I was tempted to get Dinosaur Island at Essen, I really was. But I didn't. The price point was a bit high and I'm not a big fan of the looks. Yet still, the Jurassic park theme kept calling out to me... Buy me... buy me...
I had told people that I wasn't going to buy this at Essen. Most likely they expected me to get it still: apparently it was on my mind. But I stayed strong and didn't get it at Essen.
However, when a couple of days after Essen someone offered it on Facebook for 20 euro less, I was on the train to pick it up immediately So I did spare some expense.
Now, my house can be is kind of messy, with toys and games lying around when they should be picked up and put away. And so it came to pass that Dinosaur Island was on my dining room table in full view of my 9-year-old daughter. It’s pink. It has dinosaurs on it. Soon she was as intrigued as I was. She asked me if we could play. I figured we could give it a go, although it is a more involved game than what we usually play. Most likely she’d get bored after a couple of rounds and I would have gotten a feel for the game. We went through the rules, phase per phase. We played three rounds, we did something wrong and it was time to go to bed so we agreed to play another time. She was a bit disappointed to lose what she had built so far though.
In a nutshell, the game plays in 4 phases: in phase one you gather DNA samples based on dice rolls and acquire DNA recipes for new dinosaurs. In phase two you spend money: buy upgrades for your park: staff that give special perks and/or extra workers for phase three, attractions, rides and restaurants to make your visitors happy, and lab upgrades to do actions better or cheaper. Phase 3 is where you put your workers to work: creating dinosaurs, increasing security, embiggening your dinosaur pens and such. Getting more (dangerous) dinosaurs means your park will raise in excitement level, but also that your threat level goes up. In phase 4 you draw as many visitors as your excitement level from a bag. There are normal visitors in the bag, you get money for those and points for visitors that you can actually place in your park. You lose points for visitors that are eaten (if your security level is lower than your dinosaur threat level). But there are also hooligans in the bag, who don't pay, have to be placed in your park before the regulars, and will only be eaten when there are no normal visitors available.
Yesterday we held onto our butts and played again. She remembered the rules from the day before, so we could start quickly. She had minimal help from me, apart from translating the lab upgrades and personnel available to hire and reminding her of the functions of the ones she had available every round. We used the suggested setup for a first, short, game: no hooligans in the first round, 5 in the second, 10 in the third. 10 excitement/12 dna in storage/3 lab upgrades for the game end conditions. She sent her scientists for the dinosaurs she liked best, sticking mostly to the safer herbivores. She kept up with her threat by grabbing relevant lab upgrades. She got a restaurant to keep her options open for money or points. She made great decisions. She made better decisions than I did really. I’d gotten a Triceratops pen early on and focused on those, then took a big carnivore during the middle – good on points, but expensive to produce. Near the end of the game I had to work pretty hard to keep up with her, and that was only partly due to me drawing 2 or 3 hooligans in the last 3 rounds. She had an amazing last turn, gaining the 12 DNA in cold storage from out of nowhere, filling up all her exhibits to prevent negative points and an impressively full park:
Whereas I had to turn away visitors due to lack of space for them, with some of them being eaten when they got in:
Final scoring time, I ended up winning 67-66. She had a lot of bonus points for money (she even turned a scientist into a worker in the last round, knowing that she would be good on any threat by unclaimed dice and that it would get her more money from the bank). I might have won, but I’d say her park was managed decidedly better than mine. I was tempted to fudge the point count so that she won, but that's not the way I was raised. She managed her defeat well - she was disappointed, but also proud of doing so well. I am so proud of my clever girl
After this one play, this game ranks very highly for me, one of the best I've played this year. I'm pretty certain this is biased both on theme and my experience with my daughter. But I can see this game working well with more people and my different playgroups. The short game is too short, we really just got going when we had to stop, so I really want to try the medium or long game. Replayability is high with the different plot twists provided. It has a solo mode, which is always a big plus for me. The components are very good: the amber dice are beautiful and big. The 90s retro graphic design is better than I had expected. I might hunt down a kickstarter deluxe copy with the different dino meeples. Really impressed with the game so far and very glad I got it after all.
As said, my daughter and I usually play lighter fare and that's fine. Love Letter, Crazy Coconuts, Patchwork, Pickomino. Games we both love. The heaviest game we've played together is probably Zooloretto. I'm pretty sure theme helped a lot in keeping her interest and I'm not going to push her into heavier stuff - my tactic with gaming has always been to let her come to me, not forcing her into games she doesn't like or when she doesn't feel like playing. But it's nice to know that she can already hold her own and that maybe I can expose her to Scythe some day. If only they would retheme it to My Little Pony or something...