From the Parallel Worlds Magazine archive.
With Tiny Epic Dinosaurs, Gamelyn Games continue their series of ‘small box’ games which deliver a big gameplay experience. With its brightly coloured tiles and dinosaur models, worker-placement gameplay and spatial arrangement elements, Tiny Epic Dinosaurs definitely takes a few cues from Pandasaurus Games’ own Dinosaur Island. However there are many gameplay elements which set it apart and — once again — a £25 Tiny Epic game finds itself favourably compared to a bigger £50 box.
In Tiny Epic Dinosaurs, you each play a competing ranch which is catching and breeding dinosaurs to fulfil contracts — perhaps for a large attraction such as Jurassic Park? The core gameplay is in the worker-placement phase of each round, where every player takes it in turn to use their worker figures to activate actions on a shared board. These actions offer options such as catching new dinosaurs, adding security fences, purchasing additional food and delivering on contracts.
Meanwhile, on your own board you have a ranch which produces basic foodstuffs and is used to pen your dinosaurs. There’s a very clever spatial puzzle at work here, not only in arranging your precious security fences to maximise dino storage and safety, but also in that it’s only the empty spaces which produce food. Therefore, the more dinosaurs you have, the less you are able to stockpile food for feeding. Unfed dinosaurs escape and cause penalties: your hungry herbivores will destroy your security fences on their way out, while your peckish carnivores will… well, eat your other dinosaurs.
It’s still easy for me to recommend this on the multiplayer alone.
Unlike other worker-placement games choosing an action does not completely block out that choice. If you really need a particular action, you can still use a space by paying one more worker than the player with the most workers on the space. So the second player to choose the same action pays two, the third would pay three — although that is very rare. It’s a very well thought-out system which allows a player to still make progress, even if it is a little more costly. It’s such a key feature of the design that every player has a slightly larger worker who counts as two for the purposes of paying for spaces, and choosing when to deploy this special worker is an excellent element of the strategy.
It does at first appear that the majority of victory points in the game are won through completing contracts. These are publicly visible cards which show a set of dinosaurs in exchange for points. When you take the ‘fulfil contract’ action, if you have the dinosaurs required in your ranch, you can sell them to gain the contract, potentially beating other players to it.
However, it turns out these are not the sole focus, or even the sole route to victory. Each dinosaur has a basic point value and not all the contracts provide a large improvement over the sum of these. It’s easy to overestimate gaining a victory this way; I’ve played a couple of games where I claimed the most contracts but still lost to an opponent who had better scoring bonuses and more dinosaurs in their ranch at the end of the game.
This is often achieved through science upgrades which can be purchased with excess food or dinosaurs, giving access to individual scoring bonuses, additional player powers and even unique dinosaur breeds which alter gameplay in your ranch. For example, the Plesiosaurus inhabits your ranch’s otherwise unused water feature; and while it is worth three points, it can be used as a ‘wild card’ when fulfilling any dinosaur contract. Or the T-Rex, which can be fed with any other dinosaur instead of food and actually generates an excess of meat tokens which can be added to your stockpile.
It’s a budget title which delivers far more than should be expected.
Like all Gamelyn Games titles to date, Tiny Epic Dinosaurs also offers a sturdy single-player mode alongside the standard multiplayer. Here, a series of cue cards indicates the automated opponent’s progress. Rather than acting in the same way as a player, this automa gains points in a fairly linear fashion and blocks off action spaces arbitrarily. Each of the different solo opponents offers a different and — I should stress — very difficult challenge. Compared to many other titles, the solo mode of Tiny Epic Dinosaurs is extremely hard to beat and forces players to maximise every possible choice.
As a solo fan, this one is not a personal favourite — especially compared to Gamelyn’s other excellent solo modes. I found that, depending on the order of the automa’s actions, your worker places are blocked in a far more intrusive manner than in multiplayer and some of the special abilities (thinking particularly of the Poacher who removes your expensive security fences) make it extremely hard to do anything but fall behind and keep falling. But I will concede that this is very much down to personal taste. In online comments, Tiny Epic Dinosaurs is fast becoming a favourite of the solo gaming community so, as they say, your mileage may vary.
It’s still easy for me to recommend this on the multiplayer alone. It scales wonderfully to the different combinations of the 2–4 player count. The competition for worker spaces and the order in which other players might need them keeps you involved with everybody else’s ranch. Far too often this kind of strategy game fixes your attention on your own area. Here, you’ll need to keep track of everybody else’s progress and intentions and as such, the space which gains the ‘first player’ position can be tactically essential to consider.
Once again, it’s a budget title which delivers far more than should be expected. The laser-cut wooden dinos are some of the most intricate and attractive components I’ve seen (although care should be taken to avoid breakage!), the card art is clear and attractive and the game is well designed. In fact it’s another title where you really wonder how you’ll get it all back in the box — there is a knack. Its portability alone ensures that it will see plenty of opportunities for play at game nights and on holiday (when such things return) and the fixed number of rounds ensure that no session will outstay its welcome. Recommended.