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Subject: South Dublin Boardgamers play Dominant Species - December 2nd 2011 rss

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Harvey O'Brien
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...easy ...easy ...eeesay...
One of the more dynamic and eventful games of Dominant Species took place in Blackrock last night. Five players: Jack (mammals), Brian (reptiles), Harvey (birds), Dean (amphibians), Jimmy (arachnids) - animals drawn at random. Right out of the gate we had conflict between arachnids and amphibians, though this developed into a symbiotic partnership as the game went on, with the amphibians absorbing consistent arachnid 'munching' on the odd species, but between them taking pretty firm control of wetlands and seas. A similar pattern, but without the munching, saw birds trailing mammals around, grabbing a few points during forest and jungle scoring that all added up.

I went straight for the jugular with a first turn glaciation, but that was nothing compared to the first dominance card - catastrophe - which did massive damage to entire populations on several tiles, and this was just the first round, so it was certainly cataclysmic. The others from round one were just as bad - nearly all of them destructive. It was probably the most wildly transformative first round we've seen, and there was no animal left unaffected in a stronghold and nowhere to hide. Ironically though, apart from the arachnids, there was very little elective munching (okay, in game terms 'competition') in the game on the whole. The dominance cards did all the work, but with everyone in such close quarters, every decision seemed doubly significant.

The map became a strangely 'sensible' one, with a large ocean growing on one side, deserts on the other, and the tundra growing in between. The ecosystem was a bit tricky to navigate, with definite clusters of food supplies of one kind in particular areas, and relatively few places you were safe enough to hang around in. Disease, mutation, mass exodus - every dominance card had a major impact, and there were some very nice, well timed plays, including a slick grab for a quick glaciation by the use of the 'instinct' card before the reset phase, giving the amphibians control of the glaciers while the mammals had to wait an extra turn.

The lead alternated between birds and arachnids for most of the game, with arachnids being more consistently out front. Amphibians began to gain ground towards the end, and also mammals made a late surge. Reptiles didn't seem to be having the best of things, though they did pretty much hold the deserts and mountains. We had extracted the 'extra action' cards and the 'immigrant' card as per the designer's instructions on the 'shorter game', but we did begin to pick up speed after the first round or two. Dean and Brian were new to it, and Jack had only played once, but this game is really actually quick to pick up, and once you just make your decisions, it moves fast too. However, the game was extended by a round by Jack's decision not to take the ice age card (opting for becoming nocturnal instead), and in that last round there was a lot of thinking going on. Inevitably, Jimmy's had been clearest, and he took it by thirteen points, twelve of those gained from two wanderlust actions on the last turn. I had staked a certain amount in the tundras again, not entirely by design, it must be said, but unfortunately the birds weren't genetically diverse enough to take advantage of their wide migration capacity to really clean up on the 'survival' scoring (I scored 30 points from it across two rounds, but it could have been sooo much more).
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