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John Bandettini
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In my reviews I concentrate on two aspects of the game. A look at what you actually get in the box. The components of the game, a look at both the quantity and quality.

Secondly, my experiences with the game including what I like about it and anything I don’t like about it.

This time I am going to be looking at Dominant Species: The Card Game. And of course it is a card game based on Dominant Species. It's designed by Chad Jensen, who also designed Dominant Species and it’s published by GMT games. It's is for two to six players. The box claims 15 minutes per player playing time. But I think they must have been playing with very slow players. My four player games have taken around 30 minutes.

Obviously it’s a card game, and it’s a game based on some of the ideas and concepts of Dominant Species rather than a card game version of the original.
The game is played over ten turns. Players bid cards to be at the top of the food chain each turn and earn points for being top of the food chain and for matching food symbols on the current biome card. Player with the most points after 10 turns wins.


The box looks kind of familiar. That’s because it’s the same image used on the original game. (Brand recognition and all that). And it’s very much a case of if it’s not broken don’t fix it. While there was quite a fuss made about the components of the 1st edition I don’t recall anyone complaining about the box art. The original looked great and so does this though in a smaller package.

I don’t have anything in a similar size box so I can’t easily give a frame of reference. But as it’s a card game it is quite a bit smaller.

So what is in the box?

Lots of cards. Well OK there is a bit more than just cards.



First thing you will see is the 12 page rule book. Again keeping in theme it has the same cave man style painting on the rule book that features on the original games rule book. The rule book is very good (a Chad Jensen trade mark) it’s comprehensive and has plenty of illustrations and examples.

At 12 pages (although small ones) it makes what is a pretty straight forward bidding game look like it might be a little more complex than it actually is.

There are actually two decks of cards included with the game. A small 12 card deck of Biomes and the main deck of 120 action cards.



There are two types of cards in the action deck. 99 animal cards and 21 event cards. The animal cards are used for bidding. Each animal card has an illustration of one of the six animal classes on it and two numbers one in black and one in red. The animal card can be played with two orientations either with the black number at the top or the red number.

Cards normally enter play with the black number on top showing that the animal is at full health. When the red number is on top this shows that the animal is endangered. An animal will become endangered either in response to a regression icon on another players card or the effect of an event card.

Also on each animal card will be one or more food icons. Where there are more than one they will all be the same symbol. The cards show less or even no symbols when the animal is endangered.

On some of the animal cards there will be a regression symbol below the food icon. The regression symbol is the illustration of an animal type with a red line across it. When a card with a regression symbol on it is played the player may reduce one card with a matching symbol already on the table. If it is a healthy animal it becomes endangered, if it is already endangered it becomes extinct. (Place card in discard pile). If there are no matching animals in play nothing happens. You can’t store the regression until a suitable animal is put into play.




The event cards are a bit like the dominance cards in the original game. They have game changing effects that can be quite significant. Examples of event cards include giving all your animals +1 food chain value, allowing you to make one endangered animal healthy again, scoring 1 point for every different animal class you have in play and many more.

Action cards are played one at a time by players each round. When a player passes they can not play any more cards that round. When everyone has passed the round ends and scoring takes place.

Players start the game with seven action cards and draw two more cards each turn after that.



The biome cards represent the various habitats that the animals might live in. The Sea biome is always the last played, so that one is always used. Shuffle the other 11 cards and remove 2 at random. These biomes will not come into play this game.

At the beginning of the game the top card in the deck is revealed and also the biome that will be in play for turn two. The biome card shows which type of animal is best suited for this environment and which is the worst. In other words one animals cards are worth a +1 value and one is worth a -1.

Each biome card will also show some food symbols. This shows the food types that are most abundant in this environment. These actually represent bonus points. After all players have passed, whoever has the most matching symbols that appears on the card gets points equal to the number of symbols on the biome card. Depending on the biome this is either two or three extra scoring chances. In case of ties, all tied players score the points.

At the end of each round the biome card for the next round comes into play and the one for the turn after is also made visible.



There is a small board that is used to track turn number, victory points and players current position on the survival track. The victory point track runs around the outside of the board.

The upper portion of the board has the turn track. The game is played over ten turns. Whoever wins the bid for food chain dominance each turn scores points equal to the turn number. In case of ties, all tied players score the points. Following turn 3 and turn 9 the discarded cards are shuffled back into the main deck.

On the lower part of the board is the survival track. All the players start on zero. Every time you win a bid for food chain dominance you move one place along the survival track. The survival track is important in two ways. At the beginning of turn ten, you draw extra points equal to your position on the survival track, and at the end of the game, the player or players furthest along the track gain 5 points and the player or players at the back of the survival track, lose 5 points.



There are also a number of wooden pieces in the box. Each player gets two cubes and one disc of their chosen colour. The disc is used to mark their position on the survival track. One of the cubes is used to record their score on the victory point track and the last one is placed in front of them to show which colour they are playing. (I wish all games did this.)

There are also two wooden pawns, the black one is used on the turn track and the white one is used to show first player, which passes to the left every turn.

So what do I think of it?

I like Dominant Species a lot. It’s a pretty long heavy game though so I have not played it a lot. I can see myself playing this a lot more.

I do like bidding games so I was pre-disposed to like this. I have played it with three players and four and for me it has worked very well with both numbers. It’s not the deepest game in the world but I feel for the time it takes it’s just about the right level.

Like any bidding game you can’t bid full out every turn, you need to pick your spots. The bonus points for matching food symbols makes it tempting to make bids even when you don’t think you can win the main bid.

Although the early turns don’t give out many points you can’t afford to totally ignore them as you really need to move along the survival track. The last turn is worth the most points but if you are behind on the survival track you will get the least cards and risk losing five points.

Being able to see the biome card that is going to be in play next turn allows you to do a bit of forward planning. Though that seems to be mostly hanging onto cards with matching food symbols.

To me the cards with the regression symbols on them are the key to the whole game, timely play of them can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Of course all the other players will also be gunning for you.

The event cards although mostly useful can sometimes be a nuisance. In the last game I played I drew five cards on the last turn and four of them were event cards, not that useful.

The cards are all of a nice quality. The wooden pieces are standard euro fare and the board is functional. All in all there should be no complaints about the components with this one.

The original game is a real heavyweight beast whereas this is really little more than a filler. But both are different enough and fun enough that I am happy to find room in my collection for both.

This game has not gone down very well with a lot of people even gaining some hatred from some. Having played it I am a bit puzzled by that reception. I have enjoyed playing and see quite a few plays in the future. I guess part of the negative response might be from people who were expecting Dominant Species but as a card game. It really is not anything like the original game but I think it does an excellent job of capturing and including a lot of elements from the original game while being a very different and I think a good game in its own right.
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Lang Bedang
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Thanks for the review. We played this for the first time last night and I found it quite enjoyable.

The only thing I disagree with is:

JohnBandettini wrote:
The cards are all of a nice quality. The wooden pieces are standard euro fare and the board is functional.


I like the artwork but found the cards to be rather "papery." Considering the asking price up here ($25 - $30), it's not enough to complain about, but I would have expected a bit more.
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tom moughan
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I suspect that people have some preconceived notions about what kind of game it is going to be...mostly, fans of the big brother, Dominant Species. If you go into thinking its going to be DS then you will be disappointed. While there is considerable luck with card draws and I wish there had been something incorporated to address that, I agree that its meaty enough for the time investment and does reward good hand management and careful weighing of options.

that said, as written the game was enjoyable for everyone I've played it with thus far.


Side note: I keep toiling over in over in my head of trying to develop an extra option of trading 2 cards from your hand for one face up card from a display. That way you make a sacrifice and "digress" a bit but may be able to pick up a valuable card should one be there. Your two cards would be added to the display..and the display itself wiped at the end of each round of play then refreshed with 3 from the deck.
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Mark Beyak
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Nice review.

Quote:
When a card with a regression symbol on it is played the player may reduce one card with a matching symbol already on the table.


I believe you may have misread that rule. You must reduce one card with a matching symbol, even if it's yours.
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John Bandettini
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Beyak wrote:
Nice review.

Quote:
When a card with a regression symbol on it is played the player may reduce one card with a matching symbol already on the table.


I believe you may have misread that rule. You must reduce one card with a matching symbol, even if it's yours.


Nope I said may because if there is not one on the table you don't reduce it, which I explained straight after. Sorry if it was not clear to you.
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Andy Andersen
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Great review as always, John. Still on the fence about this due to positive and negative reviews.

Thank you.
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Mark Beyak
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JohnBandettini wrote:
Beyak wrote:
Nice review.

Quote:
When a card with a regression symbol on it is played the player may reduce one card with a matching symbol already on the table.


I believe you may have misread that rule. You must reduce one card with a matching symbol, even if it's yours.


Nope I said may because if there is not one on the table you don't reduce it, which I explained straight after. Sorry if it was not clear to you.


Oh, then I am glad I said, "you may have misread the rule" as opposed to, "you must have misread the rule." blush
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Beyak wrote:
JohnBandettini wrote:
Beyak wrote:
Nice review.

Quote:
When a card with a regression symbol on it is played the player may reduce one card with a matching symbol already on the table.


I believe you may have misread that rule. You must reduce one card with a matching symbol, even if it's yours.


Nope I said may because if there is not one on the table you don't reduce it, which I explained straight after. Sorry if it was not clear to you.


Oh, then I am glad I said, "you may have misread the rule" as opposed to, "you must have misread the rule." blush


Nope, Beyak's right as "may" expresses possibility, opportunity or permission, not necessity. Stating afterwards that nothing happens if there's no card doesn't alter the meaning of "may".

Pedantry aside, thanks for a great review. I really like the artwork on the components and I haven't played Dominant Species enough to have too many preconceptions about the card game. I'm looking forward to picking this up.



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JohnBandettini wrote:
Beyak wrote:
Nice review.

Quote:
When a card with a regression symbol on it is played the player may reduce one card with a matching symbol already on the table.


I believe you may have misread that rule. You must reduce one card with a matching symbol, even if it's yours.


Nope I said may because if there is not one on the table you don't reduce it, which I explained straight after. Sorry if it was not clear to you.


Standard forms in English would have "may have to", but the standard form for game rules writers would be "must ... if possible"

B>
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Great review - thanks for taking your time to write it!
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John Bandettini
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Chrysm wrote:
Beyak wrote:
JohnBandettini wrote:
Beyak wrote:
Nice review.

Quote:
When a card with a regression symbol on it is played the player may reduce one card with a matching symbol already on the table.


I believe you may have misread that rule. You must reduce one card with a matching symbol, even if it's yours.


Nope I said may because if there is not one on the table you don't reduce it, which I explained straight after. Sorry if it was not clear to you.


Oh, then I am glad I said, "you may have misread the rule" as opposed to, "you must have misread the rule." blush


Nope, Beyak's right as "may" expresses possibility, opportunity or permission, not necessity. Stating afterwards that nothing happens if there's no card doesn't alter the meaning of "may".

Pedantry aside, thanks for a great review. I really like the artwork on the components and I haven't played Dominant Species enough to have too many preconceptions about the card game. I'm looking forward to picking this up.





I agree that I did not phrase it to be 100% correct, but I had not misunderstood the rule I just failed to totally convey my understanding of it. For that fault I will be eternally sorry.
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eternity is a long time.
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Nice review John. I am five plays in and am less impressed with each play. On the plus side its a light hearted knock about affair with a lot of table banter , and it does not take too long. On the negative side its just far too random with too little game play. Draw an opening hand of four or five events (or in the last round) and you can probably write off your game. In most of the games I have played the winner (so long as the did not play stupidly) just seemed to have the best cards I felt it just did not seem to fit here in a 45 minute filler. One comment on the Geek 'Munchkin without the jokes' rings true.
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Sorp222 wrote:
Nice review John. I am five plays in and am less impressed with each play. On the plus side its a light hearted knock about affair with a lot of table banter , and it does not take too long. On the negative side its just far too random with too little game play. Draw an opening hand of four or five events (or in the last round) and you can probably write off your game. In most of the games I have played the winner (so long as the did not play stupidly) just seemed to have the best cards I felt it just did not seem to fit here in a 45 minute filler. One comment on the Geek 'Munchkin without the jokes' rings true.


There's jokes in Munchkin?

How did I miss that...?shake

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I actually think this game could have gone over better if Jensen had skipped the Dominant Species theme altogether. I think a lot of people bought this because of its association with its parent game and thought because they liked that they would probably like this one too. Essentially, a lot were thinking (hoping) for a card version of the board game (which it's not.)

But overall, I find the Card Game to be an enjoyable, multiple-ways-to-score, push-your-luck, take-that sort of card game, and even with the luck factor there is a definite feeling of tension that is created during one's turn. Even when the card pulls are not there for you, opting to pass immediately and wait for the next round is not always a terrible thing. Also, I can say that during my first play one player played an Event Card almost every round while I never played a single Event card. In the end I won and he was in last place, so it seems even the Event cards aren't definite game changers.

I would say the Card Game is up there in terms of implementation and engagement as any of Knizia's lesser played card games (think Money and Modern Art: the Card Game) and unfortunately I think Jensen's game is getting flack for having little to do with DS other than its wall paper. Of course, who knows if it would sell as well if he had gone for a different thematic approach...
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freechinanow wrote:
I actually think this game could have gone over better if Jensen had skipped the Dominant Species theme altogether. I think a lot of people bought this because of its association with its parent game and thought because they liked that they would probably like this one too. Essentially, a lot were thinking (hoping) for a card version of the board game (which it's not.)



Thankfully I judged this game on its own merit, as it plays nothing like DS, and is ripe for a re-themed fanboy version coming to your local ArtsCow soon, I imagine.
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I played this last night and didn't care for it. It immediately reminded me of Taj Mahal, one of my top 10 games, but a much poorer version. You essentially play blind (don't see what the opposition are drawing), get whacked by events (which get reshuffled so they come back), dont have the delicious "pull out and grab a reward" option that makes Taj great, and it's longer than Taj.

If I didn't have all that Taj baggage, I'd probably have loved it

I also played Nefarious for the first time last night and found it totally charming, worked well, and knew when to finish
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