Ursuppe (Primeval Soup)

A game published in Germany by Doris & Frank, 1997
This review copyright 1997 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated December 30, 1997 [Two-player variant added July 10, 2000]

Ursuppe is a very fine, fun game for three or four players from the game design company/team of Doris & Frank. The setting is the primordial soup in which the first one-celled creatures came to life so long ago. Each player strives to win points by having the most amoebas, or the most advanced amoebas in the game.

Ursuppe has the usual fine components one expects from German games: wooden pieces, nicely illustrated cards, and a handsome board. (Actually, the board is a bit weak for a German game, but still not bad.) It also has what one does not expect from a German game, but what I'm delighted to find: rules, cards, and gamers' reference sheets in English! This is a move I wish more German game companies would adopt - I'd love to see more German games being played in the U.S.A., and this should help Ursuppe sell here. The game certainly deserves big sales, as it's one of the most fun games I own.

Each player has seven amoebas of the same color - there are four different colored sets. There are numerous food particles (small cubes of wood), painted in the same identical colors. Each turn, your amoebas must each eat three food particles: one of each of the colors that you are not. So a red amoeba needs to eat one blue, one green, and one yellow food particle - or starve that turn. Starvation is shown by placing a bead on the peg each amoeba comes with. When you have two beads, you starve to death: remove the amoeba and place two cubes of each color food particles in the space.

Each turn, you also excrete two food particles in your own color, which other amoebas can then eat.

You can also mutate to improve your chances of success. There are thirty gene cards (representing twenty different genes) which you can buy with Biological Points (BP) - you automatically get 10 BP per turn, to represent all that nutrition you're consuming. BP are used to produce new amoebas as well as buy genes.

The genes are the most entertaining part of the game. There are genes to help you move, help you eat more efficiently, reproduce in better ways, attack other amoebas for their food value, defend yourself, and so on. Each gene has a cost in BP and a "mutation value." Each turn, you have to check the ozone layer to see if you lose genes - the average ozone level is 10, which means if you have genes with mutation values totalling more than 10, you have to lose either BP or genes to balance the difference. The ozone level ranges from 6 to 14; mutation values range from 2 to 6.

Each turn you:

  1. Move (or drift with the current) and feed;
  2. Change the ozone level and drift direction card, and balance mutations with the ozone level;
  3. Purchase new genes with any leftover BP;
  4. Receive 10 BP, and you may add new amoebas at a cost of 6 BP each;
  5. Remove any amoeba with 2 damage points (beads);
  6. Score points on the scoring track for having more than two amoebas and/or more than two genes.
There are only ten turns in the game, which takes about two hours to play. The play is very interesting, as you try to get genes which go together well. But each type of gene is in short supply, so you're in competition with your neighbors for not only food, but also genes. Some of your neighbors can take genes which turn them into predators, so you have to watch that - either take defensive genes, or good movement genes to keep away from them, or offensive genes yourself to get the drop on them. But the ozone level can drop, burning off some of your mutations, which make them available to the other players to snatch in the next phase of the turn - it's not easy being an amoeba!

Given the interesting combinations of the genes, the random movement elements, the short number of turns, and the funny art, the game is good - very good. I especially appreciate the English components, and recommend the game highly to all gamers interested in a fun game with a very high replay value.

An Answer from Frank

I had two rules questions which I asked Frank about, and he told me to post his answer here if I wished. Thanks, Frank!

  1. The gene SPEED states that the direction of the second segment of movement may be chosen by the player (emphasis mine). I asked him to clarify "chosen", and he said that if you had no other movement genes, you had to roll for a random direction as normal, but if you had any other movement gene, you could use it for determining direction.

  2. If you lose all your amoebas, do you lose all your genes? Frank replied that logically you would, but in the game it is already hard enough on a player to lose all your amoebas. So if you lose all your amoebas, keep your genes, and even buy more if you wish before building new amoebas.

Proposed Genes

In a separate file are some proposed new genes, from myself and others. In case you think this is heresy, you should know that the game comes with three blank gene cards for you to fill in!

Expansion Set!

As of October, 1998, there is an expansion set for Ursuppe: Freshly Spiced. You can read my full review by following that link, or simply read the short version here:

Buy it, you'll love it!

Two-Player Variant

I tried the following variant one day when we wanted to play Ursuppe but there were only two of us. We were surprised at how good a game it is - try it!

  1. Each player takes two colors - initial set-up is positions 1 & 4 versus 2 & 3.
  2. Follow all regular rules - there are no differences in rules, but quite a few in play.
  3. The winner is the player with the single color who finishes first - your second color counts for nothing.
That's basically it. What makes it such a good game is not only the combination of genes for an individual color, but now you have one color amoebas protecting your front runner - you get combination of combinations! Great fun - try it sometime.

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