Evolve: Lights of the Deep, is a card game from West Aussie, Lionfish Games. West Australians are a pretty parochial mob, so I’ll admit to some bias in this review. Nevertheless, I’ll try to be a little bit objective.
Each player begins with a level one organism card and the objective, as the name suggests, is to evolve your creature from level one to level six by playing higher level organism cards drawn from a common pile. Along the way, you and your opponents will play cards that can help, or hinder, the process. From the Board Game Geek description:
“Evolve is a competitive game that involves aspects of hand management, tactical decision making and a take-that style of sabotage.”
How Easy is it to Learn?
The rules of Evolve are fairly straight forward. There are three different kinds of cards, each in a common draw pile. Adaptation cards allow you to create different effects, organism cards are what you’re actually trying to evolve into (first person to level 6 wins), and evolution cards allow the organism to evolve (i.e., play your next organism card).
You can take six actions each turn, in any combination of draw, play, or discard. The first card you draw in a turn has to be from the adaptation deck, and you can’t have more than 6 cards in your hand. A card may allow you to do other things, like gaining an extra action, or three, or reducing an opponents organism level.
The rules booklet is small and for the most part easy to follow. There are one or two rules I found hard to understand, but picked up after two or three plays.
How Easy is it to Play?
Physically, the cards are lovely. The designs are simple but beautiful. The card stock is high quality matte linen finish. The box contains a dense foam insert to store the cards.
As for game play, there are two aspects that make it a little tricky.
The first is tracking your moves. Six actions is challenging to track while you’re making decisions on the fly, and certain cards can increase the number of actions you can take or add to the complexity of an action. I find myself counting aloud with each turn to keep track.
The other challenge isn’t unique to Evolve – you have to gain familiarity with a lot of symbols and powers. To be fair, it’s not nearly as complicated as some other card games, and the powers are clearly referenced in the rules. This problem is exacerbated, for me, by the fact that I haven’t managed to get too many plays in yet. But it’s those powers that add a fun challenge and variety to game play – you never know what you’re going to draw or what your opponents are going to throw at you.
How Easy is it to Win?
There is a bit of a cutthroat aspect to this game that requires planning, but it’s a card game, so has all the randomness that goes with that. You need tactics and flexibility rather than an overarching strategy. Once you become familiar with the game, this element of randomness should help even the odds a little if you’re not the strongest tactician.
Is it Fun to Play?
I’ll say up front, tracking all the moves is the least fun part, for me. My biggest frustration is that I have trouble getting it to the table, so haven’t become familiar enough to get into a flow. That’s not a fault of the game, quite the opposite – I feel like it’s a game you can grow into. The game keeps everyone engaged as you need to plan your next move, but stay agile in case someone plays a card against you. The hand limit means you have to make meaningful decisions. I really do want to get it to the table more often.
Who Will Enjoy It?
I rate Evolve as a light medium game. It’s maybe not for first time gamers, but you don’t need to be hardcore to enjoy it, either. If you’re looking for something that offers a bit of a challenge, meaningful choices, without being too difficult, it should fit the bill. It’s an interesting game that I find offers a unique challenge.