The story behind Evolve
Stop press: New 2020 all-action version launched! See Leicester Mercury article - click here.
First there was the big bang... but let's start some billions of years later, outside Dominoes toy shop in Leicester, UK!
Old favourites I used to play with family and friends were still going strong; Monopoly, Cluedo and Risk and the Game of Life. Beyond that, there were few other popular, interactive family games on show. Lots of great new games; strategic and role-playing, but none with quite the same impact of the classics.
What are winning ingredients in those games? Universality? A self-contained "world"? Easy to digest rules? All-age appeal? Good player interaction? A goal that inspires competitive play? Maybe all of those elements and perhaps a few more! Even then I suspect that many games with all those elements never see the light of a retailers shelf, simply because they are not economic to make. Anyhow new authors keep trying. If "there's one book in all of us" is true, its also true for board games, judging by the thousands of games invented each year!
Since the early 90's I had toyed with the idea that the theme of Evolve could be a great basis for a game. On publishing Evolve, I discovered that there are at least two other games with the same name so clearly the theme has inspired others! My first board game attempt was called ADAM'S WEB and was developed, as far as it went, with the help of games consultant David Pritchard. Mid- way through the short life of ADAM'S WEB he joked that an author he knew had re-written his game rules 73 times before he was satisfied with them. I should have realised then what I was in for!
To cut a short story even shorter ADAM'S WEB was a very abstract race game. The board had many tramlines making it look like a puzzle. It had 360 pieces, umpteen cards and simple play, which perversely, was complicated to describe. Even with variations I tried to incorporate, it failed in the end to excite. Even so a few publishers were kind enough to take a look at it at SPEIL 2002 (Essen) and make a few polite comments. ADAM'S WEB did have nice interactive combat cards, which I may develop further some day.
Essen was a revelation to me and I highly recommend it to any budding games inventor (unlike me, good to visit before you have gone too far with any idea); hoards of visitors and islands of play tables outside many stands, populated with engrossed, heads-down players. Superbly illustrated and very skilful and strategic board and card laying games. Perhaps a mite too cerebral, possibly a bit slow and certainly more complex than what I was aiming at but still the enjoyment was evident.
After a few years break in the development of Evolve and also as a result of more feedback from play testers and others, the rules of the game were radically simplified and improved in the summer of 2012. Although the old graphics were superb some parts of the images were also improved. The animal tracks were accentuated and the images on the rule sheet were much improved. This was aimed at clarify piece movement. The contrast and clarity of the smaller symbols and images on the era cards were also enhanced to improve enjoyment by helping immerse players in the world of Evolve.
Anyway the inspiration was there: a board built up of cards? Great idea! So why not create your own path with cards and move along that path with a playing piece? Evolve was born. David's advice was: create a real world with good interaction. Avoid abstract images and mechanisms. Make the play consistent with the "world" and include a mix of skill and luck. From September 2003 onwards, various game ideas were developed, namely:
- A central hexagonal board with six designated animal sectors (3 predators and 3 grazers). Later replaced by the current volcano board. If I were absolutely forthcoming I'd also mention that originally there were fighting plants (cacti and venus fly trap) in the game but I'll keep that a secret for now.
- Initially 5 "Era" and 5 "creature" card types which had to be laid in sequence. Creature cards were later abandoned so that 8 era card types were used.
- Early on, era card artwork was fairly abstract (mainly because of limitations of my graphic design ability!) and had limited range of symbols. The full range was developed to be realistic "aerial" views. Making realistic "deep" looking ravines for example was tricky!
- Movable volcano in the form of a cone added. These were "eruptible" in a similar way to the fixed volcanoes on era cards.
- Various methods of combat, including use of combat cards, eventually replaced by the current prediction contest.
- Action cards within the main Evolve pack to trigger off natural events via thunderbolt (chance) cards. Thunderbolt penalties were initially random but later connected to the "risk factor" of the terrain on the cards laid in a path.
- Overall rules revised many times (more than 73 times, I suspect!) with the main goal to keep to one A4 sheet.
- Eras could only be laid on own paths initially but later changed, to allow card laying insertion / adding / replacement on any path. Since it was fitting that a creature had to go through all stages of Evolve, a piece drag-back rule was added so that the playing piece moved back to the newly inserted era in a path.
- Free for all prediction contest limited to premium era cards.
The rule revisions in 2012 have been aimed at simplifying play, increasing play choices and reducing conditional rules within the game.
- In the new rules, contesting premium cards has been removed and all players may compete for any Evolve card by bidding for them. At each turn the top card is exposed before bidding must take place. This allows players more decision making options.
- In addition, the action cards (eruption and thunderbolts) have been removed from the Evolve pack which now contains only era cards. This means any card taken or won by bidding can be used to build a path or discarded etc. However, this does not mean that the hazardous effects of the environment has gone away because now eruptions and thunderbolts are activated by symbols on the back of cards. These symbols are hidden from view by the new deck holder so cannot be seen in advance by players.
- Although the risks of having unstable areas on the era cards in a path remain, a playing piece can now move more freely as all sites are now available for pieces to land on.
Revised version 2013
Another step forward in the game mechanics that owes a great deal to the help of some excellent playtesters.
The 2013 version has more skill, more choices and overall much more action because:
Each player now has his own cone which he can place on an opponent's path and use to slow an opponent's progress . There are more opportunities for "all player action" during the course of one player's turn.
The bidding contest to obtain an era card is now much improved, because the bid winner loses tokens according to the number of tokens bid by the next highest bidder. This means players have to think carefully about how many tokens to bid.
The main pack is now simplified as it only contains era cards.
Thunderbolt and volcanic actions are initiated by a dice throw and are more frequent.
Each player get his own personal hand of era cards which he can use to build his path. The exchanging of these era cards with another player (by agreement) is also a new feature.
Playing tips are now on the separate help sheet so the main rule sheet is less cluttered.
The board has been replaced by start cards which means it is easier to lay out paths and play the game on any playing area.
The thunderbolt calamities and helpful thunderbolts are more linked to the graphics and icons on the era cards.
Testing the game
With the major revisions and improvement carried out in 2012 and 2013 it took more time to fully refine the gameplay until it finally being ready to go into production in 2020. Evolve really has evolved!
Evolve is now available to buy
Message us using the contact page or if you live in Leicestershire go along to the Leicester Forest East Post Office and buy your game there.