Tag Archives: Evolution

Boardgames in the News: How to Get a Publication in Nature by Playing Games

With an Impact Factor of over thirty-six, the academic journal, Nature, is one of the leading sources of information on current science.  Many academics would give their eye-teeth to publish in such a high profile journal, yet Stuart West, a Professor of Evolutionary Biology in the Department of Zoology, Oxford, has done just that1 simply by playing boardgames!

Evolution
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Prof. West wants to use boardgames as a teaching tool and needs a game that models the process of natural selection that takes place in a dynamic ecosystem.  The group of two twelve year olds, a sixteen year old, three graduate students, two post-doctoral researchers and three professors evaluated three games:  Evolution, Evolution: Random Mutations, and Terra Evolution: Tree of Life. Although they enjoyed all of them, they comment that “Evolution is our favourite by far. It looks amazing, with evocative artistry in everything from the cards to the little animal drumsticks that the predators eat.”

Evolution
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Prof. West goes on to say, “The game play is simple to grasp, but can get very tactical. In particular, as with real evolution, the best strategy depends on what everyone else is doing. If there are a lot of herbivores, there is an advantage to being an efficient forager, with traits such as cooperation, but lots of herbivores also means a big advantage to becoming a carnivore.  When carnivores appear, herbivores need defences, which carnivores try to get around — and so on, in a co-evolutionary dance.”  He concludes by adding, “All the games, and especially Evolution, deftly capture how natural selection produces organisms adapted to their environments.”

Evolution
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

1 West, S., Nat. (2015), 528, 192; doi:10.1038/528192a.

Essen 2015

October is the time of year when a boardgamer’s thoughts turn to Germany, specifically, Essen.  Essen is the ninth largest German city and most people in the UK have never heard of it.  Most people who are not gamers that is.  In German, the word “Essen” means “food”, but to gamers it means “Spiel”:  the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world, The Internationale Spieltage is held every year in Essen.  The fair runs for four days every year and is the one of the largest and most significant of all the boardgame conventions.   As such, many of the manufacturers plan their biggest releases for October with their debut at the Fair.  This year, there are lots of exciting new games, including Richard Breese’s new game, Inhabit the Earth, Favor of the Pharaoh, and the highly acclaimed games Codenames and The Voyages of Marco Polo.  There are also a number of expansions for some of our favourite games including Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Evolution, Istanbul, Colt Express etc.  Only two of us are going this year, however, they will almost certainly bring back lots of exciting new toys to share with everyone.

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag.com

Boardgames in the News: What are the Best KickStarter Games?

The Dice Tower trio of Tom Vasel, Sam Healey, and Zee Garcia recently released their list of top ten KickStarter games.  During the podcast, the three reviewers discuss their personal lists excluding those from Eagle & Griphon Games and Queen.  Their lists include:

  1. Viticulture, Blood Rage & Arcadia Quest
  2. Among the Stars, Alien Frontiers & Blood Rage
  3. Viticulture, Viceroy & Run Fight or Die
  4. Artifacts Inc., Xia: Legends of a Drift System & The Ancient World
  5. Kings of Israel, Evolution & Alien Frontiers
  6. Viceroy, The Manhatten Project & Dead Men Tell No Tales
  7. Alien Frontiers, Catacombs & Freedom: The Underground Railroad
  8. Freedom: The Underground Railroad, The Ancient World & Police Precinct
  9. Stockpile, VivaJava: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game & Xenoshyft: Onslaught
  10. Star Realms, Paperback & The Manhatten Project

The nature of the production and the risk associated with backing crowd-funding projects inevitably means that these are relatively unknown games.  Indeed, only one of them has been played on a Tuesday at boardGOATS, because in many cases nobody owns a copy and they are not so easy to obtain.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

It’s not that we are averse to KickStarter games, it is just that the risk a game will have problems is much higher.  Sadly, KickStarter games often have poor rules and/or turn out to be a little rough round the edges and it is not always possible to tell from the project description. For example, Formula E looked like it would be a great racing game in the mold of Ave Caeser.  Unfortunately, although we’ve had fun with it, it has massive gaps in the rules and consequently has not had as many outings as it otherwise might have had.  On the other hand, Walk the Plank! has turned out to be one of the group’s all time favourite, silly-filler games and has more than justified the initial outlay.

16th June 2015

Burgundy and Blue were just finishing their supper when they were joined by Cerise, Grey and Red and decided to play a short game until everyone else had arrived.  They chose Sushi Go! which is a card drafting game similar to 7 Wonders, though without the complexity, so, all the players start with a hand of cards, simultaneously play one and pass the rest of the cards to the player on their left.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Since every player is doing the same thing, each player also receives a hand of cards from the player on their right, but each time the cards are passed the hand gets smaller.  In this game players are collecting sets of cards with rewards varying depending on the card and the target.  This time, we played with the Soy Sauce mini expansion which consists of four cards that reward players for getting more different colours encouraging more speculative play.  The game is played over three rounds, with the middle one going in the opposite direction and the winner is the player with the most points.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kladan

Grey went for the unusual combination of dessert with soy sauce, but Blue topped the round by the judicious application of wasabi to a valuable squid nigiri.  Burgundy won the second hand and Red close behind with a large pile of maki rolls, so, it was all to play for in the final round.  It was a low scoring finale, with Grey the only really successful player, pulling off his best round when it counted.  Unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough:  although Blue’s scores had been steadily diminishing round on round, she just managed to hang on to win, just one point ahead of Grey.  With Black and Purple having arrived, the group split into two, one playing the Feature Game and the other playing another new game, Om Nom Nom.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

Om Nom Nom was a UK Games Expo special that Purple had been looking for since Essen last year.  The game is quite quick and fairly simple with a lot of “double think”.  The game simulates the hunter and prey relationship.  There are three game boards each depicting a food chain:  cat, mouse & cheese; wolf, rabbit & carrot; hedgehog, frog & fly.  Each player has six cards representing the top two rungs of each ladder; at the start of a round a handful of dice are rolled that represent the lowest two rungs and are then placed on the appropriate section of the board.

Om Nom Nom
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

Game play is very simple:  simultaneously, all players choose a card to play a predator.  If their is enough prey to feed each hunter, then the player gets their card back with the prey and they score one point for each.  If there is insufficient food available, the animal starves and they lose their card.  Once the first card has been resolved they must play one of the remaining five cards.  So, the clever bit is the middle rung of the food chain where there are both cards and dice, so a card played in the middle will get eaten by any played above.  There are three rounds with everyone playing all six cards in each round, so trying to out-think everyone else is the name of the game.  Purple had played Om Nom Nom before and used her extra experience to win the first round by a sizable margin.  Grey made up for it in the second round as everyone began to get the hang of it, and Red took the final round, making it a close game.  Her consistency made the difference though and Purple finished just two points ahead of Grey.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor Jean_Leviathan

Next the group had a rummage through the bag and opted for another Essen/UK Games Expo acquisition, Steam Donkey; with such a cool name, we wanted to see if the game play matched.  The game is set in 1897, a time when rival seaside resorts are competing to attract a visit from the Queen.  So, players are trying to build a four by three grid of cards representing their seaside resort.  The three rows represent the different parts of the resort:  beach (yellow), town (pink) and park (green).  Similarly, the four columns correspond to the different types of building: amusements, lodgings, monuments and transport.  In order to place a feature, it must go in the correct location and must be paid for using cards of the same type, as such it has similarities with games like Race for the Galaxy and San Juan.

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

As players build their resort, visitors arrive at the station and come to see the attractions.   Each attraction can take a certain number of visitors, which are actually a row of face down cards that are used to replenish the cards in players’ hands.  Thus, on their turn players first choose a colour and build as many attractions in that colour as they can/want paying with other cards from their hand.  Next they choose a colour and start taking cards in that colour from the “station”, a row of face down cards.  The colour of the visitor side of cards does not reflect the colour of the attraction on the other side, however, the type of attraction is indicated. Once there are no more visitors of the chosen colour, or there are no more spaces for the visitors to go, the active player adds the visitor cards to their hand and the station platform is refilled with four new visitors.  There is a hand limit of twelve and this can actually be quite a serious impediment for players collecting cards to build the more valuable attractions.

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

At the end of the game, points are scored for each unique attraction built as well as for fulfilling individual goals and bonuses depicted on players’ resort posters.  Since this was the first time anyone in the group had played it and there are a couple of unclear points in the rule-book it might not have been played quite correctly, however, everyone seemed to enjoy it what was a very tight game and finished with Purple one point ahead of Red who was just one point ahead of Grey.  Since Purple declared, “It’s a good ‘un!” it almost certainly won’t be long before it gets another outing.

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, the other group were playing the Feature Game, Evolution, yet another game about food and eating!  This is another Essen Special, and is a reimplementation of an earlier game, Evolution: The Origin of Species: the idea is that the game(s) simulate evolution and the “survival of the fittest” concept.  Players start with a herbivore with no special characteristics, and a hand of cards.  Like many games, the cards serve multiple purposes, in this case, they carry a “food supply” number, details of a trait and can also act as a sort of currency,  At the start of the round, players simultaneously choose a card to place face down in the watering-hole, which will dictate how much food will be available later in the round.

Evolution
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Once this is done, players can begin to modify their species.  This can be done in turn, but as it is slow and quite boring if you are relatively unfamiliar with the game, we played this part of the game simultaneously.  There are three things players can do:  they can add a trait to their species; spend a card to increase the body size or population of a species, or spend a card to start a new species.  Cards are a valuable resource and players only get three cards at the start of each round, plus an extra one for each species they have.  This means that traits must be played with care, but also that there is a strong argument for adding new species as early as possible.  However, if there is insufficient food available, animals will starve and if they starve their population will fall, potentially to extinction.

Evolution
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

There are a wide range of traits that can be added to a species.  For example if a species is “Fertile”, its population will automatically increase every round saving cards.  Alternatively, if an animal has a “Long Neck” it will feed twice before everything else, allowing it to jump the queue.  It is also possible, however, to make a species a carnivore, which means that instead of feeding from the communal watering-hole, they will only eat meat, feeding off other, smaller species round the table.  Since there are carnivores, there are also traits that can be used to help protect species from being eaten, like the ability to climb, burrow or camouflage.

Evolution
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Traits are most powerful in combination, however. For example, a species which has the ability to cooperate will feed every time the animal to its right feeds.  This means it will jump the queue if that species has a long neck.  Similarly, an animal that can climb and camouflage can only be attacked by a climbing carnivore with good eye-sight.  Since each species has a maximum of three traits, this carnivore would go hungry if the only animals smaller than itself give warning calls as it has no ability to ambush them.  Trait cards are all played face down and revealed in turn order once everyone has finished playing cards and modifying their animals, so players have to try to work out what others might be doing and plan accordingly.

Evolution
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Once everyone has finished playing cards and the traits have been revealed, the amount of food available is revealed and the food numbers on the cards played at the start of the round added up.  Players then each feed one of their hungry species in strict rotation (varied only where traits allow), starting with the start player.  Each player can choose whether to feed one of their herbivores from the watering-hole or use a carnivore to attack another species.  Tactics are important here because each species will need sufficient food for its population.  Once nothing else can feed, any hungry animals will suffer population loss and anything that was completely unfed loses all it population and will become extinct.  On the rare occasion that there is any food left in the watering-hole, it remains there until the next round.  The round ends with each player putting all the food into their food bag which makes the bulk of the points at the end of the game, with extras for each surviving member of the population and any trait they may have.

Evolution
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Unusually there was plenty of food in the first few rounds and everyone quickly built up a pack of animals to try to ensure they got plenty of cards at the start of later rounds.  Unfortunately, food shortages soon set in and one of Black’s animals went carnivorous.  Burgundy suffered badly from the early loss of his alpha species and never really recovered.  Cerise started off well, but was the first to lose a species to Black’s hungry hunter.  Blue was the only player who had tried the game before and was able to use a combination of climbing, cooperation and a long neck to keep her animals fed, but still fell prey to Black and his savage carnivore.  One by one, the animals developed traits to try to out-smart Black, as he added features in a race to avoid starvation.  It was quite tight in the final count, but Blue finished five points clear of Black in second place.

Evolution
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Since the other group were still building their seaside resorts, so the group decided to try Om Nom Nom, and see what all the noise on the other table had been about.  By the end of the first round, it was obvious and there were howls of laughter as everyone tried to second-guess everyone else and everyone’s best laid plans crumbled into dust.  Blue and Burgundy managed to systematically stamp on each-others toes leaving Black and Cerise to fight it out for first place.  Her superb first round turned out to be the deciding factor though and Cerise finished four points ahead of Black.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

With time creeping on and Cerise and Grey leaving, we looked for a quick game to finish and decided to try another new game, called Skull which is based on an older bluffing game called Skull & Roses.  The idea is that each player has four cards:  three featuring flowers and one with a skull.  Players take it in turns to play a card and declare what the card is.  Alternatively, instead of playing a card, they can start bidding by declaring how many roses they can find around the table.  Once every player has passed the winning challenger must attempt to locate the required number of roses, starting by turning over all the tiles in their own pile.  If they find a skull before they complete their challenge, the lose a card; the winner is the first player to successfully complete two challenges.

Skull
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor nad24

Blue started off showing everyone else how to lose a challenge, by unsuccessfully bluffing to lure others into over bidding.  Black lost two challenges in quick succession, but Burgundy made an end of it by winning two out of two.  Since Skull had finished so quickly, we all felt there was still time for that last game and with barely a mention of 6 Nimmt!, Purple was getting the cards out to play what is rapidly becoming one of our most popular games.  It’s not obvious why we like it, but part of it is probably the fact that nobody really understands it.  This time it was a three way competition for the most points as everyone dived to the bottom, leaving Blue to finish with just eleven, some thirty points better than the person in second place.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Food is important, both in life and in games, but especially on Alternate Tuesdays

Essen 2014

It is that time of year once again, when a boardgamer’s thoughts turn to Germany, specifically, Essen.  Essen is a German city in the industrial heartland on the River Ruhr.  In German, “Essen” means “food”, but to gamers it means “Spiel” – the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world, The Internationale Spieltage (which is held in Essen of course).  The fair runs for four days every year and everyone who is anyone goes.   As in most years, a lot of new and exciting games are released at the Fair.  This year, amongst other things, there are expansions for some of our favourite games including Keyflower and Snowdonia.  There are (of course) lots of exciting new games as well, including Click & Crack, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Evolution, Five Tribes, Cat Tower, Subdivision etc.  There are a few of us going this year and it is certain that they will bring back some exciting new toys to play with.

Essen