Honestly, I’m split. Now that the paleontological scholarship has shifted towards dinosaurs being feathery and perhaps occasionally brightly colored, I can appreciate the appeal of giant bird monsters. But the dinosaurs of my childhood were those Jurassic Park grey-green scaly things, and the images implanted in one’s youth are difficult to remove. I’m not saying the experts are wrong, I just prefer big iguanas to big chickens.
Dinosauria, the debut design from William Kennedy and Microgameo, smartly goes with the more colorful and feathery approach in its dinosaur depictions. I’ve no clue if they’re fully in line with the scientific research but they certainly pop visually on the table. For a game that has you thinking in colors throughout this style works swimmingly. Plus you get that baby T-Rex image, with its dorky overbite and hunger for butterflies. Genius.
Primarily a solo game with the 2-3 player mode only available via expansion, Dinosauria borrows heavily from Splendor’s fundamentals-only approach of engine building. The name of the game is action efficiency as you acquire the resources to capture and breed dinosaurs in the distant future. At first you’ll roll dice to randomly acquire some of the 6 different resources. After you spend those to acquire dinosaurs you can start tapping those dinosaurs to select which resources you get for more control.
In terms of narrative pace, Splendor has a steeper slope but a slower start. Dinosauria, with its microgame-defined 18 cards, doesn’t have the luxury of separating acquisitions into multiple levels of cost and benefit. Instead, everything is shuffled into one deck, making your sense of progress and engine power a shallower ascent. Instead of buying better things in the late game, you’ll have to be content with simply buying them at a quicker pace.
I thought this would cause the game to drag, but honestly I think it moves at a decent clip. Once you figure out the most efficient path to resource efficiency there aren’t many obstacles in the way of executing that strategy. The only roadblock might be the bonus point requirement of having specific colors in each column of your 3×3 dinosaur grid. This is the kind of “bonus” point mechanism that’s closer to “mandatory points” if you want to win the game, but fortunately it’s more of an occasional minor inconvenience.
The idea of a “rote” game brings me a lot of internal conflict. I should hate the idea. I should demand that games be dynamic and varied. But I have to admit that some of my favorite games, both on the table and digitally, are rote. Nearly all of their decisions are perfunctory. But sometimes there’s something comforting about pulling the familiar lever just to see if something different will happen this time. There’s something friendly about a game you can play with half your mind focused elsewhere.
I shouldn’t like Dinosauria at all, but I didn’t dislike playing it. Indeed, one evening I played it over and over, testing out little tweaks in my strategy and, at one point, actually running numbers on a spreadsheet to try to maximize my efficiency. I can’t account for this.
A couple of annoyances you might want to know about: First, the solo AI is extremely variable, and many solo games, even on normal difficulty, will be actually impossible to win because of it. For this reason I prefer to play multiplayer, but I also ran the numbers and know that the easy bot generates, on average, 4 points a turn; the medium bot 4.5 points; and both the hard and expert bots 5 points a turn. Do with this information what you will.
Second, the game requires you to supply your own dice and tokens. I have no problem with this in theory, but a lot of tokens are required. I found the recommended 30 coins are not enough if you treat them all as singles. Different denominations are required to keep this game portable.
In the end Dinosauria is a casual diversion, one I was glad to tinker around with for a day or two.
Review copy provided by the publisher.