Web site: http://evolution.neondragon.net/

Evolution is a browser-based multi-player game of space conquest. You develop plots of land on your continent, research and develop technology, and create armies of exotic creatures. You load those creatures onto battle fleets and try and crush other continents. The continents can either be on your own planet or a multiverse away. As you grow in power (and make a considerable number of enemies) you can join alliances for mutual self defense and Mongolian horde style offensive against continental leaders who have gotten a little too big for their britches.

Evolution is, roughly, in its 5.4 incarnation. Several new features have been added along the way. There are roughly 2,000 players. The game got a big boost when someone wrote a Firefox tool bar extension for the game and published it on the Mozilla site.

The mechanics are familiar to most gamers: You start off with a couple plots of land, very little technology, and no ability to explore. However, you start off with some seed money (in the form of metal, mineral, and food resources) and a number of potential R&D paths. You acquire new plots of land by scanning for it. Of course, before you can scan for land you need to first research and then develop scanning technology. R&D requires time and resources.

Evolution splits research and development into two different functions. First you acquire the theoretical knowledge. Once you've acquired the theory, you then have to develop the technology before you can deploy it. For example, you first research land scanning theory. Once that is complete, you then spend more time and resources to develop scanning technology. Once that is complete, you buy scans and then use them to locate unexploited plots of land on your continent.

As you evolve up the tech tree (hence the game's name), R&D becomes more costly and more time consuming. But your larger investment results in greater weapons, defenses, and creatures.

When you complete some R&D options, the game triggers new pathways you can explore.

The game's unique catch is, early on in the game, you pick one particular archaeological research path that allows you to create wickedly powerful creatures. However, you can only research along one archaeological path. Once started on that path you cannot switch.

The Paths

Site of Interest Path: Allows you to create creatures from Greek and Fantasy mythology like centaurs and dragons.

Volcano Path: Allows you to develop fire-related creatures like fire sprites and Wyverns.

Forest Path: Allows you to develop mythological creatures with an sylvan/enchanted theme like dryads and werewolves.

Prehistoric Path: Allows you to develop dinosaurs.

Egyptian Path: Allows you to develop monsters from Egyptian mythology like mummies and sphinxes.

Each archaeological path has different advantages and disadvantages. Some are strong on defense. Some are strong on attack. Some paths create highly intelligent creatures that help you capture enemy creatures in combat.

Besides fantasy creatures, you can also research more prosaic creatures like attack monkeys and battle cows. The normal creatures tend to be weak on attack/defense and offer less bang for the resource buck.

While it's fun to discover all the new creatures you can create along your chosen path, most new players are too bewildered by the game rules (which are poorly documented) and don't always make the best initial choice. It's a bit like being asked to pick your career path at the age of five and then being locked into that path only to discover at the age of 30 that pizza maker at Shakey's wasn't what you thought it would be at age 5.

Resources

As noted above, the game involves producing and managing 3 different resources: metal, mineral, and food. Metal and mineral are needed for R&D and purchasing all items and creatures in the game. Metal tends to be needed twice as much as mineral for such purchases. So when developing plots, metal should usually be developed in a ratio of 2:1 with mineral. Food is the least useful of the three resources. It's only need when you launch attacks. Initially you only need to develop a few plots. However, later in the game when you begin to build huge armies, you need a lot of food or else you can't boost them into space. The worst thing that can happen is having 20,000 creatures that you've taken months to build being wiped out by a multiplayer attack. If you don't have enough food to get them off planet, you're in for a long rebuilding arc.

As time passes in the game (time is measured in "ticks", which ticks away whether you're playing the game or not), allocated plots produce a set amount of stuff, which gets warehoused for later use.

Ticks

Ticks are, as of this writing, 60 minutes apart. As the round gets closer to completion (each round lasts one year... from Christmas to Christmas), ticks get chopped down to 20 minutes and then 5 minutes. Shorter ticks means you can build armies and resources quicker. Shorter ticks also means someone can launch an attack over night without your knowledge. You wake up to find out you've been over run...

Combat

You build armies of creatures. Each creature has an attack and defense rating. In combat each creature's attack/defense rating is then squared. The squares for each creature are then summed, giving the total attack and defense value for the army. For example, a combat monkey has an attack value of 4. In combat it has an attack value of 4x4 or 16. If you attack with 1,000 monkeys, your total attack value is 16,000. Of course, if you're attacking a continent with 150 Dryads, you're in a bit of trouble. Although your forces are numerically superior, a Dryad has a raw attack value of 28. Squared that's like 784. So 20 Dryads are pretty much an even match for 1,000 screaming attack monkeys. But then 20 Dryads have far less of a chance of writing the complete works of Shakespeare by happenstance. (Admit it, weren't you and I both waiting for that reference some place in this w/u?)

While different creatures have different attack/defense ratings, they also have different resource costs and creation times. Part of your success in E5 is determining which creatures not only produce the most bang for the buck, but also offer the best attack:creation time ratio. While you might be happy to wait a week to create a force of 1,000 dragons, people are attacking you in daily waves of faster produced Therizinsauruses.

When attacking, you have to make sure you're either highly superior in your attack rating or at least evenly matched. Small raids have zero chance of killing so much as a monkey. If your forces are too small, they'll be wiped out to a man (or battle cow).

There's no surprise attack in Evolution. The moment someone launches a fleet to attack you, even they are in a different universe, the game informs you ASAP. You have roughly 8-10 ticks warning, allowing you a few ticks to build defenses.

The game tries to give players a fair chance by preventing continents with significantly higher scores from attacking lower scoring (and presumably) newer continents. The downside is this allows players with lower scores to attack higher scoring players with impunity. They can attack you but you can't attack them back because your game score is too high.

Resources

Evolution's resource model eventually forces you into a survival of the fittest mode. Each time you develop a plot of land, the next plot costs a bit more. At some point, the economies tip, making acquisition of land via combat cost effective. When you attack another continent, if your force is large enough, your attacking fleet is able to carry away developed and undeveloped plots of land.

Alliances

Players can form alliances. Alliances work well in terms of defense. Most players will avoid attacking a player belonging to an alliance. If an alliance member is attacked, other players can send forces to defend. You might think your force of 1,000 creatures will steam roll over another player's 300 monkeys and you'll be laughing all the way to the metal bank... but then suddenly a force of 5,000 allied creatures intercepts your attack and your attack force is utterly wiped out. Members of alliances also participate in "outgoing" attacks. Such attacks require a bit of planning as alliances usually feature players in different time zones and different sleep/work cycles. You never use GMT so much as when you're trying to organize 6 players in 3 different time zones to launch a joint attack. The planning is further complicated by the different travel times players need to reach the same target.

The Down Sides

The game is highly buggy. It seems to be pretty much one or two guys tinkering with the game in their spare time. There's no "sandbox". They make codes changes to the running game. There are no testers and the game's developers frequently break things. After a time they get around to fixing it.

Typos are replete through the game. Until recently, most of the art seems to have been borrowed via google images. However, the growing number of players has revealed the game's commercial potential to its owner. The game is now incorporating its own internally developed art work.

After about a month of playing, you pretty much develop everything there is to develop. It would be nice if there was always some new tech tree to chase after. There's no need to explore (other than find lightly defended continents to steam roll over). There are no artifacts/power ups to be found in the game.

The game doesn't seem to have a clear idea which way, thematically, it wants to go. The game has a bit of Kingdom of Loathing's quirky humor but the humor is somewhat uneven. It's kind of funny, in the early days, sending monkeys and cows across the vastness of space to fight horses and sheep but then eventually you develop serious creatures like demons and wyverns.

Many players, however, tend to keep the humor going with waggish and imperious sounding ruler names like Flogistican, Lord High Cog Master, and His Serene Donut Cogitator.

Space travel is done almost guild highliner style from Dune. Ships are just there. You load your armies onto ships, the bring your armies to the enemy, combat is waged, and they bring back the survivors (if any). Your entire army can be wiped out but there seems to be an unlimited number of ships to carry replacement forces into the next battle. More advanced ships give you the advantage of getting your forces to their target quicker, however, they don't add anything to combat.

Also, you ultimately do battle for plots of land. It's a bit odd that you can some how attack a whole new planet, win land, and transport that land back to your home continent. But then again, flinging walruses, kangaroos, and dinosaurs through space and higher dimensions requires so much suspension of disbelief. What's a little more? It's just a game. A damn nice free one.

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