My Favorite Game Mechanisms: Dinosaur Island

Yes. Uncle Geekly picked up Dinosaur Island this past Christmas, and I’ve had some time to get in several plays. For the uninitiated or the ones who don’t remember what I said about Dinosaur Island in the past, it’s a tabletop game where players compete for visitors by building their own Jurassic Park. The premise is solid gold.

Each individual game mechanism has been seen in other games, but Dinosaur Island does a fantastic job of combining mechanisms that mimic what they’re supposed to mimic. The research and development section functions like the players exploring which dinosaurs they can recreate. Players can take a risk—increasing the dinosaur threat level—by taking a die that yields larger research results or they could take a safer route and set a foundation for gaining research points over time. It’s slower, but more reliable. The building of dinosaur pins and dinosaur husbandry—is that a thing?—functions the way one would think they would. Does one build the pins and reproduce dinos to get more visitors in one’s park before building adequate security? Players can, but is it wise?

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The dinosaur figures don’t hurt the fun factor, but the resource management of where to place workers to get the best effect and where to place visitors so they yield the highest reward are other moments where Dinosaur Island shines. There’s just enough luck introduced so there’s a chance for players to catch a runaway winner, but Dinosaur Island is first and foremost a strategy game. A player who deploys a better strategy tends to win more often than those who don’t.

Each game mechanism—worker placement, tile placement, set collection, and an action point allowance system—behaves like its own mini game. Dinosaur Island could even be viewed as a series of mini games. But Dinosaur Island’s whole is far greater than any single part. That makes describing the game difficult or zeroing in on any specific part as a favorite tough. I like how Jonathan Gilmour and Brian Lewis combine these elements, so they make a tasty blend.

DinosaurIsland_Dice

There are plenty of other games that throw in a lot of mechanisms (First Martians comes to mind), but the individual pieces feel like a board game version of doing your taxes. Dinosaur Island doesn’t feel that way. The elements make sense for what the players are doing and the strategy, while difficult to master, is easy to see. Players will know why they won or lost and how they may be able to improve. Plenty of games offer hodgepodges of gaming mechanisms, but few of those games deliver a great experience like Dinosaur Island.

What are your favorite elements of Dinosaur Island? Have you ever played a game without humming the Jurassic Park theme? Uncle Geekly hasn’t, even when I play a solo game. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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