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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write Board Game Review

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Dinosaurs haven’t quite gone extinct in the board game world, but it’s close. You’d imagine that real-life roaring monsters stalking the actual earth would be an endless source of design inspiration, yet games featuring them are relatively few and far between. One of the best is Dinosaur Island – republished as Dinosaur World – which tasks players with building and managing their very own version of Jurassic World. It’s a great game if you can stand the sauropod-like weight of rules and play time.

For those of us without geological periods of time in which to play games, the same designers have invented a streamlined alternative, Dinosaur Island: Rawr n’ Write (see it at Amazon). The title riffs on the popular roll-and-write genre where a pool of dice is rolled and players mark down the results on a scoresheet. You’ve probably played Yahtzee, but this is a much bigger beast.

What’s In the Box

Beneath the rules and a simple card-holding board, the main component of Dinosaur Island: Rawr n’ Write is two big pads of scoresheets. This in itself is unusual: most roll and write games only have one. Closer inspection reveals them to both be packed with detail, and you may need to squint to see all the boxes. You can print your own, too, via online copies freely available from the publisher, and they also supply an app to use, although it’s fiddly.

Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n WriteDinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write

At the bottom of the box are decks of specialist and building cards, illustrated in a fun cartoon style that helps bring the setting to life. There are also custom dice printed with esoteric-looking symbols on translucent orange-yellow plastic. These are clearly supposed to be amber, although in a certain light they can’t help but resemble another common, naturally occurring fluid.

Rules and How it Plays

Dinosaur Island: Rawr n’ Write plays out over the course of three tourist seasons. Each consists of two rounds of dice-drafting to gain and spend resources on adding staff and buildings to the map of your park, followed by an actual tour around those attractions. Staff give you an immediate reward plus an additional bonus on each tour. A guide, for example, makes your park more exciting for visitors and lets you add roads before a tour. There are three default staff hires every game, including the guide, plus another three randomly dealt to make sure the options are different on every play.

There are a lot of resources in this game, especially for a roll-and-write title, which are normally stripped down for simplicity and speed. Money is one, which you’ll need to recruit staff, buy buildings and lay road between them. On occasion, you may also get dice faces that give you a whole building or a couple of roads. DNA is another. It comes in three simple and three “advanced” flavors which you can pair up to create up to nine dinosaur species, from Triceratops to Tyrannosaurs. Dinosaurs also add “threat” to your park which you can offset with the final resource, security.

All the dice in Dinosaur Island: Rawr n’ Write are different, and you draw a selection to roll each round based on the number of players plus one extra. Choosing which dice to take from the pool is always a fraught decision with a lot of factors to consider. It’s not just about deciding on the most important resources but what you’ll miss out on, too. You might want DNA for dinosaurs, but if you do, you’ll need to ameliorate any gained threat. Similarly, your attractions will be less valuable if you don’t have roads to connect them to your tour. It’s a very tricky logical balancing act, with added tension from the fact that all the players gain the resources plus an amount of threat from the final, leftover dice.

Once you’ve chosen two dice, you get to use them to take actions from a choice of six. Most gain additional resources or buildings, so it’s a way to catch up on things you missed during the drafting phase. However, breeding dinosaurs is only available as an action, so that space is hotly contested. If you want to take an action another player has already used that’s fine, but you’ll gain extra threat from the dice they’ve placed there, so it can be a risky option.

The way all the different resources are necessary for different aspects of your park makes this far more of a brain-burner than most games in the genre. However, with brain-burn comes its unwelcome cousin, analysis paralysis, where players get hung up on all the possible permutations and take a while to make a move. It’s particularly acute here due to the tight integration of resources and the two-step process of drafting and actions which make it difficult to plan ahead. Turns can be slow, especially as the player count rises.

When you first create a new dinosaur species you can add its paddock as a building to your park for free. Others include funfair rides and merch stands, as well as a random selection of three buildings, dealt anew for each game. Whenever you build something, you draw it on the grid map of your park. The aim for the end of each of the three seasons is to have a route that leads from your HQ, via roads through as many new buildings as possible, and out of a park exit. You can only use a building an exit once per tour, which is a bit contrived but does add to the strategic planning.

Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write Screens

Despite this affectation, the park tour is a neat touch that really brings the game to life. Suddenly you’re not just juggling numbers on a spreadsheet any more, you’re whisking tourists through the greatest show on earth, a show that you planned and built and executed. Your reward is a buildup of “excitement,” another track on the sheet that brings in rewards in the form of resources and victory points.

However, tours are where it can also all go wrong if your threat count is ahead of your security. The first couple of times this happens, the dead tourists can be hushed up. But keep inviting disaster and you’ll have to destroy parts of your hard-built park and the rewards they provide. While this is fun and thematic, in practice it’s a little too easy to stay ahead of the threat curve and most of the time you can avoid the most serious repercussions.

Where to Buy


Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write successfully lifts roll and write games out of the Jurassic and into the world of deep, difficult strategy games. To its credit, it also manages to leverage a number of typically abstract mechanics into an emergent theme that really feels like building and running a theme park. However, it’s almost too successful at creating a challenge, leading to a slow pace and over-cautious play. It’s a fine attraction, but it’s one best enjoyed alone or as a couple.

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