There’s a recent trend in the board games world that’s seen classic movies adapted into tabletop form. Licensed games tend to have a very bad name, for good reason; they’re often rushed to meet the release date of a movie or lazily shoehorned into an existing format – and aimed at undiscerning or just plain unaware consumers. The most common expectation, certainly when I was a kid, was that a licensed game would be nothing more than a roll and move game with some loosely thematic text and illustrations slapped onto the board and components.

Even recently, the most popular – or at least most prevalent – licensed games tend to be Monopoly reskins that do nothing to change the game except (yep, you guessed it) amend the text and illustrations. I must note, however, that there have been some decent attempts at changing this, with the Mario and Sonic ‘Gamer’ variants having much more streamlined play and elements such as bosses to deal with.

The more popular, ‘serious’ games publishers – such as Fantasy Flight, for example – have a good track record for treating their licensed games really well, however. Games such as their excellent, minis-based Doom board game or the ‘secret Cylon’ Battlestar Galactica game show an understanding of the source material with gameplay that’s deep, satisfying and addictive.

The more recent trend of having older movies converted into board game form has seen some surprising, older movies adapted for the tabletop though – and there’s an unusual thread linking them aside from their source material. Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist is an asymmetrical, one vs many game with one player taking on the role of John McClane and everyone else playing as the thieves. Other board game adaptations take the one vs many approach too, such as The Shining, Home Alone and the game I’m covering here – the awkwardly titled: Jurassic Park: Danger! Adventure Strategy Game.

Taking the plot of the first film from the point at which the electrified fences are down and the dinosaurs are loose in the park, Jurassic Park: Danger! places one player in the role of three dinosaurs (a dilophosaurus, a velociraptor and the big bad herself, the T-Rex), with their role being to eat three tasty humans. The other players each take control of a human character from a choice of ten, with their aim being to achieve their character specific goal and restore power to three buildings on the island before escaping in the helicopter that arrives once those three buildings have been activated.

Every turn, players must play a card face down on their character card in secret, with the dinosaur player being the first to carry out the action they’ve placed and the humans then enacting theirs. Moving is sometimes inhibited by terrain that needs to be climbed (there’s a specific ‘climb’ action for that) and each of the roles is able to use a ‘sneak’ action in an effort to avoid conflict or make a surprise move into an adjacent hex once they’ve reappeared the next turn. Players must roll a certain number on the six sided die in order to successfully sneak or climb, however, with dinosaurs not having any requirement to do so.

It’s very clear that the designers have a lot of love for – and knowledge of – the original Jurassic Park movie. The human characters have extremely thematic special abilities (Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Ray Arnold, has an ability called ‘Hold onto your butts’, for example) in their deck of cards and each of the dinosaurs has a special ability that fits with their characteristics (the dilophosaurus can ‘spit’ into an adjacent hex, for example).

All of the main characters from the movie are represented, which is no mean feat (which means that we can choose to be the aforementioned Ray Arnold and even Dennis Nedry or Robert Muldoon). That each of them has a deck and character goal that fits so perfectly with their character is a brilliant touch. Each player’s deck is essentially their health – human characters have a deck of ten cards and, when attacked by a dinosaur, must ‘burn’ a card and remove it from play entirely. Run out of cards altogether and the character dies (giving the dinosaur player a step towards their victory). It’s not the end of the world though – players can then immediately get back into the fray with another character and continue (as long as their newly expired character wasn’t the third needed for the dinosaur player’s victory of course).

The board setup is randomised, which means that no two games will play out in the same way. Though the dinosaur player has access to a deck that refreshes if it runs out of cards, their hand limit is fixed at three cards, with humans having access to any of their cards at any point (unless it’s been burned or discarded). Humans can choose to burn their current hand in order to pick up all of their discard pile and refresh their hand, but this is risky considering that their cards are their health (if they’re unable to play any cards, however, they die as if all cards are lost – the only way to regain played cards from the discard pile is to burn the cards in their hand).

As mentioned, it’s terrifically thematic and the dinosaurs are a real threat that are extremely difficult to succeed against. There’s a few issues with the game that have reared their head, unfortunately – the randomised nature of the board keeps things fresh, but can lead to some really awkward setups of certain spaces, cliffs and electrified fences on the board that make it next to impossible for players to proceed at some points. The board also doesn’t feel spacious enough to accommodate the three dinosaurs – they can easily block routes at any number of points on the board and cause  damage to players. The dinosaur player has won every single time the game’s hit the table for my group and this seems to be very common – the balance is off, with the dinosaurs feeling far too powerful.

There are also times when a move becomes impossible (such as being surrounded by cliffs and having your last Climb card eaten by a dinosaur, but also being unable to refresh because doing so would give the dinosaur player their victory). This can be frustrating for the human player who is stuck being unable to do anything, with the situation being completely outside of their control. Likewise with having to roll for doing anything except running; the human player is at a distinct disadvantage here – and with three dinosaurs in play in a relatively small area anyway, this seems like a misjudged attempt to balance the humans vs dinosaurs dynamic. Though it’s thematic for there to be a risk of failure when climbing or sneaking, it’s not necessary for the theme to go this far when it adds to the balancing issues and can cause frustration.

Another issue that’s incredibly apparent is that the rules do suffer from having a lack of clarification on certain actions and situations. The timing for attacks post-sneak or even just emerging from sneaking are a good example of this. Though I was somewhat relieved to find that I wasn’t alone in thinking this – there’s a relatively large number of people seeking clarification for this online – it definitely shows that it’s a big problem. Even having the second version of the rules – which I do – still doesn’t rectify some of the issues found with these issues, unfortunately.

That said, it’s difficult to deny that Jurassic Park: Danger! is a decent adaptation of the film. It’s absolutely dripping with thematically appropriate elements – and if you do need rules clarifications, these can be found relatively painlessly online. The designers do seem to be very responsive in dealing with these questions quickly, which is great to see (but it’s also a little frustrating when they explain the rules clearly; this clarity should be in the box!).

Despite those rules issues, it’s a very straightforward game (‘lay an action card and carry out that action’ being the basis of the gameplay). The randomised setup also keeps things fresh and unique player goals also add a decent amount of replayability – and variety – to proceedings. Ultimately, your enjoyment will come from how much love you have for the source material. As regular readers of my site will know, I’m a huge fan – so this made a big difference.

As a human player, just be prepared to be eaten – a lot. Welcome to Jurassic Park.

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