If Jurassic Park or an equivalent dinosaur-themed park actually existed, would you visit it? I mean, in just about every movie the dinosaurs get loose and someone gets eaten, smashed, or otherwise killed. I’m not sure how I want to go in life, but being eaten alive by a dinosaur is not very high on the list. Yet when there is money to be made, someone will give it a try.
And that’s what you get to do in today’s review of Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write from Pandasaurus Games. Game designers Brian Lewis, David McGregor, and Marissa Misura seek to distill the Dinosaur Island experience down to a 30-45 minute roll and write game. Yes, it’s another roll in write to be tossed into a brontosaurus-sized heap of them from the last few years. So Rawr ‘n Write is going to have to be pretty special to stand out from the herd. Did it succeed? Let’s find out.
Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write takes place over three years, each of which has two action phases and a park tour phase. Each player will start with two sheets to create their park that houses a wealth of information.
Each action phase starts with players drafting dice in a snaking round. Any dice drafted will gain you resources in the form of dinosaur DNA (used to make Dinos), Coins (used to hire specialists and construct buildings), attractions (restaurants, rides, or merchandise booths), or roads. Some of these will need to be used right away, while most can be banked until needed. Whichever die is not drafted grants its resource to all players, as well as its threat.
After drafting dice, players use their selected dice to take actions. There are five different actions a player can take by using their dice worker placement style, with actions letting you construct Dinos, gain resources, or construct roads and buildings.
All buildings are drawn in your park on a large grid. There are some placement rules, but for the most part, they just can’t be touching other buildings. You’ll also need to connect your buildings with roads to use in the tour phase. The sheets all track your resource storage, people you’ve hired, and also your park excitement and disasters.
After two action rounds, it’s time to go on a tour of your park. The game steps you through a handful of phases that will have you activating specialists and buildings before driving a tour through your park to gain excitement. Excitement is charted on an excitement track that grants you bonuses at specific intervals. If at the end of the tour, your threat outnumbers your security, people get eaten and you are penalized. So avoid that if you can.
The game ends after the tour phase in the third year. Players get points from a ton of different ways and the player who earned the most is the winner.
We have played a LOT of roll and write board games here at BGQ HQ. In one of my recent reviews, I even mentioned that there have been 400-500 roll and writes released in the past 3 years. That’s a jaw-dropping amount. While I haven’t played anywhere close to all of them, I can say that Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write is easily one of my favorites. There is just a lot in here that’s really enjoyable, this isn’t a simple cash grab on the Dinosaur Island name. So let’s dive into the details.
Reading the rules and looking at the dual player sheets, it’s not hard to feel intimated by the game. This is definitely not the quick playing filler you’d expect when you hear “roll and write”. But the designers managed to organize the sheets nicely so that every makes sense. When I explain the game to new players I suavely tell them that things should click after the first action phase, and usually it does. Draft dice to gain resources, spend them to improve your park, use actions at the end for a boost. The hardest part to grok is probably the tour phase, but thankfully, your sheet is numbered, so you can just step through them when it’s time.
Each game of Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write has you using three specialists (to go with the default 3) and three buildings for the game. These come from a pool of about 20+ of each, ensuring that each of your games will get a little bit of variety and new ways to score points. I really appreciated how diverse these decks were. But you can also ignore all of these if your strategy dictates that. Building dinosaurs is about the only required thing in the game as they are the best way to generate excitement and victory points. Rawr ‘n Write is definitely one of those games where you are going to have much more you want to do than available actions.
For dinosaurs, they come in three flavors, herbivores, small carnivores, and large carnivores. The herbivores are safe, but don’t generate much excitement, while the carnivores will get your people to your park… potentially to be eaten. My biggest gripe with the dinosaurs is that they don’t really feel all that different from each other in the same group. Looking at the herbivore, all three are exactly the same other than the DNA required to build them. So it’s kind of a letdown that there are no practical differences between building an ankylosaurus versus a triceratops.
One of the coolest parts in the game though is the excitement track. Many things you build will generate excitement, which in turn, grant you specific bonuses. But what’s cool about this track is that you get those bonuses each time you run a tour, not just once. This helps ramp up the game over the three rounds as in round one, you might just get a DNA and a coin, but by round three, you are getting a dozen or more resources. Overall the game has a great curve of excitement from a slow round 1 to the last round with plenty to do.
Finally, I can say that Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write plays really well at all of its player counts. I’m not much of a solo gamer, but I have tried the solo mode a few times and it’s pretty slick. At the higher player counts the game works great as well, as there isn’t really much in the way of downtime. The only knock here is that there isn’t much player interaction other than the usual worker placement taking spots thing or someone drafting a die you wanted.
I like Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write… a lot. I actually enjoyed it much more than the game it’s based on. I almost wouldn’t even call this a roll and write game (although it is) because it more so feels like a lightworker placement and resource management game. Regardless of arbitrary classifications, Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write is really good. It’s easily one of the top roll and writes I’ve played. There are tons of interesting and hard decisions to make throughout the game, and the sheer variety of buildings and specialists ensure that you’ll enjoy a somewhat diversified experience with every play.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – A light worker placement and resource management game with lots of interesting decisions to make.
• Lots to do, but the game steps you through everything
• Interesting decisions to make
• Nice blend of dice worker placement and resource management
• Good variety in the specialists and buildings
• Dinosaurs lack diversity in their categories