Dinosaur Island (2017) review
* Warning : all the components presented in the photos of this review come from the KS version, the retail version may be slightly different. *
Who hasn't dreamed of being able to manage a park of living dinosaurs? To be able to play with DNA while offering its visitors an intense and magical experience ? Dinosaurs were for dreamers, then Spielberg pushed the concept even further with his movie Jurassic Park.
Since then, there has always been this desire to find a game with a gameplay equivalent that could take us back to this wonderful adventure. Strangely, few games with this theme have emerged. There was an old MB game that came out many moons ago, but we were far from the possibility of managing a Jurrasic style park. License costs are certainly very high, fear of attacking this well loved monument, or simply a lack of interest ... The reasons are certainly varied to why a game like this never came to market.
Since the release of Jurassic World, licensed games have emerged. Aimed at the family audience and not necessarily the gamer, who wanted to control the management of the park itself. In 2017, an "expert" game came to Kickstarter and surprised us, with this thematic flavor: Dinosaur Island from Pandasaurus Games.
The first thing that was surprising in this game was the art. Everything is very flashy (maybe too much?) Illustrators Kwanchai Moriya (Catacombs), Peter Wocken (Dead of Winter) and Anthony Wocken, had free rein to their madness and offered us unique and surprising visuals. A breath of fresh air in a world where production tends to be more and more standardized. This art gave a unique cachet to this game. Clearly, from its aesthetics, it can be cutting.
The designers Jonathan Gilmour (Dead of Winter) and Brian Lewis (Titan of Industry) offer us with their game, the opportunity to be at the head of a company that embarks on the exploitation of dinosaurs to attract tourists into their amusement park. Does it remind you of anything?
Everything is there. Creation of dinosaurs (thanks to the recovered DNA), creation of enclosures, levels of security, booths of goodies, food stands, attractions, specialists, dinosaurs, ... Even the rules offer a lot of tributes and funny references.
We are in a game as faithful as possible to the monument that is Jurassic Park without having the film footage and stepping on any rights.
In Dinosaur Island, the goal is to make your park lively as possible. Playable for 2 to 4 players (you have also a solo mode), each is the head of a scientific corporation. Your park is represented by an individual player board, on one side is the possible locations, on a kind of grid and on the other the actions that your workers can do. The game is played in several phases.
The first is the specific resource search. You are going to send your scientists to bring back DNA, to find dinosaur "recipes" (yes I do not know what else to call it), or to transform them into mundain workers.
We are in a fairly conventional job placement. The choices are represented either by dice or by locations, as is the case for dinosaurs. Moreover, there are two types of dinosaur"recipes": Herbivores and Carnivores. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Herbivores are easier to create and generate fewer problems but they attract less visitors. On the other hand, Carnivores are the opposite.
The taste of danger brings back more people. With Carnivores, you have two types : small and large (which are more difficult to create). I take the lead and I answer you right away ... Yes, there is the Tyrannosaurs. Each species of dinosaurs is represented only once. So if you like this one especially, buy it immediately!
During the second phase, you will be able to recover equipment, build buildings and recruiter specialists to improve your park. No, you can't find John Hammond, Dr. Grant or Ian Malcom ... Though, if you look a little closer, maybe...
So you can get goodies, attractions or food stalls, each of which yield different benefits. The equipment offer you new actions for your workers. Specialists are there to give you bonuses during the game. Be careful, all places are limited and it costs money. If nothing interests you, it is possible to recover DNA instead. Each player will have the right to two purchases. Apart from taking the tile that interested the other players, the interaction is low.
Here in the third phase, each player will use their workers to develop their park. It is at this moment that we will create our dinosaurs for example. What's the point of a park without dinosaurs? To come into the world, these charming creatures need a type of DNA according to their "recipe". They will bring you victory points at the end of the game but especially points of interest, that's what makes the audience come. They will also need a large enough enclosure. Apart from the joyous aspect of genetic transformation, it is at this stage that you will be able to improve your security, your money (advertising costs) and your paddocks. Here, everyone plays at the same time.
The fourth phase is the fastest. We check each park one by one and the doors open. We draw a number of tourists equal to our fame. But beware, some tourists are not there to just visit. But pose more problems, than profits. In front of all that are the crowds and is your security sufficient to protect them? Because if you have been too greedy or unscrupulous, your dinosaurs can, for a very short moment, break out of their paddock and have fun with your visitors. Nothing serious. After all, some deaths do increase the fame of a park, no! ... No? Ah! ... So you will lose a few victory points based on these unexplained disappearances. But rest assured, they had still paid their entry before their death. Also, since the world has a short memory, the next turn, your park will reopen. You'll adjust your score and start again.
The end of the game will come when all public objective have been won. These randomly chosen goals at the beginning of a game can be modulated to increase or shorten the game. There is also a “first come first serve” race between the players.
Dinosaur Island is a game with simple rules. You explain and understand everything quickly, without having to go back to the rule book. Games can be more or less long and none are really alike. I'll admit it, I love this game. And yet, let's be honest, it's not perfect. Besides its design (pink dinosaurs!), one of my first critiques is that it appears to be a solitary game. Indeed, apart from a little pressure on the objectives or which dice to choose in phase 1, the interaction is very weak or non-existent. Players create their park in their own corner and then occasionally look at where other players are. Usually, this is something that bothers me.
But, I admit that I let myself be so transported by my imagination in this game that it does not remove my pleasure. And, it always makes you smile to see another player forget the importance of security. In general, game does not offer a very difficult challenge. It is rare to be really stuck and we always end up doing what we want... almost. For players looking for complexity, you will be disappointed. Another point more anecdotal, the customization of the park is also a little limited especially by meeples dinosaurs that closely resemble the others (but hey, it would have been much more expensive to have different meeple dinosaurs for each species). There is no such thing as a specialty or a specific thing to watch depending on the dinosaur taken. It's pretty generic.
In spite of all that, I continue to love this game. I dreamlike feeling transports me into the game. Its simplicity makes it easy to take out and play. No need to go back to the rules at every game.
The replayability is present by the choice of public goals, the choices during the game and what the dice offer ... The material is very nice and quite neat. I see myself at the head of an entertainment company, choosing my dinosaurs carefully, develop my park, protect (or not) my visitors ... This game really has a magical aura.
I think the relation to Jurassic Park is not insignificant. If the game was talking about something else, with the same mechanisms, I'm not sure it would please me as much. The theme and the nostalgia therefore occupy very important places in my appreciation of the game. The first player token, a visitor's bracelet for the KS version, puts you directly in the mood.
Dinosaur Island is a particular game. The choice of graphics, the choice of the gameplay, the choice of theme, everything has been carefully worked for our greatest pleasure. We can of course expect more. After all, with such a theme, our imagination is racing very quickly. More customization, more differentiation, more challenge, more choice ...
But then we would have a different type of game. Finally, is not it the will of the authors to have created a simple game but not too simplistic. A game open to all and playable by the vast majority, while keeping a strong identity and an ounce of difficulty? In any case, I can only recommend this game, which even if it does not invent anything and remains fairly traditional (a mix of mechanisms), makes you plunge into of your childhood dreams . A success simply.
Note that following the success of the game, an expansion has been realised. Totally Liquid offers the possibility to play up to five, new types of dinosaurs (sailors), new paddocks, new specialists ... A new experience that I will review soon.
At the same time as this expansion, they released a special version for two players, Duelosaur Island. If you are interested, I could also review that for you?
Technical Score 9/10
The components of the game are very good quality. The boards are hard cardboard, very resistant. The meeples are funny. The rules are well written and everything is installed quickly. The graphics and the choice of colors can disorientate or even run away. Yet this daring choice brings a breath of fresh air into the current production.
BGG Score 9/10
(Excellent game. Always want play it.)
A game with simple, catchy rules that makes you relive the adventure Jurassic Park. An excellent game to spend a good moment of reflection between players or with you family.
Combined Score 9/10
Great Score for very good game. And now it's over to you...
Barry's first impressions
The game does capture the essence of building a theme park. With so many tiles to buy, cards to collect and different Dinosaurs to play with, there is a lot of replayability. But with that come a big load of boards. A board for each phase, is a little too much for a coffee shop to play with, but everything is thematic and interesting.
I did enjoy playing the game although I felt it was unbalance with this “short term memory” world. If a visitor died tragically at a theme park, there would be a bit of bad press and the loss of income or point. This game captures that. But a massacre at a park should be devastating to a park owners score...not here.