Anthony BoydellUnited Kingdom
By the curious markings on my engorged abdomen! We migrated to Carl's habitat last epoch to do some evolving, adaption, speciation and competition…and to play board games - actually, one boardgame in particular: Dominant Species.
I've been down on DS since it came out last year; I was baffled by the almost religious fervor with which it was greeted and equally astonished at the price (70 euros plus) despite the obvious ‘heft factor’ (there certainly IS a lot of stuff in the box). Add to the mix that it's designed by a war-gamer (not a genre that I would regard as my brewed-leaf beverage), that its rather over-produced (and yet curiously lazy/ugly in places), that it seems to be a standard worker placement product dressed in a 3 hour jacket and you have something that irritated me from the off.
This is purely a personal prejudice (I do NOT like green eggs and ham, Sam-I-am) and, like that Seussian truth, an unfair one as it turns out. Perhaps it's designer envy?
DS turns out to be excellently-integrated to its theme, highly tactical with lots to keep you thinking all the time and, when done, you really feel like you completed a job of work! A satisfying, hearty winter warming meal for the hungry mind!
I drew Arachnids as my animal; we spiders languishing at the bottom of the food chain in our 4 player but, curiously, I was first (later second) position in the turn order for most of the game. In an early attempt at ‘keeping out of trouble’, I scuttled (and was wind-borne) away from the encroaching tundra (glaciation can be a real bitch) into warmer, safer habitats.
For the uninitiated, the game revolves around your presence in habitats with elements (food type tokens) that match those on your animal. Beware! If your pieces find themselves in habitats with NO matching food requirements for your animal type, they will become extinct (removed from the game!) – this is very important, as reptiles found out later.
The worker placement allows you to move, breed, fight for competition, score points and evolve yourself to be better-adapted to the changing environment. Everything you do revolves around this because, ultimately, these actions allow you to achieve DOMINANCE (the clue is in the NAME, folks). Dominance is your score of ‘well-suitedness’ for each habitat you have a cube (species) in; if your dominance score is higher than everyone elses’ for that habitat, you are - ahem - dominant...
About to start...
You can score points for physical quantities of pieces in a habitat - a sliding scale from Sea (high) to Desert/Tundra (low); scoring for presence is nice (as it gets your moving around the VP track) but having DOMINANCE in the region you’re scoring lets you play a powerful card from an array of five – FROM gaining adaptations, extra workers (‘family growth’) and extra cubes TO disasters and tricky-little-manipulators that can royally screw everyone else over!
There is also a pyramid-scoring bonus for the player with the most pieces ‘surviving’ on tundra (which encroaches across the board) at the end of the round. This is also something else worth remembering.
Carl was Mammals, Richard was Reptilia, Steve was 'a little birdie' and I was DEFINITELY NOT AN INSECT – I’M AN ARACHNID, DAMMIT!
Play was hesitant, at first, as we gor to grips with what the actions do and how the sequencing interlocks. However, we're all intelligent peeps and we soon breezed (relatively-speaking) through a three hour game (plus 30 mins of rules explanation AND a curry supper).
Reptiles ‘cold-snapped’ (a domination card effect) birds out of a tundra bonus (21 points) and in retaliation, birds mass exodus-ed (another card) those belly-slitherers into a habitat with no matching food (elements) - in one round, they lost almost 20 species to extinction (ouch!) I managed a couple of turns of consecutive Survival (remember that ‘most pieces on tundra with a pyramid scoring system’ point I made earlier?) and, with the severe annihilation of reptiles, turned this Four player had morphed into a three and a half player!
(Richard is no slacker, mind, even as a nominal half! I guess he was a salamander, of sorts?)
I found myself with a 30 point lead about two-thirds of the way through and then concentrated on “just not fucking it all up”: Arachnids get a free 'kill one cube' each round, so I made sure I did some more of that type of thing to keep others' dominance down and kept scoring and scoring and scoring).
Towards the end (I'm the RED pieces)
In the end, the Earth languished under a calamitous Ice Age, but us wee crawly beasties were well-positioned for the ‘big thaw’:
Me - 183
Carl - 147
Steve - 102
Richard - 104
So, I’m not such a grump about this any more; it was a very satisfying way to spend an evening and I look forward to another plateful!
As an aside: this weekend heralds my 44th birthday, and the guys (and Hazel, who spotted it in the first place!) surprised me at the start of the evening with the presentation of a cake – as you can see below, it ties in most excellently with my need for/dependence upon a Shed AND my obsession with Agricola...
...and it tasted miiiiiggghhhhhhttyy fine *burp*
(Quote from the sardonic Ben Bateson: 1 Clay Room = 1 Point, 2 Cattle = 2 Points, 1 Sheep = 1 Point, 1 Wild Boar = 1 Point, 4 Veggies = 4 Points, 1 Grain = 1 Point (I'm assuming that's a seedsack under the shovel, Shovel = 0 Points, Chicken Coop = 1 Point, Brushwood Roof = 0 Points,1 Ploughed Field = -1 Point, 0 Pastures = -1 Point, 1 Family Member = 3 Points, No Fenced Stables, No Unused Spaces. Only 12 points; practice needed.)
As a further aside, we played some Glory to Rome the other evening (when we weren’t foraging for hairy food or berries) and had the pleasure of running in the new GtR expansion featuring (yes – I’m banging on about it again!) MY card! Words cannot express how proud I am to be part of this – another excellent ‘early birthday present’.
All I need now is the new Kate Bush album and I am replete.