Pirates. See? People are already paying attention, because people love pirate games. Vs Dinosaurs. And with that, the audience goes wild. Or, at least, we’re intrigued. How on earth did pirates and dinosaurs come to the same table? Is this even possible? Well, according to Jolly Roger Games, it is. Pirates are exploring an island for hidden treasure, and that island turns out to be inhabited by dinosaurs, which they have to fight. Oh, and also natives. Because island.
After having decided to trade this game, because we hadn’t played it, and reviews were starting to convince me that maybe we didn’t need to, we suddenly decided we needed to play it once before letting it go. So we got it out, and geared up, and got ready to face natives and dinosaurs.
Stage 1 involves equipping your party – buying equipment and hiring a First Mate and crew. Different choices here can help you in Combat, Exploration, or Digging for Treasure, so it’s important to balance things well. Stage 2 involves Exploring the main island. This is where you play your Encounter cards and face natives and dinosaurs, all while trying to explore areas to peek at their landmark tiles in the hopes of finding matches to your map pieces. When you have found matches for all three of your map pieces, you proceed to the island where you will dig for treasure, even though your opponents may not yet be going with you.
This is where I, and at least one reviewer I have read, get off the proverbial boat. One player moves on to the next stage of the game and starts digging for treasure, while others are still on Stage 2. The player who has moved on is no longer involved with Encounter cards in any way, so the experience of those left behind pretty much fizzles out, and since by then they probably know where their matches are, and just have to go through the formalities of exploring to turn them over, this is really wasted time for them. I think this could have been handled a lot better.
Finally, everyone is on the treasure island. Digging for treasure involves rolling dice and pulling out the indicated number of tiles from the bag of tiles. In the bag are a bunch of treasure cards in different denominations, some volcano tiles (if the volcano track fills up, anyone still there sinks and dies), a couple of ghost tiles (for curses), and some dinosaur attack tiles. Ghosts and dinosaurs go back in the bag after use, so they grow increasingly likely as treasures get pulled out. A word about treasure, based purely on my personal preference: This is a fantasy game. We’re playing pirates who are fighting dinosaurs to gain treasure. I found it very off-putting, therefore, that the denominations of treasure were in dollars. For me, it was disappointingly real-world, and I would have preferred any of a number of different alternatives. Ahem.
There are a couple of push-your-luck aspects to Stage 3 that are kind of fun. There’s the decision to keep pulling tiles from the bag, even as the proportion of treasure tiles decreases. On the other hand, there’s the risk of quitting too soon, and leaving your opponent to push just a little more luck without you in the way, and win the game. But there’s also the staffing issue. Each treasure requires two crew members to carry it back to the ship. No one goes into Stage 3 with enough crew members for the number of treasures they’re going to want to carry. So you can send an Envoy to bring you six new crew members, but you have to sacrifice one unique treasure each time you do so.
Finally, you decide to call it quits, and you head back to the ship. Once everyone has done so, it’s Game Over, and you add up the points to see who won based on the sum of the values of your treasures (after removing those sacrificed to pay for Envoys).
The components of this game are fantastic. You pay for a pretty game, and they bring it. Everything is high quality – the box weighs a metric ton, I think – and that does add to the experience. So bravo on that front. The T. Rex meeple alone is worth the price of admission, even though we didn’t get the chance to use him as intended. (He did make a number of cameo appearances, nonetheless.)
Overall, I’d say the game is okay. We enjoyed the Stage 2 portion of the game while we were both still there, I think because we especially enjoyed the interaction involved in the Encounter cards. That’s where the game was really happening for us. The Exploration is quick, and doesn’t really give you enough to be the meat of the game, in my opinion. Once Lane left Stage 2, we were both pretty much treading water until I got to Stage 3 as well, and things never recovered. I’m glad we played, because I hate to have a game pass through my hands without playing it, and because we did enjoy it. I’m also glad I traded it, because I don’t think we would need to play it enough to make it worth owning, when there are other, fantastic games on our shelves.
I give it a Meh +.