My mum says Charles Darwin was a brilliant writer. I’ve never read On The Origin of Species or any of his other titles, but am obviously aware of his discovery of the theory of evolution. So I have to take my mum’s word for it. As far as I am aware, there is no reason for her to lie. But she is officially a filthy cheat at board games, so perhaps this opinion shouldn’t be trusted. Either way it is all fairly irrelevant to a review of the board game: In The Footsteps of Darwin, but I couldn’t think how else to introduce it, and this is the best I could come up with. Gloss over it and read on…
Count out the correct number of tiles for your player count. Place the main, shared board centrally and deal out nine tiles in the relevant places and the boat token at the top of the grid in the indicated space. Place piles of compasses, guides and books on their spots too. Pile up the Theory scoring tabs face down in two stacks and from these draw three to create a market. Pass each player their own board in the colour of their choice, never has a player colour mattered less! With their boards players also need one guide and a random Theory tile. That’s it, you are ready to go sailing!
Most victory points will win this board game. You gain victory points from tiles that you draft and by multiplying your collected compasses by the number of parchment scrolls visible on your board. You also get points for the ‘Theory’ tiles (or tab scoring objectives) and for completing rows and/or columns on your board. If Darwin is beside you at the end of the game you will also get a couple more points.
On your turn you will be choosing one of the three tiles in line with HMS Beagle. If you choose the closest tile the boat will move one space forward, the second tile means the boat will move two spaces and the third tile away will move the boat three spaces. You can play a guide at any time to move the boat back or forth one space to help with your selection. You can earn more guides throughout the game.
When you draw a tile you place it on the matching space on your board with continents and animal type providing the placement grid reference. You can place on top of an existing tile but if this hides points or scrolls they will be lost for end game scoring. The buried tile will count towards scoring the Theory tab objectives at the end. When placing on top of another tile you can then choose an additional Theory tile too. There is an additional area for character tiles which grant little bonuses along the way but do not generally count towards other objectives.
Once everyone has placed twelve tiles on their board, thus depleting the draw pile completely the game ends and scores are tallied.
What it’s like
Every play of In The Footsteps of Darwin has been quicker than I expected. Despite the faster play time, there is plenty to think about on your turn. Sometimes the tile you want will be obvious, but regularly you will be weighing up the best option to utilise your scoring opportunities from the three available, or whether to spend a Guide to change where the boat is.
I will say there is a little bit of luck involved. As not all the tiles are used in every game you can be left watching your Theory tab scoring opportunities dwindle. Sometimes, therefore you have to evolve your strategy and adapt to the new possibilities in front of you. If this was a longer game this might frustrate, but unless you have been frivolous with your Guides there is often ways to mitigate any misfortunes.
Although interaction is low you can’t help yourself watching the tiles in the middle of the board. Seeing what gets flipped and whether it will be yours and if you can reach it on your turn is entrancing. Keeping an eye on what other people may be snaffling can help shape your strategy too – or muck theirs up if that’s how you like to play!
Overall, it is really smooth and relatively relaxing to play. Sitting up to five people is a bonus, but you lose some of the ability to forward plan which makes it feel like there is a bit of downtime. Three or four players seems optimal.
The theme is nice and helps set the tone of a relaxed trip studying nature. Production levels are high in In The Footsteps of Darwin.
The tiles are adequately solid and adorned with lovely depictions of the various animals. The punchboard felt strangely flimsy but everything survived okay when excising with usual force. Tokens are all nicely illustrated and work well.
The individual player boards have unique illustrations and when folded have the appearance of old leather books which is a nice detail. If you are the kind of person that, like me, dislikes Patchwork because you rarely fill up the board with polyominos. You are going to be even more disappointed with In The Footsteps of Darwin. In this board game your player board will almost never be full because other strategies seem to pay off more. I’ve gotten over this… just.
The rulebook is ace, but the included Appendix is an unexpected treat. The back of the board is equally superfluous but lovely as it charts the voyage of the Beagle accompanying the additional information included. Just as unnecessary and yet still deserving of kudos is the bottom of the box that has illustrations despite having a cardboard insert hiding it! I love all these little details.
What the kids thought
Max (8): I like it because I can win this one! It’s also really good looking and I like the theme!
George (12): The artwork is beautiful and I like how the ship moves around limiting your choice, although it can be annoying too. I really enjoy playing this, it’s fun!
Harrison (15): The ship moving around is a fun mechanic, although it can be frustrating. I like the balance between getting more scoring objectives and getting tiles to actually score them. It’s not difficult but still lots of fun. Overall, it’s a really nice, light puzzle.
Final thoughts on In The Footsteps Of Darwin
One of the biggest problems with In The Footsteps of Darwin for me is the tiles. My issue being that I go “awwwwww look a beautiful panda, I need this on my board”. Regardless of the strategy I should be following. I will do almost everything in my power to get the platypus and this attitude is not conclusive to winning games! I can’t blame the game for this though!
It is a lovely production and a great game to play. It will often finish leaving you wanting more. I always want to fill my board more too, but that is certainly my issue and undoubtedly won’t be yours, as you are probably normal!
The quick game play isn’t a flaw and I really like the weight versus time invested. It lends itself to being that great midweek game option, where you settle in for a quick game despite having had a busy or stressful day in the office. Those moments when your brain cannot cope with a Great Western Trail or a Concordia and you just need something pleasant to play.
A bit like putting your slippers on during a winter’s evening, In The Footsteps of Darwin is cosy. I like it a lot and so has everyone else I have introduced it to so far!
Number of players: 2 to 5
Board Game Review Recommended Age: 8+
Publisher’s Recommended Age: 8+
Playing Time: 25 minutes
Setting Up and Take Down Time: 3 minutes
Designers: Grégory Grard and Matthieu Verdier
Publisher: Hachette Board Games UK / Sorry We Are French
Play time is quick, choices are limited, but In The Footsteps of Darwin still offers plenty to think about and is going to be an after work midweek favourite for a while.
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Beautiful artwork
- Fantastic rulebook
- Plays up to five people
- Quick game time
- Not much interaction
- You won’t fill your board with tiles
- Some luck that can’t always be mitigated
Buy In The Footsteps Of Darwin
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