Jurassic Park is a successful franchise, whatever you consider the quality of the sequels. So, when a game comes out that is fundamentally Jurassic World (in all but name), you can understand the appeal.
I’m guessing Pandasuarus Games either couldn’t (or didn’t want to) purchase the IP when they created their “dinosaur theme park” board game. Either way, they knew what they were doing when they created this hybrid game that includes dice rolling, resource management, worker placement, and tile placement.
In Dinosaur Island, each player is attempting to create and manage a successful theme park, after “a few mishaps”. This process involves several phases: research, marketing, allocating workers, handling visitors, and then cleaning up for the next round. You also have objectives to meet and plot twists that can change the rules for that session.
Research is where you earn the DNA and recipes you’ll need, and increase your cold storage (to better accumulate more DNA). DNA available is randomized each round through specialized dice, and each player only has three scientists (of varying ability) to allocate.
This limitation means you need to choose carefully: Do you want to gather a significant amount of DNA or go for that Tyrannosaurus recipe? Maybe you need more storage, but do you give that job to your secondary scientist (for a regular upgrade) or your junior (for a small one)?
Marketing is the time to gather specialists (who provide bonuses or more workers), lab upgrades, or additional attractions in your park. You’re limited to only two actions, and everything costs money; also, how much things cost is randomized and shifts between rounds.
Maybe you want that HR expert to bring you some more workers, but they cost too much, so you decide to fund a hot dog stand instead. Perhaps you add a groundskeeper shack (to help increase security) or upgrade your lab’s DNA refinement (to make it easier).
Even more significant are limitations of each of these items. Parks can only have three specialists (you’ll have to fire your current ones, losing their bonuses), lab upgrades are permanent (and can fill a spot once), and park attractions must be strategically placed (since you can’t move or build over them).
There’s also the option to outright purchase DNA (rather than gather it during research), but the cost is something on the market board is discarded. That’s what you get for making deals with people like Nedry!
The worker phase is like most worker placement games. You take whatever workers you have (starting with your base but often increased because of specialists) and have them run everything: refining DNA (from basic into advanced), building dinosaurs (by spending said DNA), increasing paddock size or security, gathering venture capital (i.e., more money!), or anything special from an upgrade.
Basic labs may require money (for things like increasing security or paddock size) or multiple workers (for building several dinosaurs). Upgraded labs simplify many of these actions, or allow you to take more than 1-2 of that effect, but (as we mentioned during marketing) you must be precise about how you change your park.
You also need to be careful during this phase, as building too many dinosaurs (or more dangerous types, like Velociraptors or Spinosaurus) can make your park too much to handle. Don’t allocate enough resources to security, and these carnivores will break loose when the visitors arrive!
The park phase is when everyone shows up, allowing you to earn money and victory points. As mentioned, this stage is also when loose dinosaurs can eat visitors, if you weren’t careful.
Your excitement level, based on what (and how many) dinosaurs and attractions you have, determines how many visitors arrive. Each visitor provides money at the gate and then is assigned to open slots at paddocks, rides, food sites, and merchandise booths.
You must be careful, though, as your park may be more exciting than it can handle. If you run out of spaces in your park, the rest of the visitors are stuck in line and provide no points (only the initial money).
You may also end up with hooligans that sneak into your park (provide no money) and shove their way past regular patrons (fill up precious spots without giving points). Worse, if the current threat level (based on your dinosaurs plus a randomized number) is too high, the dinosaurs will eat patrons and cost you points!
After each round, everything is cleaned up. Visitors (those that are still alive) leave, workers and scientists return to active status, the market refreshes, and new recipes appear. The turn order also resets, giving the next turn’s advantage to those with fewer points.
The game ends when all but one objective is fulfilled and the round is finished. In addition to points earned during the game, players can receive more for attractions, dinosaurs, objectives, and remaining cash. This extra scoring means some players can come from behind for a sneak win!
Now, like most things, there are some positives and negatives to Dinosaur Island.
When I opened the game, I was a bit taken aback by the sheer amount of parts. A dozen different types of cardboard tokens, bags with four different types of meeples/markers (in multiple colors), several different packs of cards, and five distinct playing boards (in varying quantities).
Luckily, despite the sheer amount of parts, the gameplay itself ends up quite smooth. By round three or four, we were moving through the phases quickly and only had to open the rulebook a few times.
Speaking of the rulebook, whoever decided to use a newspaper style font, like Consolas or Poynter, needs to go back to editing school. The rules feel cluttered, amateurish, and hard to read, especially when they include more reasonable or decorative fonts for headings and section titles.
Worse, like Ex Libris, there were several rules or clarifications not included in the book that required visiting online forums and FAQS to figure out. Ex Libris, however, at least provided explanations and glossaries in their rulebook; the same cannot be said for Dinosaur Island.
Some people have complained about the garish 80’s-style color scheme of the artwork. I, however, had no problem and thought the visuals were appealing and helped distinguish between the multiple types of tokens.
Overall, I enjoyed Dinosaur Island, as it provides an enjoyable mix of dice rolling, resource management, worker placement, and routes to victory. My wife ended up winning our first game, which she was elated about as she’s not a regular gamer and often loses to more experienced players.
There’s also plenty of randomization, thanks to different plot twists and objectives chosen randomly based on game length and number of players. Dinosaur Island has significant replayability, and no two sessions will be exactly alike.
Pandasaurus Games was also smart in adding a solo option, which is something I’ve talked about and praised. The ability to play this alone, with one other person, or with 3-4 friends, makes this game perfect for a variety of players and situations.
Dinosaur Island is on shelves now. 1-4 players, 90-120 minutes, Ages 10+.
I give Dinosaur Island a clever 4 velociraptors out of 5.
(We’d like to thank Games and Stuff in Glen Burnie for recommending the game!)