Several years ago, scientists discovered a way to clone dinosaurs from viable DNA preserved within the fossil record. After a few mishaps along the way, the process has stabilized. Today, it’s the museums that have gone practically extinct, as shrewd investors have turned those initial dinosaur sanctuaries into bustling theme parks, true meccas for dino fans the world over.
In Dinosaur Island, each player takes on the role of a park manager at one of these premier destinations. You’ve been handed the reins to a burgeoning operations – bring the fantastic creatures of the Jurassic, Triassic, and Cretaceous periods forward into the modern day. Early retirement is yours if you can make your park bigger and better than the competition!
Dinosaur Island by Pandasaurus Games is the tabletop version of Jurassic Park in all but name. In it, up to four players compete to build the best theme park by cloning dinosaurs and adding attractions. Every officially licensed Jurassic Park board game has put players in the role of survivors trying to get off the island. The creators of Dinosaur Island instead made the smart choice of letting players be John Hammond – that is, the person charged with building the park and making sure the dinosaurs don’t eat the guests.
The objective is to score the most victory points, which are earned by cloning dinosaurs, building exhibits, filling your park with customers, and being the first to accomplish goals such as “create one exhibit of each type” or “clone three dinosaurs in a single round.” These goals are spelled out on individual cards that also act as a timer – the game ends when all but one of the goals have been completed by players.
Gameplay is simple but split into several steps spread out over four phases. In the first phase, a set of amber-colored dice are rolled to determine what DNA is available that round. Players then take turns claiming DNA or acquiring genetic recipes to clone different dinosaurs. In the second phase, players are able to purchase park upgrades, attractions, concession stands, and new employees who provide special abilities. The third phase consists of assigning workers to do specific tasks — such as cloning a dinosaur – or purchasing larger enclosures to increase the number of dinosaurs your park can hold. The final phase has players blindly drawing meeples representing park visitors from a cloth bag. Most visitors are “patrons” that pay entrance fees and allow players to score victory points, but mixed in with the patrons are “hooligans” that provide neither.
Of course this wouldn’t be a Jurassic Park game if something didn’t go horrendously wrong. Dinosaurs are a valuable commodity because they determine how many visitors your park attracts, but every animal increases your park’s threat level. If your threat level exceeds the park’s security level at the end of a round, the dinosaurs escape and eat one visitor for every point of difference between the two levels. You lose a victory point for every visitor eaten but keep the entrance fee, as your park apparently has a “no refund” policy. Balancing your security and threat levels is critical to winning the game. Not helping is the fact that the most dangerous dinosaurs are the ones that attract the most visitors. And let’s be honest: Who wouldn’t want a T. rex in their dinosaur park?
Dinosaur Island is a fantastic board game. The game looks intimidating at first given its various boards and plethora of plastic pieces, but it’s actually mechanically simple. Most players should be able to grasp the basics after a single practice round. What I especially like about Dinosaur Island is there is no single path to victory. Sure, players could keep adding big predators to attract more visitors, but they could just as easily focus on herbivores and attractions to bring in revenue and victory points. That said, your strategy is limited somewhat by competition with other players. It’s frustrating to have another player be the first to claim DNA you need or purchase an attraction you had your eyes on. The key to winning is being able to adjust your strategy based on the resources available.
If I had one nitpick, I’m not a fan of the game’s look. The creators chose a gaudy 1990s graphic design with sharply contrasting colors and a lot of pink. The appearance of the game is a homage to the era when Jurassic Park was first released, but I would’ve preferred something more muted. Still, that is my only real complaint in this otherwise excellent game. While it’s a shame we needed to wait nearly three decades after the release of Jurassic Park to get a good board game based on the central concept of the film and novel, Dinosaur Island is worth the price of admission – assuming you don’t get eaten.
- I glossed over many rules for the sake of brevity, but the following video provides an excellent rundown about how to play the game:
- Dinosaur Island was designed by Jonathan Gilmour and Brian Lewis.
- Only two other board games about building dinosaur theme parks have been produced. The first is Dino Business, released in 2009. The other is the upcoming DinoGenics, scheduled to be released in 2018.
- Dinosaur Island has a solitaire mode.
- I own the deluxe version of Dinosaur Island available only to Kickstarter backers. The deluxe version contains components not found in the retail version, such as metal coins and a wider variety of dinosaur meeples. It also came with pogs. Dinosaur pogs. Remember dinosaurs? They’re back… in pog form.
- The Dice Tower (video)