🎶 Familiar yet altered music plays 🎶 Welcome to Dinosaur Island! The Jurassic era themed park that is 100% legally distinct from any existing intellectual property! Visit to see our real, live dinosaurs brought to life by science. Stroll the park and maybe take a ride on a thrilling roller coaster! Enjoy our punderfully named snacks and meals. And, be sure to visit … the hat store. Of course, only the bravest adventurers are game enough to visit the park, what with our terrible safety record. We’re looking into it, we hope to have enough funds to keep everyone safe today. But you’re not a scaredy cat! Come visit! There’s more than enough space inside that it’s certainly not a gamble as to whether you will even get into the park or not after the long ferry ride to Dinosaur Island.
2-4/5 Players| 2 Hours | Designed by Jonathan Gilmour and Brian Lewis
Dinosaur Island was first brought to Kickstarter by its publisher Pandasaurus Games in late February 2017. It promised the Jurassic Park game that everyone wanted but nobody had the licensing for, and more. It was pretty successful, raising around half a million dollars and delivering a ridiculous amount of stuff to backers a mere 6 months later. Following the base game’s success, a reprint and expansion (Totally Liquid) Kickstarter was run the following year, and riding on the success of the initial release, raised 4 times the original amount at over $2 million. I backed this second round, and received my copy in November 2018.
How does it work?
Dinosaur Island is a worker placement game with elements of engine building and drafting mixed in. During the course of the game, players each develop competing theme parks in which the primary attraction is live dinosaurs. Players earn points during the game for attracting visitors and keeping them safe, and at the end of the game, receive points for the dinosaurs and attractions they have gathered into their park, with the person who built the best park being declared the winner.
The gameplay of Dinosaur Island is broken down into 4 phases, which repeat in a series of rounds until the game end is triggered. These are the ‘Research’, ‘Market’ , ‘Worker’ and ‘Park’ phases. At the beginning of the game a number of objective cards are dealt out (things like, ‘have 10 dinosaurs’ or ‘have three food stalls’), and the game end is triggered when all but one of these objectives have been completed.
In the Research phase, players draft DNA, the currency used to ‘craft’ dinosaurs, along with dinosaur recipes. This is done in a worker placement manner using ‘scientist’ workers. In the Market phase which follows, players take turns buying stuff. There are several options: you can buy DNA, lab upgrades (additional actions for your workers in the next phase) and attractions such as rides or food stalls. You can also hire Specialists, which allow you to gain extra workers and special powers.
During the worker phase, players use their workers to take actions on their personal park board. These actions include things like creating dinosaurs, increasing park security, and seeking venture capital (getting money). This is where players develop their park, adding new enclosures for their dinosaurs and filling them with vicious reptiles! Finally, in the Park phase, the player’s parks are visited by patrons. The number of patrons a player receives is based on their parks ‘excitement’ level, a stat determined by their attractions and dinosaurs. Patrons pay upon arrival to the park, and then enter the park, earning players points for attractions they visit. Players must look out for hooligans, a type of visitor that does not pay or earn players points, and if the player’s security is too low, guests may be eaten, costing the player 2 points a piece!
Play continues over a series of rounds until the end game is triggered. At this point, players wrap up the current round and then score their dinosaurs and attractions to see who built the coolest Dinosaur Island!
What does the expansion add?
The Totally Liquid expansion is a modular expansion. It adds a number of things that can be independently added to the base game to change up the experience. Here’s a list of the additions. I will say I haven’t played with all of the modules yet (unplayed modules marked with a *).
- 5th player,
- Water dinosaurs, a new class of dinosaur,
- New park facilities with special rules (there is a lot of content here),
- Executive workers with special powers,
- PR events*,
- Extra dice, meeples, and just .. stuff.
What do I think?
The reason I got Dinosaur Island was that I played a copy owned by a friend who had backed the first Kickstarter and I really liked it. I’ve since played many times, probably about 5 times before getting my own copy and at least 10 times since then. I’ve played games with 3-5 players, mostly with the expansion stuff mixed in.
The Good Stuff
- The theme is very unique, and amazingly well done. The gameplay integration with the theme is so well done, every action feels thematic and there are many nice touches. As an example, the DNA dice are made of ‘amber’, which as we all know from a totally unrelated franchise, is where dinosaur DNA comes from. Nearly every step of the game is highly thematic and carries great humour and narrative.
- There are just so many bits, and they are all super cool. Granted, this assessment is on the Kickstarter version. (I will discuss this further down the page).
- The look and feel of the game is so quintessentially 80’s, and it’s so unique. It gives me great nostalgic feelings (even though I was only alive in the 80’s for 3 months) and creates a stunning table presence that draws players in and really excites them about the prospect of building their own dinosaur theme park.
- The sense of ‘building your own thing’ you get while playing Dinosaur Island is strong, and feels very rewarding. Everyone ends up with a really unique park, some people name their dinosaurs, and players get a real kick out of running the park and seeing what happens. I really enjoy it when I’m playing and something hilarious happens, and someone comes up with a little thematic explanation as to why – ‘Oh, looks like Steve from security forgot to switch on the electric fence for the Super T-Rex enclosure today … hope that doesn’t end up on the news!’.
- The plot twists (cards that change the rules a little bit for the duration of the game) are an interesting idea and serve well to keep each game a little bit different. While they are small simple things, they usually end up having a pretty big effect on the gameplay. I’ve noticed their influence on the game makes people act very differently depending on what they incentivise or punish.
- Back to the theme again, but the game just has so much character. I really enjoy all the amazing puns that the game has. I can’t think of any other game that comes close to being so entertaining just by its very nature.
- Learning / teaching Dinosaur Island isn’t the easiest but it’s pretty straight forward. After instructing through one round of play (i.e in phase 1 we do this, in phase 2 we do this etc) the game is basically fully explained and play can begin. There isn’t much variation between rounds so once you’ve played a round you know the game!
- The worker placement phase can be done simultaneously which makes it really quick! No hanging out bored until your turn because one player is taking ages to decide what to do. Placing all your workers at once also makes the worker placement phase very forgiving, you can pretty much move your workers around until you get your desired result, and not worry about being trapped with a bad move a few turns ago that can’t be taken back because other people have since played.
The Bad Stuff
- The Totally Liquid expansion seems rushed to me. There is a lot of ‘stuff’ but the rules don’t feel comprehensive. Some of the additions don’t feel thought out. We had quite a few moments when using the executives and facilities where we had issues with conflicting rules or unclear scenarios. There are lots of mistakes present in the printing that add to this feeling. It is disappointing to me, because the base game feels like so much thought and care went into it.
- In terms of pure mechanics, Dinosaur Island is ordinary. If you don’t get much from thematic elements of games, you would find the straight gameplay itself probably a bit rote.
- The variety in dinosaurs is non-existent in the base game. There are three classes (herbivore, small carnivore, and large carnivore). Each class has the same stats, just with varying costs to build them. This is quite a big let down, as it essentially renders the variety in the dinosaurs down to ‘what would you prefer to pay for this’, but then, the costs are all essentially balanced and the DNA you use to pay for them is relatively plentiful so it makes no difference. The expansion adds water dinosaurs which have ‘unique’ stats per dinosaur, but we’ve found over several games they are largely ignored, as the properties of the dinosaur on top is often so crazy as to be useless,and if no one takes it you will never see what is underneath.
- Hooligans don’t really make thematic sense (and everything else does so well). They can really feel like quite an unnecessary, random ‘take that’ element. I can see that they add some spice to the game and make things a little less predictable, but from a thematic point of view, I think they shouldn’t pay (jump the fence, like they do currently) but then they should get eaten first as they are likely to be getting into enclosures and doing more dangerous stuff in the park.
- While I like that you can do your own thing without worrying about other players blocking you, there isn’t much that can be done about someone getting out ahead. When a player has gotten up a really good engine, the only thing other players can do is end the game as quick as possible so they lose by less. This isn’t ideal.
- Unless you just want to learn the game, there is really no point playing anything but the long mode. I’ve tried both short and medium and they left me very un-satisfied. Short was over in something like 3 rounds, not enough time for anything fun to happen. Medium finishes before people have the chance to build something interesting. In my opinion, the only way to play the game is with the long objectives.
- The disparity between the Kickstarter and retail editions is really quite big. I know it’s nothing functional but the ‘stuff’ is part of what makes this game so great for me and to have so much missing makes the retail version quite lacklustre. At least one of my friends was keen to pick the game up after playing my copy, but after hearing there was only one type of dinosaur meeple in the retail copy they literally said ‘well what’s the point then’. I think as much as we like to think we are adults… there is a big ‘playing with toys’ element to a game like this that just improves the experience.
Despite my big long list of ‘bad stuff’ up there, I honestly think Dinosaur Island is fantastic, superb, and amazing. I will readily recommend it to anyone (although, expectations need to be managed with regards to the retail edition). I think the game is mechanically simple enough that nearly anyone can enjoy it, so long as they don’t mind playing a 2 or so hour game. It’s fun, thematic, and you make your own thing! Whether you win or lose you will always remember the first time you wilfully decided to cheap out on security just this once because it worked out to be more points … even if that one grandma got eaten. On the matter of the Totally Liquid expansion, I think that if you love and adore the base game, it is very much worth it. If you are keen to give this one a try there are plenty of copies around, or start letting Pandasaurus Games know that you want them to run another Kickstarter so you can get the ridiculous version with a trillion dinosaur meeples!