or removing cards (one card is free, more than that costs points) or they can migrate to a different vegetation zone.
Once everybody is happy with their animals, the round ends. Animals then eat: if there’s enough food for everybody, everybody’s happy, but if not, the carnivores can consume weaker herbivores. Any animal that survives scores one point.
Then each zone is examined: the most capable animal scores points depending on the zone (harder zones give more points). Then the overall fitness is checked: trophy symbols on cards are counted and the three animals with most trophies score points.
After scoring, the vegatation zones change. There’s also an event, which shakes up things. Now it may be your precious animals aren’t suitable for their environment anymore – if a desert becomes an ocean, your desert animal is probably not going to survive, or at least is not competitive. Should you mutate or migrate, is now the question.
If an animal dies, you score one point from it if it has points. The rest of the points are removed. After four rounds, the surviving animals score full points and the player with the most points wins.
Lucky or skillful? There’s plenty of chaos in this game. Everything is input randomness: something random happens, and you must react. A disastrous change in vegetation happens randomly and can make your prize species threatened.
There’s some balance to it, though: the more you specialize, the more points you’ll get, but at the same time you’re also more vulnerable for changes in the environment. More generalist species with fewer cards won’t win prizes, but will survive a long time.
There’s some skill involved, but you have to accept there’s lots of chaos involved as well.
Abstract or thematic? Very thematic, even educational – there’s a lesson or two to learn about evolution here.
Solitaire or interactive? Very interactive. There’s little “take that” or direct attacking, but you can create a species aimed to consume someone else’s herbivores, or beat them to the food. Food can be a scarce resource, especially if there’s some catastrophe involved, and in those cases only the fittest will survive.
Players: 2–6. I’ve only tried the game with two or three. With five or six, you need a big table, but other than that, I think the game should work just fine with more players. Players can trade, and the trading should light up in larger games.
Who can play? The age recommendation is 10+, I believe, which sounds correct. Children can’t play this without adults, unless they are experienced in the game, but with adults involved, even smaller children could probably handle the game.
What’s to like: The evolution theme works really well. The art is fantastic. The creatures you create are guaranteed to stir up laughs and general hilarity or nausea.
What’s not to like: The book-keeping in feeding is wieldy, and requires one skilled player who can do it. The game is really random and chaotic.
My verdict: Darwin’s Choice is a beautiful game. It’s also fun to play: coming up with strange mutants is fun, the creatures can get really strange and coming up with weird and capable combos is entertaining.
Will I back this myself? No. I found the game enjoyable and wouldn’t say no if someone suggested it, but I wouldn’t suggest this myself, so my rating is Indifferent on my usual scale of Avoid, Indifferent, Suggest and Enthusiastic.
Should you back this? Sure, if you like the evolution theme, don’t mind the fairly heavy book-keeping between rounds (this game really benefits if someone knows the rules well and can make sure the feeding is handled correctly) and enjoy adapting to chaotic events. Adaptation – that’s very much a key concept in this game.
The Kickstarter campaign can be found here. It’s running until June 6th 2018.