So there I am standing at the fence and watching my little daughter enjoying her first ride on a small dinosaur. It’s hard to believe that this is now possible. When I was little, the highest thing we could do was to pet a goat. But now it is normal for our children to grow up in a world where dinosaurs roam the wilderness. As far as you can call it wild on this little island. For my part, I find the bright yellow stegosaurus here on Dinosaur Island a bit too much. Oh, my daughter is done, okay now I just have to make sure that she doesn’t get the idea that we absolutely need a small dinosaur for home.
It was clear to me from the beginning that I had to have Dinosaur Island. This was not only due to the theme, but also to the graphic design. The brightly coloured style makes the board game stand out from the mainstream. But a board game has to offer more than just a fancy package. Whether Dinosaur Island, published by Pandasaurus Games, can or can’t do that, you can find out here.
Dinosaur Island step by step
Actually, I already know all about dinosaur parks. Dinosaurs plus humans is a good idea as long as I keep three things in mind. One, always use a double gate. Two: don’t clone flesh-eating dinosaurs. Three: always show the dinosaurs on an island! With this expertise, it should be no problem for me to master a board game like Dinosaur Island, by Jonathan Gilmour and Brian Lewis.
So I unpack my island tableau and start breeding colorful dinosaurs. But breeding is not that easy, because first of all you need DNA. This is diced per round by the beautiful amber DNA cubes. So in each round DNA is possible in different combinations. For example, you may find that you have a lack of Advanced DNA in one round, which you need for the most valuable dinosaurs. And sometimes you can get the DNA at a “bargain price” in such quantities that you won’t be able to store it in your high-tech fridge.
In addition to DNA, you’ll also need Dinosaurs or their blueprints, which you can get at the beginning of each round. In addition to the blueprint, you’ll also get a paddock with room for exactly one Dinosaur. You can place this paddock on your island, but you’ll have to make do with it, as the space on your island is naturally limited.
To get DNA or blueprints, you can use your scientists, of which you have three. These special workers determine how much DNA you’ll get or which dinosaur blueprint you can afford with their printed value. Alternatively, scientists can be saved up to be available as workers at a later phase.
I buy an employee
What would my Dinosaur Island be without its loyal employees? Of course, I have the standard dinosaur park ranger But sometimes I need the one or other specialist, who in turn gets me more workers or unlocks special bonuses. For example, the Dino Hunter makes one visitor per round less eaten by a dinosaur, or the Security Guard throws mobbing visitors off my island, leaving more room for the paying audience. But employees cost money and depending on what time in the game you buy them, it can be expensive and money is and remains a limited resource.
But you don’t only need employees, you also need attractions that your visitors can visit when they don’t want to see dinos anymore. Also the food and drinks can bring you a dollar or two. But here, too, the same applies as for the employees: The timing is crucial. When the new attractions come into play, you’ll have to pay more than for the attraction that’s about to go on the discard pile. Lab upgrades also want to be improved or newly built, of course.
All the DNA, blueprints, employees, lab upgrades, and attractions will take turns in player order. So it’s not just a matter of waiting your turn, it’s also a matter of deciding when and where to strike, or whether you should fear that your opponent will not snatch the desired item from you.
We’re building a Dinopark
But at some point, you’ll finally be able to exchange your collected DNA for dinosaurs. This will of course increases the attractiveness of your park. And the more dangerous a dinosaur is, the more visitors want to see it. However, your security department will have more work to do to prevent paying visitors from being eaten by the dinosaurs. Because every new dinosaur is a new source of threat. But before the outbreak happens, Dinosaur Island gives you a chance to improve safety thanks to your workers. Or you can use your workers to simply build bigger paddocks or use the new lab upgrade you bought earlier.
After all the paths are cleaned and the Dinosaurs are ready to be shown off, visitors finally come to the park and admire your created world with a big “Oh and Ah”. This happens relatively randomly controlled. By grabbing into a big bag, you pull visitors of different colors out of the bag. Every golden or yellow visitor is already a gain for you, in the truest sense of the word. They bring the money into the park. If you pull a purple visitor out of the bag, you have a problem. These troublemakers won’t bring you any money, but they’ll take up space and cost you victory points.
And if that weren’t bad enough, the hooligans will also be spared your dinosaurs if there’s an outbreak. Because if you don’t manage to keep your security level high enough, your Dinosaur Island will be the site of an outbreak of extinct creatures, and your visitors will be their favorite prey.
However, the damage is really limited to your visitors, and the well-bred Dinosaurs won’t eat your employees or damage any structures. They’ll even return to their paddocks at the end of the round, so they’ll be admired by new visitors in the next round.
Colorful and bright – Dinosaur Island
No question, the graphic representation of Dinosaur Island is unique. Bright colors and completely oversaturated the board game comes along and may frighten off some people exactly because of that. However, there are also the players, among whom I count myself, who want to have exactly this overdrawn LSD graphics. Because already with the graphic one is fixed in advance as statement: Dinosaur Island doesn’t take itself too seriously. If visitors are eaten, it’s more of a necessary problem than a homemade catastrophe, as several movies have shown us. In the board game the visitors will come back next season.
As dazzling as the graphic design is, the game is actually very conservative. If I break everything down, it’s basically just collecting resources (DNA) and converting them into other resources (dinosaurs), which then bring victory points. But, as so often in life, there’s a bit more behind it. Because I can’t plan much in Dinosaur Island. There’s the DNA, for example, which I need to create my dinosaurs. The DNA I need is not always there because the dice roll has a random factor. And if the DNA is there, I also have to decide which scientist I use. Do I really use my high-quality 3-scientist or do I use him to get a more lucrative dinosaur blueprint?
In the second phase I have to decide in time if I want to buy something for my park or not. But in the second phase, my financial situation will of course take care of this. All too often I have to pass because I have to keep the money to increase my security in the next phase. The only annoying thing is the fact that my opponents can lose me here. If they simply have more money at their disposal, I’m quickly pushed out and can’t really make up for this advantage. Nevertheless, these first two phases are quite fast and intuitive. And I like that very much, because although it’s actually just one after the other when choosing actions, the subjective feeling of playing time is wonderfully loosened up by breaking up into two different phases.
Many worker placement board games have the same problem. You place your workers one after the other and have to pay attention, sometimes under overwhelming boredom, to what the other one is doing, and once it’s your turn, you have to reconsider your options. Dinosaur Island goes a different way, and I really like that one. Because the actual worker placement phase takes place simultaneously. Everyone places their Dinosaur Park Rangers in the spaces they think are important. Sure, now and then I have to wait until one of the players is finished, but all in all, it’s only a short time span, because I’m building up my park myself.
Slower, but not the less exciting, is the phase when the visitors are pulled out of the bag. Sure, this phase is absolutely unpredictable. And this not inconsiderable element of luck decides in general about victory and defeat in the whole game. If I’m just unlucky in my draw and I’m constantly pulling hooligans out of the bag, I’m missing money and victory points, and in Dinosaur Island it has been shown often enough that every point counts.
This phase can be incredibly frustrating, and that’s why Dinosaur Island doesn’t feel like an Eurogame anymore, but more like an Ameritrash game where luck is more important. But that’s exactly the element I like. Observing and calculating this when my opponent in front of me pulls one hooligan after another out of the bag and my chances improve. Or the incredulous amazement when, of the maximum of 20 visitors I can pull out of the bag, my opponent doesn’t pull out one of the hooligans.
What I don’t like about Dinosaur Island, though, is the monotony of its components. Dinosaurs basically only differ in their threat level, but on the bottom line, they don’t have any special abilities. I would have liked to see more differences here. For example, a T-Rex could have easily brought more paying visitors to my park. And classic herd dinosaurs could have simply shone through mass without increasing the threat level by the same amount. Dinogenics shows me how to do better. It’s the same with the actual focus: The Dino Meeple are eye-catching but disappointing at the same time. It doesn’t matter which Dino Meeple you put in your paddock, because they’re actually just tokens that represent the number of Dinosaurs in a paddock.
Dinosaur Island rocks
For me, however, these are only minor negative criticisms, because the game scores positively in other areas. On the one hand, there is the entire game plan structure. Each of the 5 phases has its own tableau and when I have to explain this to new players, I simply go through the phases step by step without fear of losing the attention of the other players.
The variability of the components is also a positive point for me. Every game I have different goals to achieve. The so-called plot twists change the rules a bit in each game, which simply makes for variety. And depending on my wishes, I can choose between a short game and a long game. Whereby I find the short game all too short. Because before the Dino Park really starts buzzing, it’s already over. Even if you are new, I recommend to start with medium or long.
I also like the fact that I have to constantly care for the safety of my park. A new Dino means more and more threat, plus the temporary threat, which can be different in every round. This ensures that it can happen that a visitor is eaten from time to time. But that’s the way it is on Dinosaur Island. These accidents just happen.
I like Dinosaur Island. It compensates for the little weaknesses it has for me with a funny theme, brightly colored graphics, and a clear and not boring game flow. Even if you have brooding people sitting at the table, it doesn’t slow you down as much as in classic Worker Placement board games. But the icing on the cake for me is pulling the visitors out of the bag. This is what makes the board game so beautifully unpredictable. Of course it needs a frustration tolerance, but building a dinosaur park needs courage and every now and then I have to be able to take setbacks. Even InGen didn’t give up after the first catastrophe.