Evolution : The Beginning | The Tabletop Letters

🦖🦕 Design Your Own Species and Battle Them – Put Survival of the Fittest to the Test

Dear Readers,

Have I complained about gray, barren winter lately? Have I? If I have, those complaints are half-hearted.

Box cover of Evolution: The Beginning showing a Brontosaurus 🦕

Sometimes in wonder I stare out my window to the diamond shavings clinging to the gray veins against the somber sky. I find the rain drops glimmering in the faint sunlight captivating. While any smattering of snow we receive is so fleeting I am still excited about it, the winter rains have an understated beauty. (To be fair, I must have a fascination with any sort of rain because I wrote a poem about autumn rain.)

Here’s a quote about winter that haunts me (I posted about it three years ago):

Let us therefore praise winter, rich in beauty, challenge and pregnant negativities. — Greta Crosby

I do miss a bit of greenery despite my fascination with sterile, quiet winter. There’s a book my daughter has showing a tiny squirrel bundled up against the winter cold.

Watering hole game piece with leafy food tokens.

Evolution: The Beginning is full of verdant life. It’s life upon life with modifications and very intriguing. It’s The Land Before Time meets Redshirts.

Here’s the breakdown:

Players: 2-5

Play time: 30 minutes

Age: 8+

By: Northstar Games

Here we go- I’ll rank it on Accessibility, Mechanics, and Engagement.

Game cards showing a Long Neck trait over a species card, and a Scavenger trait over a species card.

Accessibility ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🌑

Everyone begins the game on an even playing field. You have species to which you may assign characteristics that you draw – like being fast or nocturnal. These characteristics help you survive and sometimes avoid predators. The concepts are simple. The luck of the draw is very prominent in this game, though there is some strategy.

A food token pouch with a brontosaurus 🦕 on it.

The premise of evolution is one I’d hope most are familiar with. This game follows different species controlled by a player gaining traits, losing traits, struggling for food, while preying or being preyed upon.

They are written on medium sized plain text – reading glasses might be in order. The text is fairly legible. The colors are vibrant, but EnChroma glasses probably wouldn’t make a huge difference.

There are small pieces to pick up, and placing cards on the table is a definite factor to consider if fine motor skills are a concern.

The age of 8+ feels appropriate.

Mechanics ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🌑

Each turn begins with two pieces of food being added to the watering hole. A new species card is played. Cards are drawn. Next a player may turn those cards into traits, add to the population of a species, and keep the card(s) in hand. Traits may be removed. The species must then eat or die. If a species is carnivorous, they will attack other specimens (whether they are another player’s or the owner’s). Scavenger species feed off the deaths of others regardless of turn. If they are herbivores then they will feed out of the watering hole (with a few exceptions). Eaten food is moved to a food bag.

The Defensive Horns trait over a species with a population of three.

I’m knocking off one star because there were a couple of times where we disagreed about mechanics despite consulting the rule book and watching a how-to video about playing. In particular there were a couple of times where it seemed like there was more food in the watering hole than was appropriate or that carnivores perhaps gained more food than they should have.

Also, there was possibly poor shuffling in play combined with a lack of knowledge as to how common traits were. There were times where I used certain cards for their species/population aspect instead of as a trait not realizing how rare the traits were since I had already encountered several of that rare trait.

One player’s assortment of three different species with varying traits.

When the resources are exhausted the game ends after ensuring each player has an even number of turns. The player with the most points (surviving species, eaten food, uneaten food, etc.) wins. It’s survival of the fittest with cards. At first I don’t think we realized that wasting resources so others wouldn’t be able to use them is a good way to hasten the game and possibly help oneself. We don’t usually play that aggressively, so it was an intriguing dynamic for us – much like backstabbing in Redshirts and Munchkin.

Engagement ⭐️⭐️⭐️🌑🌑

Waiting for your turn can be boring in any game. With games where there are player vs. player combat aspects, sometimes it can be protracted (cough, cough … Redshirts… couch, cough Munchkin), this was more straightforward than that.

A carnivore card over a species card with the traits of defensive horns and speed.

Since you may be attacked by other players, and you may have the opportunity to feed as a scavenger, it could every engaging. When neither of those aspects were in play, waiting for other people’s turns was, well, a drag.

In Conclusion

This is a fun version of the Evolution game. I think a certain biology professor I had would have allowed it to be played in class toward the end of the semester when there wasn’t much to do.

A picture of the guide card showing each of the trait types.

It’s a fast game with straightforward concepts easily understandable by small children, but complex enough to be challenging and entertaining for adults.

This post is #notsponsored. Evolution: The Beginning is available at Walmart.com. Amazon has it available only through third-party sellers and at a higher rate as of this publication.

If you need some greenery in your life to beat the winter blues, then Evolution: The Beginning might be just the thing to help you adapt. 😉

This cracked me up, so I had to end with it.

Happy Gaming! Play On!

5 Reasons I’m Attempting NaNoWriMo This Year

I know what I said before …

Long time readers may remember my lamentations about National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo).

I know what I said:

The “at this rate you’ll finish your novel on x date” ticker in NaNoWriMo is stressful for me.  It causes undue stress…

That was a few years ago. It’s been long enough that I’ve been able to forget some of the stress.

This year I’ve succumbed to the madness. Here are my thoughts on why I’m attempting it this year:

Continue reading “5 Reasons I’m Attempting NaNoWriMo This Year”

Brevity & Inevitability: “Remember You Will Die”

‼️ What if a hospital picks someone to make decisions for you?

In The Austere Academy volume of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Latin phrase “Momento Mori” is inscribed over the gates of Prufrock Preparatory School.

The phrase means, “remember you will die”. It seems morbid for a children’s school. I know, it’s a downer especially for a Monday, but it felt important to bring up because of something that happened recently to me. Continue reading “Brevity & Inevitability: “Remember You Will Die””

The Cat Game | The Tabletop Letters

🐾🐾Drawing Purr-fiction 🐾🐾

Dear Readers,

A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to play a game that I have seen over and over again in stores: The Cat Game.

As a cat person and someone whose drawing ability can only be called “abstract” and “kindergartener-esque”, this game was perfect for me!

Here’s the breakdown of this adorable feline drawing game:

Players: 3+

Play time: 30 minutes

Age: 16+

By: Spin Master

Now I’ll rank it on accessibility, mechanics, and engagement.


Accessibility ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🌑

Like Pictionary, you draw a card with a concept to sketch. Unlike Pictionary there are base images of cats to incorporate in the activity in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, poses, and expressions.

This was “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”.
  • There were a few cards that perhaps not everyone may have been families with the references (for people in particular with a younger group), but each card has three options for Purr-sons & Purr-fessions, Cat-tivities and Cat-egories.
  • There’s very little text and the images are a collage of dry erase around/over cats, so this game probably is comfortable without reading or EnChroma glasses.

    It’s playable with children under the suggested age of x, but there were a few more adult themed options that were ignored.

    Since the cat images are on the small side (think a child’s sticker from the greeting card section), this wouldn’t be as scaleable for larger groups as some other drawing games.

    To accommodate someone with less use of their hands, I suggest taking a photo with a smartphone or tablet of the cat image on the dry erase portion and then drawing on the photo. I don’t think they have this as an app, but it could be a lot of fun. The next best thing (minus cats but hosted by a hilarious personality) is Jackbox’s Drawful.

    Mechanics ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    The Cat Game works very well and is a format that is easy to pick up or familiar for many game players – the artist draws an image and everyone else tries to guess the subject before the timer runs out.

    It also can accommodate large groups well using teams.

    This was “choir”.

    Engagement ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Since no one is kicked out, and everyone is clambering to have the correct guess, this game is engaging. The cat pictures add a unique, adorably hilarious element to this game.

    After we played it was suggested to make it more difficult that the next round through we might remove a cat image from the pool once used. We didn’t try this, but it could be a lot of fun.

    This was “Rapunzel”.

    In Conclusion: This is a fresh take on the old drawing guessing idea. The use of cats eliminates the stick figures of my fellow gamers whose art is also lacking and adds comical moments to the game. With topics supervised, the age can be adjusted.

    I don’t always enjoy drawing games. Drawing is not my forte. This game was a blast, though.

    The Cat Game is available on Amazon. This post is #NotSponsored.

    Click here to see it played by TTPM.

    4 Things to Love About “The House with a Clock in its Walls”

    Norman Rockwell meets Harry Potter with a Touch of Campy Horror Tropes

    A few weeks ago we saw “A House with a Clock in its Walls” – an adaption of the 1973 MG chapter-book. The movie stars Cate Blanchett and Jack Black.

    Movie Image source: Wikipedia Movie Image source: Wikipedia

    It was adorable, though … I think it would have given me nightmares as a child. Night terrors run in my family and to this day, I quite easily have them – though I try to limit the fuel for them right before I go to sleep. (See the P.S. if you have nightmares!)

    1 – Nostalgic Setting

    The setting in the late 50s (maybe early 60s) makes me wonder if this was what my dad’s childhood was like. Plaid shirts, parted hair, black and white movies, fantastic cars, and quaint architecture scream mid 20th century. It feels like Norman Rockwell meets Harry Potter with a touch of campy horror tropes, though the book was written long before Harry Potter.

    It also takes me back to my childhood. I read other books by this author but nothing in this series.

    2 – Diverse Characters

    I was so happy to see a beautiful, smart pan-Asian girl (Rose Rita Pottinger played by Vanessa Anne Williams). I expected an all white cast, and was happily surprised to find people who weren’t White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. There are also older characters in this film – Jack Black plays his uncle (Jonathan Barnavelt) with a complex relationship to the all gray Mrs. Zimmerman (played by Cate Blanchett). The characters are all dealt with positively in my opinion. I despise children’s narratives that cast adults supporting roles as being incompetent, aloof, or unkind. These characters were not like that.

    3 – Strong Message

    Most people want to be liked. This is part of our inherent quest for happiness. Unfortunately, the main character, Lewis, goes too far in his effort to impress someone and unleashed an evil that could wipe out the world.

    He faces up to his mistake and works to save the day. Not only does he right his wrong, but he learns about real friends along the way.

    4 – Humor

    While there was plenty of Halloween themed creepy elements- jack o’ lanterns & creepy dolls – there are also plenty of jokes to bring levity and lighten the mood.

    It’s child appropriate humor, but … that’s great because it’s a movie for kids. Sometimes I’ve heard parents complain about innuendo in movies for kids – they hear people laugh, don’t understand why it’s funny, and then children repeat the jokes.

    In conclusion: This was a cute, lighthearted movie that I enjoyed more than I thought I would.

    Is it a replacement for Harry Potter? No. Where the Harry Potter series is an epic that spans from his pre-pubescence to adolescence, I have the feeling these books stay at the MG level. At least other books I read by John Bellairs were all MG chapter books.

    At the same time, I hope they’ll adapt additional books from this series for the big screen.


    P. S.

    If you suffer from nightmares, know that there actually is a medication for this: prazosin. This is not its original use (hypertension), but in a very low dose it suppresses you waking from nightmares, which means that while they’re still there, you don’t remember them.

    I don’t know how many doctors I mentioned my nightmares to over the years. They were generally treated as a symptom of insomnia. A few years ago, when I wasn’t a new mother and had excellent sleep hygiene, I mentioned this to a nurse practitioner who said, “Oh, you have sleep maintenance insomnia – you can’t stay asleep because… nightmares. We’ll fix you up.”

    Before that I had no idea there was anything that could be done for nightmares. If you have nightmares, maybe this would work for you. Also … it’s an older medication and the generic is very inexpensive. It might be worth the try.

    I was worried that this would make me feel like a different person or less creative, but it didn’t. I just slept better. I can’t take it now because I’m lactating, but look forward to the day I can resume it.

    Either way, sweet dreams!