Set-up/Play/Clean-up-1 hour per player (2-6 players)
TL;DR- Buckle up for a LONG game 75%
Basics- Oh boy, this is going to take a bit! Dominant Species is a terrain control, worker placement game with two different ways to control terrain that function independently of each other and score separately. If you got all that in one pass, then buckle up for an intense euro-game! If not, don’t worry we can walk you through this slowly. For the theme, all players play different phyla of animals: insects, arachnids, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals trying to control the most terrain and be the dominant species when the ice age hits. Each turn, players place works on different spots on the right side of the board. These spots give your animal new food sources (used to indicated who controls a tile), prevent your animal from losing food sources, put new food sources on the board on the board, put more tiles on the board, remove food sources from the board, kill other animals in your tiles, spread the glaciers, place more of your species on the board, migrate, change initiative, and contest spaces for points. When you contest a space for points you find out who as the most animals on a space, award points according to number of species on the tile, and the dominant species get to pick a card available. Each tile type has different point values for who has the most animals, then second most etc. Some spaces have multiple values like open ocean with 9/5/3/2, while tundra only has one (1) point. However, who has the most might not be the dominant species on the tile! Dominant species is determined by the food sources on your player card and the food sources on the tile. For every food sources on your player card, you count the number of times that’s on the tile, adding and repeating for every food sources on your tile. Here is a quick example: Let’s say your card has sun, sun, grubs, and water and the tile has sun, sun, sun, and water. You count 3 sun, then 3 sun, 0 grub, and 1 water for a score of 7. If you have the highest domination score you are the dominant species, but don’t get points till the ice age card is played where you get points based domination. The cards that you pick range from good effects like gaining extra workers to bad effects like meteor strikes! Each species has its own powers from insects getting to gain place one animal on the board for free to birds getting to move double spaces to every other animal’s one space. The game goes on until the ice age card is played. After that round is over, you score points for having the most animals in an area one last time, and the one with the most points in the dominant species.
Mechanics- As you can see the game is a bit complicated. Now don’t become frightened by the run time OR the amount of rules, as the game is complicated, BUT easy to understand when you see all the parts in action. The game does function like a clock, lots of moving parts the work fairly well together. Honestly, after a turn, you will move pretty quickly when you get the gist of what is going on. HOWEVER, this game is NOT forgiving! If you mess up one turn, you might be dead in the water till the game is over. There are NO mechanics that punish the victor only rewards for smart play. It’s fun, but this is one you might have to play a few times to really get a chance to win at. 4/5
Theme- The game is fun, but I didn’t feel like I was a creature in a desperate struggle. I felt like I was a guy playing a fun, abstract game, but not an animal vying for dominance. I played mammals, and I didn’t feel like my power really mattered. Other powers seem much more important like arachnids getting a free kill each turn (I lost 18 guys to that alone out of 45!). I didn’t feel like I was the thing I was playing, and that face hurt the experience a bit. I had fun, but that’s because I was a gamer playing a game NOT because I was a furry creature trying to survive. Maybe a different play through with a new animal will improve my perception, but this feels like a lot of heavy euro-games out there: a thinking, cube placement game. 2/5
Instructions- The mechanics are involved, but the rule book does an awesome job of describing the mechanics and how to play. Lots of examples are provided that are well delineated in separate boxes with excellent pictures. For a game this complicated, you need this or you will be completely lost! 5/5
Execution- The box is nice and reasonably sturdy. The components are ok. This is a euro-game, so I know the game has to have wood cubes. I guess I would have preferred different shapes for my animals with different colors. It would have really helped the theme instead of wooden cubes. Heck, I would have liked animal shapes for the dominant species markers instead of strange wooden cones. The play mats are well done and have a nice summary of all the actions, and where each animal gets a power and what it does. The tiles are nice and colorful and so are the food markers. The main board is easy to read. Honestly, this is a well executed game that I just wish had a bit more theme in its execution. 4/5
Summary- This was a fun game, but not the most fun I’ve had. As a worker placement game, it’s fun. As a thematic experience, it lacks. The stuff outside the game itself is well done. However, be prepared for the length of the game. I started at 7PM and didn’t get done till 11:30 with five other guys. That amount of any game can be a bit mind numbing. And you CAN’T let your guard down for a minute with this game! There is no forgiveness, only pain and regret! If you want a light game that will take half an hour, look elsewhere. But if you want a knock down brawl of a mental exercise then this is your game! 75%