My dinosaur obsession – or, perhaps more specifically, my dinosaur theme park obsession, thanks to Jurassic World: Evolution – has spilled over from the TV screen to the tabletop, with two player board game Duelosaur Island being the latest way I’ve discovered to scratch that very particular itch.
The little brother of critical and commercial darling, Dinosaur Island – a much bigger and more complex multiplayer experience which raised more than half a million dollars during its first Kickstarter campaign – Duelosaur Island takes the dinosaur creation and theme park management of the original and transplants it into a two player dice and card drafting game, with some satisfyingly well implemented mechanics. As with Dinosaur Island, Duelosaur Island has a brilliant, dayglo neon, very 90s visual design, not to mention pleasingly chunky, translucent ‘amber’ dice.
There’s a lot to get your head around at first, with four different game phases in which you’ll first earn income for the park, roll dice and choose cards, spend DNA to create dinosaurs and money on buying attractions for your park and upping security, to make sure that you’re park’s secure enough that your freshly engineered dinosaurs don’t break out and start eating the visitors. The ultimate aim is to be the most popular park at the game’s end; this is measured by the number of visitors you have (minus any lawsuits you may have picked up for eaten visitors during the game!).
Though the rulebook may seem intimidatingly large at first, once you’ve played through a full round or two, the rules are actually pretty straightforward. The four phases are all pretty different, but each is simple to grasp on its own and the turn summary on the back of the book is generally enough to keep everything flowing pretty quickly (though a few of the symbols used and a few of the rules quirks could do with a bit more clarification).
Each player is taking care of their own park, but there’s competitiveness in choosing cards and in the generation of DNA or hiring of specialists; for example, the second phase of the game sees the first player taking five dice from the dice bag, then rolling them and choosing where to place them on a board which also contains ‘plot twists’, which are bonuses gained from taking those dice. The first player also draws three specialists and discards one, with the remaining two placed on the draft board.
The kicker here is that the second player gets first choice of either die or specialist, so you don’t want to be offering something too attractive to the other player before you even get to choose. At the end of this phase, either one die or one specialist is always left over – players take three items each of the seven drawn/rolled – and this can mean adding to the park’s threat level (some specialists and die faces have threat levels on them, from 1 to 3 dots). Therefore, the decision is made harder as to which to take or which to leave behind – as you won’t want to unnecessarily add to your park’s threat level, particularly as this can mean visitors being eaten in the next phase!
The building phase – in which you spend DNA on dinosaurs (the bigger and more dangerous the dinosaur, the more excitement it adds to your park – which leads to more visitors, but also more threat), ‘mix’ or sell DNA, buy attractions and/or spend money on raising your security level (if your threat level exceeds your security level during the final phase, your dinosaurs will break out and eat visitors) – is performed simultaneously, which allows the game to flow much more quickly and smoothly than it otherwise would.
The cards are nicely designed, with multiple uses – they’re either dinosaurs or attractions, based on the way they’re played (with the top visible if you want it to be a dinosaur and the bottom for an attraction). There’s a lot of information on them but it’s pretty clearly laid out (with only visitors causing a problem on the first playthrough – these are added at the end of the game, not when played, but this is a detail that’s easy to miss when learning the game). Player boards are colourful and cleanly laid out, despite how much is on them; DNA, threat and security are all displayed on the boards – plus, you’ll display your dinosaur/attraction cards partially laid under them too. If there’s a complaint to be made here, it’s that you only really have space for three or so card above or under the board – it doesn’t take long to have to figure out how best to overlap your cards under your board as you play. It’d be good to have a wider board, but the game does already take up a surprisingly large amount of space on the table for a two player game anyway – so I can see why the designers sought to keep the board size down.
Another great feature of Duelosaur Island are the AI cards, which are used for the game’s Solo mode. That’s right – there’s a single player mode which uses AI ‘personalities’ and basic rules to govern how the AI acts during the game. It’s a great addition and a welcome feature if you want to play but don’t have an opponent, though of course the best way to play is against another human.
With excellent graphic design, well thought out and thematic mechanics – along with some great puns and references to a certain dinosaur park franchise that shall remain nameless – Duelosaur Island is an absolutely brilliant game that’s unlike any other game I have in my collection. It’s incredibly satisfying and even has options to determine how long you want to play (the short game, which ends when a player reaches 25 visitors, can end as quickly as four rounds in); regardless of how long the game lasts, the DNA collecting and dinosaur building fun is a highly potent concoction. It’s reasonably priced too, so it won’t break the bank – big brother Dinosaur Island is, unfortunately -but understandably – priced a lot higher. I’ve mentioned Dinosaur Island a few times; there’s a way to use the components in Duelosaur Island in Dinosaur Island, but as I’m not yet fortunate enough to own the other game I’ve not been able to try this out.
Though the learning curve can initially be daunting, you’ll get into the swing of dinosaur creation and theme park management in no time – and you’ll want to return to this particular island again and again.
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