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

Biosphere

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Authors:
Christoph Bauer
Max Kleinschroth
Philipp Rösch
Tilman Schneider

Publisher:
DDD
2017

No. of Players:
2-4

EVALUATION

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G@mebox author Lutz Wildt writes about the game:

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Imagine you start a student project and end up publishing a boardgame. Sounds crazy, but it is reality. The three young designers were asked to create a game with the focus on evolution in school. And the result is Biosphere. Together with their teacher they were able to convince the DDD publisher to release the game after two years of further development.

The idea of Biosphere is the evolution of different species. Players have various ways to develop their species in order to survive as a population in a fantastic world. There are various types of landscape such as grassland, desert, mountain, savannah, forest and polar region. Players have to decide if they prefer to go to the forest with good living conditions or into the ice, where life is harder and the species have to become tougher. Unfortunately the individuals (each and every represented by a die) of a population won´t live forever. So, players have to manage the survival of their species by evolutional improvements. Although development, evolution and survival are main parts of the game, a player can't win the game by only surviving at the end. However, the object of the game is to accomplish a certain number of missions concerning, for instance, the expansion of the population or reaching a specific position on the evolutionary scale. The first player who accomplishes five missions or more wins the game.

The biosphere is represented by a certain number of different environmental tiles. The dimension and structure of it depends on the number of joining players. The different territories are marked with white circles that show how many populations may be placed onto an environment. Regions with good living conditions have more population spaces than uninhabitable ones. Additionally, the environments have a direct effect on the lifespan of a population placed on it. The starting lifespan in forbidding territories is lower than in welcoming terrain, which prevents the species to be really successful in expanding and surviving. But this is only one aspect the players have to think about. Attributes like the reproduction ability, movement possibilities and the evolution scale influence the game play. Sometimes it is better to have a small and versatile population; sometimes it can be more productive to control a large and very specific species. Players have to improve and alter these attributes through the gameplay in order to reach the goals. Fortunately, players can keep track of the developments on a big player display, which contains all necessary scales.

Although there are 300 dice in the game box, players never roll a single one of them. So there must be another option to develop the evolutional skills of player’s species. Instead of the effect of a die roll evolutionary points are the game´s currency. Each round, players gain evolutionary points in a special game phase. Players can use these point to move along the evolution scale, the tie breaker band and - also very important - to buy development cards. On the one hand players are able to buy any card available on the display he can afford. But on the other hand they only are allowed to play one card per round when the two values shown on the card are exactly the same as the markers on the evolutionary scale.

Whenever a player plays a development card, he receives the bonus depicted on the card, which allows him to increase the value in the corresponding scale on the player's display. One result, for example, is to enlarge the lifespan in the polar region by one. But watch out! The movement costs on the evolution scale are rising with every extra step and they increase exponentially per number of spaces moved. Only a wise and anticipatory combination of buying cards and clever adjust of the evolution scale gives a player the possibility to improve skills like fertility, lifespan, movement or even gaining evolutionary points.

A lot of altiloquence about populations and species, but no idea about how players can bring the dice into the game. Easy enough! The first three population dice are placed by the players in their very first turn. Afterwards it gets a little more complicated, because the populations can only expand by movement, reproduction and filling up the environments. In the first rounds ,movement isn’t too productive, because there are not so much populations to move and, additionally, movement expends energy for changing the living conditions. As a result, the players have to reduce the lifespan of the population moved by one.

New populations are born into the biosphere by reproduction. The number of new populations a player may place during the game depends on the value of his reproduction scale. The populations may be placed on an empty space in an environment tile where the player has already populations of his own or in spaces that are horizontally or vertically adjacent. Another way to get new populations is given by filling up during the environments phase. Whenever a player holds the majority of the spaces on the tile, he may fill up the empty spaces with populations of his storage. This requires a little foresightedness since all players try to get an easy and perhaps also enormous accumulation of new population. Remember, if a player has one population in a five space environment tile, he may gather up to four new dice to place them into the game.

Once all new populations have been placed, the dice are turned to their correct number, depending on the lifespan of the population in the corresponding environment and the wheel of life. This wheel of life is turned in the beginning of every round by one step, which causes one of the five die numbers to be marked by the illustration of an elephant´s graveyard and the populations with that number become extinct in this turn and their dice are taken off the map. This gives all players an overview of the rounds the populations will survive without turning every die at the beginning of each round.

As I mentioned before, no one wins the game only by only surviving. Players have to fulfil five of seven face-up assignments in order to be the winner of Biosphere. These missions come from different categories. Some of the goals are reachable by controlling tiles or patterns of tiles, others require developments on the players' displays or specific numbers of populations on the game board. Every time I played the game up to now, I have thought: “Good God! How can I reach just one of the goals?” However, while playing the game and after accomplishing the first assignments, the speed of reaching goals accelerates. Due to the fact that every player places a marker onto the assignment card he has already fulfilled, the game becomes more thrilling the longer it takes, because every player has to keep an eye on the missions an opponent might reach in the next moment, in order to be able to destroy their plans if possible.

Concerning that Biosphere is the designers’ first work, the game is very straightforward and looks fantastic. However, the game is rather complex with a lot of interaction between the players. After studying the rulebook for the first time, I wasn't sure how the game would be like. But after only a few rounds, it turned out to be very smooth, because you get used to the mechanics of the game pretty fast. Very helpful are the great players’ displays, which are a perfect help to keep track of the game. The idea of using dice and the wheel of life to represent the lifespan of the populations is awfully good. However, sometimes it isn't easy to place a die when the game board is already packed up with dice. Using development cards as an element of randomisation / fortune is a pretty good concept, too, because it still remains a strategic decision which card a player buys and at which moment he finally plays it. All in all, I had great fun playing the game and I'm already looking forward to play my next round of Biosphere.


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