Life always finds a way… – a review of Duelosaur Island

25 years ago three remarkable people convinced us that creatures, which became extinct millions of years earlier could once again walk the Earth. They were: Michael Crichton, Stephen Spielberg and John Williams. The first wrote a book, the second made it into a film, whilst the third composed an unforgettable music score, which to this day remains one of the greatest film soundtracks. Of course, I am talking about Jurassic Park – the story of a bold undertaking whose aim was to cash in on playing God by showing tourists live dinosaurs, who have been restored to life with the help of advanced technology. As we remember from the film, not all went according to plan for InGen – the corporation managing the park. Visitors to the park, instead of admiring extinct reptiles of old became their snacks instead. Will we, as the managers of our own dinosaur parks manage to learn from this lesson and not repeat the mistakes of our predecessors?

 

I remember when, as a child, I saw Jurassic Park at the cinema. We went to watch this movie with the whole family, and even in the company of our neighbors. At the time, the premiere of Jurassic Park was quite an event, because until then nobody had never before seen such advanced special effects in Hollywood movies! As if that wasn’t enough, thanks to a joke Stephen Spielberg played on the unsuspecting viewers, as he did not admit to the use of CGI technology, which was quitte new at the time, there were rumors that real cloned dinosaurs were used for the film (as a matter of fact, man had cloned the first organism, Dolly the sheep just a few years after the movie’s release). It is easy to imagine then, why this film has become such a milestone in cinematography. But it is not just the optical tricks that this movie is known for. Its other advantage is an amazing story, which takes place on an island off the coast of Costa Rica where the InGen corporation decided to build a park full of living dinosaurs. However, the reptiles showed their claws, proving yet again that it’s not easy to tame nature itself. A quarter of a century later, thanks to the Duelosaur Island board game, we get the chance to create our own park with prehistoric reptiles in the main role. Competition, however, does not sleep and a competitive park of dinosaurs has just opened around the corner. Who will create more awe-inspiring attractions and lure more tourists? It will be a fierce duel for customer aquisition and the main bargaining chip – the predators from millions of years ago!

 

 

Duelosaur Island is the latest offering from Pandasaurus Games, designed for two players from 10 years on up. During the game, its participants take on the role of directors of rival corporations which have opened their own theme parks. At the start, it is worth noting that Duelosaur Island is the sequel to the Dinosaur Island – a game from 2016 in which up to four players created their own parks. Here, as the title suggests, the game focuses on a duel of two players. Duelosaur Island is therefore a completely new experience both in terms of strategy and mechanics in relation to the original. But how did the publisher manage to pull this off?

 

Production quality

Before I move on to the description of the gameplay and my review, I would like to traditionally start by looking at the components, because in terms of the quality of production values, Duelosaur Island shines like the teeth of a Velociraptor! The game is colorful and looks very nice. The components are made with great care for quality and details. The box is a small square, a format reminiscent of the packagings of LCG card games, although its height is twice as high in comparison. On the cover we see two scientists who are focused on their tasks in the whirl of work, as if they were devoting themselves to the race in creating new dinosaurs. Behind them you can see dinosaurs that look like they were being created on the go, as if made on a 3D printer like in WestWorld, because parts of their bodies have exposed bones and circulatory system.

On the back we see the presentation of the game. There is also a green dinosaur in neon colors, a few cubes and a description of the components and what the game is about. In the upper corner of the package you can see a nice mascot – Mr. DNA from the first part of Jurassic Park, with the help of whom John Hammond presented the idea of the park to the film’s protagonists and us – viewers during the first act of the film.

Upon opening the box, we are presented with the player boards which are made of two layers of cardboard with notches that form tracks for the cubes. During the game, we will move cubes on them, marking the levels of our resources, threat levels and park security. Next, we see the board with the scoring table and the public relations track. On the last, fourth board, we put cards and dice during the game. One will also perform actions on it, which relate to the drafting of cards and dice, more about which I will write in the further part of the text.

Among other things we find in the box there is also a very large bag with the game’s logo. It is used for drawing six-sided dice. The latter are printed with various types of DNA codes on their sides, which are used during the game to create dinosaurs. Occasionally we will also find other symbols on the dice that offer money or other types of bonuses. An interesting fact is that the dice are yellow and, being transparent, they immediately remind us the insect immersed in amber, which is undoubtedly another nod to Spielberg’s film. An additional advantage is the fact that they are fully compatible with Dinosaur Island so you will be able to mix the dice from both games for greater variety.

 

The box contains also a deck of cards which are divided into two types: park cards and the specialists. The first ones are divided into two parts, because depending on what we decide to build during the game, we mark it by sliding the card under the board properly from the top, covering the tourist attraction or from below, covering the dinosaur visible in the upper part of the card. The Specialists, in turn, are people who will provide us with support in running the park. Their assistance manifests itself in the form of an additional action or victory points at the end of the game, depending on a particular specialist’s ability. What immediately strikes you are the bright colors with which the graphics on the cards are depicted. They are reminiscent of comic book style from the 90s.

The set is completed by a handful of cardboard tokens (mainly money), plastic cubes used to track resource levels on the player boards and an instructions booklet, which explains the rules of the game in a very clear way.

 

The goal of the game

In Duelosaur Island players start off with a small park of their own. Its offer consists of just one type of dinosaur and a single attraction in the form of a shop or a roller coaster ride. We choose these from among three cards in our hand during the preparation for the game. As play continues, players obtain further „recipes” for dinosaurs and new schemes of park attractions, such as hot dog booths, carousels or various types of car rides through the park, similar to those in the first Jurassic Park film.

 

Setting up the game

At the beginning, both players’ play boards are put on the table. The small plastic cubes are then placed in the notches on each board, marking the starting resource levels. Each player is also given three starting cards. Then shuffle all the Park cards, that is, the cards on which all the dinosaurs and tourist attractions are located and place them near the phase 2 board. Then reveal the top three cards and place them in the designated spaces on that board. The next step is to shuffle all specialist cards which we then place near the bottom of the phase 2 board. Depending on whether we want to have a more strategic game, we choose the appropriate number of plot twists and agree upon the duration of the game.

Rules runthrough

The game is played over several rounds (depending on the trigger point we have selected at the beginning of the game, beyond which the game will come to an end). Each round of the game is divided into several phases:

Phase 1 – in this phase we will receive income from the park, which is always 3 dollars and one additional dollar for each food symbol on the attractions in the park. In addition, we will get 2 coins from the bank if we reach an appropriate level of satisfaction of park’s visitors. We are therefore able to earn anywhere from 3 to 15 dollars or more, depending on how well we develop the infrastructure of the park.

The second component of our income are the park cards. Each player receives one, plus one extra card for each trade symbol (T-shirts) printed on the shops we’ve built. Cards can be picked from the market or drawn from the deck of park cards.

Then we go to the draft phase:

Phase 2 – the first player of a given round draws five dice from the bag, which he then rolls. Without changing the results on the dice, he then assigns them at his own discretion, placing each die next to a particular plot twist token on the phase 2 board. These tokens provide a bonus and increase the yield of the player who decides to choose an adjacent die. The starting player, who is responsible for the assignment of the dice determines which die will be associated with a particular bonus. The real plot twist” here relies on the fact that the first die will be taken by our opponent. Bonuses should be so balanced that they do not give the enemy too good a yield to begin with, at the same time separating the first player from the good bonuses (the opponent of the starting player will always be one move ahead, which will allow him to pick up the dice that we do not choose ourselves).

Also in the draft phase, players can hire one of the two specialists available in the round instead choosing dice. These activities will be repeated until each player has made three choices, after which one non-selected specialist card or one DNA die should remain. The card / die not selected by the players is then moved to the threat area, where the maroon color pip value on the card/die will be added in the later phase of the game to the threat level of each player.

Phase 3 – at the end of the draft phase players move to the build phase, during which players can perform five different actions in any order and any number of times, depending on whether they will be able to afford them or whether they want to do them.

Phase 4 – Having expanded the park with new buildings and dinosaurs, the time is ripe for gathering the fruits of our work. In this phase the players compare the current level of their park’s security against the level of danger the dinosaurs posse. In addition, players receive points generated by bred dinosaurs, which in the terminology of the game translates to the excitement of visitors to our park – and at the end of the game to victory points. The last step is to choose a public relations bonus – the player who has fewer excitement points is the first to choose. An interesting fact here is that the opponent will only be left with the bonuses to the left of the bonus chosen by the opponent. This is another tactical element that allows the weaker opponent to limit our choice or to deprive us of the bonus at all, if he chooses the extreme left bonus from the track.

Returning to the third phase for a moment, the activities that are available during it are:

Dinosaur breeding If you want to grow a dinosaur, pay attention to the bar under the species name at the top of the card, which contains several DNA symbols. These correspond to the tracks on a player’s board. They denote parts of the DNA sequence that should be combined to create this particular species of dinosaur. In practice, it is nothing but the cost of purchase, which we pay by reducing the number of parts of the genetic code we have on the appropriate tracks on our game board.

Deciding to breed a particular species of dinosaur, after paying the cost, one inserts the chosen card under the top edge of their player board so that only the illustration of the selected dinosaur is visible. At the end, one raises the markers on the excitement track of their visitors, as well as the danger track according to the card’s values, because depending on the species of reptile we breed, they may contain from one to even three maroon dots reflecting the dinosaur’s threat to visitors. The same is true of the excitement of visitors – more terrifying dinosaurs will result in more visitors.

Construction of a tourist attraction – Looking at the lower part of the park cards held in hand, we can see the attractions on them: restaurants, shops and rides. Deciding to build a given card as a tourist attraction, we slide it under the bottom edge of our board so that only the illustration of the selected element is visible, and then we give the money in the amount indicated in the top corner of the tourist attraction we just built. If the attraction we built belongs to the category of rides (it has a black roller-coaster icon), when it is built, we get a bonus from the PR track, which at the moment is directly under the PR token. If the built attraction has two roller-coaster icons, we will get the bonus twice.

Mixing the DNA – by discarding a park card from hand, we can exchange the genetic code sequence according to a 2: 1 conversion rate, where by wanting to obtain one marker of the advanced genetic codes we need to spend two basic code sequences and vice versa.

Selling DNA – by selling two sections of the genome, we will receive one dollar, while the sale of advanced types of genetic codes will allow us to get a dollar for every single segment of the DNA sequence sold.

Improving the park’s security – If the level of security in our park is not high enough, then, like in the movie, dinosaurs will get out of their cages and eat our visitors for dinner. The successive improvement of security will therefore be necessary and involves paying money for the upgrade – the higher the level, the more it will cost us.

We can, of course, perform actions in any order we choose, combining them into sequences any number of times. This means that we can, for example, exchange parts of the genetic code to get the right mix in order to grow a certain dinosaur species. Then resell a few other DNA sequences in order to finance building a tourist attraction or to raise the level of the park’s security for the money obtained from the sale. I like it because there are a lot of elements that we can somehow plan in advance and perform in a specific sequence, optimizing our own turns.

 

My impressions of the game

The publisher might as well call this game „Jurassic Park – a board game” and we would all know what’s going on. However, it is probably due to the high cost of the license, that this game bears a different title, although the number of references to the film is still visible in this title and gives a notion of playing a JP game. One would expect this title to be an American-style game with a lot of figurines where players try to escape from prehistoric reptiles, who are trying to devour them while running around the park. One couldn’t be more wrong! Duelosaur Island is a purebred euro-style game and focuses more on victory point collection which relies heavily on the playful interlocking gameplay mechanisms. Although I would not mind playing an Ameri-style version of a Jurassic Park game, especially if the game contained large figures of the T-Rex and Velociraptors, the game from Pandasaurus Games completely defends itself from the thematic side. We look at the park from the perspective of John Hammond, the person who was the originator and creator of both the park and the InGen corporation in the film series. In Duelosaur Island, each player manages the park, tries to develop its infrastructure and get as much money and cards as possible thanks to the tourist attractions built in the park or PR-related activities. In addition, as it happens in games with set collection mechanics, the construction of various tourist attractions will result in additional points for each icon set of various types of attractions.

The game has three lengths. Depending on your preferences or time limits, you can choose a short, medium or long game, which means 25, 35 or 45 victory points, respectively, where exceeding the given level will result in the end of the game.

Duelosaur Island is, in my opinion, a very successful dinosaur park simulator. The authors of the game managed to capture the essence of Michael Crichton’s and Stephen Spielberg’s vision, which in my opinion they transferred flawlessly onto the board. Dinosaurs are really very colorful and come in many types. The variety of cards is quite large, starting from T-Rex through Velociraptors and numerous herbivorous species. There is also the aspect of public relations, where by creating more and more interesting tourist attractions we will obtain PR bonuses and lose points whenever dinosaurs get out of their cages, and consume the park’s visitors. The latter may result in lawsuits from their grieving families (i.e. negative points).

One thing I missed about the game is related to the box itself, because inside, despite appearances, there is no dinosaur token nor the three scientist tokens. These elements are listed on the box, although I did not find them inside. Perhaps this is a mistake caused by the difference of game editions, because Duelosaur Island has been released in two versions – the Kickstarter extreme edition and a regular retail version, which I am the owner of. The way I understand it, the publisher simply did not alter the description of the contents in the version, which I own..

I like the game mechanically, because there are a lot of interlocking elements in it, for example resource management in the form of a sequence of genetic codes and money, which we will collect during the game, though I have a feeling that these resources could be better connected with the scoring method. At the end of the game, we do not receive any victory points for positions occupied on the tracks of the DNA sequences. The publisher could have easily added one or two specialists, who’d give us points i.e. for having the largest total number of DNA sequences. This would increase the variety of components of the final scoring, offering players another element on which to focus during the battle for points. I saw a similar solution in Dwar7s: Winter which I had reviewed recently (you will find my review HERE). In it we get points for obtaining the maximum amount of a given resource at the end of the game. With the DNA tracks running from 0 to 10, I never found myself reaching the maximum on any of them, because even if I gained more elements of the DNA sequence, I tried to convert them into other sequences to diversify the portfolio of my genetic pool or sell them for money.

Another mechanic worth mentioning is the dice draft, which is related to the fact that the first player places the dice on the board, assigning them to specific bonuses, while the first picking of these dice goes to the opponent, which gives a lot of decision-making possibilities and balances itself, because we will not harm the enemy without harming ourselves. Thanks to this, matching the dice to the bonuses becomes a well balanced activity. In addition, with the game we receive 15 plot twist tokens, while in a single game we use a maximum of four, which gives a lot of replayability and makes each game unique. Once, we even tried to play in a way where every round we chose different plot twist tokens for each consecutive round, which further diversified the game. Nevertheless, certainly such a solution may not appeal to people who rely on constant information when making decisions related to their strategy for the entire game, so this is more an afterthought for a home rule which spices things up.

What else do we have here? We have the dice, we have the already mentioned PR bonuses, we have risk management. There is also the element of tableau-building, which I like very much and it has been well implemented in this game. We have a sense of development because we can see how our parks grow over the course of the game with more attractions and further enclosures for dinosaurs. There are also spaces where we can place employed specialists. The latter actually have a double action, because in the draft phase we can add one to our park or reject it to get a bonus.

In overall, Duelosaur Island is a cool two-player strategy game, and both the gameplay diversification and replayability are provided by the means of randomness generated by the cards on the market. There is also a negative randomness in the form of dice rolls. Fortunately, thanks to matching them with the plot twists in the draft phase, it is not as annoying as in other games. I mean, among others, the Black Orchestra (my review of this game can be found HERE), in which the success or failure of the game depends on the outcome of one random roll of dice. Here, the randomness associated with the dice is part of the game and is not a disadvantage, but rather a feature.

 

To sum up…

In conclusion, after reviewing the rules, at Duelosaur Island, depending on the choice of the length of the game, shouldn’t take more than 30-60 minutes to play, as indicated by the inscription on the box, and this is most true. The rules themselves are clearly laid out in the instructions, and the overall flow of the game is so simple that we should not have a problem with the game after the first few turns.

Would I recommend Duelosaur Island to euro players? I will say: definitely yes! It is true that it is only a two-person game, but with us it has found its place as a filler, which we lay out on the table whenever we expect players before playing larger titles. Duelosaur Island should also appeal to couples as a short game for evenings when they do not have the time for longer and more complicated titles. Seeing this game in the store, its graphic design would surely catch my eye. It evokes memories of the comic books or animated TV series from the 90s, or even the Jurassic Park itself, because all the toys and gadgets associated with the film were characterized by a similar visual frame to that used in the game. Even solitaire players will find something for themselves in this box thanks to the single player mode, which uses the so-called Automa – a card system that, depending on the type of scenario chosen, offers a variety of behaviors of the virtual player.

Do you have to be a fan of Jurassic Park and this graphic style to like this game? I think not. The graphic style may be an aquired taste for some. There will definitely be those who find it too infantile for a serious adult player. However, I like it because I associate it with marketing materials related to the original 1993 Jurassic Park. It was a graphic style often used in those times. Shows such as Denver, The Last Dinosaur or Cadillacs & Dinosaurs, which ran on TV used it. So did games for slot machines which often used such heavy neon color palettes. The game is so full of nostalgia and references to those distant and now almost forgotten times of pop culture. Playing Duelosaur Island turned out to be a nice stroll along nostalgia lane, and in terms of mechanisms it has also found my liking as a light-weight game, which I will happily come back to again and again.

 

What I liked about Duelosaur Island:

  • A large load of nostalgia due to many references to pop culture of the 90s and Jurassic Park.
  • A well-written instructions manual.
  • Interlocking game mechanics.
  • A multitude of decisions and potential paths to victory.
  • A attractive visual setting.
  • Solo mode.

 

And what It lacked for me:

  • a player aid.
  • In the long run, repetition creeps into the game, which results in the need for an expansion very quickly.

 


I wish to thank

for providing a copy of the game for review!


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