A.T. Selvaggio
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I preordered this game from my favorite game company GMT. I love Chad Jensen's Combat Commander series, but I have not played any of his "euro" style games. I really wanted to play Dominant Species the board game, but knew it would not fit my family gaming profile right now (I have a wife, an 8 year old daughter and 5 year old son). So when I saw GMT was releasing Dominant Species the card game with lighter rules, I grabbed it.

I was very excited when it showed up this week along with Ardennes '44. But then I began to hear some concerns and criticisms of the game. I, of course, watched Ryan's review of the game. I was a bit surprised by the review and it made me wonder if I had made a mistake in buying the game (please note that I am not criticizing the review or the reviewer, I appreciate Ryan's reviews). But I thought I should give it a try myself.

Well, our first game fell a bit flat. My wife was the runaway leader and my daughter and I were pretty much out of it by round 7 or so. At this point, I could have reacted by saying the game is broken or something like that. Even my wife noted that "we must be playing this wrong." Because it struck as weird that there was no catch up mechanism to help the weaker player - for instance, my wife was far ahead and she got to draw the most cards in the last round because of how far she was on the survival track (of course, the survival of the fittest and the stronger getting stronger makes sense with the theme!).

But even in our first play we could see that this game was very interesting. I concluded that the problem was not with the game, but with the players. The game is a bit deceiving in its outward simplicity of rules. There is a incredible amount of tactics and strategy in this game. I became convinced that all the players needed to realize these tactical and strategic nuances before this game could really shine. Accordingly, I posted a thread on this forum regarding tips for strategy. The responses were very helpful. When we played our second game, which we just finished a few minutes ago, I read the strategy tips to all the players. Wow, what a difference this made!

In our second game we were clearly making better strategic and tactical decisions - passing at appropriate times, timing our wins of biomes to maximize points, etc. We were all pretty close together, but I was clearly bringing up the rear. Then in the last round we had an incredible slugfest. It was amazing how well played and exciting this round was and how it was clear everyone had been preparing for it. It also held some surprises. I was playing out my strategy and had not noticed that my wife had played her last card. She, of course, passed on her next turn and surprised me. I had cards in my hand that I was holding for a last minute win of water. Thankfully, my daughter was also caught short by this and I was able to win the biome and scored 10 points. We then went through the element scoring and my daughter ended up 1 point ahead me - arrrghhh! We all cheered. But then I remembered that we had to score the bonus points for the survival track and this last win put me in first place...and I beat her by four points! We all said wow! What a blast.

I wanted to share all of this because I think this is a game that will shine after a couple of plays and when all players have similar skill levels. There was a great leap between our first game and our second game. So please don't dismiss this game until you have played it a few times. This is a fun and challenging game. Now let me share a brief review:

REVIEW

Components and Rules
The components to this game are the usual high quality GMT components. The cards are similar in thickness and quality to those of Ivanhoe. The player board is light card stock and the rest of the components are the typical wooden cubes and discs you find in most Euros. In Roger's review you will find a fine description and pictures of the components. They are top notch. As Roger said in his review, you won't need to sleeve the cards. Also, the cards are very easy to read, understand and use. The iconography is simple and there is very little text (the event cards are the only cards with text and they pretty simple). This low text level makes it easier for young players to engage.

The rules are like Chad Jensen's other rules - clear and concise. The only uncertainty I had was about the number of cards to draw in round 10. This was answered by the designer and the rules really are clear on this point, but there was some ambiguity on the forum. By the way, just to make it clear, in round 10 you draw the usual 2 cards plus the number of cards indicated on the survival track. This game can be grasped quickly.

Gameplay

I will not spend too much time because you will find the heart of what I think in my session report/impression above and Roger's review is excellent on the mechanics of the game. The only thing I want to emphasize is that the game is fast, fun and furious. There is quite a bit of "take that" in this game, so if you don't like to get messed with, then this game may not be for you. The event cards and suppression mechanic (whereby one species can suppress another) make this highly interactive. The suppression mechanic and just the simple bidding for the food chain wins makes this tense. It is a killer when you have put out 4 or 5 cards and end up losing the food chain because someone outbids you or knocks you out through suppression or events. This is no multiplayer solitaire deck building thing - this is war! Also, I want to emphasize that resource management in this game is extremely tight. You only receive 2 new cards per round (except the 10th which is described above). You have to not only think about what to do in this round, but you also see the next round's biome card. So you are constantly thinking about whether you should go for it on this round, save it for next round and you are also always thinking about round 10 and what you want to save for then.

I have heard some criticism that the passing mechanic leaves players sitting out of most of the game. I don't think this is a fair criticism. First, the passing mechanic adds an incredible amount to the tension and strategy of the game. Second, when you pass you are still "in it" in the sense that you may win element points on the biomes. Third, the rounds are so quick playing you are really only out for a few minutes at most. Finally, it's just plain fun watching how it plays out and seeing what the other players have left for the next round.

CONCLUSION
I think this game could be dismissed too quickly by those having negative first impressions caused by not grasping the nuances of the game, by those who are looking for this to strictly tied to the board game and by those who think this game is "too light." A second play and some strategy reading solved the first problem for me. I have not played the board game, so I can't speak to that issue, but I can say that this game does have a theme. It is not pasted on. Everything makes sense with the theme of dominance and survival of the fittest, etc. I can also say that I think this game is not a light filler, it is a gamer's filler game. Yes, it plays quickly and it does not have heavy rules overhead, but it is by no means light and simple. There are many subtle and interesting choices and plenty of tension. Our two plays of the game have not felt like a filler card game, it feels like we are playing a light strategic euro with plenty of conflict. I guess filler games often feel like eating hamburger rather than steak - this game feels more on the steak side of the spectrum in that its gameplay satisfies the tactical/strategic centers of the brain.

I have only played the game twice, but I wanted to share this impression and review because I think there will be an incredible leap between the 1st and 2nd play for most players. I am looking forward to playing this more and we plan on taking it with us on our vacation (yes, another plus is that it is portable!). I think the chaotic and random elements of the game (which are a plus for me) will make this a very repayable game.

So, for me, Dominant Species The Card Game rates in the 7-8 range on the BGG scale. I want to play a bit more before I finalize that rating, but I am optimistic that I will increase in my appreciation for this game.

Bottom line: Don't dismiss this game, because like the Transformers, there is more than meets the eye here!

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Ken Thibodeau
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Our first game also fell flat and tasteless. But then I thought about it and the tactical mistakes we made during the game and we played the very next day. Exactly as you said, the second game really is a leap in understanding the game. Can't wait to play some more to discover and apply new tactical subtleties.
 
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Scholle
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I'm a fan of Condottiere 1st and 2nd editions (one of the few around here), and it sounds like Dominant Species TCG shares some of the tactical considerations, interaction and battling I enjoy in Condottiere. I wouldn't play Condottiere with fewer than five players. Do you think Dominant Species TCG would play even better with more players?
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A.T. Selvaggio
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Scholle wrote:
I'm a fan of Condottiere 1st and 2nd editions (one of the few around here), and it sounds like Dominant Species TCG shares some of the tactical considerations, interaction and battling I enjoy in Condottiere. I wouldn't play Condottiere with fewer than five players. Do you think Dominant Species TCG would play even better with more players?


I can't say for sure having only played 3 player, but my impression is that 2 and 6 would be less than optimal and that 3-5 is the sweet spot. Since it is 15 minutes per player, I think when the game would push over an hour it might lose some attractiveness to me. Our three player games ran between 30 and 45 minutes and that seemed just right.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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We had a great time in our first game (5 players). None of us felt the game was too light; I'd say it's just right given the playing time and how easy it is to learn. Even after playing once, we all had ideas about how to play differently, having seen the event cards and how differently various rounds went as people tried different things. I'm glad I bought it.
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Michael D'Amico
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I had the opportunity to play my first game last night. It was with only 2 players, which I would say is not ideal since the vast bulk of the deck goes untouched.

About halfway through is when we started to see the potential. The animal cards are just a small piece of it. I would say, like its older boardgame brother, DStCG is all about the Action Cards and managing the chaos they provide. I think once you get some familiarity with the Action Cards and how they interact with the rest of the game, the experience will really begin to shine.

Moving forward when teaching the game, I'll be sure to stress how the best laid plans can be smashed with a well-played Action Card, and you have to go into the game expecting (and if possible, even enjoying) it.
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Thanasis Patsios
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atsgamer wrote:
Because it struck as weird that there was no catch up mechanism to help the weaker player


So, after your second play, did you discover some sort of catch up mechanism? Or does the game solely rely on the players taking the optimal action?

Great review btw!
 
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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NasosP wrote:
atsgamer wrote:
Because it struck as weird that there was no catch up mechanism to help the weaker player


So, after your second play, did you discover some sort of catch up mechanism? Or does the game solely rely on the players taking the optimal action?

In our game, those of us who had large hands in the final round were taken by surprise when somebody played an event that forced everyone to pass, ending the round before we got to use our cards.

Personally, I don't see how anyone (including myself) is qualified to talk about "catch-up mechanisms" anyway. To do that, we'd need a deeper understanding of how to determine who is ahead. I mean, your position is a combination of victory point track, survival track and cards in hand. How do you weight those properly to determine the leader?

I think the player who gets the most out of the cards they are dealt over the course of the entire game is going to win most of the time. If the person has played his cards better early, that should count for something. But who knows what he will draw later, and what cards his opponents will draw? And who will make the most efficient use of what they draw? If the suggestion is that a player who gets an early lead will always win, I'm extremely skeptical. That's not what happened in our session, and I can see various ways where it might not happen in future.

[edit] I meant I don't see how we're qualified after our first few games. I have no doubt Chad and his playtesters could talk about it authoritatively (but I wouldn't want to read that at this point - I have more fun trying to figure things out for myself first).
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Thanasis Patsios
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Sphere wrote:
I think the player who gets the most out of the cards they are dealt over the course of the entire game is going to win most of the time. If the person has played his cards better early, that should count for something. But who knows what he will draw later, and what cards his opponents will draw? And who will make the most efficient use of what they draw? If the suggestion is that a player who gets an early lead will always win, I'm extremely skeptical. That's not what happened in our session, and I can see various ways where it might not happen in future.



Thx Sphere, that makes a lot more sense. I still haven't received my copy, I'm eagerly awaiting my first try.
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A.T. Selvaggio
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NasosP wrote:
Sphere wrote:
I think the player who gets the most out of the cards they are dealt over the course of the entire game is going to win most of the time. If the person has played his cards better early, that should count for something. But who knows what he will draw later, and what cards his opponents will draw? And who will make the most efficient use of what they draw? If the suggestion is that a player who gets an early lead will always win, I'm extremely skeptical. That's not what happened in our session, and I can see various ways where it might not happen in future.



Thx Sphere, that makes a lot more sense. I still haven't received my copy, I'm eagerly awaiting my first try.


As the OP, I agree with Sphere's conclusions regarding this. When I mentioned the lack of catch up mechanisms I was referencing my erroneous first impressions of the game which were cleared up in the second run. I obviously need to play this more, but I don't think this game will be subject to a runaway leader problem. In my second game, I was trailing most of the time and won.
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Steven Mitchell
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Cross-posting from Tom Vasel's video review, since the catch-up 'problem' has also been raised here:

One comment. A catchup mechanism is a nice thing to have for purposes of, 'Did everyone have fun?' but in terms of strategy, it's rather unnecessary here.

A catchup mechanism is most necessary in games where past performance affects present positioning and thus future performance. But by and large, that's not the case with DSCG. One could have absolutely crap hands for the first three rounds, but that doesn't put him at any actual disadvantage for his ability to win the last 7 rounds.

Regardless of how I scored in Round 3, I'm going to be in the same position as everyone else to compete in Round 4. I'm not in a better position to win Round 4 because I won Round 3; nor am I in a worse position to win Round 4 because I lost Round 3. The tabula is completely rasa after every round, so to speak.

So there's no real need for a catchup mechanism to overcome otherwise insurmountable built-up advantages; because there are no such advantages. If you're behind by 72 points after Round 9, you're just an awful player and need to figure out the game more.

The only exception is Round 10; this is the only round where your performance in prior rounds impacts the future round. And even then, because of the rules about how a round ends, you can plan for this and use the rules to your advantage. If you envision being far behind by the time Round 10 comes around (and thus being low on the Survival Track), you should probably plan on having the fewest cards in your hand, tailoring it to have all powerful cards. If planned for correctly, the person last on the Survival Track can pretty handily win Round 10.

In fact, I think the key to the entire game is understanding how self-contained each Round is. Sometimes the best strategy is going to be to abandon a round or two and build up for a later round. Sometimes your hand is going to be well suited to sweep a certain biome and in those cases you should play accordingly. Thus, damage control is a big part of this game.
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