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From the Database of Home of the Underdogs

GAME DESIGNER:Doris and Frank & Franois Neville



Copyright 2004, Franois Neville

Ursuppe (German for “Primordial Soup”) is a good PC version of a fun board game of the same name. One of the most intriguing games based on “life theory” ever made, Ursuppe puts you in charge of a tribe of amoebas that are struggling to survive in prehistoric Earth. You earn points for keeping your amoebas alive, while introducing mutations strategically every once in a while to increase their chances of survival.

The startup is simple: each player is allotted 4 Biological Points – the “currency” of the game, and then the players take turn to place one of their amoebae on the board. The actual game is ten turns long, but quite often finishes before then if someone reaches the dark zone on the scoring track (which begins at about 40 points). Each turn consists of several phases, which are summarized quite well in Brian Bankler’s review of the board game:

“Players take turns moving and eating. The player in last place moves first, which is an advantage. Ameobas move by drifting one space in the direction of the tide. Or a player can spend a biological point to fight the drift. The player then rolls a die which determines movement. After moving, an ameoba needs to eat one cube of every other color. If the ameoba eats, it excretes two cubes of it’s own color. If the ameoba starves, the poor little fellow gets a damage bead. So you can see why moving first is an advantage, each ameoba that eats doesn’t quite replenish the amount of food, and all ameobas compete for at least some of the cubes.

After everyone moves and eats (or starves), the next environment card is flipped. There are a dozen or so environment cards. These tell you what direction the prevailing tide will be next turn, as well as determine the ameobas genetic mutation limit. All genes (special powers) have a cost in mutation points. Any ameoba over the limit must pay the difference in biological points or give up genes (or both, in some combination).

After this is done, players buy new genes. This (and every other part of the turn) is done in player order; the player with the most victory points gets first dibs. A player can buy any available gene if he has the biological points and the gene is available. However, there are only a few copies of each gene. Some genes are also considered “Advanced” which means that they have a pre-requisite basic gene that you have to give up in order to purchase the advanced gene. For example, the Movement I gene lets you roll two dice whenever you move, and pick which one to use. The Movement II gene requires the player to give up the Movement I gene, but it allows the player to choose which way to move, instead of rolling the dice at all!

After everyone has agonized over genes, players can buy new ameobas. Each player gets their allowance of 10 BP. New ameobas cost six, and most be placed adjacent to an existing ameoba, but not in the same space that a player is in. After birth comes death. All ameobas with two damage beads die, and all dead ameobas are replaced with two food cubes of each color.

Finally comes scoring. It’s a simple chart that tells you how many points you get for the number of amoebas you have, and the number of genes you have (Advanced genes count double). You move along the scoring track. Since VP order determines movement, there are no ties. Players jump over occupied spaces on the track, not counting them. If one player has gotten to the victory section of the track, the game is over (after all players score). Additionally, the game ends when the environment deck runs out.”

This PC version of Ursuppe translates a solid game quite well to the computer screen, although the interface is spartan and there are no “bells and whistles” to speak of. You can play against up to 5 computer opponents, and the AI is a bit on the easy side but thankfully the randomness of the game makes it worthwhile. The ability to use various genetic advantages to ‘break’ the rules of life make Ursuppe interesting and a lot of fun. For instance, instead of going hungry, your amoeba could learn to attack foreign amoeba for food. Or perhaps your amoeba could be taught to need less food to survive. Either way, you will have a lot of fun breeding and choosing amoebae in this underdog. Recommended!

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