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Subject: Chess with a shift: A first introduction rss

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Daniel Danzer
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Geology Professor Richard Oldham self-published "Dinosaur Chess" back in 1993, so it might be the time for a first overview / review of this.

Dinosaur Chess, as the name suggests, seems to be a kind of modified Chess, but I have to say, this can be said for 1000s of games for two players, in which the pieces have fixed ways to move and try to reach a goal like getting the central piece or to conquer the castle of the opponent. The large hex map with different landscape (land or sea) lets it look rather like a wargame, than a chess board, so I find the name a bit misleading.

What`s in the box?
Photo by rayhosler

In the box (approx. 22 x 9 x 2 inches, 55 x 23 x 5 cm) you find a 20 x 20 inches (50 x 50 cm) vinyl mat, 32 0.6 inch (1,5 cm) plain wooden discs, stickers for these, 11 cardboard continents, 2 2-sided overview sheets ("Reference Card" and "Continent Movement Guide") and a folded 8-pages rulebook.

The overall quality of the board and bits is sufficient. The board is laying flat easily (only at both ends, the map tends to "roll up" a bit, but I had no trouble playing without a plexiglass used in the pic above ...) , the discs work fine for gameplay (better than minifigs would do, since you shift the continents around and mini-dinos would probably fall over), but you have to consider, this is `93 "self published", so don`t expect FFG or Agricola nowadays standard material.
As the player colours are red and green, some colourblind people will be messed up - I would scan the pieces, print them out as "white" and mount them on the other side of the disc to get this fixed. The red pieces look a bit indistinguishble from the red continents, but this only seems so on the photos. The continents are in a rather dark and cold red, the pieces almost orange - no problem there.

Rules and overview sheets
The rulebook and overview sheets are absolutely clear and straightforward, you find any question answered and the many pictures and examples make this simple to understand. The designer did a very good job here!

(Two images by Sexy Amy, others by myself)

Best part: Two pages of the rules are reserved for strategy notes for every single piece! How to use your Brachiosaurus, what is usually done best with your Sarcosuchus, and so on. There are also two "probability considerations" concerning the moving continents - awesome!

Setup: How to start
On a 388 hexes map the players first place their two "home continents" - the 26 hex Asia and 24 hex Africa - on the two hemispheres, followed by the other smaller landmasses. There are some restrictions, so in the end, you come up with a fine arrangement of land in the world ocean, different in every game.


For example: Like this

Then the players place their 14 "Dino-pieces" and their "Time Traveler" onto their home continent, so we have a "strategic setup-phase" here, again making for a different starting position in every game you play.
Now the actual game starts.


Sample starting position for green. Outside the map: The egg.

There are two ways winning the game: Take / capture / kill the opponents` time traveler OR get your own time traveler across the Equator line into the opponents` hemisphere.

Gameplay: What`s going on?
Each of the dinosaurs have a different pattern to move and different conditions, where to move best: On land / at sea / both, but slower here than there, and so on. The "Reference Card" does a great job to show everything, and it is much easier, than one might think first, since the moves are somehow "intuitive" according to the dinosaur species.

Each turn, the player first rolls the two dice - a D6 and a D12. The D12 defines, which of the numbered continents is affected by the D6, the D6 then defines the direction to move this continent one hex further. Of course, a continent can not leave the map, and can "push" only smaller landmasses (to check this, the continents have the numbers of hexes written several times on them, so the "calculation" is easily done). But wait, there were only 11 continents, right? So, what`s happening, if I roll the 12? Then you place your "Egg-piece" on any free space on an uninhabitetd continent or, if this already happened, it is hatched and replaced by a dinosaur piece before captured!

After having adjusted the continents you move one of your pieces, dino or time traveler, according to their moving abilities.

There are some special rules for placing the continents or what`s happening in special situations, but these are the basic rules.

Here you can see a winning position for red after his turn:

Red Bronto (moving ability 1 to 5 in a straight line) threatens the green TT (at the centre of the picture, moving ability 1 hex).
Green could do the following:
- Move TT one hex "up" - Bronto again.
- Move TT one Hex "down" - still Bronto.
- Move TT one hex to the right (onto "2") - here the other red piece (foreground), a Sarcosuchus (moving ability: exactly 3 spaces, sea AND land mandatory plus one "crook" of 120 degrees) is at hand to occupy, capture and eat the TT.
- Capture the Bronto with the TT? Oops, the Sarcosuchus could counter-attack the TT!
- All other green pieces are out of reach to do anything ...
Green`s only chance is a huge luck in his dice roll at the beginning of his turn - with an "8" and a "6" the West Indies land mass would drift one hex north and the Sarcosuchus could not reach the "2" space anymore - a safe place for the green TT. But in our game it didn`t happen - so green lost.


Strategy:
The two pages of hints are very helpful in valueing your pieces and how to use them. As in Chess, there are obvious threats, backing and covering your pieces, and a kind of "check" and "mate" your opponents central, yet least mobile piece.
First difference: The huge space! You are facing oceans and continents to "hop" or fly over, you probably divide your Dino-army into two or three and go for some flank attack, or going straight forward. Maybe your opponents is a bit to slow, and your Time Traveler gets the chance to reach the Equator? Which of your animals is going to back him up? These questions are rather wargame- than chess-like, and as you might see here, it is also looking more than this:


Green tries a Tyrannosaurus-attack at the Northwest (bottom left), red has lost both Thecodonts already ...

There is also to consider, if you cross the ocean with one of your "swimming" animals: If they are close to the coast, a shifting continent may be placed onto their space, and they are "extinct". The same happens, if certain dinos in an "Inland Sea" are instantly finding themselves in the open Sea, because continents are drifting apart ...


What`s especially to like?

- I played this several times now and have to say, even somebody new to the game can catch up the somehow "intuitive" moves and shifts quite easily.
- The combination of chess-like strategy with an always different setup plus some "spice" added, works out perfectly. This one is thoroughly developed and not in a haste before the "next Essen".

What`s not to like?
- If you are rather a "miniature-fan" looking for the newest hype - well, you will be a bit disappointed, to say the least.
- If you are a kind of "purist" and want either a "pure combinatorial" game or an "ameritrash dice fest" or an "economic cube worker placement ressource management Euro", you may not love "Dinosaur Chess". This is nothing "pure". It`s a hybrid, and if you don`t like hybrids, you might better stay away.

Summary:
"Dinosaur Chess" combines Chess with a dinosaur theme and some modular and random elements, which are not too strong. Its intuitive gameplay and elaborate rulebook with illustrated reference cards make it easy to comprehend. If you don`t mind obviously 17-years-old material, but look out for a still original game, try to catch a copy.

Breakdown:
Players: 2
Duration: 45 to 75 min.
Age: 8+
Target group: Hybrid lovers: Chess / wargame / Dino-fans alike
Components quality: Doesn`t reach nowadays standard, but absolutely sufficient for the game. Great rules and overview charts!
Complexity: - not to confuse with depth. But this is not really "complicated".
Strategy / weight: Random elements add a bit of "lightness", but the better strategist will always win.
Luck: If you are lucky with egg rolls and unlucky continental drift for your opponent, this might help you. It doesn`t win you the game, though.
Gameflow: Tense fun from beginning to the end.
Replayability: Of course, the game will not be "entirely different" any time you play it, but there is a lot to explore here in a number of games!
Interaction: Pure confrontation. Duel in the Jurassic sun.

Loving a confrontational 2-player abstract combined with a grain of "dice spice" and a fun theme, not caring for the "outdated" componnts, this is a 9 for me.
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Daniel Danzer
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It was not easy to find (or get find) the designer of this game. It turned out, that he has still a bunch of copies left. So, if interested, you might have a look here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/490550/designer-and-stor...

But beware: I have not heard anything from him about selling his "treasure" - it is just an idea.
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"L'├ętat, c'est moi."
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Roger's Reviews: check out my reviews page, right here on BGG!
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Thanks for the review. This has moved from my "interested" list to my "wishlist".
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Gabe Alvaro
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duchamp wrote:
Dinosaur Chess, as the name suggests, seems to be a kind of modified Chess, but I have to say, this can be said for 1000s of games for two players, in which the pieces have fixed ways to move and try to reach a goal like getting the central piece or to conquer the castle of the opponent. The large hex map with different landscape (land or sea) lets it look rather like a wargame, than a chess board, so I find the name a bit misleading.

Yeah. It seems like the designer just needed a decent frame of reference for 1993. Even today, I will often describe modern board games to people who have no frame of reference as being like "multiplayer chess".
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Jay Sheely
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Thanks for the review. This has moved from 'unknown' to 'sitting in my game closet'.
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