New South Wales
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Synopsis: You are one of six major animal classes (insects, arachnids, amphibians, birds, reptiles, and mammals), pitted directly against each other in an attempt to dominate as many different territories as possible. The competition is both indirect with a few elements of very direct confrontation, as Dominant Species is a zero-sum-game. Your survival comes at the expense of the survival of others, usually.
Each round of game play has a pre-programmed sequence of events will unfold after the worker placement phase: you can influence foods consumption and availability, the growing and spreading of your populations into new terrains while also eliminating rivals, and finally dominance.
There is also an encroaching ice age. As the game progresses, there is an advancing sheet of tundra ice subsumes territories through the glaciation action. This is a devastating way to cull large populations and destroy valuable terrains. More importantly though, there is a massive bonus for managing to maintain dominance across the largest number of tundra territories, eking out a sparse and hungry existence on the ice.
Scoring is tied intimately to a species’ dominance on Earth. During each scoring phase, points are awarded on a sliding scale based on population size in given terrains. Sheer numbers are the way to gain points directly. Players will gear most of their actions towards growing and distributing their populations across the Earth, to amass in vast numbers; particularly on the highest scoring terrains of sea and wetlands.
While numbers are the direct path to points, food supply is key to dominance. In each territory, if you have access to more food than anyone else, then you can assert dominance. A scored terrain grants the species with dominance a powerful and game-changing effect.
Commentary: This is a cut throat game of survival of the fittest. You will run a cutthroat gambit to secure their precious advantages, always keeping multiple fronts of conflict in check. It is the twin demands of population size and food supply which drives the tension of this game to its excellent peak.
The actions of each round are pre-scripted, which allows you to anticipate the sequence of events. You need to look for opportunities to exploit and do so mercilessly and hard. By the time the game resolves (when the deck runs out), there will have been monstrous competition for space and food. You will have killed your friends in the name of your own survival.
I will say that the game’s full tension requires around four players. At the two player count it’s far too easy for one person to secure a run away victory. Once you start amassing sufficient power it can be particularly easy to control and manipulate the board. This is compounded when players know the Dominance Cards enough to anticipate and plan for them.
Once you’re at the four player level, the interaction is forced and necessary. You have to fight tooth and nail for each piece of land, and it becomes much easier to take down a run away leader with a concerted effort. That being said, you need to be ready for a mean and vicious game at this count. You have a survival of the fittest battle royale.
Verdict: A heavy game for sure, and one brutal in its competition. If you embrace the conflict though, you may rise above it.
I'll be playing it for the first time this week, looking forward to it !