OK. You probably already know I have something with this game. I advertised it in a Freshly Added post, I repeatedly posted dinosaur pictures because they drive me utterly excited about it, and if you lurk on the 1PG forums, chances are you heard me preaching for it there, as well. Now is the time to tell you why.
Of course that's why. I love dinosaurs, and the dinosaur art is amazing. Realistic, detailed, diverse, covering an array of species that is probably unmatched in any other dinosaur board game. So it's a good start. And, yes, you also have nasty mammals that eat baby dinos, and that's fun, too. And a companion booklet to learn a few tidbits about each of the species? Yes, this as well! But this only speaks to the dino lover that is quietly fossilizing in the strata of my long past childhood.
This is probably the first board game ever to feature a Longisquama.
But it's not simply the dinosaurs. It's the way the theme has been implemented. You are not playing species that try to compete against each other to be the "most successful" one. This kind of game reinforces a twisted view of Evolutionary Theory, one that I fiercely oppose. A successful species is not a notion that actually makes sense. What makes sense is the notion of a successful ecosystem: diverse, robust, and where species can thrive. And the game focuses on exactly this.
Take the T-Rex for instance. Sure, it's one of the most valuable cards in the game. But to play it, you need to support it with a full-fledged ecosystem. There is no T-Rex in the vacuum and the T-Rex, as mighty as it is, is bound to dwindle if the ecosystem it belongs to isn't flourishing enough. The notion of an apex predator only reflects the whole structure below. To say that the T-Rex is the top species of its time is meaningless: there is no hierarchy, only an ecosystemic organization that the T-Rex relies on in the most dependent manner. And this game exactly nails this. I fought for years for this view to prevail, to percolate, and finally, this board game promotes it in the most wonderful and clever manner. Adaptation is but relative to the species that surround you. Evolutionary success is not domination but harmony.
You can only have seven dinosaurs in play at any single time. They stay there until they get extinct, typically through even cards you draw at the beginning of the turn.
But what does the solo board game in me think of all this? Surely he doesn't care about the theme, or the take on evolutionary theory underlined by the design choices. And there are three things that appeal to me here.
First, it's almost a solo game by essence. In multiplayer, each player manages their own ecosystem, and the only interaction comes through the fact that you can draw from the discard pile. There is also some race for specific goals to get more points, but you have the same goals in solo (and you racing against time to fulfill them all before the end game). The solo game itself is a pure BYOS game (a bot would be pointless indeed) and comes with a series of achievements you may try to get.
Second, I like that the game is ALL about dinosaurs and their ecological interactions (and the other species, and a bunch of land cards). You don't have a resource system, worker placement, an additional scoring layer, no, just the dinos and the lands. You must place cards and cards give you the means to place more cards. And here things become interesting, since the cards have two costs (and both must be fulfilled): you must discard cards from your hand, and you must exhaust cards in play, but these cards must be of specific types. This is why you can't play a T-Rex if you haven't a whole ecosystem already in place. As for scoring points, carnivores typically grant you VP, but your main source of points will be through extinction. When your species die (and they will all be wiped out at the end of the game), they go to the extinct pile, and you will score them all. Again, a rich amount of fossils is a correlate to a rich ecosystem.
Third, there is no draw phase. It's a bit like Jump Drive in this regard. You need to discard cards to play new ones, but you won't automatically draw every turn. So, to ensure that your hand doesn't dry up, you need to rely on the cards in your tableau. I already told you that cards can be exhausted to pay the cost of other cards. But they may also be exhausted for their specific effect, and each card, including the land ones, comes with its own effect. Some cards allow you to draw cards from specific piles (e.g. a small herbivore). Which, again, translates mechanically the notion of an ecosystemic web in a quite elegant and thematically meaningful way.
This special effect is just mean for that poor Compsognathus.
But it cleans a spot in your tableau.
You get it: I am really, really enthusiastic about the game. The biggest negative I have is that it's quite terribly expensive. Now the grand total is something akin to 90€ for the EU. But when the campaign launched, they had no plans for VAT in place and the total cost amounted to €120. Yet even then I was willing to pay that price. Surely because this is the game about dinosaurs I've always wanted. Even more because this is the game about ecosystems I've always wanted, as well. But also, albeit to a much smaller extent obviously, because this campaign is just about delivering a well-developed product. It is certainly lacking on the marketing side, but for once, getting a product just because it sounds good for you, and not because people are so excited about it, is also its own sort of relief.