This game is something of a departure for publishers ThunderGryph, who have previously been best identified with lighter and mostly small-box games. By contrast, Darwin's Journey is a relatively heavy euro strategy game, themed around the 19th Century naturalist's epic Voyage of the Beagle, where his observations of the flora and fauna of the Galapagos Islands prompted the development of his theory of evolution and the Origin of Species.
Created by Simone Luciani and Nestore Mangone, with art by Paolo Voto, Darwin's Journey is a game with a lot of moving parts, so there's a lot to take in on the busy board before you start to play. It's only when the various disparate-seeming elements come together, usually a couple of turns in, that you begin to appreciate the elegance of this game's intelligent design.
At its heart, Darwin's Journey is a worker placement game but one where you need to first qualify your workers by collecting appropriate coloured seals before you can access particular locations and take the actions there. You can usually visit locations at which your own or other players' workers have already been placed, but you'll have to pay for the privilege and money in this game can be quite tight... Players will have their own objectives, which will score points or unlock more powerful actions, and these will often involve elements of set collection, both of coloured seals and of specimens that you'll eventually be sending to a museum. There's card drafting and you'll be seeking to progress on the HMS Beagle's sailing track, as well as sending explorers on foot on each of the three islands to pitch their tents and collect specimens. Darwin's correspondence is also represented in the game, and this introduces an area majority mechanic into the mix...
The game takes 2-4 players, and it's scaled for the number of players by varying the set up. In all player counts, set up incorporates some randomisation in the tokens placed out, which helps to keep each play fresh and different. Once you've grasped the mechanics, Darwin's Journey can play quite quickly: you'll usually be placing out four workers (with the potential to unlock a fifth) so you'll be trying to optimise your placements to ensure they result in a synergy of actions. Games are played over just five rounds. This means it's possible to complete a two-player game in an hour. Increasing the player count adds to the playing time, and you can expect to add considerably to the playing time if any of the players are prone to AP (Analysis Paralysis): this is a game where you'll always be weighing up a lot of options. If you've ditherers or over-analysers in your games group, this is one where you'll want to incorporate a chess clock or multiplayer timer to keep things moving.
The edition of Darwin's Journey that we've been playing at Board's Eye View is a preview prototype ahead of the game's launch of Kickstarter on 5 January. Impressive as the prototype is, the production version promises several improvements and upgrades, so it's a KS campaign we'll be following with close interest. We'll add links to the campaign when it goes live.