Digging up the Past – Dinogenics First Thoughts

As the last two years have proven, time really is just a matter of perception. Days, weeks, & months have flowed together. Way back in the before time I played Dinosaur Island and I had thoughts that I’ve never expressed in writing. Recently I played Dinogenics, another definitely not Jurassic Park Game. It has inspired me to revisit my impressions of Dinosaur Island, talk about Dinogenics, and use both of those as jumping off points into a wider discussion.

Dinogenics is published by Ninth Haven Games, designed by Richard Keene, and with art by Nikola Matkovic, Gzergorz Pedrycz, and Tan Ho Sim. Over the course of the game you’ll develop two different sides of your park. Hotels will spring up, news crews will be accommodated, and concession stands will be built. Tourists and T-Shirts are all very well but we need something for them to look at. Queue the music.

Game board almost at the end.
Getting towards the end of the game here

The other half of your board is given over to the exhibits. Triceratops, T-rex, and Brontosaurus amongst others will need pens to accommodate them, maybe a friend or two to keep them company and the occasional goat to eat. Starting with only 4 fences to keep your dinosaurs from rampaging around you’ll expand, install petting zoos, or maybe a nice place to recycle some of the rubbish from your park.

Making dinos is a simple matter of set collection. The bigger the dinosaur the more cards you need. Dinosaurs bring you reputation, used to determine player order in a given round, called seasons here. They also bring you victory points every round, so the more populated your park is, the faster you can accelerate into pole position. The facilities you get access to can combo up nicely to provide you extra points be it having the kids come to play with baby raptors, or a nice restaurant for your visitors to dine at.

The core of the game is a simple worker placement game. No real gimmicks here, you just plonk down your folk and do a thing. What really made the game shine for me on this first play was the manipulation cards.

Starting with only one of these cards, you can pick up and play more of them over the course of the game. These have all sorts of effects, but what they add is a little sprinkle of spice to an otherwise pretty straightforward game. As an example my first turn involved playing a splice card that allowed me to smash a triceratops together. This led to much discussion around the table about what it looks like. A lovely light hearted start to the game.

These cards and the building options lead to some neat combos that you can build up. Dingoenics is a game with simple rules that evokes a lot of theme with its scarcity of mechanics. In thinking about it I dredged up my feelings around Dinosaur Island.

Dinosaur Island setup for two players
Bit of a table hog (image provided by Jamie)

Dinosaur Island was a Kickstarter darling back in 2017 and was published by Pandasauraus games, designed by Johnathan Gilmour and Brain Lewis, with art by Kwanchai Moriya and Anthony Wocken. It was the sort of Kickstarter that drew the eye with its evocative art and bunch of bling and exclusives. I really like the art style of Dinosaur Island and Dinogenics does feel much more muted in comparison.

That’s kind of where my praise for Dinosaur Island ends though. I found it to be a mess of a design, with loads of different mechanics seemingly chucked at it to see what would stick, the answer being absolutely everything. From dice rolling to determine DNA that could be bought, to endless tracks to keep everything straight, staff members, worker placement, buying facilities and the dinos themselves the game just felt very busy

Making Dinosaurs is fiddly and complicated, and there are all sorts of little subsystems throughout the game that just seem to add work to the game without being very much fun. Mistaking complexity for depth feels like a common trap in a lot of designs. Whilst the former can lead to the latter, it is often the case that it just increases the administrative overheads of the game without adding much to the gameplay.

For my money, and keeping in mind I’ve only played each of these games once, Dinogenics does a much better job of evoking the building of a dinosaur theme park without being weighed down by overbearing mechanics. I have no idea what the replayability of each of these games is like, but Dinogenics is much faster to set up and tear down which is a bonus in my book. I want to play Dinogenics again, to push the buttons and see what drops out. I really have no desire to try Dinosaur Island ever again.

A small seque

Unfortunately I can’t get a copy of Dinogenics, bar borrowing my friend’s copy. Dinogenics came out in 2019 on KS and some retailers, but at the moment is effectively unavailable, in the UK at least. That’s a real shame for a game that is only 3 years old. You can play this digitally on Tabletopia, but it is a sobering reminder of the fleeting nature of ‘the hotness’ in the hobby. There are some copies available direct from the publisher in the US and Canada through their web store but at $75 a copy + shipping to the UK that’s going to make it expensive.

The hobby looks down on games like Monopoly, Cluedo, Uno, games that by their very nature are approachable and are the go-to responses when the wider public think about boardgames. This is partly down to their evergreen status, games that will be constantly reprinted because they are a consistent seller. They are widely available all the time. Jamey Stonemaier wrote about this recently, using information that he could gather from ICV2.

Above all things, availability keeps games getting played and keeps them in the communities mind. Sure a digital version will last forever (I know, I know, just as long as it is supported etc. etc.), and that side of the hobby is getting better every year, but in the end we want to be able to get people around our table to play games, give them to friends, and put them under a christmas tree. I hope that more publishers, this isn’t the designer’s job, consider the long tail of their products and try to establish a more regular income through evergreen products and wider availability.

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Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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