Type: Euro / Worker Placement

Time to play: 90-120 minutes (Teaching: 15 minutes)

Best played with: 4 Player (1 – 4 Players)

So you have watched two sets of films about why starting a Dinosaur Theme Park is a bad idea but…. it’s just so appealing and now is finally your chance. You can set up your park with nice simple herbivores or even the king himself, a T Rex. Watch out though, they may well eat your customers and you might get pesky hooligans ruining your park for everyone.

Dinosaur Island (and yes that picture is from Christmas) is a firecracker of a game. This is a phased game where in you start by dice drafting, follow up with a worker placement, and then do action selection before resolving all of those choices…. That might sound like chaos, but it’s actually very intuitive when played. It’s also worth walking through each step to give you a sense for the choices in the game.

You start with three scientist of different value (aka skill) and they can be used in combination with a random dice roll to get you genetics, more compound space, more workers, dinosaur “recipes” or to substitute into your work pool. These are the smart guys at the park and they are giving you everything you need to get the park running. The choices you make here will determine which dinosaurs you may be able to build if you do everything else right next…

Then you buy stuff! You know where you are headed and you have limited time (2 action constraint) and limited money to acquire it. Will you value management and advisers over extra genes, or will you spend all your money on food carts and merchandise to make your park more profitable.

Now, it’s phase 3 and time to operate your park. You deploy those trustee works into locations that support your park actions. These are the last minute steps that make it possible for you to run the successful park. It also determines the level of security measures you took (or didn’t) and therefore whether people may die! Lastly, you will draw visitors (or hooligans) and score from these results.

It’s a bit of a cascade then across this ecosystem and this is part of the puzzle. Can you work out what you need at each stage and achieve the next requirement, such that you end up with the right resources for next turn where you have to do all of this all over again. Oh and if that’s not enough, you aren’t just doing this to get the most money – you are trying to achieve objectives!

This game forces you to play differently each time with randomly selected objectives (and rule changes) that will drive player behaviour. These objectives are chased down as quickly as possible as not all of them will be scored and very few of them will be scored by all players. Does setting up merchandise first mean you can build the dinosaurs quicker? Or should you get the dinosaurs into the park early, because the good ones will be gone otherwise!

Tough choices throughout a game that is asking you to plan as best you can, whilst throwing dice, turnover cards and being completely tricked and trampled by other players. This isn’t a luck fest though – it’s all input luck. No blind draws, no disappointment, just variety that you must plan around and unexpected twists in strategy which you may be positioned to exploit or need to mitigate.

However, whilst I don’t think it suffers from the complaints of heavy gamers in regards to luck, I do think that this game suffers from analysis paralysis. You can see all four phases that are ahead of you, and it is possible to plan to perfection… but it’s really hard. The lack of luck is what makes this possible, but the multiple phases with very different steps and outcomes makes this complex. I can certainly see players getting tied up.

A word of caution – the short game is a good intro, but it’s not the game. There is depth in the medium and long games that does not come across. If you are introducing people, then do the short game as it will end quickly. If you want the proper experience go the next step and at least play medium.

Last notes,

  • If you are a euro gamer but love them, this is a nice balance
  • If you want zero luck, then just be warned that a hooligan being randomly drawn to your park can really disrupt things!
  • If you win, try again but watch out for the objectives changing!