Duelosaur Island (Pandasaurus Games, 2018)

Basic details: 1-2 players; 30-60 minutes; competitive; automa solo mode

Date played: November 26, 2021

Gist of the game: You are the CEO of a new dinosaur park, in stiff competition with the owner of the other new dinosaur park in town, with whom you used to work. Obviously, you want the park that attracts the most visitors, and will engage in a variety of tactics to achieve that goal.

To set up the game, the main board and draft board a placed in the middle of the table. Dice are placed in the dice bag and entrusted to the first player. The Park cards, which feature both a dinosaur and an attraction, are shuffled and placed on the draft board, and the top 3 cards are revealed and placed on the draft board. The Specialist cards are also shuffled and placed in a deck next to the draft board. The plot twist tokens are shuffled face down and 4 are randomly selected and placed on the draft board, with the remaining tokens returned to the box. The Public Relations token is placed on the starting PR space on the main board. Coins and other tokens are placed in supply piles next to the main board. The game length is chosen and determines how many visitors are needed to trigger the end of the game. Each player receives an individual company board and 10 cubes. 6 cubes are placed on the DNA track, 1 cube in the threat track, 1 cube in the security track, and then 1 cube on the excitement track of the main board and 1 cube on the 5 visitors space on the visitors track. Players then take their 3 Park starter cards. They choose 1 as their starting dinosaur and 1 as their starting attraction.

The game is played over a series of rounds, each of which has 4 phases, until the game end is triggered by a player reaching the visitor threshold.

Phase 1 is the income phase, in which players gain coins and draw park cards. Each player receives 3 coins plus additional coins based on food attractions in their park and their location on the excitement track. They gain 1 Park card plus additional cards based on the number of merchandise attractions in their park. When drawing Park cards, players may choose from the 3 face-up cards or choose one face-down from the Park deck.

Phase 2 is the draft phase. The 1st player draws 3 specialist cards, selects 2, and discards the 3rd. The 1st player also draws 5 dice from the bag and rolls them, pairing each die with a plot twist token on the main board. The plot twist tokens have various effects, like multiplying the amount of DNA received, granting additional coins and cards, or providing wild DNA choices. Beginning with the 2nd player, players taken turns choosing a die or specialist card until each player has 3 items. When drafting a die, players receive its effect and move it below its accompanying plot twist token. DNA gains are tracked on the player’s company board. When drafting a specialist card, players place the card to the right of their company board, and can only have up to 3 specialists at a time, requiring players to discard a card if they draft a 4th specialist. Players can also discard a specialist immediately after drafting it to trigger the discard effect (they do not trigger the discard effect if they are replacing the specialist with another). The undrafted items are moved to the threat area of the draft board (threat levels are indicated with purple pips on the various cards and dice). When tallying the threat level at the end of the round, players must include any threat pips from these leftover items.

The 3rd phase is the build phase. Players take their actions simultaneously during this round. Players can take any number of actions any number of times. The phase ends when neither player wants to take another action. Actions include a) creating a dinosaur, using a Park card and the requisite DNA. The dinosaur is then added to the company board and the player increases their threat and excitement levels by the indicated amount; b) build an attraction, using a Park card and the requisite coins. The attraction is then placed on the company board. Attractions come in 3 varieties: food, merch, and rides, with each attraction producing a different effect: food produces money, merch produces Park cards, and rides produce PR bonuses; c) mix DNA by discarding a card and converting any 2 basic DNA into 1 advanced DNA or vice versa and adjusting the DNA tracks accordingly; d) sell DNA for 1 coin (2 basic or 1 advanced), adjusting the DNA tracks accordingly; or e) increase the security level of the park by paying the appropriate amount of money for the desired level.

Phase 4 is the visitor phase. This phase has 3 steps that must be completed in order: a) compare threat vs. security. If the level of security is at least as high as the threat level, nothing happens. If the security level is lower than the threat level, dinosaurs escape and visitors are killed (the instruction manual says visitors are eaten, but what if only herbivores escape? The penalty still applies, so I’m thinking that perhaps there’s a stampede or something as people try to flee). The number of visitors killed is 2x the difference between the threat and security levels, and the player’s cube on the visitor track is moved accordingly. If a player would go below 1 visitor, they stay at 1 visitor and receive a lawsuit token instead, worth -5 visitors at the end of the game; b) gain a number of visitors equal to the player’s level on the excitement track; and c) choose public relations bonuses. The player with the lower excitement level chooses first and can pick any item to the left of the PR token. The next player must choose an item to the left of the item chosen by the first player.

At the end of the round, if any player has the requisite number of visitors, the game ends and final scoring occurs. Otherwise, each player discards their hand down to 3 cards, all items are removed from the draft board, and the PR marker is moved one space to the right. The player turn order switches for the next round, so that both players have the opportunity to be the first player.

At the end of the game, players gain additional visitors based on their dinosaurs, attractions, sets of all 3 attraction types, and specialists. They lose visitors based on lawsuits. The player with the most visitors wins.

Color commentary: Per tradition, we played some portions of this game incorrectly, and as I’m typing up my notes, I’m wondering if we might have made things harder on ourselves to some extent. We were treating the threat level as cumulative, so that all dinosaurs counted on all subsequent turns, but that makes less sense if the threat values from the leftover draft items changes per turn. I’m wondering now if the threat level is calculated each turn based on new dinosaurs and then leftover draft items. Because the threat track only goes to 10 (you can buy additional levels of security, but there’s no convenient space for the cube), but I can also envision a bonanza round where you spend a lot of saved up DNA and create up to 10 new threats from dinosaurs (especially when you factor in any specialists or leftover draft item threat levels as well). On the other hand, we consistently forgot to move the leftover specialist cards to the undrafted area, and thus were consistently undercounting the undrafted item threat levels. I’ll have to think about that some more.

Also, I think I’ve lost whatever pittance of talent I had for explaining games in the intervening months since our last new game, because it took M a really long time to figure out what was going on. Then again, he won 64-65 even after having visitors killed on two different occasions (no lawsuits, unfortunately), so he clearly eventually figured it out. That lag took a bit of fun out of the game, as I knew what I was doing but couldn’t seem to help M find his footing, but I think if we played it again it would go more smoothly.

I do like that companies are making 2-player versions of their games. We own but have not played Dinosaur Island, which I imagine plays fairly similarly, but there was something nice about knowing that this version was specifically made for 2 people and we wouldn’t have to potentially alter any rules to make it work for 2 players (yeah, I’m looking at you, Western Legends. We’ll see how you play out tomorrow with your dummy 3rd player, the mysterious “Man in Black…”). I guess what I’m saying is that since 2 is our default player count, it’s nice that there are games specifically designed for us rather than merely accommodating us. That said, we do own big Dinosaur Island, and bigger Dinosaur World, and I’m hoping that figuring out this 2-player version will help us when we decide to break out the big games.

Thoughts from M: This game was very confusing at first. Should I blame Petra for not explaining it better? Well, that’s a question that’s either neither here nor there or one that goes back to the time we all remember when the East St. Louie Boys were playing a game of IOU in Western Arkansas. I believe the former is true, and therefore Petra is clearly not to blame (Petra here: I wish I could tell you what M is talking about here, but I’m just as lost as you are. I even checked with him to make sure I was reading his handwriting correctly, and he assured me I was. He often recounts historical events that clearly did not happen or, if they had happened, were so insignificant that they would have been lost to the historical record anyway, and thus functionally didn’t happen. I do like that he says I’m not the blame, though.)

What is my goal? Even once I finally figured that out, how should I go about attracting the largest number of visitors? With time, it became clearer and it made sense to be aggressive in both increasing my security level and getting new dinosaurs. This did result in my winning our first attempt at the game, which is rare enough that it gives me greater confidence that the strategy I ultimately settled on (even though I had a one-level threat-security gap a couple of turns) was a solid one.

Petra rating: Honestly, the first playthrough? 4/10 If we play again and both start out understanding the game I think it could be a solid 7/10 or 8/10
M rating: 7/10

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