History games 1 – Primordial Soup


In our new home in Alkmaar I’ve been unpacking boxes of books and games. I have hundreds of historical games (mostly wargames). I had the idea to play them – it’ll have to be solo, mostly – in chronological order. It is possible that this is a ridiculous idea: SpaceCorp 2025-2300AD may also be historical by the time I get to it. In any case I got started last night with Primordial Soup. This depicts amoebas drifting around in a pond, choosing useful characteristics to acquire (e.g. more control over the direction of drift), and surviving or not. I played the 3-player version, solo.

A game can be historical in a weak sense (what goes on as the game unfolds seems to be the sort of thing that might have happened) and/or a strong one (you know who you are supposed to be and in some way it feels like you are that person). I prefer games that are historical in both senses. In this game you represent a “tribe of amoebas”, which, clearly, is not an entity with the decision-making power that the game gives you. I don’t know much about evolution but I don’t think this game is historical in the weak sense, either. The “tribes” start out identical, don’t become particularly different and often lose characteristics they’ve previously acquired.

This is not the fault of “Doris and Frank”, the designers. This is not a competition in which their game sought to be entered. It is a “Eurogame” from the home of Eurogames, Germany, In Euroland, process (interesting game mechanisms, which this game has – I would play it again because there is room to play it better) matters more than substance. For Eurogames, the “theme” is the sauce, it is not the dish itself.

However unfairly, I am going to score it as a history game and give it 3 points out of 10.

Playing time– 20 minutes to set up, 3½ hours to play.

Components– well made, too jolly for me.

In the third or fourth year at secondary school in Manchester a genius who had been homeschooled in north Wales turned up. His first name was Emmanuel. He showed us a game in which you placed black and white draughts on a chessboard in some shapely starting position, and rules determined how the shape, and the relationship between the pieces and the colours, would evolve. I think this should have been a choiceless game like that and would quite happily have spent an evening with it.

P4140139.JPG(The game in its end state. The cubes – food – and the shapes with sticks – amoebas – start off evenly spread across the game board. I liked how the game mechanics caused them to clump together.)

The next four games are also about evolution. Let’s see how they go.

Published by

Paul Hodson

Head of Unit "Energy Storage" at European Commission, Joint Research Centre

One thought on “History games 1 – Primordial Soup”

  1. Oh my – – – perhaps there’s a lifetime commitment required! I’m finding that my travel plans from now to August are burdened with the necessity to spend way too much time online looking at places to stay, ways to travel, I’m seeking a less time-intensive travel approach or an assistant!


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