Dinosaur Island (Pandasaurus Games) Game Review

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If you're of a certain age, you probably remember the old simulation games where you ran a zoo or a park. These weren't the games of today, in which you build sprawling 3D environments. They were 2D games, in which you placed animals in little slots and attempted to make the best attractions. Dinosaur Island is a lot like that: you're trying to build a theme park in 2D space, to create the best attractions and make the most money. But if your park becomes too dangerous, dinosaurs will start eating the guests.

Game Details

Players: 1 to 4

Game Time: 120 Minutes

Age: 8+

Genre: Building / Worker Placement

How Does Dinosaur Island Play? Complicated Setup, Uncomplicated Gameplay

“This is horrifying,” was my first thought when I looked at the game. There are just hundreds of pieces spread across a half dozen game boards. I pointed out how fiddly the game looked at on Twitter. The dev quickly assured me it wasn't that bad.

“I don't believe you,” I thought, quietly, in my head.

But in reality there's a lot to praise in the development and setup of the game. The first thing I noticed was that every slot was carefully marked to make it more obvious, at a glance, where pieces go. Each card stack was a different size or shape, so it was a matter of simply slotting things in. It still took a long time to setup, but it wasn't nearly as significant as I thought.

After setup, the game itself progressed smoothly. Your scientists are able to research DNA and dinosaurs, the DNA being your resources and the dinosaurs being blueprints. Your workers are able to build things, increase security, make money, and so forth. In terms of gameplay, you collect DNA (and sometimes transform it into more powerful DNA) to make new dinosaurs. You pay to expand new exhibits. And then you invite guests in.

As you get additional dinosaurs, both your excitement levels and threat levels grow. Excitement levels control how many guests come. Threat levels are how dangerous your park is.

Guests are a mix of guests and hooligans. Hooligans come in first, fill slots, and don't pay. Guests do pay, but only if they can fit into a slot (each attraction has one). You collect money, and only then, do dinosaurs rampage. If you have a higher threat level than your security level, guests die. The number of guests is the difference between the two numbers. All throughout you are gaining victory points and moving towards randomized objectives, such as “get your excitement level up to 8.”

How Does Dinosaur Island Look?

It does look like a mess. Dinosaur Island would immediately draw people in with its brightly colored, illustrated cover. And then they would flip towards the back, their eyes would glaze over, and they would walk away.

It's hard to say how Dinosaur Island could be simplified further; as noted, the setup really isn't as difficult or tedious as it seems. One thing that could improve it would be to have a single game board. As it is, the main board is constructed out of several different boards, which artificially increases perceived complexity. The player themselves has two boards to control. This contributes to the “video game" feel, as though each board is a separate “screen.”

There is one last thing to say: the box is a nightmare. There are tons of loose pieces and just a flimsy cardboard insert. But that's not terrible hard to fix.

What's in the Box?
  • 16 specialist cards

  • 80 visitors

  • 36 workers

  • 70 income chits

  • 15 objectives

  • 9 twist cards

  • 10 DNA dice

  • 20 lab tiles

  • 20 paddock tiles

  • 27 attraction tiles

  • 14 dinosaur recipe tiles

  • 12 scientists

  • 100 marker cubes

  • 50 dinosaurs

  • 1 research board

  • 1 track board

  • 1 marketplace board

  • 4 park boards

  • 4 lab boards

How Does Dinosaur Island Feel?

Playing Dinosaur Island is a slow revelation. Everything that seems difficult or odd is slowly explained. You have nine workers, which seems crazy for a worker placement game. But in reality the workers are more like resources, and you're able to pay multiple workers towards specific actions, such as expansion and security upgrades.

Dinosaur Island feels very much like playing an old school computer game or a mobile game, at least more so than playing a board game. Many of the mechanics, such as resources tracking, and the visible board, feel like they would have been more obvious in an app. But that's not to say it isn't a good game. In fact, it's surprisingly good once you get it started.

It also has a fairly robust and interesting solo mode. In many games, I wonder what the point is of the solo mode. In this game, solo mode is no different from playing Zoo Tycoon. But that can actually work against it a little as a competitive game, as it really is easy to become more focused in your own little park than really being competitive.or working towards initiatives.

Dinosaur Island is a fun game that's especially solid in solo mode and isn't as cumbersome as it seems. That being said, its intimidating setup process is definitely going to be a turn off for some. Those interested should try it out at their local game cafe or gaming event before investing, as the game itself really is surprisingly streamlined. It's particularly good for those who loved wasting hours playing Sim games in their computer.

The Final Verdict
  • A solid game with an intimidating setup.
  • Perfect for those who like simulation games.
  • An investment; try it out first.