Dinosaur Island: Gnarly New- School Neon

    This is one of my favorite games: 5 Stars. With two worker-placement phases separated by a drafting/buying phase and capped with an interesting scoring mechanic, each round of Dinosaur Island is a series of simple steps that create mind-burning complexity as an emergent property. It is also one of the best examples in board gaming of how subjective art can be. I don’t think you can argue with the clarity and functionality of the graphic design, but some people love this game’s aesthetic and some hate it. The kickstarter version came with a snap bracelet and you’re building are neon pink dinosaurs. You’re building them for an amusement park by drafting translucent amber DNA dice. Your generational mileage will vary.

Setup/Teach/ PlaytimeEase of TeachAgeProductionToyness
10/15/90-180Moderate13+42
ThemeStrategyTacticsLuckInteraction
Dino Park4332
ThemePlayer CountPortabilityMechanicUniqueness
52-42Many4

    You are a crazed billionaire running a dinosaur  park: money will be made, visitors will be eaten, money will be made- to score points. This is a beautiful game in its components and functionality, which it has to be, because it’s huge: a four player game has 11 boards. It eats table, but when it’s all laid out, the functionality is impressive. It should be, for $80 MSRP, which I think it is worth. There are 4 phases to each turn in this game, and each one essentially has its own board- although it is of course the interplay between the functions on each board that drives the complexity of the gameplay. Everything is chunky, from the amber DNA dice you roll to determine which types of DNA are aquarable that round, to the boards themselves; one of your personal board is a neato double-board with slots cut out to securely receive the cubes you use to track things. The dinosaur and visitor meeples are cute, the cards and rulebook are solid.

Some people are angry because kickstarter allowed you to buy a version significantly fancier than that available at retail.I understand the appeal of metal coins and slap bracelets, actually, no, no I do not. But this kickstarter deluxe version actually features reverse-functionality. In the retail game, you get one kind of bright pink dinosaur meeple to put on your park board when you build a dinosaur. The kickstarter version has a different mould for each type of dinosaur in the game. Which is great, until someone spends a few minutes of their turn searching through the pile for just the right meeples. It’s especially sad because another great feature of this game is how fast it feels: turns alternate within the phases and the third phase can be done simultaneously.

    Dinosaur Island also possesses depth of replayability in two ways: randomization and structural design. During the first worker placement phase you are competing to draft dice representing DNA and randomized dinosaur blueprint tiles that allow you to use that DNA to craft dinosaurs. The second buying phase is limited by a randomized series of tiles and cards available. The third phase includes no randomness, which makes the engine building and execution fun rather than frustrating. As does the fact that many of the elements you introduce to the engine function to mitigate the randomness of other phases. The scoring phase also introduces randomness in the form of hooligans you draw randomly with paying customers from a bag.

    In addition to this pleasing randomness, there is variability built into the structure of the game, in two of my favorite features. Plot Twist cards are picked at random, two for every game, and have rules that break the normal game in some way that will affect your strategy and generally accelerate the first few rounds of play. Objective cards are what determine the length of the game, and come in three decks: long medium and short, allowing you to customize game length. You get points for claiming them and they vary substantially, so that racing for them is variously viable, as are the possibilities of combining that strategy with others. I always want to play the longest possible game, but even I admit that it’s great to have shorter options for teaching the game.

    Strategy is another reason I love this game. It is tactical due to randomness and the euro-style player interaction. Variable end goals and competitive drafting make it crucial to maintain awareness of other players. This is also a heavy game, whose many layers can give individual moves unpredictable consequences, in which you have to bet on your future luck. You have to go in with a plan to be able to react effectively, and I have love playing with the array of strategies this game makes viable.

    I love this game so much I enjoy working around the roadblocks other players throw at my plans. The satisfaction of that perfect personal third round when you use every worker and make two dinosaurs and increase your paddock capacity. The disbelieving, shocked smile as someone throws down three objective tokens in one round and you realize that the game is over, just a round before you were ready to start your engine. Playing with bright pink dinosaur meeples. It’s all gravy.

And My Sad Post-Con Mea Culpa:

Do Not:

Play this game on short; it’s not worth the ancillary set-up, tear-down and ‘rules brush up’ time.

Play this game on medium with experienced players; there are very few alternative routes to victory besides pushing the objectives and forcing the games end.

Play with any expansion modules unless everyone playing needs the rules without a brush-up.

Play, conversely, without the new objective rules in the expansion rulebook, or water dinos.

Play anything but the long game with the parkboad module.

Play over three players without someone assigned to call out turn changes, (I actually thought of an app for this).

    Not everyone enjoys this game. It is complex enough to require at least one play to really learn, and every play is a significant time investment because of setup and teardown, plus a teach that’s pretty much impossible to get under twenty minutes. I think it shines for experienced players at three, playing the long game. Medium objectives are fine for new players, but the short game is basically worthless. The shorter the game, the less payback you get for the still significant time investment, and (spolier), racing for the endgame objectives is a very effective strategy in the shorter games, which cuts the playtime even more. The rulebook is easy to read and a good start for your teach, but it lacks a card-reference and the I-don’t-know-what that prevents arguments about the usage of the word ‘and.’ And that inevitable, with some players, rules-lawyering adds another layer of non-playtime to the time investment this game requires. And the components for the expansion are disappointing, and increase the frankly difficult spread this game requires.  


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