Dinosaurs are cool, and there are some very good board games with dinosaurs in the theme. Tiny Epic Dinosaurs, designed by Scott Almes and published by Gamelyn Games, is the latest to hit our tabletops. I had the chance to play the Deluxe Kickstarter version, complete with neoprene game mat and Laboratory mini expansion. Here are my thoughts after one play.
Over six rounds, one-four players will create a ranch full of dinosaurs to be sold for victory points. In order to build the best ranch, players will take turns placing ranchers on the board to complete tasks, such as capturing dinosaurs, building barriers to hold them, selling previously caught dinos, doing lab research and gathering food and supplies. Using the research lab allows players to acquire ongoing or one-time bonuses, and sometimes unique dinosaurs, which usually provides even better effects.
After workers are placed and their actions are taken, players will get an opportunity to place dinosaurs and barriers gained during the rancher placement phase. While players can rearrange previously placed dinosaurs on their ranch, barriers cannot be moved freely. Once the players make their choices, they will need to feed their dinosaurs with meat or vegetation. Finally, any containment that has two of the same type of dinosaur will breed and produce another dino meeple. If, at any point during these last three tasks any dinosaurs cannot be contained, fed or placed, they will escape and cause destruction on their way out. This is not good.
As with the other Tiny Epic games, if you think a game’s box size reflects its strategic complexity then you may be shocked. There are quite a few choices, and they matter. In our two-player game, I made a few inefficient rancher placements early on, which may have seemed like no big deal. But I have played enough games to know that early inefficiency can lead to disaster, and I had a feeling I could be in trouble later. And I was. Even with one large meeple who lets you duplicate another player’s rancher placement, there might not be enough space to do what you want, when you want.
Exacerbating this problem are “private contracts,” of which players get one each at the beginning and middle of the game. These contracts are similar to the public contracts that all players can see, but in order to complete one you have to also complete a public contract at the same time. That requires seven of the right dinos at one time, NOT in your holding area. This requires planning– and a little bit of holding your breath that another player doesn’t complete that public contract you’ve been saving up for first. Public contracts don’t refill until the next round, so if you don’t time things right, you can stumble and fall fatally behind. I assume over another couple of plays the best (and hopefully correct) choices available will be easier for me to identify from experience. I sure hope so, and I certainly accept the challenge. Tiny Epic Dinosaurs was quite fun, despite my mistakes and ultimate defeat.
As for the Laboratory mini expansion, the extra board each player receives provides a map connected by red, green and blue lines. These lines lead to spaces that will provide cool stuff if you reach them, including dinosaurs, resources or research cards. To move along those lines, players can collect the matching colored tiles that are gained by the first player to place a rancher at that location each round. The expansion feels like a puzzle and adds an extra layer of possibility if you can time it right.
And so, in closing, my initial take on Tiny Epic Dinosaurs is that the possibilities are expansive. Defying the size of its tiny components, I believe there may be a big reward awaiting the players who keep at this game. I think future plays will reveal powerful combos that will translate to an efficient engine, which will lead to tight competition and maximum fun. Oh, and the meeples are so damn cute. And tiny. And epic. Amen.
Thanks for reading. Stay safe and keep nerding on.
This review was originally published 8/7/20