Let’s start this preview by putting things in perspective. There’s a reasonably large amount of pressure placed on a preview for a Kickstarter game that isn’t live yet, that isn’t in other people’s hands and isn’t already out there with a general consensus on whether it is generally enjoyable or wash out. It’s a lot to take in that maybe your thoughts are the thing that could maybe sway someone’s opinion to back or not bother. That you could effectively hold the lifeline or axe over someone who has potentially spent years developing their product.
At the same time, I owe it to you to make you sure that you read this knowing that I completely adore you, and would hate the thought of you potentially wasting a few hours of your precious time, playing a game that at the end you put in that cupboard. You know, the one where you store the games that aren’t easy to access, the ones that eventually end up at the charity shop, because it’s easier to give something away than to sell it.
Darwin’s Choice started off fairly strong with me, because once you unpack the 250 cards that are included in the game, I couldn’t help but flick through and honestly admire the high quality of the artwork on each of both the environment and the various animal parts that are present on each of the cards. All of the animal cards, that come in two sizes, are on a white background that helps them stand out, and allows you to really focus in on the detail in each card. It’s one of those things that adds a couple of points of optimism to what lies ahead in the meat of the game. The presentation is mostly strong through the rest of the content, from the simple symbol representation of the plant and meat tokens, the Darwin points cards with the picture of the man himself. It should be noted that Treeceratops have opted to have all the major information in symbol format, as opposed to a written text, apart from the animals names, which should assist with those who suffer from any form of colour blindness.
The main aim of Darwin’s Choice is to build yourself the ultimate adapted animal that can survive in the various habitations placed in front of it, find food, potentially wipe out the competition and win prestigious Darwin points for being the most evolutionary animal. As the round progress, and there can be up to four, you’ll mutate and build your creatures hoping they can see it through to the end and hopefully not fall foul of an event card that may potentially wipe you out. You’ll also need to score your animals for adaptiveness, and you’ll need to work out which of the animals is the champion of all of the areas with their highest competitive strength and all keeping an eye on what might happen in the future eras (rounds) and environments.
If this is starting to sound a little bit complicated, then you’d be slightly correct in that assumption, as Darwin’s Choice is a game where the first couple of rounds the instruction manual is going to stay out of the box and close by your side for reference. The manual is a seriously text heavy affair, that contains paragraphs of instructions and rules but does a job to make sure it explains itself as it goes. Every couple of pages there will be a particular scenario laid out which allows you a better understanding of what you have started to learn and the rule book is all the better for it, even it it does add on some additional pages to the tome.
There isn’t an elegance to learn how to play, and this is because Darwin’s Choice is like a multi-layered Euro/ Resource Management, Potential Large Amounts of Chance and Cursing under your Breath type of a game, where you are potentially having to monitor up to four different aspects of you cards when you are playing, and hoping that your constructed species is going to be the most adaptive, have enough food, avoid becoming food, have enough champion points. So you’ll build a fabulous looking Polar Bear head with a Whale body and a Kangaroo tail, or maybe mutate it to a Lion head instead, or migrate it to a better environment and then you have to see if what you have created is going to survive, or will the Shark Buffalo eat it or will the desert claim another victim?
The build and creation process is a mixture of fun and quiet contemplation, as you will create some utterly wonderful and ridiculous animals and laugh or at least chuckle a few times during the game. Then you’ll probably eat someone else for revenge or for giggles or to win more Darwin Points, and then everyone lines up like a dog show and the best of breed is awarded even more points.
There aren’t really any alarm bell main issues that should cause you to run away screaming, but bear in mind that the learning curve in Darwin’s choice, like evolution itself, is probably going to happen over a period of time and there are some slight road bumps in the gameplay.
Refreshingly though, in a strange twist of self awareness, the game owns its potential weaknesses, the designers make suggestions within the manual of how to reduce the pain of randomness that can occur in the game. As an example, a poor starting hand can finish you off before the gazelle-elephant-snake could, and while there is the option to trade between players, who in their right mind would really want to help an opponent? So to counter this, you can introduce a trade pool instead, that will allow you to get rid of the less useful cards and hopefully get that seagull head you have always wanted.
Event cards are a round ending feature that will help or potentially wipe out your chances of survival for future eras. It’s another game of chance that some will grow to love or hate the more they play, as it is akin to building the perfect hand at poker, only to discover that the next round is Magic the Gathering, and I set fire to my deck some time ago. Treeceratops again give you the option to consider leaving out the event cards, thus mitigating the potential random frustration. You also can consider leaving out the competitive strength part of the evaluation, or even cull the number of Eras down to three for a more casual game.
By recognising this need to remove part of the game mechanics, are Treeceratops admitting that Darwin’s Choice is maybe overly complicated as a game? Have they constructed an Elephant-Rabbit-Lion-Dolphin-Raccoon hybrid and realised their animal is simply too overwhelming to function, and that having 4 mouths and 14 legs is just far too much?
As this is a preview, and rulebooks are subject to change, then we will have to see. I almost wonder if Darwin’s Choice would be better starting with the simpler version to get the players playing and creating and laughing and having fun, rather than potential stop of play while you go through the rule book once more to check who has the competitive edge. Mechs and Minions is still the game for introducing new concepts and mechanics while teaching you the game and I’m wondering if Darwin’s Choice might benefit from something similar to make it just that slight bit more accessible.
The good thing is that once you are up and running, and playing then Darwin’s Choice does offer a relatively large amount of replayability, with the option to bring in some real tactical play. The elements of potential chance can make it frustrating, but it usually is it at the benefit of your opponent who will no doubt find you getting wiped out due to icebergs completely hilarious. You feel like you are juggling stats sometimes, but have the tools to mutate your creation if you need to and there is definite interaction with other players which is a big bonus.
We suggest you check it out, watch some of the playthrough videos and see if this is something you see in your collection. It is certainly beautiful, but whether it is adapted enough to survive on Kickstarter, will be entirely your choice.
I spent hours writing this, you’re not getting a summary, so Nah Nah, Nah Nah Nah
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