Note: This is a review of the second edition of the rules.
Rest in peace Wade Hackett, for we barely knew you.
Wade, you see, had been my safari guide for three hunting trips to the Mesozoic. He had successfully led the first two expeditions in and out of the Cretaceous period without a scratch, racking up a nice collection of dinosaur trophies along the way. But during a trip to the Jurassic, a pair of allosaurs spotted the hunting party and charged it. Wade’s gun misfired just as one of the allosaurs reached him, and before the other party members could react, the beast was carrying away his lifeless body in its mouth.
Of course, we only know this because one of the expedition members had written it down in his journal. The surviving members of the hunting party were attacked and slaughtered by a trio of ceratosaurs as they made their way back to camp. All that was found afterward were a few bloodstains on the ground and several crushed weapons with spent casings beside them.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, Saurian Safari! is a dinosaur hunting game published by HLBS. It is a miniatures game, meaning it is played with little figures on a table set up to simulate a natural landscape. It also is a lot of fun, although the rules could use some polish.
Players assume the roles of Victorian-era hunters out to bag the biggest game of all time. There is a nice variety of animals to choose from in Saurian Safari!, from dinosaurs to prehistoric mammals, and the rules come with several scenarios that let gamers tailor the hunts to their own preferences.
Saurian Safari! is a cooperative game with the players working together to bag an animal instead of competing against each other. All animal moves are based on reaction tables, so there is no need for a “game master” to oversee animal encounters and the game can be played completely solo. Players will need a d20 set of dice to play the game, as well as the appropriate miniatures.
One downside of Saurian Safari! is that actions take several dice rolls that eat up time. Shooting an animal, for example, isn’t simply a matter of rolling the dice to see whether you hit it. You also have to roll to see whether your character spotted the dinosaur, whether the gun knocks your character down, whether the gun misfired and whether the bullet managed to penetrate the dinosaur’s thick hide. While I appreciate the realism, I wish these actions could be determined with fewer rolls.
The rules themselves also have a lot of gaps and players will need to make up their own rules to fill in the blanks.
The biggest problem with Saurian Safari! is that there are not many miniatures of prehistoric animals available. There are plenty Victorian-era figures for sale and the miniatures world is awash with fantasy creatures, but gamers don’t seem to be interested in real animals. Several internet forums suggest using plastic dinosaur models, but nearly all the models I found were either too small or way too big. I just downloaded pictures of the appropriate dinosaurs from the web and turned them into paper cutout figures, which worked just as well. Also, be warned that miniature gaming can be an expensive and time-consuming hobby. Players need to build their own landscapes from scratch, and miniature figures can cost quite a bit of money and almost always need to be painted.
That said, Saurian Safari! is a fun game once you get into it. Hunts are limited only by the players’ imaginations, and the scenarios and settings can be tinkered with so that no two hunts turn out the same. There also is a certain feeling of exhilaration in facing a rampaging dinosaur and bringing it down with a well-placed shot just seconds before it would have trampled you. Just don’t always expect to make it back alive, as poor Wade found out.