Thoughts on a couple of new-to-me games

I had the pleasure of attending the Oxford Meeples Summer Day of Gaming for a while this weekend, and got to play a couple of new-to-me games, which both had me thinking about their designs and elements that stood out for me...
Pictures yoinked from BoardGameGeek.com

Istanbul was the winner of last year's Kennerspiel des Jahres, and is a really solid mid-weight Euro game, with decent levels of player interaction without actually attacking or blocking other players.
  • I really like the way that you can just bumble around, but planning where you will be, especially with respect to other players, is really worthwhile.  
  • The game end condition (first to gather five gems) works well, and I think that in general I like the way that you can see how well everyone is doing in general but cannot be sure when they will make a big push for the end game.  I won, but it was a nervous time as I tried to get my ducks in a row, particularly as I think at least one other player was very close to a big finish too.
  • As a first-timer I was very glad to be dealt a bonus card that kinda suggested an end-game, helping me plan a strategy pretty much from the word go.  Not everyone else got lucky in this respect.

Evolution is a game that has been getting some good press (including some enthusiastic comments in the latest Shut Up & Sit Down podcast), and is quite a bit lighter-weight than Istanbul.
  • The interaction between mutations/features is quite nice and different combinations can work well at different stages of the game.
  • The end of the game involves counting up tokens stowed in a little bag to see who has gathered the most, which felt a little anticlimactic (as similar scoring phases do in many other games), and there is only very limited scope for an end-game push.  
  • In our game, only one attempt was made to develop a carnivore, and that was short-lived, because early on everyone had already created large and/or well-defended creatures that were essentially impossible to prey on.  I got the impression from another attendee that, at least in their play group, carnivores have never been a viable avenue.  Maybe that's just because everyone defends, rather than looks for an efficient score.
  • Related, at the end of the game, three players had close scores, while one was a long way behind.  It was notable that the three leaders all made use of combinations of foraging and cooperation, making for quicker acquisition of food, while the loser wasn't able to do this.
  • I'm a bit less convinced by this one, largely because of the couple of points above making the game look like there may be an optimum strategy.  Now, I am sure that with experience this would break down (for instance, if everyone was using defences, the species not bothering with that may have an advantage; and that in turn may make carnivores more worthwhile), but it's amazing how a first experience like this can make the game look more limited.
I don't think I have any real insights or clever thoughts to pull all this together, I just wanted to note down some of the thoughts I had from a first play.  I guess that if anything comes out of this it is probably how important a first play can be, and how important the start of that first play is.

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