Game Review – Dinosaur Island

Ever wanted to create your own dinosaur theme park? Well, here’s your chance with Pandasaurus Games’ Dinosaur Island! As the manager of the park, you must work to create the best dinos around while also hiring the proper security to keep your dinos in check. Once you have some interesting dinosaurs to look at, the visitors will start pouring in to get a look at your Dinosaur Island. 

Designer: Jonathan Gilmour, Brian Lewis
Artist: Kwanchai Moriya, Peter Wocken, Anthony Wocken
Publisher: 
Pandasaurus Games
Genre: Worker Placement
Players: 2-4
Play Time: 90 – 120 minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 5

Skip ahead to find out:
Game Overview
Game Play
What He Said
What She Said
Our Pros and Cons
The Verdict

Game Overview

In Dinosaur Island, each player will take on the role of park manager of their very own dinosaur amusement park. You’ll choose different dinosaur DNA to research to bring the dinosaur to life, which will attract more visitors to the park. Be careful though because they still are unpredictable and, without the proper security measures in place to contain them, they’ll break out and rampage through your park and eat your paying customers.  Should you focus on the gentler, but less exciting, herbivores or bring in more dangerous and exciting predators? This is why hiring the right personnel is crucial as each of them will bring their own unique skill set to your park allowing you to gain advantages other players won’t have.

Every game there will be a different set of objective cards that players are working toward, which will also act as the end-game timer. Once there is only one objective left to complete, the game will end after that current round. With this in mind, players will have to make sure their park is operating in tip-top shape at all times because the game can end very suddenly if players complete multiple objectives at once.

Game Play

At the beginning of each game of Dinosaur Island, players choose the length of the game and draw objective cards from the chosen length. The number of objectives is based on the number of players in the game. The next thing that varies from game-to-game is the two plot twists used for each game. Plot twists override the standard rules of the game and stay in effect for the entire game. Some examples of plot twists are: only one employee can be hired instead of the usual three or a special purple dice is added to the DNA dice pool.

Each round in Dinosaur Island will have five phases:
1. Research Phase
Players will be gathering DNA, acquiring recipes for dinosaurs, increasing the capacity of DNA storage facilities, or sending researchers into the worker pool. In turn order, each player places one of their three scientists on the research board. The phase ends once every player has placed all three of their scientists.

2. Market Phase
In this phase, players spend the money they earned from their park in the marketplace to hire new employees, build new attractions for their park,  enhance their lab with new upgrades, or purchase DNA that they weren’t able to get enough of in the research phase. Each player can buy two items from the market each round or if they choose to pass on either buy action, they can gain some money instead.

3. Worker Phase
This phase takes place simultaneously as all players are only performing actions on their own lab boards. Players assign workers to lab tiles to perform the actions on them. Workers can be placed on tiles that can convert DNA to different DNA types, create dinosaurs, increase paddock sizes, increase security levels, or gain money from the bank. Lab upgrade tiles from the market phase typically give players similar actions at a lower cost.

4. Park Phase
The doors are open and visitors start to pour into your park in this phase. The number of visitors that come to your park is based on the excitement level that you’ve generated. Everyone will get in, but not every visitor will get in legitimately as hooligans can sneak in with other visitors without paying. Visitors are assigned to attraction spaces that gain players victory points if they survive the whole phase. The last step of this phase is ensuring there is enough security to contain the dinosaurs in the park. If there isn’t enough security, the dinosaurs will break loose and eat park visitors, causing players to lose victory points.

5. Cleanup Phase
This phase resets the turn order, refreshes the market, reveals new dinosaur recipes, returns workers and scientists back to players, removing visitors, and resolving plot twists. Once an objective is completed, other players only have until the end of that current phase to also complete it. As soon as the current phase is over, that objective can no longer be completed by anyone else. The new turn order is now determined based on the number of victory points players have. The player with the least will go first and the player with the most will go last.

When there is only one incomplete objective left, the end of the game is triggered. The rest of the current round is finished and the game ends immediately. Players receive points for each attraction they have in their park, completed objectives, and remaining money. The player with the most points is the best park manager.

He Said

Ever since seeing Jurassic Park, I always wondered why anyone would want to open up a dinosaur theme park that included carnivores that would potentially eat your visitors. Well, after playing Dinosaur Island it turns out that I’m one of those people because the idea of creating dinosaurs outweighed the cons of park-goers getting eaten. I’d assume a waiver would be signed by anyone coming to the park anyways since there’s always a chance of an occasional dinosaur breaking loose at a dinosaur theme park, right? If you’re like me and ever thought about how you’d run a dinosaur theme park then Dinosaur Island could be the game you’ve been looking for.

Groovy First Impressions
The first thing you’ll notice about Dinosaur Island is that it is a behemoth on the table with every player getting two boards and the first two phases having their own respective boards. Then you’ll see the dinosaur-shaped meeples and bulky semi-transparent dice piled up around the table and your first thought is probably going to be, “What did I just get myself into?” Upon closer inspection, you’ll see that there’s a method to the madness because the theme of running your own dinosaur theme park really comes through in the components of the game.

The psychedelic color scheme felt like it was going for a 90’s throwback feel and this is especially true from the box cover as well. The color scheme could be kind of polarizing because it is so intense. I thought it was pretty interesting though because it’s not a color scheme I’ve ever really seen in other board games, although it’s not one that really makes me think of dinosaur theme park. Speaking of dinosaurs, the game includes a good variety of different dinosaur meeples but doesn’t actually have recipes that are specifically used with them. I mean, you really can use any dinosaur you want, but I feel like a dinosaur theme park shouldn’t be pulling a bait and switch, ya know?

Other than that small detail, I feel like a lot of work was put into providing high-quality components. This is especially true in the deluxe version with the metal coins that accounted for half of the overall weight of the box. The quality of the coins is ridiculous from the weightiness of each individual coin to the Jurassic Park style font used for the numbers on them. The deluxe version also came with one of those awesome slap bracelets that I haven’t seen since I was in middle school, which I thought was amazingly nostalgic as well. Even if you opt to not get the deluxe version, the player boards are awesome with the individual cutouts for your DNA capacity cubes. I definitely feel like every game that uses a token for tracking quantities of things should use this style of board (Looking at you Terraforming Mars). I could probably go on and on about the components just because there are so many components in the box, but did I enjoy the gameplay as much as I enjoyed the components?

Worker Placement
I enjoyed the different phases of Dinosaur Island because each phase does worker placement in a slightly different way. The first phase has scientists at different levels that act as multipliers that have you prioritizing what you need the most. The second phase doesn’t involve physically placing workers, but you will be choosing from a set of items available for purchase. The third phase is your standard worker placement on your own boards. And the fourth phase is placing visitors on locations in your park.

It all just felt like it flowed very nicely from phase-to-phase. The first and second phases are based on turn order so it’ll be first come and first serve and you’ll have to adapt to what’s available. The nice thing about this is that if you unable to acquire the DNA you need in phase one, it can just be purchased for gold in phase two. You could also focus on using the convert DNA action on your lab board to gain advanced DNA, if you missed out on them in phase one. It’s nice that Dinosaur Island provides you options so you aren’t as limited as you may be in other games.

The third phase happens simultaneously by having players placing their workers on their own lab boards. At first, there aren’t too many options, but once you start getting lab upgrades, you’ll need to make some tough decisions on how to get the most out of your workers. I had a game where I focused more on dinosaur creation and didn’t really care too much about my visitors. Unfortunately, that didn’t end up too well for me since I came in last place. It’s a juggling act between threat and security that you’ll need to balance throughout the game. In most cases, it felt like it was just too expensive to keep up with security if you created a couple of carnivores.

In the last phase, there isn’t really any decision making involved since you’ll just be placing visitors on open spots. You’ll also get money for each visitor that comes to your park, but if your exhibit doesn’t have enough space, the other visitors just kind of loiter around at your park.  Hooligans also take priority over paying customers so they’ll get the first available spots, which can hamper the number of points you gain if you get a really bad draw from the visitors bag. Then you’ll calculate your threat level vs security and determine how many people get eaten. I do wonder why extra customers who didn’t get a spot at one of your exhibits couldn’t just fill into the newly opened spots, but I guess if I just saw someone get eaten by a dinosaur I wouldn’t be too tempted to head that direction. But if you could score extra visitors in your park, you would just focus on increasing your excitement level with no consequences.

Look at All the Dinosaurs
I really enjoyed the different dinosaur meeples, but I was a little disappointed when there wasn’t a dinosaur recipe available for each one. I mean you could use whatever dinosaur you want, but I’m kind of OCD about those kinds of things and want things to match. So I felt like that was kind of a missed opportunity that would have made it more immersive to have matching dinosaur recipes with the dino meeples.

Another thing that I wish was in the game was the differentiation between the different types of dinosaurs when it comes to benefits or drawbacks to creating them. The only difference between the levels of dinosaurs is the threat level, excitement level, and points given. It would have been cool to have some unique benefits to building certain dinosaurs like getting a discount on similar dinosaurs because they share a similar DNA strain. On the other hand, I understand why something like that wasn’t implemented because it would have made the game more complex and not as accessible as it currently is. If every dinosaur did have a unique power, I would be hesitant to introduce it to players who are newer to worker placement games.

Dinosaurs are what I feel like the main attraction of the park, but as you build up different paddocks for different dinosaurs, you’ll find that you don’t really need to think too much about how the tiles are laid out. The park building aspect of the game didn’t really feel like it had any benefits or consequences for placing things in certain spots. Poorly placing a tile really just means that it might be a little harder for you to fill your entire board, if that’s your goal. I think it would have been more interesting if you gained points for putting certain things next to each other, like different herbivore paddocks being next to each other. Or if you had some kind of negative consequence if you had an herbivore next to a carnivore paddock like losing one herbivore if your security level wasn’t sufficient enough to contain all of your dinosaurs.

Final Thoughts
Dinosaur Island does a really good job with its theme, components, and gameplay to draw players in. It’s hard not to look at the table with awe as you see all the components sprawled out everywhere, but with a lot of components comes a long setup time. Getting everything set up is kind of a process and then taking everything back down and remembering how you configured the box to fit everything is a pain. The setup time is worth it though if you enjoy worker placement games. Even though it does worker placement a little differently in each phase, it’s still ultimately a thematic, worker placement game. So if you aren’t a fan of worker placement games, I don’t think this will be the game that changes your mind. If you’re like me though and enjoy worker placement games, the strong theme that’s present throughout the game will make it a very enjoyable experience.

There’s also a lot of variety between games with the number of different objectives that could end up being used every game. The plot twists even take it a step further and modify rules making sure that no two games will play out exactly the same way. I wasn’t a really huge fan of a few of the plot twists, like only being able to hire only one specialist, but you can always choose not to play with certain plot twists if you want.

Overall, I had fun with Dinosaur Island and the theme was a big reason for that. It definitely scores very high on the nostalgia factor. The gameplay was good but it didn’t really stick with me after the game was over like some other games I’ve really liked. This may change with the new expansion, Totally Liquid, introducing some new modules that address some of the negatives I had with the game. I would still recommend this game to anyone who likes a strongly themed, light to medium, weight worker placement game.

She Said

Growing up, some of my favorite movies involved dinosaurs. From the Land Before Time to Jurassic Park, dinosaurs were an integral part of my childhood. I even took a class called “Life and Death of the Dinosaurs” in college. So when I found out about a game based on around building a theme park with genetically-engineered dinosaurs, I was immediately on board. And I have to say, Dinosaur Island really delivered on its promise. With a strong theme, interesting gameplay, and beautiful components, I was pretty pleased with how this game matched up with my childhood dinosaur dreams.

Blast to the Past
I always enjoy a game with a strong theme. In fact, it’s often what makes me love a game more than others. With Dinosaur Island, the theme is present everywhere. I feel it’s one of the strongest themed games I’ve played in quite some time. Starting with the crazy-designed box and components in retro 90’s colors to the gameplay to the beautiful components, the elements of this game all tie together into a nicely wrapped dinosaur-themed game package.

Oftentimes, a game ties either components or gameplay to the theme, but Dinosaur Island manages to do both. The dinosaur meeples, the DNA dice, the individual player boards, the metal coins, even the meeples and bag – all these elements work very nicely into the overall theme.

Then for gameplay, many of the actions just make sense with the theme. It’d make sense that you’d purchase dinosaur recipes and then work on creating and splitting DNA to create these dinosaurs. Then once you have dinosaurs created, you need to work on shoring up your security so people don’t get eaten. Unless, of course, you want them to get eaten.

Even the addition of the hooligans (although they’re very obnoxious) makes sense with the theme. A theme park obviously would have non-paying customers – but I’m not sure a dinosaur would discern between a non-paying or paying customer when it came time to eat people. But that is clearly intended to move along the game and not continue the theme.

The Theme is Strong With This One
For simplicity, I often describe Dinosaur Island to my friends as Jurassic Park the board game, although I know the game designer says it’s really not. I imagine that’s mostly for copyright reasons, but it honestly doesn’t feel like Jurassic Park the movie super-imposed onto a board game. It’s so much more unique than that.

On top of a strong theme, the game really delivers in gameplay. Offering three different lengths of games (short, medium, long), you can really switch up what type of game you want to play. In our experience, much like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the short game is WAY too short, the medium game is just right, and the long game is too long.

Within each game, there are a lot of different decisions and strategies to take and each game is really unique. No one game we’ve played has been the same because it changes depending on what objective cards you draw and what plot twists are in play. I will say that some of the plot twists are really not as much fun to play with. The plot twist that limits the number of specialists you can hire made the game feel a little dull because it immediately limited an element from the game. An element that often keeps the game interesting and helps with earning money.

The other interesting element to the game is the use of the security vs threat. It’s often challenging and expensive to get a higher level of security, but thematically, that would make sense. You’d have to pay me a lot of money to protect tourists from being eaten by dinosaurs, so why shouldn’t these pretend security officers make a ton of money as well? What’s really interesting about the game is that sometimes it just doesn’t matter when a tourist gets eaten. While it does make you lose points, sometimes it’s worth the loss rather than having to pay a ton for security. It’s a tactic we saw people use in a few of our games, but it often didn’t go well for that person in the end. In general, it’s best to avoid having people eaten by your dinosaurs – never expand more than your security can handle.

Family-Friendly Dinosaurs
The designer seems to have scaled back the game a bit to make it more family-friendly, which works for us because then we’re able to play it with some of our friends and family who are not avid gamers. But sometimes it’d be nice if a few more elements were a bit more strategic or challenging.

For example, the attractions used in the game are kind of boring and very expensive. I wish there was more variety to them and that they had more of a stake in the game. This could be just in our games, but I’ve found many of the attractions to be fairly useless and not have much impact. Most of the time, people ended up not purchasing them. The only ones I’ve found beneficial are the ones that give you coins rather than points for visitors, which does come in handy especially when you’re playing a plot twist that limits access to coins.

The other element that could use some improvement is the dinosaurs themselves. Although there are three different kinds that have different point values and threat levels, not much else differentiates them from one another. This is a big miss on the designers part and I hope it’s resolved in future expansions. I would like if the different dinosaurs maybe had different abilities or gave you a bonus once you have them in your park. Although I understand why this element may have been taken out of the game design, it’s still a miss because it makes the game almost too light.

Final Thoughts
Overall, I really enjoyed Dinosaur Island. It brought back a lot of nostalgia for the 90s and many movies from childhood. Dinosaur Island provides a great experience and manages to combine great gameplay and high-quality components. This game has such high replayability with the different objective cards and scenarios. Though there a few elements of the game that I think could be improved, I still find myself wanting to play this game over and over. I would highly recommend this game to anyone looking to play a family-friendly strategic game.

Pros and Cons

Pros:
– High-quality components
– Strong theme
– High replayability with different objective cards and scenarios
– Interesting strategy and tactics
– Interesting gameplay
– Unique implementation of basic worker placement mechanisms

Cons:
– Some of the plot twists are not as fun to play
– Needs more differentiation between the dinosaurs
– Attractions seem unimportant and not very interesting
– Setup time and take downtime can be kind of long

The Verdict

He gives this game out of 7.5 DNA Strands out of 10.

She gives this game 9 Hooligans out of 10.

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