The Great Dinosaur Rush: Review

It makes sense: just cobbling together any old dinosaur bones you find to form crazy creatures is way easier than figuring out how they actually go together. That’s the essence of The Great Dinosaur Rush. Fraudster paleontologist Fairway picks his way through, and sifts through the dirt, in today’s review.

Plus, there’s a bonus music video by They Might Be Giants at the end.

The Great Dinosaur Rush is a two- to five-player set collection game from APE Games and designer Scott Almes–he’s everywhere!  Players take on the roles of unsavory paleontologists trying to capitalize on a dinosaur bone find.  I picked this game up from the Kickstarter and it was delivered a few months back.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. This game has a great toy-as-game feel. The bones are little wood game bits and you can just assemble them into dinosaurs… just for fun!  This is a feature I like about a few other Scott Almes’ games.
  2. The game is actually pretty quick to play once you figure out the pattern. The first few plays had us referring back to the rules… a lot.
  3. The art and illustration are fantastic. They fit the theme very well.
  4. The game is a bit on the more difficult side, but is playable for younger gamers.

How to play ^

The Great Dinosaur Rush is played over a series of three rounds.  Players are paleontologists who must collect the right kinds of dinosaur bones to construct a highly-sought-after dinosaur. The better the constructed dinosaur, the more points. At the end of the game, the player who racked up the most points.

Each round in the game is divided into three phases: a dig phase, build phase and scoring phase.  At the first phase, players move their paleontologist meeple around a dig site. The dig site is a grid of hexes. Most of the hexes will have as many as three bones on them. Some of the hexes are impassable.  Players will move their paleontogist in a straight line to a hex tile containing some set of dinosaur bones.

The game represents dinosaur bones using colored wooden sticks.  Different colored sticks represent different types of dinosaur bones. For example, red bones are “limbs” and yellow bones are “tail” or “neck” ones. During the build phase, you’ll use your collection of dinosaur bones to construct a valid-by-the-rules dinosaur.

The rules make sense after building a few times.

Example dinosaur from the The Great Dinosaur Rush campaign.

In addition to moving their paleontologist, players take actions. Most of these actions let the player harmlessly advance their own cause such as publicizing which can be used to adjust scoring (in the last phase) or donating bones to remove a blemish from their otherwise sterling reputation.  However, players can take a few of the actions can also harm that reputation and increase their notoriety such as dynamiting a dig site or stealing bones.

Once the actions are taken, bones from the space on the dig site are taken by the player and the “build” phase begins.

During the build phase, players secretly construct their dinosaurs. The objective is to build a dinosaur with your collected bones that will score the most points.  The points are determined by a chart of demand that value different things: size, height, length, ferocity, and uniqueness. For example, a player with the most bones assigned to tail and neck would score the most points for length.  The number of points is determined by the publicity level.

In addition to the exhibition scores, players can also score bonus for constructing a dinosaur that matches a special contract card. Most of these contracts ask for a dinosaur that meets some hard-to-achieve number of bones. They typically require thoughtful planning to get.

Once all the players are finished building, they reveal their dinosaurs simultaneously.  Then, players score them by going sequentially through the exhibits and comparing. After scoring, the round ends and a new one begins.

On the green ^

There are so many neat things about this game:

The Art. The art is terrific. The dinosaurs, the paleontologists, the newspapers, and the the dig site are all well-illustrated and nicely detailed.

The Theme. I love the idea of a game built around scoundrel paleontologists. The theme is knitted nicely throughout the game.  Everything from publicizing crazy dinosaur constructions to building unknown dinosaurs. It’s well done.

The Toy Factor.  The game has a great playing with toys feel. It feels a bit like having a box of dinosaur Lego bricks or Lincoln Logs.  Building the dinosaurs is one of the most interesting things to do — although see my note below about the impact on the game play.

Scoring.  We really liked the way the exhibit scoring works. It really provides the necessary strategic element to the game. It’s not enough to merely gather the bones, but you need the right set used in the right way to score the best.

Playing with younger players.  I was able to play this game with my daughter, five. We didn’t use the screens and avoided some of the more complicated choices, but still had a lot of fun.

Where it comes up short ^

Abundance of choice. I have one over-arching concern with this game: players are given so many choices, at so many steps in the game, that it can bring the game to a halt. The sheer permutations of choices in things ranging from which bones to collect to how to construct your dinosaur is immense. There are literally an infinite number of combinations during the build phase, but really only a few things will ultimately matter. But figuring out the right combination can take a very long time, especially for new players.  This occurs even at the decision about what bones to pick in the first place from a field full of bones.  There’s a lot of time spent by players going over the myriad of possible outcomes.

Play time. As a result, this game is a bit of a wild card for play time.  Because of the myriad of choices mentioned in the previous section, play time is all over the place for us.  The build phase alone can take quite awhile.  I hesitate to put this in the negatives, but aspects of this game can make it very long.

In the hole ^

We really dig The Great Dinosaur Rush. The game is a fantastic introduction to the history of the world of less-than-reputable paleontology. The use of colored wood sticks to build dinosaurs is really creative and adds a great playing-with-toys feel. The game does have a pretty steep learning curve and a complex set of choices that can make it somewhat hard to comprehend and teach.  Those choices can also cause the play to spiral. None of that diminishes how clever this game can be and how much fun it is to actually build those dinosaurs.

The Great Dinosaur Rush makes it into the hole for a birdie! ^

Bonus video! ^

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