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.