Duelosaur Island Review – 2 Player Dino Park Perfection

Duelosaur Island is a spin of title from the successful board game Dinosaur Island, both being published by Pandasaurus Games. Designed by Ian Moss, this is a two player version of the game – featuring dice rolling, card playing and some set collection elements. Over the course of the game you’ll grow your park in terms of the dinosaurs on show and attractions. However, is this a way to gain excitement for your game collection? Let’s find out!

To start the game each player receives a player board, with cubes to put into the lowest sections of the DNA, threat and security tracks. A central tracker is added to the table, with cubes for the two players starting on the lowest excitement and a humble 5 visitors. To make each game a bit different 4 plot twist tokens are randomly removed from the box and played onto a draft board. Next, a goal of 25, 35 or 45 visitors must be set – denoting the length of the game. Aside from shuffling the specialist and park deck, each player gets their associated parks three starting cards.

Each park card features a dinosaur at the top and an attraction at the bottom, including these starter cards. Before round one each players gets to create one dinosaur from their starter hand and one attraction to build for free, naturally from different cards. This is done by slotting them under their player board, leaving the built bit on show. For the first couple of games this might as well be randomly done, but over time as players learn the benefits of attraction types and available specialists, this can be an interesting decision.

At the start of each round is the income phase, where players gain both coins and cards based upon their parks – starting with a base income of 3 coins and 1 card. Next, it is onto drafting, where the draft board gets filled by the starting player. This is done by flipping over the next two specialists and drawing and then rolling 5 dice from the pool of 8, blindly from the bag. The starting player then aligns the dice along the draft track, where plot twists are located next to the first 4. These twists range from multiplying the dice benefit to a simple bonus of coins or cards. Then play starts with the second player, taking it in turns to draft 3 items in total, one at a time.

The way the drafting works is extremely similar to I split you choose style games, at least for the dice. If there is a great symbol rolled as the starting player you can put it on the worst bonus, or no bonus, space and vice versa – making bad dice more attractive to your opponent. Upon choosing a dice you instantly gain the benefit, such as basic or advanced DNA strands. Conversely, specialists, of which you can have three, are slotted into your park to give timed bonuses.

After drafting is the build phase where players get to spend collected DNA to create dinosaurs! There is also a range of other actions such as upgrading security, building attractions and selling DNA, which are vitally important. While spending coins on attractions will help boost your income of coins or cards, or instantly see you gain a PR bonus, it is dinosaurs that increase your parks excitement level. A byproduct of these wild beasts is the threat level they add to the park, something to watch out for in the next phase. To counter any threats your security can be upgraded, with a tiered pricing system that sees the costs add up quickly.

The first stage of the visitors phase sees players comparing their threat and security levels. If your threat is higher, dinosaurs can wreak havoc to your park visitors, including eating them. Doubling the gap between these ratings equates to the number of visitors gobbled up and therefore your park visitor count must be dropped by this figure. Some visitors being eaten is fine, however if you would go below one you must take a lawsuit token – never a good thing.

After this each player, starting with the least exciting park, can choose an available PR bonus – somewhat of a catch up mechanic. Then, based on your excitement, visitors flood to your park and the drafting board is reset ready for the next round. If at the end of a round one or more parks have a reached the planned goal the game end is triggered. Triggering the end does not mean you have won. Dinosaur and attraction scoring is fairly simple with the number of visitors gained indicated on the cards. Next, a 4 visitor bonus is awarded for each set of 3 attraction icons (one of each type). Specialists potentially score bonuses and players lose 5 visitors per lawsuit brought against them. Summing up all the visitors, whomever has the most wins!

Some may see the simpleness of the title compared to the original and see a lack of great depth. Nevertheless, each and every card gives you a decision to make, enabling the game to be full of meaningful choices. Do you buying more restaurants to see your income rise, for the long game, or do you quickly try to expand your dinosaur attractions and hope your security can handle it? The choice is up to the player, let’s just hope there aren’t too many lawsuits brought against the players! It is also important to note, this is a game with a play time of around only 45 minutes instead of Dinosaur Island’s 1.5 – 2 hour play time.

Duelosaur Island shamelessly skirts the legal electrified fences surrounding using Jurassic Park as a theme. This is by no means at the detriment to the game as it is an underused property in board games, and the vibrancy of the 70s/80s colouring helps give the game a unique look. The range of rides and restaurants, and all the species of dinosaur, help build this theme visually. The stats do an acceptable job of furthering this theme, with different values of excitement, income and security threat. This could have gone further to fully round off the thematic journey of the game, though this the would cause the game to slow down and this is supposed to be a streamlined 2 player game after all.

Component wise the game ticks many positive boxes. The artwork of the cards is on the lighthearted side of dinosaurs, utilizing the colourful palette the game is rocking. This brightness extends to every component, which can make the game a little odd at first. It is something you’ll quickly warm to, and certainly makes the game stand out from the usual use of drab colours in board games. A lovely touch is that the dice are amber in colour – resonating with the theme. One slight negative is it is incredibly easy to lose the starting park cards among the rest, especially as the don’t have special backs and only a small symbol to differentiate them.

While I appreciate that the different lengths allow the game to be squeezed into different time periods for a short game of 25 visitors the game feels like it is cut short. Just when engines are up and running the game is over, often leading to a short game strategy working. Bumping this up to 35 visitors or higher allows for a couple more rounds, more cards and more combos to work. Thus, allowing for more meaningful choices and more viable strategies throughout.

There is a lot going on for your first game but by the end of it you’ll be up to speed and only lacking knowledge of the complete deck of available cards – for both dinosaurs and specialists. This being said, due to the drafting design you are able to see all the available options from the beginning of each round. Therefore, you can pick what is most beneficial, with the only surprises being what your opponent chooses to take. Analysis paralysis could seep in at this point, though from the limited cards you have in your hand there isn’t a long unexhausted list of different options.

Duelosaur Island is certainly a game that aims to stand out due to the vivid colours but it also does so via the use of the theme. There are some entertaining decisions to be made, such as when do I let some park guests be eaten to free up coins to build a rollercoaster. This is but one example of the peculiar sounding decisions players will have to make, that do affect how well you will do overall. In the 45 – 60 minutes you’ll be able to build up a park, get engines going and hopefully reap the rewards – an impressive feat to fit into such a short time period. It might not be an official Jurassic Park board game but with strong decisions and theme it might as well be, and that earns it’s space on my gaming shelf!

[Editor’s Note: Duelosaur Island was provided to us by Pandasaurus Games for the review, at Essen Spiel 2018.]