This is the second session report I have written after getting a positive reception to my Glory to Rome report.
My aim is to give a general impression of what a game is like, and things to think about for future sessions, rather than a detailed breakdown of each move. I am aiming to raise interesting questions about the games I play which may (or may not) get answered through future plays and session reports.
For background I always liked complex games as a child and now in my thirties have got back into games in the last year or so. My wife and main playing partner has never been into games and wouldn't class them as an interest. She thinks she only plays them to indulge me, BUT! I think someone who asks to play Glory to Rome, Agricola and now Dominant species (and wins them all) definitely has a streak of 'gamer' in her. So bear this context in mind when reading my reports.
I picked up Dominant Species just before Christmas as it had been no. 1 on my wishlist for a while. I had a little bit of guilt about having bought another game and wondered how to get it to the table without eye rolling from my wife but hit on the great idea of wrapping it up and giving it to her on Christmas morning! A risky strategy, but she was already chuffed to bits with all the other presents I'd given her, so she was like 'oh a game, ha ha ha - do I have to learn another one?' But then asked to play it on Boxing Day evening, so we had a 2p session last night.
So, she was arachnids and I was insects. The first two or three turns were definitely experimental in nature trying to work out what each action did and how this affected the board.
Having said this, we had two distinct approaches at this stage - my wife flooded the board with lots of species through speciation, and I tried to reduced her scoring opportunities by glaciation (picking up bonus points and the survival card along the way) so I took an early lead.
At this stage we thought the game mechanics easy, everything fell into place and on the third or fourth turn our moves became a lot more 'surgical' that is to say we thought more carefully about our moves (like this:'if I adapt like this, place an element on earth here, speciate like so, migrate here, then I can gain scoring opportunities here and here and gain dominance here'). Of course the interaction between players meant this didn't always work, but we had the feeling of a tussle for dominance and scoring on certain tiles.
A word here about adaption and elements. Clearly choosing a new element for your animal can swing things on certain tiles. I thought this a very interesting part of the game. Merely adding a seed tile (which my wife's arachnids didn't have) allowed me to claim dominance on about three extra tiles. But if she added a seed she would have claimed them all back. Also my wife (cleverly I thought) deliberately allowed her animal to regress as elements disappeared from the earth and replaced them with something more useful, and made good use of the metamorphosis card late in the game. There is obviously some real experimentation to be done between animal specialisation and diversity, and whether you have the same elements as your opponents.
I should say at this point that we both found it easy to calculate dominance, kept a constant eye out on all tiles, ours and our opponents, and swapped them whenever we saw that a change had gone unnoticed, even to our own disadvantage.
On wanderlust we really only played this in the latter half of the game and only four times in total I think. I think we both missed huge scoring opportunities in carving out little parts of the earth for our species (using wanderlust and elements that are exclusive to our animals - this preventing immediate occupation by the other person). We both did this late game, but I think my wife took best advantage of this and I could have reduced her scoring opportunities by glaciating her high scoring tiles.
Back to glaciation - you will recall I had early survival advantage - but having flooded the board with species, she then migrated around and used competition to kick me off the tundra and pick up the survival card which scored her a lot of bonus points by the end of the game.
On the dominance cards, it took both of us a few turns to realise that to succeed in this game, you have to be ruthless - the cards are powerful and must be used to best effect! This is no multi-player solitaire (we both quite like games of that nature), but even when faced with catastrophe or blight, it never felt like we were impossibly disadvantaged.
The game took 2.5 hours including set up and tear down (but this was fine - my wife sometimes thinks games drag to their conclusion, but not this one). Clearly subsequent games will be quicker, but also clearly 3 and 4 player games will be longer. Overall we both liked it, and it will get more plays. I think it is quite a 'serious' game rather than a 'fun' game and needs some thought (great - I love that feeling).
Some observations for me for next time:
- I think we need to get a better feel for the scoring balance - for example is it better to have dominance bonus points at end game or go for the tile scoring (rhetorical question)
- scoring differential between the places (I.e 1st 2nd) on the tiles is important.
- I am interested to see the differences between specialisation, diversification and the relative merits (or not) of having elements in common with opposing animals.
- I want to see more clearly what happens if you reduce scoring opportunities by use of glaciation, but this obviously needs to be balanced against the potential gifting of survival card points.
- allied to this I am wondering if there is a strategy in deliberately glaciating tiles where you yourself have a presence in order to pick up survival points
- I think we need to have a think about how wanderlust could be useful in creating 'safe areas' for your own species, if possible.
- the special abilities between the animals is subtle but could it seems to me have a massive effect if catalysed in some way.
In short, a brilliant game which I can't wait to explore more. (My wife won 180 odd to my 150 odd)
Dominant Species is one of those games where you'll always feel like you're learning new ways of manipulating the scoring engine ach to e you play. Great game!
Great session report thanks. I really like 2 player as it is so cut throat. As you say it is far from multilayer solitaire. It scales well too although it feels and plays very different depending on how many players there are.
Glaciation is very much a sub game which can easily win for a player, especially in 2 player. We approach it with caution.
As to your observations this is a game where general strategy is very hard to explain as it all depends on the board and the players. Like the animals themselves the players that adapt the best to quickly changing positions will be the winners.
- Last edited Fri Dec 28, 2012 2:31 am (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Fri Dec 28, 2012 2:28 am
Wanderlust lets you score immediate points at the time, and lets you place high-scoring tiles where your opponent may not be able to take advantage of them for later dominance.
The scoring difference between sharing a wetland/ocean tile and being alone on it is not trivial.
With both wanderlust and glaciation, there's a trade-off between maximising your immediate score for that placement and aiming to maximise your score over several placements - building a ring then filling it gets you more points than building up the same shape in any other order, but if someone else manages to hijack the last placement, they get most of those points...