Published on July 2nd, 2015 | by Justified Croak0
Dominant Species The Card Game Review
Average play time per game: 60 minutes
Suitable for ages: 14+
Number of players: 2-6
Mechanics: Hand Management
Yes, yes dinosaurs are awesome but in this new age of rendered raptors, human hamster balls and Chris Pratt as our new lord and saviour, we must not forget who we are, and where WE came from. Often forgotten is an age after the dinosaur where we as the mammal first gained dominion over this land. This is not the age of lush fern forests, gargantuan scaled beasts and Sam Neil but instead is the time of still rather large fluffy beasts, meteor scarred landscapes and the characters from the Ice Age franchise. Alright so it’s never going to be as cool as the Jurassic period but Dominant species makes a damn good show of making it more interesting than it appears in the text books.
Dominant species is an unusual little card game from GMT games in which you act as the various species of earth in a mad land grab after the reptilian overlords of old have been taken down a peg or 7.
In Dominant Species, players take turns playing cards to stake a claim on various biomes in play. Points are awarded at the end of the round to players with the highest presence on that rounds biome. Points available increase each round but card drawing is some what limited so it’s all about knowing when to play what to score big.
Start by placing the “Sea” biome card face down in the play area. Shuffle the remaining biome cards and randomly select 2 of these cards to be removed from the game unseen. Place the remaining biome cards face down on top of the sea biome card. Draw the top card of this 10 card deck and place it face up next to the biome deck. Then flip the top card of the biome deck face up, but keeping it on top of the biome deck.
Shuffle all action and animal cards together to form a single deck, placing this second deck beside the biome deck. Deal 7 of these cards to each player for their starting hand. These cards should never be visible to other players.
Place the track display at the centre of the play space. Each player now selects a colour to represent them on the tracking board and takes the corresponding cubes (2) of that colour. One of these cubes is placed before the player as a reminder of their colour to other players, the other is used to track their scoring around the board. Each player also takes the disc of their colour and places it on space 0 of the survival track.
The single black pawn is then placed on first space of the time tracker and then the single white pawn is given to the first player, who is chosen by a method of the groups choosing. Flip a coin, roll a die, last man standing wilderness survival exercise etc.
In each round the current first player takes their turn, then play proceeds clockwise until the round ends when all players have passed, at which point the current biome is scored. Each player Must perform one of the following actions on their turn
-play one action card from his hand
Still with me? I hope so. Perhaps you are ready for a closer look at the cards themselves.
Biome cards – This deck should contain 10 of the 12 cards included in the game (2 back in the box by this point) the sea is always the last biome to be played for, hence its location at the bottom of the deck. The other nine will occur in a random order.
Each Biome card (excluding the sea) will have one bonus as well as one penalty applied to two different animal classes. Each biome also has two or more sets of elements. These elements are as follows; Grass, Meat, Seed, Sun, Water and Shrimps. The manual will tell you that shrimps are in fact “Grubs” but given the icon, you will see this was a typo through out, they are clearly shrimps. More on elements later.
Action cards – Mammals, Reptiles, Birds, Amphibians, Arachnids and Insects cards make up most of the action deck. These cards when played on a biome will contribute “Food Chain Points” when played, indicated by the black and red numbers printed on the top left corner of the card.. You will quickly learn to shorten this to “power” or “points” because … obviously.
Action cards are placed on a biome with the black number towards the biome and the red number towards you. Some action cards will have a suppression symbol. These looks like the no smoking symbol but instead features an animal in place of a lit cigarette. This does not mean that segregation was a social concept 65 million years ago, instead this indicates all animals of the suppressed type that have been played on the biome so far must be flipped so that their red power number is facing the biome instead of the black number. The red number is always worth less points than the black and these animals are now considered “endangered” should an endangered animal be suppressed a second time, then that animal is discarded and is considered extinct.
Action cards may also feature a number of element icons. The player with the most of a particular element icon amongst their animal cards in play may score additional points at round end, if that element is displayed on that round’s biome card. Suppressed cards are often worth less element points as well as food chain points.
Event cards – These are the other card type featured in the action deck but are far in the minority. These cards can be one-use actions, or ongoing actions and have a varied effect on play. Their effects range from increasing the power of your cards in play to suppressing all animals of a certain type. There are plenty of ways event cards can be played to swing a round in your favour but some of them are just as likely to punch you in the mouth – so much consideration should be used when deciding when to play them. Event cards are played instead of an animal card during your turn in the round.
So to bring all of this together; A player will play one action or event card on his turn in the round. Play will then continue clockwise until all players have passed. If a player has no cards to play then they are considered to have passed. At this point the round ends and scoring is conducted,
Scoring – First, the player/s with the highest sum total food chain value amongst animals they control will score X, where is X is the current round, indicated by the pawn on the time track. (1 point for round 1) Each player who has scored this way in the current round must move his coloured disc one space along the survival track.
Next elements score. For each set of element icons present on the current biome, the player/s with the highest sum total of that element amongst their animals in play each score X victory points, where X is the number of those icons shown on the biome.
Ending the round – The current biome is discarded, the top card of the biome pile (which should be face up) is then put into play as the biome card for the next round. The new top biome deck card is flipped face up and remains atop the biome deck.
All events and animal cards currently in play are discarded. If is the end of the 3rd or 9th round only, then the discard pile is shuffled back in to the action deck.
Each player draws 2 more cards from the top of the action deck to add them to their hand.
The black pawn moves one space up on the time track, indicating the new round. If the black pawn is moving from space nine to 10 (initiating the final round of play) then each player draws cards equal to their position on the survival track.
The white pawn passes to the next player on the left who will begin play that round.
After round 10 the game ends, the highest scoring player is considered to have proven themselves most efficiently evolved board gamer in their play group.
When I had this game described to me, I was about as welcoming as a dinosaur to a meteor. Dominant Species the card game sounded too much like a bidding game in an elaborate costume. Now I have played my fair share of hands, it feels fair to say there is a sense of the auction mechanic here: the way you’re bidding for the right to chow down at the biome does conjure images of a giant sloth and a pre-ostrich ostrich waving claw/wingfulls of money at a bemused preying mantis auctioneer (side note: how is that not a game yet?) but there is enough here with the suppression mechanics and the event cards to really spice things up.
Whilst round one almost always feels like a bidding game with some so so artwork, by round 9 it won’t matter. By round 9, you won’t care that its 1:30 in the morning, you won’t care that you haven’t eaten since you first unboxed the game 2 days ago, you won’t care that the sofa you are sitting on is on fire. Why? Tension that’s why. You played it safe up till now but you’ve got a hand of pure catastrophic gold, but then again, so might your opponent. This round you could take everything, that is of course unless some one suppresses your lizards. Ow please God, no one suppress my lizards, they’re an easy target, and they’re clearly going to win this for me. And if that one player will just pass, then I know I am unstoppable. What’s that? They played another eagle with a mouth full of shrimp? That’s it. You have defeated me, denied me of those tasty, tasty ferns. Now I must roam the desserts eating nothing but sand and the shame.
What I am getting at is this game will hook you. I never found the art work inspiring or the theme particularly rich but the game play is solid. As far as card games go it feels light and smooth. What was intended as a filler game between the more monstrous of games quickly filled an entire evening. An evening of betrayal and apocalyptic genocide played out safely through cards, cubes, and shrimp icons. For an RRP of around £20 you are bound to get your money’s worth.