Imagine you’re on a small sailing ship - barely 90 feet long and only 24 feet wide - on a five-year voyage around the world. In 1831. Tasked with researching new and as yet undefined species of natural life. Those are the circumstances of young Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking expedition aboard HMS Beagle, during which he developed his theory of natural selection and evolutionary history as described in his book “The Origin of Species.”
Fortunately for Darwin - and biological science since then - while the Beagle and her crew were mapping the coastline of South America, he spent considerable time wandering terra firma and studying its inhabitants, most famously during a stop at the Galapagos Islands.
Sail into Science History
On the Origin of Species drops you right onto the deck of the Beagle and into the company of Darwin himself. Origin is a resource allocation and set collection game that combines strategic thinking and extensive scientific knowledge with a beautifully rendered game set designed to provide hours of fun for friends and family.
By beautifully rendered, I mean absolutely gorgeous, with nineteenth century stylized game elements from the board that maps Darwin’s travel among the various islands of the Galapagos chain to the species tiles, journal cards and other playing pieces. It even includes representative pieces of the islands’ famous turtles, a ship’s anchor to mark endpoints, and a mini version of a three-masted brig, the Beagle itself.
What Kids Learn
The game combines elements of history, biology, some geography, some math (point collection), and strategy. With a deceptively simple set of rules, players really need to plan ahead to allocate resources for maximum scoring, determine whether to concentrate on research or discovery, and use various bonus cards to score points.
The artwork aids in realistically taking players back to 1835 and the Species tiles, Ship cards and included reference book provide choice nuggets of information about the animals encountered, various crew members, and the voyage itself.
And while the mechanics of the game may seem relatively simple to learn, there are a lot of moving pieces here. With in-depth strategizing and a little bit of luck— hope for a Map card! - On the Origin of Species really gets the brain churning.
Nuts and Bolts
Each game ends when the Beagle reaches the end of its journey along the board; the winner is the player with the highest score. But there’s a lot to unpack with this game, both literally and in the gameplay itself. Each player receives a point-scoring turtle to track progress. They also receive resource cubes that are instrumental in resource allocation, which can differ depending on whether you’re conducting research or discovering a new species. The game includes a large supply of Species tiles that illustrate the look of each animal rendered as they would have looked in Darwin’s journals —published four years later as “The Origin of Species” — that made him a world-renowned naturalist and author.
And then there are the cards sets: air, wind and earth point cards, activity cards, book cards (main scoring collection sets), ship cards and more. If you draw one of the many map cards, it propels you into a position of earning far more points than your competitors, so you want to be in a position to draw as many additional cards as possible.
Once you have the game set in front of you, it’s probably a good idea to reference the “How to Play” YouTube video here on our website. This is an intensive, in-depth explanation of board set-up, card placement and use of resource cubes that complements the rule book and gets you to active play more quickly than trial and error.
The Final Word
Not many science history games offer this level of historic detail, combining design and production quality with deceptively simple actions that mask the deeper strategies required for winning the game. The box also includes an Advanced expansion and a Family version that add to the almost limitless variations of play.
The game board, with its constantly changing card placement and multiple goals available during each player’s turn, makes for a depth of gameplay that’s not immediately apparent. That’s why strategy is so vital to success in this game. Each game you play provides unique opportunities. Origin of Species is a beautiful synthesis of period-specific design and engaging gameplay.