This is a preview of a game currently up on Kickstarter that we played on Tabletop Simulator. Your experience with the actual product may vary.
I was really starting to feel out of the loop when it came to board games at the end of 2020. I didn’t know about really any games on the horizon. When Ryan asked us to help out with a “21 Games in 2021”, I was only able to contribute a handful, and most of those were because I previewed them earlier in 2020!
Darwin’s Journey from ThunderGryph Games was one of the first Kickstarter campaigns that I noticed this year, and with good reason. It has a great designer pedigree, the game components look fantastic, and it looks like a wonderfully complex gaming experience. It’s rare that I get to play games with this kind of depth, but something about this title really intrigued me. I sat down, learned the rules, and made a plan with Ryan and Bob to play it on Tabletop Simulator.
Starting the Voyage
Let’s get this out of the way early – Darwin’s Journey has a whole lot going on. When I first looked up a rules video, I noticed it was an hour long. “I’ll just skim through this”, thought silly past me. Yeah, that didn’t happen. I watched pretty much every second of this video, because every minute was filled with information that I needed to know.
This didn’t get much easier when I explained it to Bob & Ryan, even though they had already watched some of the video. It took us an hour to learn the rules and to get going on TTS. The biggest issue was that I had to keep going back to the manual to see what the different icons meant. Fortunately, a player aid has already been unlocked in the Kickstarter campaign, so that should help out with this issue.
The Journey Begins
So how do I go about explaining a game that took me an hour to teach? Well, carefully, I guess? Darwin’s Journey is, for the most part, a worker placement game that seeks to reflect on Charles Darwin’s journeys through the Galapagos Islands. Over five rounds, you’ll be placing your workers onto different areas of the board to take actions.
The mechanic by which your workers improve over time is the most unique element of this game (as far as I know) and the part that intrigued me the most. During gameplay, you’ll be able to gain wax seals for your workers that you add to your personal player board. The more seals you have, the more powerful your turns can be in the future.
But what skills are you going to be acquiring? Well, sailing and traveling, to name just a few. You’ll be moving your meeples and…shipples? (that doesn’t seem right)…. around a map, hitting different action spaces along the way. These spaces might give you basic perks like victory points or money, or perhaps allow you to research one of the 16 plant and animal species in the game. There are several other things that you’ll be able to do that… well, I just don’t have time to get into right now.
Once you’ve done your animal research, you’ll have the opportunity to sell your knowledge for money, in addition to progressing yourself along the Theory of Evolution track. The game features a really interesting mechanic by which money is more prevalent earlier in the game, a time when money is generally in short supply. Later in the game, movement along the Theory of Evolution track is more common, which results in more victory points at the end of the game. It’s an ingenious design that prevents this area of the board from being useless for a significant portion of the game.
From turn to turn, there will always be way too many options in front of you. You’re really only getting to place 20 workers over the course of the game, so you feel like you won’t get much done. However, the game is set up so that many of your moves cause chain reactions.
You might choose, for instance, to go sailing, landing on a spot that allows you to go camping and to place a tent. Placing that tent might then allow you to move further along the island path, landing on a space that allows you to research. Once your research is completed, it’s possible that you’ve completed an objective, which could get you more money and/or victory points. This is a very realistic turn that could happen during gameplay, and those who think ahead will love pulling off these epic turns.
When you first get started, you likely won’t have a “master plan” in mind, but will instead try to accomplish a few things here and there based on your objectives and what the other players are doing. However, by the middle of the game, your focus will start to sharpen, and each move will be intentional, leading smoothly into the next. That is, of course, if the other players don’t get in your way.
A Journey for the Ages
I honestly have only scratched the surface of this game in this short preview, but to go any deeper would require a novel. There’s a lot going on in this game, and as a result, those who struggle with analysis paralysis might have a really tough time. There are some limiting factors – what sort of seals do your workers have, what have the other players done on their turns – but you’ll still need to carefully plan what you’re doing from one turn to the next. I spent more time on each of my turns in this game that I believe I’ve done in any other title.
But the rewards are so rich when you pull off those epic turns, especially late in the game. When Ryan, Bob, and I played, I was certain that I was going to lose up until the final round. However, I found myself in a great position for those last few turns to do a lot of exploring on the islands, racking up tons of victory points along the way. Meanwhile, Ryan and Bob spent most of their time researching specimens and adding new wax seals to their workers. In the end, we all took a somewhat different approach, and it was impressive how close the final scores were.
I don’t think this game is for everyone – it’s a gamer’s game. I honestly don’t know how often it would hit the table at my house because we usually stick to lighter fare. However, I’m extremely tempted to back this Kickstarter campaign. The game has quite a bit of variability, and the amount of stuff you’re getting for the price point is amazing. The collector’s edition even has an expansion which adds an entirely new mechanic to the game.
I want to end this preview with a cheesy line about how gameplay has “evolved” over the years, but that doesn’t do this game justice. Plus, I couldn’t get the wording quite right. So instead, I’ll just tell you that if you’re a somewhat serious gamer, you should really check out Darwin’s Journey. It’s an experience that I believe you’ll really enjoy.
A digital prototype of the game was played for this coverage. Components and rules covered in this preview are not finalized. Read more about our preview policies at One Board Family.