I have about my very person such tools as modern science has never before witness. I refer, principally, to my trusted anthropologist’s zooming in type magnifying glass…
Extra special rosewood surround, double glazed rubber grip and air-conditioned flip-top handle. What more could one ask for, for the true observation of life, evolving before one’s very eyes, no less?….
Just look at the variety of both flora and fauna… the bi-nostril humming bee, the duck footed mouse penguin and the tripodal elephant…
…right! Where’s me scribbling pencil and note book… I have discoveries to be a recording…
(Press play for an ambience of the truest discovery nature…to aid your reading)
‘Here we are, in the thickest jungle only metres away from the king of all animals… the lesser-potted truncated dwarf cactus elephant. In our position we can observe the majestic creature in its natural environment as it makes its cautious way to the top of the cactus stem…
that was my bestest David Attenborough impression….
…oh, suit yourselves
What’s All The Fuss About?
An unusual ditty doth make its proud way onto both sides of my ‘usually solo’ table. A slender, unassuming box spills forth a myriad cards of all colours and denominations. DNA spills forth and immediately undertakes a developmental mutation before my astonished eyes. The basic fundamentals for life begin to take shape, leaving a rather unpleasant, sticky residue on my gaming surface. This is DARWINNING, a multiplayer game of evolution.
It was during the summer of 2018…lol… makes it sound like decades ago, that I was given a demonstration by Tiinaliisa, of this new game, still at the printers. Already in possession of Dragon Dawn’s Perdition’s Mouth for review, I was asked if I would like to review Dawrinning once it had been fulfilled. As the game looked amazing, visually, and gameplay interested me greatly, I agreed. Bumping into Timo at Essen, I was presented with a proper, shiny, finished copy to review. Now, I consider Timo, Lee and Tiinaliisa to all be friends now, having met numerous time, spent plenty of time conversing over the digital highway and such, but my original agreement to review was as an unknown. (I was actually blown away when Timo admitted he followed my website… It was a moment or three before I was able to pick myself up off the floor at that revelation…but I digress). This digression and aimless reminiscence is a disclaimer that, although I now know the team, and was given the game to review, this is not a paid review and my ludicrous meandering words are impartial.
So, the fuss in this particular instance, is one of evolving species. A card game that accommodates two to six players in a mad bid to bag the best biological upgrade/adaptation to further develop a species above the competition, moving its hazardous way up the food chain, accumulation victory points as this is achieved.
Immersion or Subversion?
This game is not subversive in any form, but I am unsure what to make about the submersion. I think ultimately we have to admit it certainly plunges us, earlobes and extended nostril hair first, into the seething gene pool of evolution. We have ourselves a player dashboard, a species board if you like, with a sublimely ludicrous species, wonderfully illustrated, which has its origins firmly set on the food chain. Each species has its own special set of traits allowing for a rudimentary form of survival in this hostile world of ours. The immersion element is all about the fashion with which we bring these little lovelies on in the world. How we adapt them to the environments… which can be harsh. How we help and nurture them through their development of practical defensive (or even offensive) measures. Ways to prevent the bigger bullies from chomping out on our delicate ankles… or worse.
Immersion is achieved by the the nurturing, developing and evolving of our own, well loved species. We care for it, tend to its every need and, if we feel opulent, buy it an unnecessary bright pink bomber jacket. Very nice.
Certain game mechanics are fun but don’t lend them selves to the actual care of these species of ours, but as the game rounds are played in two parts, the acquisition/bidding for supremacy is merely a means to an ends… the end being that sought after evolving or adaptive quality found on the Trait cards..
Once we have said upgrade/adaptivity, then we begin to feel that immersion. The choices are huge but with so few resources to make good our creatures, every single decision we make could be supremely beneficial or catastrophically devastating. Here lieth the wonder of the game.
The game is simply broken down into two segments each turn. We all engage in a trick taking, poker-like series of mini rounds. We all have an initial hand and choose to match or cards to the potential winning hands. Not a poker player myself, this was unfamiliar territory but is pretty straight forward. The aim of this is to present the highest hand, from which we can, if victorious, select a played card (from our hand or the AI in two player) that can be used later to upgrade and evolve our species. There is no set limit to rounds of trick taking, as play continues until someone has an empty hand. This element is rather a nice tough, however, from a strategic perspective, as there may be times when we know we will never win, so we have opportunities to simply ‘throw away’ a card, knowing we will never win. Equally, card economics are vital. If we can win with two cards, we have more cards in our hand to draw upon for future tricks…. win with a four card trick and our hand is significantly reduced. This is a small, but clever little addition to the game, making trick-taking a more thoughtful procedure than simply playing our highest cards.
The second half of each round is the meat and vegetables of the game… and many of our species actually become the meat and vegetables of other species, as we watch our populations dwindle at expense of the sharpened toothy grins of our opponents’ beasties. Any cards won during the trick taking segment can be added to our player/species board, to add their icons to those stats inherently found on each individual species.
This is where the multi card use element of this game shines. Icons at the top of a card are used during trick taking, like the numbers and suits found on regular playing cards. Additionally at the top are icons that enable us to move up the food chain, offering us advantages over our close rivals. To the right we get opportunity to increase our species population (vital if we keep getting eaten, but this also puts a dramatic strain on our food resources. A fed population is a happy population). To the bottom of a card we find a host of sneaky population adaptation that allow us extra eating privileges or increase our chicken leg supply, or give us iron stomachs that simply facilitate the consumption of toxic species… very handy indeed). Finally we turn to the left of the Trait card and find adaptations to the environment.
So what does all this have to do with the price of chips? Well, once adapted and evolved, we are prepared to survive future turns… be it feeding our population, surviving the hostile environments or fending off the gnashing teeth of predators. This is all about survival of the fittest, so get your jogging shorts on, people!
There is a lot more to the game than I mention here but this gives an idea of how we are called upon to survive.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
To be fair there is little to say here. The tokens, although small, are of sturdy card and the remaining components are well printed onto linen finished thin card. The thing of note is the great beauty of the illustrations which are quite stunning. I will say that until familiar with the iconography and its location, the symbols can become a little lost within the card’s aesthetic. Once we know what we are looking for, they are actually quite easily identifiable… but it is something to note as new or inexperienced players to the game.
Meeples and Standees:
- Game Design: Tiinaliisa, Timo & VäinöMultamäki
- Artist:Jamie Noble Frier, Akha Hulzebos, Andrea Longhi, Lars Munck
- Editor:Thomas Klausner
- Game Publisher: Dragon Dawn Productions
- Playtime:(recess for those of the American persuasion) 45-70 minutes
- Gangs of One: 2-6
- Age of Consent: 9+
- DOB: 2018
As a multiplayer first and foremost, and actually having been designed for three players and above, there is no space in this highly economic storage box for AI’s Bots or Wotnots… In fact, it had to have special rules to facilitate two player…. but this system lead me to think about the feasibility of some form of rudimentary solo mechanic… but, this is, perhaps, not for me to tamper with… but *rubs chin in thoughtful manner…but stops abruptly when bristles brush deep into a paper cut on finger…* I might, anyway. We shall see.
Bots and Wotnots:
Although the game has no pretence to offer solo, there is a Bot of sorts added to the two player game. The AI has a token on the food chain board, can attack/at our species if the right circumstance prevail, and can cause some inconveniences during the survival step. An offer of three Trait cards are laid out on behalf of the AI. These cards can be incorporate into our trick-taking hands, if we so wish, which is always handy, but we must remember any remaining Trait cards will give the AI Bot some unpleasant abilities that may be turned against us later. This actually adds some nice new opportunities to plan and develop strategies not available in the three+ player games. It is of note that the cheeky Bot will Bit us for two tokens regardless, which equates to us losing population each time. Not something that will help us!
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: There will always be a winner, just by nature of this being a competitive score based game. That said, ensuring victory is more complex and reliant on a great strategy. You don’t have to be the biggest, toughest beasty on the planet to win, as lesser entities can, through cunning, eke their way to triumph. Yes, winnable, but moreover it is the journey our personal species has travelled, that makes the winning or losing all the more bitter or sweet.
- Rules is Rules is Rules:On a personal note, I found the font/type face used thirteen page rule book (English rules are pages 1-13) not so easy to read… this is a personal preference. As for the gameplay description, the rules explain everything in a progressive fashion with examples of gameplay to help illustrate potential situations. As the game rounds are split into two phases of very different gameplay, novice players can become overwhelmed initially, but the game is actually not as complicated as it first appears. After an initial learning game, subsequent sessions flow much quicker. My only grievance, beyond the font, is that the Traits key is part way through the rule book. I would like to have seen maybe prompt cards or , maybe the key on the back of the rule book, just to aid access, as there are many unfamiliar icons that are supremely crucial to an individual’s strategy. It does its job, but a number of things could have been laid out better for ease of access. They are minor issues and do not ultimately affect play.
- Lucky Buggers: Those cheeky little cubes are definitely not welcome in this game. Through their noticeable absence, we soon realise there is no luck in this game other than that of card draw, which equally effects all players. Most mechanics revolve around player decisions, whether playing tricks during the Era stage, or choosing wisely when evolving a species during the Survival stage. Ether way, we will only have our selves to blame for misfortune and the inevitable feeding frenzy our opponents might exert upon us if we are poorly defended. It is not such a bad idea to have an elephant with a hard shell… just saying!
- Highs and Lows: There is always going to be a number of losers and, considering the effort, care and attention paid to our species during this game, we will always be sad to see them fail at the endgame tally. All is not lost, though, as the whole game-feel is light, upbeat and, with some unusual, clever, and entertaining illustrations, a fun game, leaving us definitely wanting to return for another session. We are filled with a desire to return to ensure a species under our care, thrives at the expense of the competition. It can be somewhat tooth and claw at times… most literally.
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: Very much dependant on player count, but our three player games manages to fit comfortably in a 60cm x 60cm area.
- Set IT Up Just To Tear It Al Down Again: Set up is simple, a player token/letter placed on the food chain board, series of population tokens are awarded to us and once the Trait card deck and environmental deck are shuffled, we are good to go. It really is a simple matter of moments to set up and clear away. So, with minimal fuss and bother, we can get stuck into the evolving and consuming instantly.
- Pay Per Play: I think this is hitting the market at around the $30 mark, so for around twenty five quid in old money, a small box of cards looks quite steep. We must be careful about our materialistic judgemental opinions at this juncture, as we should be looking at how much game we get for these hard earned universal credits. This game offers play from two to six players, which is quite a significant versatility considering its modest shelf size. There is an intense, engaging game held within, that, unlike many multiplayer games, offers high player interaction/engagement throughout play, and looks fabulous whilst doing so. The variety of thirteen base species ranging from the meagre single celled creatures up to some serious toothy top predators like dinosaurRaptorRex and even a bloomin’ dragon. All this offers us a huge variety of opportunity to develop distinct strategies suitable for an individual species’ survival. I doubt any two games are ever going to be replicated, so to that end, we find ourselves with a hugely re-playable, exciting, high interactive game with virtually no down time. If this is what you look for in a game, then we certainly have value for money.
Me, Myself and I:
Me, myself and I thoroughly enjoyed this, even though it was a non-solo game, joined by real players, no less. It does, admittedly take a bit of time to get one’s head around the mechanics and the numerous icons displayed upon the cards.
However, once the mechanics, which are not really so complicated, slot into place, the game beans along at a really merry pace, and becomes quite tense at times. I experienced the two player mode, which has a sort of ‘bot’ to add a third player (plus some additional rules for the two live players) and three player variant, both of which offer a very entertaining game. I have not access to larger numbers of players to help test for my review, but I imagine once hitting the fore, or perhaps five, player mark, the games sweet spot can be found. Four players should give enough competition on the food chain track to really make life pretty exciting. I am not taking anything away from two or three player games, as they re most enjoyable, in an evolving sort of fashion. But the tension is, nonetheless, a little reduced in intensity on the food chain. Ultimately this has no detrimental effect on gameplay for for any player count. It is merely a musing I had based on conjecture rather than fact.
Whatever the weather, this certainly provided a good many hours of entertainment (our play only lasted forty odd minutes so we were able to fit in a number of plays in one sitting.
Yay or Nay?
Teeth the size of a medium sized bread knife are scary at the best of times, but in the gob of a flying treefrog with concentric nostrils and an ability to cut power lines with scissors really manages to cajole the BSoMT 1d8 die into a significant, and unsurprising (6)… actually I must amend this score… or at least quantify it. As a holistic score, my slight niggles and inconvenience of the trait crib sheet give the game an over all 6, but the actual game play is definitely a 7… so please judge accordingly.
This is definitely a great family game and I would highly recommend it…
Now, as an observer of nature, and a photographer of such, I feel the need for slightly more absorbent underwear as the sights \I am currently witnessing are weakening the sphincter muscle. I don’t believe dodos should have evolved the ability to hold objects with their feathered wings, yet they hold and use with efficiency, old style 1660’s telephones. This suggests a highly evolved since of communication skills… Most worrying… but nest building on high voltage power cables may just be their downfall….
‘’’but bees with pheromone aerosols…hmmm…. that is just a mere evolution step from paint aerosols and then the world will be splattered with myriad tags of all manner of bee creation… and in the most accessible locations….!!!!
Something For The Weekend, Sir?
- Darwinning on BGG
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