Is Dinosaur Island a roar, or a whimper?

In my head, Dinosaur Island was a turning point for the board game industry. Specifically in regards to premium components. Before Dinosaur Island, we were happy when we got animeeples for Agricola what a step up in terms of immersion. Then Dinosaur Island came along and went all out, have a million and one plastic dinomeeples, have metal coins for money, have dual layer card board.

But these game publishers were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.

Designer: Jonathan Gilmour, Brian Lewis

Publisher: Pandasaurus Games

Dinosaur Island is a good game that never rises to being great.

Of all games I’ve played, Dinosaur Island has some of the best artistic design I’ve seen. I love the loud colours, and the retro vibe. The game looks great on the shelf, and better on the table. It makes a statement. It’s not a stuffy old game which you play in a dimly lit basement. No, this is a game that’s meant to be played in daylight on a table surrounded by friends and modern day enthusiasts.

That’s not my issue.

DNA tracks, with basic DNA on the left and Advanced DNA on the right.
The glorious DNA track, I wonder if any of these are frog DNA?

My issue is that for a game about dinosaurs and the excitement they generate, this game doesn’t have any. Instead it has complexity. It has five phases in a round, and each phase has you doing something different mechanically, it’s like Dinosaur Island went to the discount store and bought everything – not because it needed it, but because it was half price. Making the board game incredibly wide and varied, but lacking the depth that makes me want to engage more with game.

In playing, I found each phase occupies a different mental space, as individually they’re only loosely connected in the way that they generate points. For example, DNA is important in phases 1 and 3, Dinosaurs in 1 and 4, and attractions 2 and 4. It makes it difficult to understand what to focus on in each round, as you swap your thinking from DNA, to Park Upgrades, to Worker Placement.

It also stomps all over the pace of the game.

Dinosaur Island also a game of incremental upgrades which is at ends with a theme as big as dinosaurs. You put in all this work to recreate some of the largest, most interesting, and exciting animals on the planet, your reward? Some points, some excitement, and some security issues. With the exception of the DNA system, which is great, the theme isn’t communicated that well through the mechanics of the game.

An example of a minuscule reward is when you hire some of the most experienced professionals on the planet to only get small incremental benefits. You get to draw an extra visitor, or your security increases by 1. These benefits aren’t the kind that get me out of bed, or get a board game from shelf to table.

The reverse is also true as well, if you own an unsecure park and the T-Rex breaks lose. You only lose a few point. You’ll still attract visitors next round to get their instagram photos.

Dinosaur Island all set up for a two player game.
It’s a big game, but doesn’t have the depth!

It has it’s merits though, like the DNA track is the most interesting part of the game. Deciding which DNA to get and how to convert basic to advanced. It’s a cool little puzzle trying to maximise the efficiency of it.

Otherwise, I came away from Dinosaur Island thinking everything works, it’s a solid board game. But with the exception of the DNA tracks, the game is devoid of innovation and excitement. Which makes it a hard game to return to when other games are out there doing the same thing – but better.

I will give a shout out to the components from the Kickstarter edition. They are amazing! And my 3 year old son loves the slap bracelet.

Thanks for reading my review, I’m currently ranking all my board games in one rawr-some list. You can see Dinosaur Island’s initial ranking below.

Initial Rank: 5

David Norris

Lover of dogs, books, comics, movies, anime, television, video games and most importantly board games. My site is all about the latter, and my journey through the glorious hobby.

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