Evolve and Linkage turn science into games

Biological principles are made entertaining and strategic

Genius Games

STACKING THE DECK  The colorful cards of Linkage challenge players to build RNA based on a DNA template.

Genius Games

Game night is fun and competitive. Now it can also be scientific thanks to games based on fundamental principles of biology.

In Evolve, players build fantastical creatures to adapt to ever-changing environments and survival challenges. Linkage is a strategy game based on copying DNA instructions into RNA, a process known as transcription.

To play Evolve, players combine cards depicting the heads, bodies and tails of various mammals, birds and insects into zany creatures such as one with the head of a crocodile, the body of a zebra and the tail of a wasp. Some body parts add special abilities such as climbing skills, camouflage or insulation. An adaptation slot allows players to add features such as opposable thumbs, sharp vision or migratory lifestyle.

A set of biome cards provides a wide variety of environments that creatures must adapt to,

Evolve’s players mix and match animals’ bodies and adaptive abilities to create outlandish creatures. New Horizon Games
sometimes transitioning from jungles to frozen wastelands to deserts. Yet another set of cards presents challenges such as meteors, flooding or angry farmers. Players win or lose points based on how well their creatures’ characteristics match the environment. A player wins by having the most points when the “dying sun” biome signals the end of the sometimes-hilarious game.

Meanwhile, in Linkage, players match cards to build an accurate RNA version of a common DNA template. Each correct match earns points, with bonuses for multiple correct cards in a row. Strategy comes into play when competitors decide whether to add to their growing line of cards, repair incorrect matches, sabotage another player’s hand or even change the common DNA template that everyone is trying to copy. Players can buy an extra move by giving up some cards in their hand.

Both games are fun but suffer from confusing instructions. Evolve is too complicated for its target age group of 9 years and older. (Linkage is billed as being for 10 years and up.) Evolve has its fans, but it does little to teach lessons about evolution. It is best suited for larger groups.

Linkage is the better game, and it proves educational. Its technical language may turn off nonscientists, but two who tried it found it easy to learn, fast and fun to play. Linkage is also more interactive than Evolve and not as complicated, making it a better party game.

Both games were launched with crowd-funded campaigns and are available for order online.

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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