Theme and toy factor are two of the things I look for in games for my son and I to play together. When I saw Fossilis, I saw a game with both. Sliding chunky tiles along a 3D board and collecting dinosaur bones? Sign me up. Add in the art and some educational information on the dinosaur cards? It’s a great opportunity to meld learning with playing.
Did it live up to expectations or get caught in the tar pits of rule minutiae?
Each player’s turn consists of three steps: Spend four energy taking actions, buy one card from the market, and claim one dinosaur into your lab.
The bulk of your turn is spending energy which can be spent to take the following actions
• Gain 1 plaster from the plaster pool
• Move up to two spaces orthogonally
• Place one sand tile
• Dig one tile at varying costs for Sand (1), Clay (2), and Stone (3)
• Climb onto the dig site
• Spend plaster to extract bones or a hammer
The digging action has you sliding tiles one space per dig action. A tile can’t push anything harder than itself, so sand can’t push stone, but can push as many tiles that are the same weight or lighter. Players get to collect tiles they push off the board using the symbols to buy cards from the market. There are a few other rules associated with the dig action explained in the rulebook.
Players can slide themselves or other players off the board or into bone pits as well. The player places their meeple on the side of the dig site they were pushed off of or pick a side if they were unceremoniously pushed into a pit by another player. And if there are no tiles on that side, a sand tile is added for you to climb up on.
So the reason we’re digging and pushing people into pits is to collect dinosaur bones. If a player is adjacent to an open pit, they can spend plaster to extract a bone and use the tweezers included in the game to pull the piece out of the dig site. Bones are worth varying amounts of points but are worth more if used to construct dinosaurs and dinosaurs completed with all of their bones are worth more than the sum of their parts. Dinosaurs may be completed at any time during a player’s turn and dinosaurs may be completed when they’re in the display area if they have all the bones required for a perfect reconstruction.
Once per turn a player may also grab a hammer for zero plaster that grants one of nine special ability tiles on the scoring board. Cards in the market grant various boons including points, extra energy to spend, resources, or extra abilities that don’t cost energy to use.
After the plaster pool is emptied, an event card is played. This cycle repeats until the third event card is used. Then there’s one more pool of plaster and once that is emptied, each player gets one final turn before the game ends.
I’m a kid at heart and I love playing games. The toy factor and themes of board games add a lot to my enjoyment. Both of these factors were a huge draw of Fossilis for me. And out of the box it surprised me with the volume of rules for a game designed for kids aged eight and up. But after reading the rules a few times and playing through the game two handed to see how it worked it clicked.
Besides playing with toys, I also enjoy when I get to feel clever playing games. Managing your energy, collecting resources to buy tools and resources, and excavating bones and hammers gives you a lot of choices and makes the game feel very open like the dig site is your prehistoric and fossilized oyster.
There is a lot more going on in this game than I originally anticipated but I’m happy to report that it does work really well together. However, some younger gamers might not get some of the nuances that could make end game scoring lopsided. At the same time, once they understand how scoring works (I’ll have a point salad please) most players should see a multitude of ways for their turns to play out.
As an additional bonus, while you can figure out how you’re doing towards your specific goals it’s probably a little hard to keep track of every symbol, bone, and dinosaur your opponents have collected making it difficult to know who’s really ahead despite the scoring track trying to give you a rough idea. One of the only production misses for me was not including a marker or token for when you went past 50 points or 100 points.
There are a few take-that abilities (clearly labeled so they can be left out if desired) and games with more players are more likely to have negative interactions as you push each other away from different areas or push clay or stone over areas other players want to excavate in. With two players, you can each work on your own side of the board without too much interaction if you want. But with three (and presumably four and five) the dig site gets a lot more crowded. I’d think five may be too many players as the fifth starts in the middle (and at a small disadvantage of having to expend energy before being able to gather resources like the other players).
When I saw the age range and pictures of the production, I thought this would be a straightforward family game. But playing with kids around eight, you might want to follow the rules on the front of the book that simplifies things unless your child has played a lot of games. While there’s quite a lot going on most of it will click within a few rounds. But that’s probably where I’m struggling with the game. It’s a deeper than expected experience but it feels like there are too many moving parts for a lot of younger kids who seem like the targeted audience.
Ultimately, Fossilis is a family weight game for a family of gamers. If one or more players have taken a step beyond gateway games, this can work well but I’m hesitant to recommend it to someone interested in the theme who has only played mass market games with their kids (in that case, I’d suggest Jurassic Parts). But, compared to Jurassic Parts, which I also enjoyed, I found the experience of Fossilis deeper and more enjoyable. So if you’re the gamer who yearns to be a paleontologist and wants to play a game with great production values about dinosaurs with your family, Fossilis may be something you’d dig.
Final Score: 4 Stars – Fantastic production of a dinosaur themed game with a thinky foundation of collecting and converting resources into points.
• Production is top notch
• Choices give the players a lot of opportunities to feel clever on their turns
• Nearly everything gives you points
• There are a lot of situational rules in a family-targeted game
• May be overly complex for some families
I own it and my grandkids love it!