Primordial Soup Review
The components of the game are superb, with sturdy wooden coloured blocks for each of your amoebae (which have to be assembled by hammering in a wooden peg), and a hundreds of little coloured blocks (food that you can eat (uh, your amoebae, that is, not you!)). The cardboard, fold-out board itself is rather unprepossessing, being generally blue and drab. But don't worry; you can soon brighten it up with all those little tiny blocks I was talking about! The layout is a series of squares, and a scoring track round the sides. There are one or two funny pictures of amoebae to break up the monotony, but the board is nothing to shout about. Truth to be told, the dullness of the board is the last thing on your mind during the game - generally you're more concerned about where your next morsel of food is coming from!
At first, gameplay can be a bit tricky, but after only a few turns we quickly got the hang of it. Each turn has multiple phases; Movement & Eating; Environment & Gene Defects; New Genes; Cell Division; Deaths; and finally Scoring. During each phase, every player completes their actions before everyone moves onto the next phase.
So, in phase one, Movement & Eating, the player who is last on the score track moves his amoebae first (in numerical order - each amoeba has a number on from 1 to 7). The environment card in the middle of the board shows which direction the current in the pool is flowing, so each amoeba can move one space in this direction, or move under its own power (rather erratically) in an attempt to gain a better position. Once it has moved, it will eat three of those little coloured blocks I told you about - one of each other colour - before excreting two coloured blocks of its own colour. It sounds more complicated than it is, believe me. If an amoeba cannot eat properly, it will starve, taking one point of damage (two points and it will die in the Deaths phase).
Once all amoebae have moved and eaten (or starved), then a new environment card is turned up, showing the direction of drift, and an Ozone level. This shows you how much protection form ultraviolet the pool gets, and any mutations that add up to more than this number must be discarded (this stops any one person from being too advanced genetically).
And then the New Genes phase begins. This is the best part of the game. As the game progresses, each player gains 10 Biological Points (BPs) during each Cell Division phase, which they may spend to add another amoeba, move erratically during movement, or buy Gene Cards. These are small advances that your little tribe can make during the game, such as Streamlining (movement becomes easier but is still uncontrollable) or Movement (moving is more controllable, but still as hard). There are more aggressive Genes, such as Struggle for Survival (if you would normally starve, you may now eat any other amoebae in the same space as you instead), or defensive, such as Armour (fairly self-explanatory).
Each Gene costs a certain amount of BPs, and also has an Ozone level, which cannot exceed the Ozone layer's number during the Environment phase.
All of this means that each player is essentially reduced to a few modifications to their basic genes, which aid them during the game. Doris & Frank claim to have playtested this enough to eliminate any "killer combinations" of genes that will automatically win the player the game, but there are still some pretty "almost-certain-death combinations" that will help above and beyond the norm (Streamlining coupled with Movement II are pretty bloody powerful if you can get them).
You score points for having gene cards and amoebae on the board, and the player with the most points when the final environment card is turned up, or when anyone reaches the darkened area at the end of the score track wins the game.
A very simple game, easy to learn with great components (maybe a bit fiddly with all those tiny wooden blocks, but at least the fun of packing away extends over several days as you constantly find them all over the house!).This is a little expensive, which could put people off, but it is worth the price, and we will certainly get many evenings of enjoyment out of this one.
NOTE: The German version has an expansion that adds a whole slew of new genes, and a further two players (making this a six-player game). This is currently not in print, but apparently Z-Man Games will be re-printing this expansion this year some time (2006). If they do, and you enjoy this game, then GET THE EXPANSION. Seriously. Just get it. You will not regret it.
Presentation: I really enjoy Doris Matthaus artwork; there is something quirky and distinctive about it. This wonderful tongue-in-cheek art, coupled with the fantastic wooden bits you get in the box make this a chunky little game that is a joy to unpack (but a bitch to put away again!). 9.1/10
Clarity of Rules: Very clear, easy and quick to pick up and play. The rules are pretty unique, and the rulebook does a good job of conveying the new systems and gameplay. 8.5/10
Game Length: The game can go on for up to two hours – and maybe more. There is lots of everyone to do at each stage, though, and player elimination (while a possibility) is very unlikely. 7.9/10
Value: Considering the manufacturing that must have gone into making these wooden pieces, the price of the game seems justifiable – if a bit high. The game is worth the investment, however, as hours of fun and enjoyment can be had with your little pet amoebae… 7.3/10
Overall: Enjoyable, quirky, and unique. The game will always be pulled out on request, and I will never turn down a game. Primordial Soup has been described as a simulation of protoplasmic life, but there is an interesting and fun game in there as well… 8.5/10 (not an average)
Review by David Plank