Duelosaur Island Review – Life Finds A Way
Dinosaur Island is a very well known game. Kickstarted in 2017, Dinosaur Island currently sits at number 123 on Board Game Geek, the board game database, and has excelled in popularity for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is apparently a very good game with very well thought through mechanics. Secondly, it has dinosaur meeples. Enough said, right?
Dinosaur Island is also, it has to be said, incredibly hard to find a copy of in the UK. It is possible to import it from the US; however, due to the weight of the game (physically, not strategically), it costs an insane amount to bring it in. In fact, it tends to go for about 2.5x the US price as a rough ball park figure.
On the plus side, there has been a two player game released around the same theme that is available in the UK – Duelosaur Island. Also released by Pandasaurus Games, Duelosaur Island uses components that can be mixed with the base game to make it bigger. It is a shorter game, with a solo mode as well, and has a lot of personality to it within a small box. Duelosaur Island is one of those strategy games that is akin to other two player games like 7 Wonders: Duel, Arkham Horror, and Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends as a relatively heavy, low player count game.
We’ve played it a fair amount this year already, and so thought it was about time to look at Duelosaur Island in a bit more detail.
What is Duelosaur Island?
Duelosaur Island is a dinosaur themed board game. Enough said, right? No? Oh okay.
Duelosaur Island is a two player resource management, dice drafting, and building game by Pandasaurus Games, designed for two player. There is a solo mode included, although we have been adamantly playing the two player game so this will be focusing on those. Duelosaur Island takes around 60 minutes to play, and is, what I would consider, a medium weight game, especially for two players. It’s not as complex Arkham Horror, but it’s more complex than (say) Onitama. It’s about the same complexity as 7 Wonders: Duel.
In Duelosaur Island your goal is to build the best dinosaur themed theme park in order to get the most visitors. You do this by building rides, merchandise stalls, and food outlets, improving your excitement level, hiring specialists/staff and, of course, cloning dinosaurs. Dinosaurs bring an innate threat to your park, meaning that you need to build up your security otherwise you will have guests being eaten.
How do you play Duelosaur Island?
Duelosaur Island is a game that is split into several different phases. First of all you each have a player mat (company board) like the below, only with different organisations (a bit like different companies in Terraforming Mars). These are identical, and you also start with one starter dinosaur and one starting building.
The cards are really neat in Duelosaur Island as they are split to have a bit of choice on them. You can clone the dinosaur on the top, or you can build the attraction on the bottom. You can’t do both.
So you start with one dinosaur and one building. There are three types of buildings, food outlets to give you money, rides to give you a PR bonus, and merchandise to give you cards.
You also set up a couple of other boards – one is a drafting board and one is the main board. The drafting board is where you can draw cards (either blind off the pile or from one of three revealed cards), draft dice from, or get staff members.
The main board is where you track PR level, excitement level, and visitors.
There are two other concepts that are worth mentioning. On the drafting board there are random bonuses attached to four dice slots at the start of the game, to give that bonus as well as your dice when you draft them. On the main board, each spot on the PR level has a PR bonus attached. There is always one PR bonus covered by the little bit of cardboard you use to track it.
Now, as you can guess, I am going to have to just pick highlights from the rules, since that all just basic information, so here is a brief rundown of how the game is physically played.
The Income Phase
The game is played in rounds starting with the Income Phase. During the Income Phase players gain coins equal to three base coins, plus two coins for every three excitement levels they have, plus coins for each food outlet they have. They also draw one card, plus one card for each merchandise stall.
The Draft Phase
Next is the Draft Phase. During the Draft Phase one player draws five dice out of the coolest bag ever associated with a game and rolls them. They can place them in any slot or next to any bonus you like. Each face of each dice has a resource associated with it. Most of the time this is one of two types of DNA – basic or advanced. There are three types of basic DNA and three types of advanced DNA – however it may also include security level or coins. There are seven dice and each are different. Five are drafted each turn.
They also draw three specialists, discard one, and keep two. Those two enter the drafting pool. Each player can have a maximum of three specialists.
Specialists and dice have associated risk attached to them, from zero to three. This is important, so remember this fact.
The second player starts with drafting an item of their choice, adding the resources and bonuses to their player board, or adding the member of staff. Each player draws three items in total, leaving one left over. That one item remaining gets put in a temporary threat slot and that threat gets added to the player’s threat level at the end of the round.
The Building Phase
After drafting you build. This is a simultaneous phase, with both players going at the same time. Each action can be carried out as many times as you are able.
During building you can use DNA drafted to get dinosaurs, adding the excitement, threat, and visitors to your park. You can build attractions, applying the bonus instantaneously for rides, but otherwise using their ability during the Income phase.
You can also Mix DNA and Sell DNA. You can mix two basic DNA to make an advanced DNA by also discarding a card. Alternatively, you can Sell two basic DNA or one advanced DNA for one coin. Finally, you can increase security but doing so costs money.
Why do you want to increase security? Well now…
The Visitors Phase
During the Visitors Phase you start by comparing your threat level, plus the temporary threat level, to your security level. For every one your threat is above your security you lose two visitors as they get eaten by dinosaurs. Brutal. Why didn’t you invest in more security? Oh yeah, because dinosaurs are awesome and you wanted more of them in your park than you had the infrastructure to support.
Next, you gain visitors equal to your excitement level.
Finally, you choose a PR bonus. This means the person who is behind on the visitor count gets to choose any PR bonus revealed after the PR tracker. The second player can then choose any PR bonus behind what the first player chose.
The End of the Round
The round ends and players discard down to three cards, clear the draft board, move the PR marker forward, and change turn order.
The End of the Game
The game ends when a certain visitor count is reached. This is 25 visitors for a short game, 35 for a medium game, and 45 for a long game.
Players then tally up their dinosaurs visitors again, and add them on. They add on any additional visitors due to attractions. Players then get 4 visitors per set of attraction icons (one ride icon, one merchandise icon, and one food outlet icon). Finally they get any visitors associated with specialists/staff, and lose 5 visitors per lawsuit token they get due to dinosaurs eating so many visitors they hit zero visitors at a point in the game.
And that is it? Simple right? Well, okay, there are a lot of phases but it is basic enough once you get the hang of it.
What is it like playing Duelosaur Island?
So, what is it like playing Duelosaur Island? Okay, so there are a few things to say.
Firstly, the quality of the game is superb. Duelosaur Island looks fantastic, and has a colour pallet that is very pleasing to the eye. The theme is inherent from the player boards to even the names of a lot of the attractions. The artwork by Kwanchai Moriya, Peter Wocken and Anthony Wocken is stunning and looks amazing. It has a graphic novel style quality that just makes it a beautiful game to play.
So, what is it like to play? I think the best way to describe it is expansive. Duelosaur Island offers a fair number of options for play, without giving so many that the player gets lost. There are four basic ways of getting visitors, and those need to be balanced out in order to win the game. It is difficult to win using one strategy in particular, but by balancing them it is possible to get a really respectable score.
The dice drafting is a nice mechanic, and having one player roll the dice and place them means they can make specific dice as good looking or unattractive as they want; however, they won’t be the person to choose first. This is a great mechanic, and something reminiscent of the cut-and-serve mechanic in New York Slice. It is also up to that player if they want to make it attractive for there to be little or no additional threat left over at the end of the round, or if they want to mess with the other player and leave lots. What these options mean though is that the strategy isn’t just associated with the dice drafting and building, but it actually happens before at the very start of the Drafting phase.
There is a lot to do in Duelosaur Island, and managing DNA is a large portion of the game. You can do a lot with DNA, including mix it and sell it, facilitating wider strategies; however, it is really used for creating dinosaurs. Creating dinosaurs, and playing John Hammond, is what the game is about. This isn’t a game about building a random theme park, but it is a game about building a specific park – Jurassic Park. You want to build your own version of the Lost World, and this is where the game comes into its own. The build phase, which is freeform and can be a bit chaotic, has been designed so that, with a bit of thinking, you can usually find a few things you want to do and are always left with at least one thing you wanted to do but can’t.
This makes the Drafting Phase a phase where you are almost playing the other player, as well as building your own resources, but it makes the Build Phase a solo puzzle to try an optimise your performance and game. It is really well done and because of this Duelosaur Island allows for several different styles of gameplay within one game. This is an aspect that games like 7 Wonders: Duel are missing. In other two player games it can be a solid battle of wits, but in Duelosaur Island it is a balance between two different aspects. It is a two player battle of the wits, but with a one player solo puzzle built in.
There is a lot to do in Duelosaur Island, and the specialists are a welcome addition. Specialists give bonuses, such as making building cheaper or making it easier to mix DNA (etc.). They can also add additional quirky bonuses such as being able to take the PR bonus under the tracker and the likes. They are a good addition and make the game even more varied than it is already.
Security level is an interesting addition to the game and as is the temporary threat. There is a slight break in theme, where hiring a specialist also increases the threat level, but this is a mechanic for balancing the specialists. Threat is something that can easily blindside you during Duelosaur Island as you build loads of dinosaurs and then realise they mean a lot of negative points until you get security guards.
One of the things that is really clear is the amount of thought that went into Duelosaur Island. There is a lot of variety in regards to types of dinosaur and attraction. This adds to the game and just makes it feel varied. It helps add to the concept that playing Duelosaur Island will always be different.
Overall, Duelosaur Island presents the player with a lot of options. It is an experience that you can kind of play your own way and that is welcome. For the record, just building attractions is probably not the way to go, and extremes in strategy probably won’t win the game, but it is about finding a balance between the two. Compared to other theme park building games, Duelosaur Island is a superb addition to the genre. We own two theme park building games now – Duelosaur Island and Unfair, and bar mixed themes I’m not sure there is anything that Unfair offers that Duelosaur Island doesn’t do better.
So yes, we are advocates of Duelosaur Island in this family. It is a fun game with a lot of options. We got it during the first week of 2019 and have since then (four weeks later) we have played it a fair number of times. We just keep feeling like playing it and are yet to grow tired. After writing this we may play it again today.
TL;DR – The Good, The Bad and The Dinosaurs
So, what are the good, neutral, and not so good points about Duelosaur Island.
- Duelosaur Island is a visually stunning game. The artwork is amazing and the colours are vibrant, really helping it stand out on the shelf.
- The components are really high quality and it is obvious that a lot of love went into designing the game.
- Duelosaur Island allows for lots of varied strategic options. Strategy runs through its very core. You need to mix the strategies to win the game.
- The mechanics complement each other really well, and there is enough variety in the phases to make it feel like a comprehensive game that ticks a lot of boxes.
- Duelosaur Island is incredibly well thought through and is very well balanced. It is often not clear who is winning until the final round is called.
- It has a fantastic mix of verses and solo gameplay. The Build phase is more solo orientated, but the rest of the game can be a battle of wits.
- You can dress up like John Hammond and play the Jurassic Park sound track for extra dinosaur goodness.
- It can feel a bit like a mathy game during the build phase as you try to optimise your entire turn. For me this is a good thing, and it makes it really enjoyable; however, I understand it may put some people off.
- There is some player interaction, but not a huge amount. Personally, I think there is enough but other players might want more.
- There is a weird thing to do with the Drafting board where the slot for the card deck is just a tiny corner. It’s a bit strange.
- There are no dinosaur meeples.
Conclusion: Duelosaur Island Review
What can be said to sum up Duelosaur Island? Well, I’m very conscious that almost all reviews on this blog recently have been positive, but I think this one is also going to follow that pattern. Duelosaur Island is one of our favourite games that we have played in 2019. We keep playing it and finding new strategies. We keep enjoying the verses aspects, as well as the more solo Build mode. It is great fun.
I recommend Duelosaur Island. We love Duelosaur Island and think it is well worth exploring as an excellent example of a dinosaur game, a building game, and a two player game. Definitely worth checking out.
So, what do you think? Is Duelosaur Island the kind of game you would like to play, or is it something you would rather give a miss? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.