GTM #201 - Evolution: Climate
by Dominic Crapuchettes

When we first started working on Evolution, we knew there were lots of great product extensions we could release. Clearly, a climate and environment edition was foremost in our minds. In fact, since the environment forces a large majority of evolutionary changes, not having a climate aspect in Evolution was the biggest, missing thematic element in the game. But, we also knew that accurately depicting climate in Evolution would require some rethinking of the game, so we waited until we had a few thousand plays among us before launching into this endeavor.

Like the climate it is trying to simulate, Evolution: Climate went through several distinct eras in its development.

In the beginning, Nick Bentley and I came up with an architecture for Evolution: Climate that was extremely simple to understand.  I call this time period the ‘Cryptic’ era since it takes place before the game had any life.  We decided early on that we wanted a Climate Track that would allow the climate to get colder or hotter with corresponding effects.  The original Climate Track was very elegant with each movement being exceedingly impactful to the game.

We soon realized people wanted a more nuanced experience, especially players who had never played Evolution, so we created more spaces on the Climate Track with less impactful changes between the spaces.  The gameplay experience became more fluid and better integrated.  This time period shall henceforth be known as the ‘Paleozoic’ era because it ended with the biggest mass extinction of mechanics that Climate has ever endured (the Great Permian Extinction).  

One of the gameplay elements we missed during the Paleozoic era was the ability to develop a plethora of species.  Mother Nature was so harsh that it took your entire focus just to keep one species alive (two if you were lucky).  But, in reality, our planet teems with diversity when the climate is warm.  So we threw everything out the window (the Great Permian Extinction) and worked on a system that would reward tons of species when the weather was warm, but would punish that strategy when the weather was cold.  During our research, we came across the “Surface Area to Volume Ratio” which is what drives the phenomenon in reality.  So we added a simplified version of the phenomenon to the Climate Track.  The result is that large species have a difficult time dissipating heat when the climate is hot (resulting in population loss in the game), and small species have a difficult time retaining heat when it is cold (you guessed it, resulting in population loss).  This made Climate tremendously more thematic and varied, but it also grew the complexity of the game.  It was during this time period that Climate crossed the divide from potential gateway game into a meaty game for veteran gamers.  This time period has become known as the ‘Mesozoic’ era because it is the era in which everything as we know it began to emerge. 

Once we crossed that divide, we increasingly saw Climate as having the potential to become a favorite like Terra Mystica, Scythe, and Blood Rage, so we gave ourselves more leeway with the development of the game.  One thing holding back the design was our desire to make it an expansion for Evolution, that is, we did not want to change the base game at all.  However, Evolution was not designed with the climate in mind, so it was not fully integrating with the climate theme. In the end, we had to modify 38 cards from Evolution, create a new central Watering Hole, and allow species to have four traits (you need that extra trait card to help protect you from the elements – believe me)!   All of this happened during the ‘Cretaceous’ part of Mesozoic era.

That is why we have two Evolution: Climate products: the Climate conversion kit, which converts your Evolution game into Evolution: Climate, and the Climate stand-alone game for players who do not yet have Evolution and want to jump right into the richest Evolution experience out there.

The final development time period is the ‘Cenozoic’ era.  This when the Climate Event cards became fully integrated into the game.  Back in the Paleozoic Era we thought of the Event cards as being too complicated for casual gamers, so we limited their influence on the game.  But after the Cretaceous period, we realized that in order to correctly simulate climate, we needed more random environmental events.  More importantly, since our target audience for the game was serious, veteran gamers, we knew they could handle it. Now Climate comes fully equipped with Wildfires, Volcanic Eruptions, Glacial Thaws, and epic Meteors!

Dominic Crapuchettes is the Founder and Co-President of North Star Games.  His great passion for games took him from captaining an Alaskan commercial fishing boat to starting the most innovative board game company on the planet.  Three of the games he designed or co-designed (Wits & Wagers, Say Anything, Evolution) have sold over 2 million units combined.