Monday, November 28, 2005

Evaluating Evo

I am reviewing Evo for this week's edition of my newspaper. So I grabbed three guys from work who help playtest the game and Ben and sat down for a five-player game. I think everyone had a great time. One was anxious to get home and at 90 minutes was ready for the game to end, but otherwise mostly positive comments. A full review is to come, but here are my thoughts on the game.

Overall, I think Evo is a fun, if light, strategy game. The theme is good. It's probably a decent family game as it's not to tough to play (I would probably make some player aid that better explained the different climate zones). The best part of the game is the event cards, that allow you to do fun and nasty things to other players' dinos. I probably will only play with the advanced variant (one fewer mutations to bid on than players). It really improves the game.

Unfortunately, there was something nagging at me...a reason why I didn't rate it higher. I had trouble pinpointing it, but I think it is this: lack of enough meaningful decisions. There were too many turns where there really weren't a lot of things I could have done differently -- there was virtually only one way to play it.

First, the bidding. In a five-player game, there are four mutations available for bidding. Mutations are bought via victory points. Really, the toughest decisions come in knowing how much to bid and when to drop out because the mutation becomes too costly. Unfortunately, too many times the available mutations don't match your strategy. At max, there will be four of seven different mutations available, and often less due to duplicates. Sometimes there weren't any fully desirable mutations.

Second, confrontation just isn't appealing because the attacker is at a disadvantage. Why risk it? Ben was the only person attacking and due to unlucky die rolls, he was suffering for it and came in last place. I would have liked for him to win a few to see how it affected the game. One turn, he paid six VP for an extra horn and attacked an opponent with two fewer horns, meaning he could only lose on a roll of six. Of course, that's what he rolled. It was pretty comical.

Third, movement and birthing seemed somewhat predetermined. You really only have one or two options of where to move.

I thought all the way home on variants that might improve this game. One was to have two auctions each turn. I took too long to build up a dino of any value getting just one mutations each turn. I think there might be room for more long term planning if you were getting possibly two upgrades rather than one each turn. Of course, the bidding wouldn't be as intense because you'd know you could pass on an auction and still get something the second time around.

I also thought there should be more incentive to attack. Maybe an extra VP for each dino you killed. Maybe an extra birth (although this would diminish the value of the egg gene...maybe take out the egg gene and make each death worth an egg for that turn.) Maybe a end-of-turn bonus for the player with the most dinos on the board that might invite players to attack the leader. Maybe play on the medium board even with maximum players. This would make the best spots a lot tougher to get. If would also give more incentive to go first or second, making the tail a more valuable mutation.

I am not sure the answer. I think the game is fairly well balanced, but I want to play again with some or all of these variants to find a way to make the game even better. As it is, it's a pretty fun game, but I have a feeling there are some house rules out there that would improve the overall decision making and increase the strategic value of the game.


At 10:29 PM, November 28, 2005, Blogger Rob said...

Interesting. You kinda mentioned something I also felt in this game: your options are somewhat limited.

The game I think is broken down into two games:

1. land control (make new units, move, attack, gather resources to buy more stuff, etc)
2. auction game

The first one being the largest percentage of the game, is the one that is limited. I felt that what really limits this part is one of the coolest features of the game: the climate. And the thing it limits the most is movement. You simply don't have much freedom to move. Every round you are just moving your dinos to make sure they survive the climate.... rarely did I move to find a good vantage point to mount an offensive and attack.

Instead I found myself using all my movement points to keep casualties at a minimum every round moving dinos to safe ground....but still would lose at least 2-3 every round. Not cool. Not much motivation there to go and risk a few more in a battle.

But again, I love this feature. I wouldn't eliminate the climate, but would have made it less life threatening. Instead of automatically dying by being 2 spaces away from the current climate, make it three (but then I guess you would need more climate types...what to do what to do... maybe your variants are the solution).

All in all, cool game.

At 6:25 AM, November 29, 2005, Blogger Ben said...

A horn! A horn! My kingdom for a horn!

At 10:04 AM, November 29, 2005, Blogger Kendahl said...

Good points Rob. The auction is the best feature of the game (imo). Bidding with victory points is a nice touch that I haven't seen in any other game (that I can recall).

I am not sure if it would make the horns too valuable, but I'd like to try a game on a smaller board. With fewer safe places to move, confrontation would be inevitable and turn order would be more important. As is, I think the mutations are slightly imbalanced.

One house rule I'd also implement is to flip the top event card when it's for auction (or maybe flip two and the winner gets his or her choice). How can you really determine how much to bid on an event card when you have no idea if it will even help you?

Incidentally, for Rob, Jeff and Amy, we played one rule incorrectly. The second tie breaker for turn order is fewest dinos on the board and the third tie breaker is die roll.

At 2:43 PM, November 29, 2005, Blogger Rob said...

Interesting variant (the flipped card thing).

As I typed notes here at work in my computer, it dawned on me that I like games where the different players have different advantages and abilities, but have access to the same technologies/upgrades (TI3 anyone?). This could be implemented two different ways:

1. It would have been cool to have the cold-resistant dinos (start with 2-3 furs), warmonger dinos (start with 1-2 horns), velociraptors (2 legs from the get go), etc. So basically add an upgrade from the get go to create a more specialized dino race.

2. Or apply the same principle of having different races, but instead of starting with the "extra" upgrade, reduce the final price paid for one type of upgrade by half. (or by a fixed amount, etc). Velociraptors get a discount on legs, the cool dinos on fur, etc etc.

If choosing number one, which I think is the coolest, you would need a lot of playtesting to make sure you have the balancing just right (so as to not make one race completely unstoppable).

At 4:32 PM, November 29, 2005, Blogger Ben said...

The biggest problem I see is that once you're behind, its almost impossible to catch up. You can't bid as much for new mutations and you're not breeding as much, so these compounding factors accelerate your score deficit each turn, making you further and further behind.

I thought about a variant where if you take a mutation the radiation effects of the mutation create a temporary birth rate penalty... this might reduce the point acceleration factor... I don't think this quite works, but my gears are turning...


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