Dinosaur Island has been on my shelf of shame for a while now but I recently got to unbox it and experience the ever so satisfying feeling of punching out the cards and ripping open the wrappers. It’s almost like Christmas morning. Once we started reading over everything it became obvious there was a lot more to the game than just making a park. You have an adventure game with elements of engine builders and worker placement. The aesthetic is fun, bright, and cartoony while maintaining the Jurassic Park atmosphere. The important thing, for me and my player group, is that there is a cohesive premise that actually makes sense and Dinosaur Island definitely has that.
Dinosaur Islands first set up can take a while and at first some may feel overwhelmed. But, by the time the first turn it is completed it becomes much clearer and turns start moving quickly. You start by selecting a company that is building the park, each one has a different dinosaur to start with (doesn’t affect balancing just aesthetics). The turns consist of four different phases. One where you can use your scientists to get new DNA, adding more cold storage for DNA, or getting new DNA patters for dinosaurs that can be added to the park. The second phase consists of you purchasing attractions, specialists (boosts specific things), or upgrades for your worker facility. Phase three has you placing workers to create new dinosaurs, combining DNA, or upgrading the park. Finally, you enter phase four where excited visitors come to your park to enjoy your attractions.
To win you have to score the most victory points. To get these you have to create dinosaurs and attractions to get more people excited about your park. The more excitement there is about the park the more people visit. Everyone that comes to the park has to fit so you have to manage your lines otherwise people are stuck outside of the park. Each person that arrives at the island pays to get into the park regardless of whether they get in. Finding spots for everyone in the park is optimal because for each that enters the park you get a victory point. However, you can lose victory points by having people in the park when the dinosaurs break loose and make a meal out of visitors.
To stop the dinosaurs from breaking out you need to manage your threat and security level. Even having a higher security to threat could result in dinosaurs breaking free and eating the visitors. During the research phase you roll dice to see what types of DNA you can choose to get. Some of the dice have threat modifiers on them and will be added to your threat level, they can raise the threat level by up to 3. So, if your threat level is at 2 and you have security of 3 now the level could be as high as 5 and means a loss of two visitors. Don’t think you can gain the lost victory points back by filling the park back up with those that are stuck outside, because now no one wants in. Then the whole thing starts over again. The way you enter the end game is by completing all but one of the objectives that is drawn during the setup the game. Once you are in the end game everyone gets to finish their turns and count up their victory points to appoint a winner.
There were a few hiccups when we were playing and those might be due to an oversight during the rule reading but there is also a lot of stuff to try and remember. Early on our excitement meter was thrown off because we thought that just by buying a paddock for a dinosaur immediately bumped up excitement. However, you have to create the dino first and for every other one that you create in that paddock. Then there was the mishap with not adding the modifier to our threat level for the first 2 turns. It made it much easier, afterward there were some lives lost.
My wife and I had a great time playing because there are so many nods to Jurassic Park, from the cover art to instruction manual. This includes the DNA strand that interacts with Hammond during the ride in Jurassic Park, “bingo, dino DNA.” Building the park is compelling and it becomes not only a management of how many dinosaurs but also where and what you want to place in your park. Your island is only so big and not everything you want will fit without some careful planning. I loved trying to plan out how I would want my park to look. The only downside is that you cannot place any of the paddocks north to south they all have to be west to east. That irritation is nearly non-existent because you will be having too much fun making dinosaurs and trying to not get people eaten. In our first game I was able to save all of my people but my wife lost a handful. It was the deciding factor in our game because I only won by a couple of points.
One of the best parts about Dinosaur Island is that there isn’t any real down time. There isn’t a point where one player is just sitting there doing nothing. A lot of games suffer from this. I hate sitting and waiting for others to play. This is the problem with a lot of engine builders and resource management board games. During Dinosaur Island you all take turns simultaneously allowing each person to be engaged all of the time. Even some of my favorite titles (Treasure Island and Jaws) have large gaps and it’s very difficult to get a new person into the game.
The balancing of what you want to add (Dino’s, DNA storage, Facility upgrades) vs security level is difficult and exciting. Because as you go up in the security level it starts costing you more money. But you also need people coming into the park and you really don’t want to waste a worker on raising your security level when you could be adding another dinosaur to the park. I focused on herbivores almost exclusively because they are easier to stop from breaking out but it was one of the reasons, I was so close to losing. Herbivores are easier to contain but also give you lower excitement and in turn, less victory points. If my wife and I had played it completely correct from first to last I think I would have lost because she would have focused more on the parks security level and would have selected specialists and facilities that would allow her to have more people in the park and not have to worry so much about her carnivores eating visitors.
The only thing I wished they had was different dinosaur tokens for different types of dinosaurs. There is just one type and that is the Triceratops. This is a problem I am going to solve by having some different types 3D printed so I can have some T-Rex and Raptor looking ones too. This is a super small gripe and I hesitate to even mention it but it is something I wished was included in the box.
Both my wife and I really enjoyed everything about Dinosaur Island, from the punching out to researching DNA to putting it all away (yeah, they provide a well-done storage system with plenty of bags).We also thought that it is a great game for adults and any kid who is really into dinosaurs and/or board games. It mixes strategy, engine building, and adventure all into one. So, if you are looking for a great game that will keep you entertained for a good amount of time (two hours with 4 people). I absolutely recommend it for any player, from beginner to a board game enthusiast, it not only is well balanced and fun but it has a cohesive plot/theme.
It can be purchased at major retailers and at your local game store (where we got ours).
At the time of writing the lowest price was $42 on Amazon