Dinosaur Island

1- 4 players, Competitive, Action Selection, Resource Management, Worker Placement

Designers: Jonathan Gilmour, Brian Lewis

Artwork: Kwanchai Moriya

Publisher: Pandasaurus Games

*Note: Review of Xtreme Edition

Overview of Game

Dinosaur Island has players basically managing a park full of dinosaurs…..and we have all probably seen how well that worked out for basically every manager of every Jurassic Park movie. Luckily in this game there isn’t a fear of the players getting eaten, the visitors yes but the managers are ok.

This game has quite a bit going on under the hood. There are basically four different boards that players will each manage on their turns, luckily they are labeled “Phase 1, Phase 2 etc so it makes it decently easy to follow. During the first phase, players will take turns placing these tiny little lab beakers in specific spots on the Phase 1 board to take an action. This is where the action selection aspect of the game comes into play. These actions range from selecting DNA dice to create more dinosaurs, picking more new species of dinos to add to your park, upping the cap on specific DNA strands or even gaining a new worker.

Phase 2 of the management process has players buying upgrades for their park which consist of eateries, themed attraction tiles and more. There are also new worker placement tiles that can be bought and placed for Phase 3 coming up. Even further there are new managers you can acquire that give you certain bonuses in specific areas of the game to enhance your play. Finally there are ways to spend coin to tweak your DNA even more.

On to Phase 3 where players will be doing the worker placement portion of a round. During this section you will be placing your little meeples on spots on your own player boards in order to manipulate so many different actions. You can upgrade dino paddocks, gain money from the bank, increase your security levels, create dinos and more.

Finally during Phase 4 players will open their parks to visitors and draw from a bag some visitor mini meeples. These mostly consist of yellow meeples which are your normal patron, however there are some pink meeples scattered in as well which are trouble makers and don’t bring you any money at round end. You will place all these meeples down at open spaces on the phase 4 dino park player board and your goal is to try and fill all the open spots but not OVER book, because well, that’s just wasting money you could over-wise be making.

Players will gain victory points based on how many yellow meeples they can get into the park that are NOT eaten. Yes visitors can be devoured. Once you start placing carnivores in your park your threat meter will start to rise. If you can’t keep your security level up enough to at least match that rising threat, people will die. And you don’t want that! Lost revenue! You are no John Hammond here, you are more like the greedy rich dude that was in the Lost Kingdom.

Length/Win Condition

So this one is very highly variable! The game comes with a plethora of objective cards and you shuffle them and use 3 of the cards each game. Once 2 of those objectives have been attained then you finish the round and calculate final score. The objective cards are labeled as “short”, “medium” or “long” depending on how long of a game you want to play.

Add in player count to that mix which I would say is about 30 minutes per player and you have your game length. A couple of examples, I have played a “short” objective with 2 players and it lasted around 45 minutes to an hour. Also played a “long” objective 3 player game and it lasted about 2 hours. I will say that the “short” objectives, although for a quick game, do not really scratch the itch needed. You end up wanting more at the end and left will a feeling of unresolved conflict. There are things you WANT to do in this game and if playing a “short” game, you will never achieve all those things. Because of that I will always prefer the “long” objectives. That said it is really cool that this game offers so many options on game length.

To win you must have the highest final victory point total. Now I don’t normally like victory point total style games as win conditions but this one isn’t bad. I think it’s easier to swallow while your playing is why I like it. There are some games that throw VP’s (victory points) at you left and right and it gets hard to keep track of everything. This one though feeds you the points in smaller bite sized chunks. You have a board that keeps track of your current total and just move it at the end of every round based around one specific action. Then at the end of the game you have to add up a couple other things and just increased your little token on the board accordingly. The person with the highest final score wins!

Components

Great components! Absolutely fantastic. I mean once you get past the fact that this game is entirely 90’s based dinosaur action (which is amazing) the components are still great when compared to other board games. The dinosaur tokens are plastic and there are a ton of them, hot pink in color too which doesn’t bother me any. The oversized DNA amber colored dice look amazing with the different kinds of DNA you can acquire printed on the sides. I love how they are amber colored as well, like the tree sap the mosquitoes get trapped in, love it. The cards are all pretty typical card stock, nothing fancy there.

The big stand out to me though is the four player boards. They are a good size and double layered so the tokens you use to track your various stats all stay in place. Not only that but they look awesome. I love all the colors they use on the boards. Each player also gets a separate board to place tiles based on what dinosaurs they want to create. This board is basically where you build your park and it’s pretty bland starting out but once you get deeper into the game, it really starts looking awesome.

Box/Storage

The box…..kinda sucks. There is far too much stuff in the box for its size to begin with. On top of that there really isn’t a “good” way of cramming all the stuff back in. There is a cardboard insert that can be used….but it mostly just takes up precious space that you need to jam everything back in to get the lid to close the whole way. Plus all the different components that this game comes with its awkward to stuff everything back in bags….I am still using the insert and feedangled a way to make everything fit, mostly. But it’s very…oh what’s the word…..haphazard? It’s not organized like I would prefer, let’s put it that way. This actually came as a huge surprise to me when I opened the box as Pandasaurus games are the same people that made the fantastic Wasteland Express Delivery Service which has the absolute best gaming insert I have ever laid eyes on in my life.

Visual Appeal /Theme

The visual appeal of this game is off the charts. It screams eye candy. It IS eye candy. All the colors all over everything and the 90’s style artwork and theme just makes this game one of my favorites visually. The Theme is also just amazing. I mean dinosaurs are great and you now can create a theme park based around dinosaurs…..and if you don’t keep your security level high enough, then can and will escape and eat your visitors lol. Of course you will actually lose VP’s if that happens….but the fact that it CAN happen is amazing.

Rulebook

I was not a fan of the rulebook. The font they used is just terrible, and I’m sure they were going for a typed out 90’s style font but omg is it hard on the eyes. When you open that rulebook and see a massive wall of text on both pages you just shudder. Not only that but this game DOES have a lot going on here as there are a number of rules to learn. The game plays out in phases and during each phase you have a batch of actions that you can take. For the most part it is easy enough to remember what you need to do as the multiple game boards are all labeled, “Phase 1”, “Phase 2” etc. However when you need to flip back to the rulebook for any little details it is kinda hard finding what you need as all the font looks exactly the same. They do have each phase bolded and colored in the book so you can kinda find where you need to be if you know what phase that particular rule falls in though.

Table Presence/Game Board

The gameboard is comprised of multiple smaller boards based around the different phases the game takes place. The phase 1 board has the DNA dice placements, the different dinosaurs you can create and spots for improving your DNA storage and passing. The Phase 2 board has spots for the draw piles of the attraction tiles, lab research tiles and specialists cards. Phase 3 board is your personal double layered player board where you place your worker meeples to take actions such as creating dinosaurs for your park or improving your security. Phase 4 is your park board where you reach into a bag full of patron meeples (and a few hooligan meeples) and pull out as many as your excitement level to see how much money you get for admission. Then place patrons based on how many attractions and dinos you have. Then see if the threat level is higher than your security and if so……well…..yum yum.

So the table presence is pretty good however I am not a fan of the multiple board layout at all. I find it difficult to set this game up with players sitting on the opposite side of the table and with everything being easily able to read. For example during phase 2 you need to be able to see all the exposed attractions, lab research tiles and specialists. Not only that but you need to be able to read what’s on the tiles and cards and this can be difficult if they are on the opposite side. Basically no matter how you set these multiple game boards up, someone is going to be far away from at least 1 of the boards that they need to interact with, as such this game takes up a ton of table space. I almost wish they would have incorporated all these into just one big board.

Table Talk/Fun Factor

This game doesn’t really create much table talk which is pretty standard with worker placement games in general. I spent more time talking to other players asking them to pass me some dinosaur meeples from the pile across the table. There is some bickering to be had during the first couple phases as the first player to go every round is the payer with the least victory points. Which kinda creates this strange rubber band effect where if you get behind, you have the opportunity to catch up because you get to go first till you do. Which means you get the first choice on DNA that gets rolled or the first dinosaur. Plus the first pick of attractions, lab tiles or specialists.

I’m kinda torn on if I like this or not. On one end it kinda stinks for good players as they never get first pick BUT for subpar players like myself it’s really nice to be able to at least keep up with my wife when she usually totally destroys me on worker placement games. One time she only beat me by 3 points!

Optimal Player Count

Hmmmm the game plays up to 4 players out of the box and even includes a completely separate solo deck JUST for solo play which is amazing. I haven’t played a 4 player game yet but have played 2 and 3 players. I can say that 2 players is a ton of fun and the fun didn’t really increase with a 3rd player per say. HOWEVER there are specific cards that get added into the draw decks for 3 and 4 player games. So for each additional player you get new stuff that can be drawn! I find that kinda stuff super exciting so I’m always on the lookout for more players. I would say if you are worried about it not being as fun with less players, don’t. It is a blast with 2 players and even though I haven’t won a game yet…..I’m hopeful.

The Fuzzy Llama Bronze Seal of Prevalence

Final Thoughts

It may have seemed like I griped about a lot of stuff in this review but honestly this game is outstanding. There are a lot of things to learn but it’s easy to get down since the boards are labeled. Not only that but this game thrives on its theme. This has quickly climbed my list of worker placement games primarily because I’m building a dinosaur theme park. Omg just saying that makes me giddy. But you are not just building it, you are researching DNA and hiring specialists and managing what you spend your money on. If there was one big thing I’d change about the game, it would be that there was more. If you are looking for a fresh worker placement style board game, then look no further!

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