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There are certain things I expect from Steve Jackson games. One thing I’m usually sure about is that the components for the game aren’t worth the price. Sometimes, I’m able to live with this, because the game is just fun enough to justify the price (maybe) - like with Frag, Strange Synergy, Illuminati, and a few others. Also, I feel fairly certain that the game will have a lot of theme, many times at the cost of good mechanics, or quite possibly - anything good at all. However, I’ve found that no matter how bad I think a SJ game might be, kids generally like them (as long as they aren’t the ones forking over the money), so I pick them up for my youth board game club. One such game was Dino Hunt (Steve Jackson Games, 1996 - Steve Jackson). After reading the ratings and reviews on the internet, I wasn’t expecting a great game, but thought that it might be fun to have a game about dinosaurs for my kids to play with.
Well, the kids play it - but it hasn’t become a favorite with them, and certainly never will be with me. The game, with its text and special cards, seems to cater to an older crowd - junior high, I suppose - but the game is based on so much luck that junior high kids get bored easily (or lose miserably). There are decisions in the game, and while they seem interesting - don’t really do much to change a player’s fate. Most decisions are obvious, and the final score is basically decided in the favor of the player who had the better die rolls. Now the game is “educational” (I’m a Christian, thus I don’t agree with the evolution aspects of the game), and the cards are beautiful, but I’m not sure that justifies picking the game up.
The game is a collectable card game, but 109 cards are included in the box, along with two booster packs - more than enough to play the game with. A cardboard time track is placed in the middle of the table, forming columns for five different time periods: Triassic, Early Jurassic, Late Jurassic, Early Cretaceous, and Late Cretaceous. Each player is given an Energy track card, with a corresponding marker to move up and down the energy track. The cards are separated into two stacks - the Dinosaur stack (face-up) and the Specials stack (face-down). Each player receives one special card, as well as a rubber little dinosaur, to use as their play marker - which is placed on the Late Jurassic zone of the timeline. One player is chosen to start, and play then continues clockwise around the table.
On a player’s turn, they first recharge their energy to the maximum (10), and draw a special card for themselves. Following this, they replenish the dinosaurs by rolling a six-sided die, and drawing that many dinosaurs from the dinosaur deck. (On each player’s first turn, no die is rolled - 4 dinosaurs are just placed.) Each dinosaur is from a specific period, and is placed in the column of that period (some dinosaurs are from two periods, and thus can be placed in either one). Once the dinosaurs are added, a player can “go hunting” by spending their energy.
- Moving through time costs one energy per time zone period move through or to.
- Attempting to catch a dinosaur uses up energy points. Players can “hunt” any dinosaur that is in their time zone. They then roll the six-sided die and compare it to a table on the dinosaur card. The tables vary, but generally, higher rolls are better. If they roll high, they “capture” the dinosaur, paying the amount of energy on the card. Other rolls include “missing”, which uses up an energy; having the dinosaur run away, which usually discards the card, or even having the dinosaur attack them, which ends their turn. If the player captures the dinosaur, they keep the card in front of them, to show that they’ve captured it. If a player captures the currently last dinosaur in any of the five ages, they also receive a special card.
- The above two options can be taken multiple times, in any order, as long as the player has enough energy. Once their energy is used up, their turn ends, and play passes to the next player.
- Special cards can also be played at certain times, and may cost energy. They can hurt the opponent, help the player, or sometimes stay on the table, giving the player a bonus effect.
The game ends when the dinosaur deck is totally depleted, along with all dinosaurs on the timeline. Each player then adds up the points that the dinosaurs are worth (each dinosaur is worth a different amount of points), and whoever has the most is the winner.)
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: Surprisingly, I did not think I was gypped when snagging this game - it actually seems as if it’s worth the money. The Timeline, energy cards and energy tokens are thin cardboard stock, but are really the only weak point of the game. The rubber dinosaurs are cute, the die itself is pretty nifty (has a dinosaur instead of a “1”, and the pips are green), and the cards are simply gorgeous. All the components fit well in a baseball card sized box, which is thematically decorated.
2.) Cards: As I mentioned, the cards are really nice. The artwork is excellent, and attempts to show pictures of the dinosaurs in some sort of action pose - although I think there is some sci-fi elements in there (I’m not a huge dinosaur expert). The front of each card gives the necessary information, and both front and back of each card are filled with information about the dinosaurs - good for the trivia fans, or people who are interested in learning about all dinosaurs. The cards are very large and are of a decent quality.
3.) Dinosaur Variety: There are some noticeable differences in the dinosaurs (besides the pictures and names). Some are quite a bit easier to capture, but are worth less, while others are more difficult - even dangerous - to capture, but are worth the big bucks. Other than that, there isn’t a whole lot of variety in the cards, and this may bore anybody over the age of ten.
4.) CCG: The game is a collectable card game, which is a big turn-off for many. However, if one buys the basic set, I don’t see why they would ever buy boosters (because of the lack of Dinosaur variety), and thus should be satisfied. There are a LOT of dinosaurs in the boxed set, and the game lasts long enough with all of them (in fact, the rules explain how to cut down on the amount of dinosaurs as to save game time.)
5.) Special Cards: The special cards are horrible, really. Some of them are annoyingly overpowered, while others are worthless. They are the only part of the game that feel like a CCG, except for the fact that everybody draws from the same deck, so anyone could get the super-secret powerful special card. They are also hard for kids to understand how to use and implement successfully, and isn’t that who the game is geared for. The game claims that this helps kids learn how to read. Take it from someone who taught English for several years - this isn’t the best way to do so.
6.) Rules: The rulebook is written so that kids can understand it, which is good, I guess. However, it jumps around from rule to rule, and you’ll have to read the entire thing thoroughly, going back and forth until you get it all. The formatting is large, but a little too large for my tastes. I imagine that kids would like the rulebook, though. The game was very simple to teach, but the usage of the special cards was a little difficult for the kids.
7.) Theme and Fun Factor: If you like hunting dinosaurs and reading about dinosaur facts, then the game can be a lot of fun. The theme is good, even if I don’t agree with the evolutionary overtones. The mechanics are horrible, though, and I can see most people not enjoying the fact that the dinosaurs they try to capture running away, while their opponent’s capture on every roll. Plus, having a really nasty special played on you can really sour you to the entire experience.
So, while the components were fairly good, and the theme not too shabby, I really won’t recommend this game, unless you have some young dinosaur fanatics to play the game with. (You won’t be able to have them learn it on their own - so you’re going to get sucked into this one.) But for fun, theme-filled games, there are better choices, and many of them work well with kids and teens - and don’t bore the adults! This game will see some usage in my youth game group, but that is the only place, and it won’t even show up there often. I can’t really recommend that you add it to your collections.