Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



The Multamäki Family

Dragon Dawn Productions

No. of Players:



G@mebox author Ralf Togler writes about the game:

Darwinning! Who does not think of the famous naturalist and biologist Charles Robert Darwin hearing that title. And hearing Darwin means also thinking of his famous evolution theory including the idea of the “survival of the fittest”, often misinterpreted in the 20th century, as you will know. Thus it is no wonder that we are confronted with the evolution of different species in the game from DRAGON DAWN, designed by the whole Multamäki family, including their 11 year old son. Evolve to rule the food chain, that's the subtitle of the game, and the name says it all: it is a competitive game with 2-6 players struggling to become the most successful species. But who now thinks of of a typical area control game, is wrong.

However, the main mechanism of the game is a trick-taking one and Darwinning! is mostly a card game. At set-up each player randomly takes one of the 13 different species boards. These boards determine the species' basic population, some basic traits, environments to thrive and collect food in and most important their starting place on the food chain that is marked on a food chain track in the middle of the table. All these attributes (and of course the population) can be improved during the game. For example a species could become immune to attacks from specific other kinds or we can evolve special attacking abilities to be able to eat species that are actually below us in the food chain.

Let's now see how we evolve our species. Darwinning! runs through three geological eras, each consisting of a trick-taking and a survival phase. To play the tricks, we are equipped with 10 trait cards at the beginning of each era. Playing the tricks is quite simple: The lead player begins to play a card or a combination. The next player can either beat the current strongest combination or play just one card. The possible combinations are similar to Poker, but there are only seven different combinations. In ascending order there are single cards, pairs, flush, a straight, three of a kind, a straight flush and four of a kind. That's pretty much straightforward and even young children, seven or older can learn the way to take the trick.

However, what's more complex than the trick-taking mechanism is the speculation on the outcome of a trick. The winner of the trick chooses one of the cards he or she has played to that trick to improve his or her species. For this the cards not only have a colour and a number, they have also several symbols to improve your species. A single card could either move you up on the food chain, increase your population, adapt your species to a new environment, so it is easier to find food for it or to gain a new trait. But you have to choose: only one ability can be used. New cards are always placed onto the chosen section of the species board and are permanent unless they are destroyed by any event. And so it is not only important to win the trick, you must also play cards to that trick you need to improve your species. Admittedly, there are not really bad cards as all cards really improve your species. But some abilities will be more useful than others for your species. And nobody will be in need for increasing his or her population, if there is not enough food to feed it.

Only the fittest can survive, that's what Darwin (who should be the name giver for Darwinning!) once told us. And growing and adjusting our species will only become possible, if we win a trick. Ah, wait! That's not completely true: The last winner of each round cannot choose a card for his own. Instead all other players (the looser in that trick) may choose a card. And the last trick of each round is the trick after at least one player doesn't have any cards left in his hand. So, clever hand management is an important thing in the game.

At the end of each era (round), it's time to survive. It's feeding time... For every population marker we need one food. If your species is adopted to environment of the era (new environment cards are drawn every round), you can collect 1-3 food from any matching symbol on your species board. Additionally you may eat any species that is lower in the food chain. As a result you get two more food, and the attacked species takes a bite marker (two bite markers will result in a loss of one population). But you (and of course your opponent's also) can evolve defence from being attacked. So, it is quite useful for example to become a poisonous species or getting a hard shell.

After the third era you score for your current food chain position, your traits, your population and your environment adoptions. I think you can see that Darwinning! is much more than a simple trick-taking game. The trick-taking mechanism is only means to an end. Choosing the right cards to adopt and grow your species in the tricks you have won, is where the action is. Although, this can also be solved by children, it is not too easy to find a strategy to win the game. Maybe some players think the trick-taking mechanism is a little bit pasted on. And maybe they are right. But on the other hand, what is better in rolling the dice?

The game can be played by 2-6 players, but in my opintion the games gets better with increasing number of players. As a matter of fact, the trick-taking mechanism works better in a multi player game. Additionally you would end up with a lot of won tricks with two players, thus it is quite easy to evolve your species. For that reason there is a dummy player in the two player variant. But still it is much more difficult to feed your population in a multiplayer game. And it is also more important to gain traits that protect your species. I had most fun in games with 4 or more players.

The game comes with two languages (English and German), but you will soon learn to interpret the symbols and then you won't need the rules any more. The arwork of the cards and the species board is fantastic, colourful and rich in detail. I wouldn't say the game is educational, but, although the trick-taking mechanism has nothing to do with evolution, you get an idea of evolve your species to rule the food chain. Fortunately the game doesn't let us evolve until we are humans, otherwise we finally would engage ourself finding weapons of mass destruction...

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Copyright © 2019 Ralf Togler & Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany