Space games are always popular and so are games featuring dinosaurs so, as a theme for a game, dinosaurs in space should come as no surprise. It put us immediately in mind of the sadly neglected Gorn from the 1967 episode 'Arena' in original Star Trek. The special tokens in Space Dinos have all been given Star Trek referencing names, so we suspect that Paodle Games share our nod to the Gorn.
With Jane Cide's cute art for both the spacefaring dinosaurs and the star titles, Space Dinos has all the appearance of being a light family or children's game. The rules are straightforward so the game can certainly be played by children but, behind the cuddly facade, Kathi Sjostrom has designed a clever tile placement puzzle game where the 2-4 players will be jockeying for optimal scoring positions.
Over the course of the game, players will together be building a 6x6 grid of constellation tiles. The tiles come in six colours and the number of stars on each tile varies from 1 to 6. Players start with 4 tiles each (face up in our 360º Board's Eye View photo, but you'd normally expect to keep them face down or hold them in your hand like cards). We'd have liked to see tile racks to hold your tiles so they are propped up facing you. At a push, you could use for this the tile racks that come in a standard set of Scrabble (Hasbro). Players also start with six stardust tokens that can be spent to buy one of the special tokens (giving you a one-off special action) and to modify die rolls.
On your turn, you roll a standard six-sided die. You then take one action. The main actions are that you can place out a tile with the number of stars on it that matches the number on your die or you can place out one of your dinosaur tokens on an already laid tile that matches your die roll. Wouldn't it be great if the tokens were replaced with dinosaur minis, but obviously that would up the cost: perhaps we'll substitute dinosaur minis from Dinosaur Island (Pandasaurus)... Dinosaurs placed out on the grid score when the tile they are on is orthogonally surrounded and when the row or column they are on is completed. The subtlety comes in choosing the best way of placing out your tiles and dinosaurs because there are bonuses to be had when your dinosaur is surrounded by constellations that all have a different number and/or are all different colours. Likewise the rows and columns. You get a bonus too for being the player to complete a column or row, so you can sometimes find it pays to complete a row that 'helps' an opponent - especially if that also stops them from getting an 'all different' bonus.
There are some obvious similarities with Carcassonne (Z-Man/Hans im Gluck), tho' players' considerations are different because your tile placement is constrained solely by the 6x6 grid: in Space Dinos you don't have to worry about matching up edges. This focuses the mind on how to optimise your scoring potential. It's a puzzle game because you'll have to weigh the odds of opponents capitalising on a good position ahead of you. Tho' you are rolling a die, the option to spend tokens to mitigate your roll removes much of the blind luck from the game. And points in Space Dinos are treated as movement along a space exploration track, which somehow conveys more excitement than mere totting up of victory points: players get a mild adrenaline rush as if they were competing in a race game.
With the Kickstarter for Space Dinos due to go live on 13 October, we've not had the preview prototype long enough to play all the many optional rules and variants in the rules, including those designed to ease in younger players and those designed to up the challenge for hardened gamers. Suffice to say tho' that this is a jolly good game with plenty of inbuilt replayability. We'll add a link to the Kickstarter when that goes live.