Dinosaurs haven’t quite died out in the world of board games, but they’re close. You’d imagine actual roaring monsters stalking the real earth would be an endless source of design inspiration, but games featuring them are relatively rare. One of the best is Dinosaur Island – re-released as Dinosaur World – which tasks players with building and managing their own version of Jurassic World. It’s a great game if you can handle the weight of the rules and playing time.
For those of us who don’t have geologic time periods to play games with, the same designers came up with a simplified alternative, Dinosaur Island: Rawr n’ Write (see on amazon). The title draws inspiration from the popular roll-and-write genre where a group of dice are rolled and players record the results on a score sheet. You’ve probably played Yahtzee, but it’s a much bigger beast.
What’s in the box
Beneath the rules and a simple tableau containing cards, the main component of Dinosaur Island: Rawr n’ Write is two large pads of score sheets. This in itself is unusual: most rolling and writing games only have one. Closer inspection reveals that they’re both filled with detail, and you might have to squint to see all the boxes. You can also print your own via online copies available for free from the publisher, and they also provide an app to use, although that’s cumbersome.
At the bottom of the box are specialist and build decks of cards, illustrated in a fun cartoon style that helps bring the setting to life. There are also custom dice printed with esoteric-looking symbols on orange-yellow translucent plastic. These are clearly assumed to be amber, although in certain lighting they can’t help but look like another common natural fluid.
Rules and how it is played
Dinosaur Island: Rawr n’ Write takes place over three tourist seasons. Each consists of two rounds of writing dice to earn and spend resources to add staff and buildings to your park map, followed by an actual tour of those attractions. The staff offers you an immediate reward as well as an additional bonus with each visit. A guide, for example, makes your park more interesting for visitors and allows you to add routes before a visit. There are three default staff hires every game, including the guide, plus three more randomly distributed to ensure the options are different every game.
There are a lot of assets in this game, especially for a roll-and-write title, that are normally stripped down for simplicity and speed. Money is one, which you will need to recruit staff, buy buildings and lay a road between them. Occasionally, you may also roll dice faces that give you an entire building or a few roads. DNA is another. It comes in three simple and three “advanced” flavors that you can combine to create up to nine dinosaur species, from Triceratops to Tyrannosaurs. Dinosaurs also add a “threat” to your park which you can offset with the last resource, security.
All of the dice in Dinosaur Island: Rawr n’ Write are different, and you draw a selection to roll each turn based on the number of players plus one extra. Choosing which dice to remove from the pool is always a difficult decision with many factors to consider. It’s not just about deciding which resources are most important, but also what you’re going to miss. You might want DNA for dinosaurs, but if you do, you’ll need to upgrade any threat acquired. Likewise, your attractions will be less valuable if you don’t have roads to connect them to your visit. It’s a very tricky logical balancing act, with the added tension of all players gaining the resources plus a threat amount from the last remaining dice.
Once you have chosen two dice, you can use them to perform actions from a choice of six. Most gain extra resources or buildings, so it’s a way to catch up on things you missed during the drafting phase. However, dinosaur breeding is only available as an action, so the space is hotly contested. If you want to take an action that another player has already used, that’s fine, but you’ll gain extra threat from the dice they placed there, so it can be a risky option.
The way all the different resources are needed for different aspects of your park makes it much more of a headache than most games in the genre. However, with brain burn comes its unwanted cousin, analysis paralysis, where players cling to every possible permutation and take a while to make a move. It’s particularly acute here due to the tight integration of resources and the two-step process of drafting and actions that make it difficult to plan ahead. Turns can be slow, especially as the number of players increases.
When you create a new dinosaur species for the first time, you can add its enclosure as a building to your park for free. Others include fairground rides and merchandise stalls, as well as a random selection of three buildings, given out again for each game. Each time you build something, you draw it on the grid map of your park. The goal for the end of each of the three seasons is to have a route that leads from your HQ, via roads through as many new buildings as possible, and out of a park exit. You can only use a building once per visit, which is a bit contrived but adds to the strategic planning.
Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write Screens
Despite this assignment, visiting the park is a neat touch that really brings the game to life. Suddenly, you’re not just juggling numbers on a spreadsheet, you’re propelling tourists through the world’s greatest spectacle, a show that you planned, built and executed. Your reward is an accumulation of “Excitement,” another track on the sheet that yields rewards in the form of resources and victory points.
However, tours are where everything can also go wrong if your threat count is ahead of your security. The first few times this happens, dead tourists can be suffocated. But keep inviting disaster and you’ll have to destroy parts of your hard-built park and the rewards they provide. While it’s fun and thematic, in practice it’s a bit too easy to stay ahead of the threat curve and most of the time you can avoid the worst repercussions.