Review – Dinosaur Island (Pandasaurus Games)

Dinosaur Island
Dinosaur Island box
Dinosaur Island box

In Dinosaur Island, players will have to collect DNA, research the DNA sequences of extinct dinosaur species, and then combine the ancient DNA in the correct sequence to bring these prehistoric creatures back to life. Dino cooking! All players will compete to build the most thrilling park each season, and then work to attract (and keep alive!) the most visitors each season that the park opens.

Do you go big and create a pack of Velociraptors? They’ll definitely excite potential visitors, but you’d better make a large enough enclosure for them. And maybe hire some (read: a lot of) security. Or they WILL break out and start eating your visitors, and we all know how that ends. You could play it safe and grow a bunch of herbivores, but then you aren’t going to have the most exciting park in the world (sad face). So maybe buy a roller coaster or two to attract visitors to your park the good old-fashioned way?



Dinosaur Island is played in a series of rounds until the end of the game is triggered. In each round, there are five phases that occur in order: Research Phase, Market Phase, Worker Phase, Park Phase, and Cleanup Phase.

Dinosaur Island gameplay

During the Research phase, the first player rolls all dice in the DNA dice pool and places those rolled dice along the top of the research center, so that there is one die per slot. Then, in turn order, each player assigns one of their scientists to research DNA, increase cold storage, or procure a dinosaur recipe. Passing is also allowed, and these workers are transferred to Phase 3: The Worker Phase. Continue in this way, with each player assigning one scientist at a time until each player has had three turns in this phase.

Dinosaur Island Market Phase
Dinosaur Island Market Phase

During the Market phase, players visit the marketplace. In turn order, each player will have an opportunity to take an action in the marketplace. Marketplace actions include: hiring a specialist, building an attraction, buying a lab upgrade, or buying dinosaur DNA. Passing is also allowed, and a player receives $2 for passing (or $4 if they pass twice). Continue in this way, with each player having one market action at a time until each player has had two actions in this phase.

During the Worker phase, all players get to assign each of the workers from their worker pool in order to take lab actions (including workers passed from the Research Phase). Worker actions include: refining DNA, creating dinosaurs, increasing security, and upgrading paddock capacity. Worker actions can be performed more than once, as long as there are enough slots (workstations for the worker), and the player has enough money or resources.

Dinosaur Island Park Phase
Dinosaur Island Park Phase

During the Park phase, visitors will show up at each park, earning the players money from admission fees. Then they will also line up to visit the various attractions and dinosaur exhibits, earning victory points — as long as they’re not eaten by escaping dinosaurs!

First, a number of patrons visit the park based on the park’s excitement level. Each player draws the number of visitors from the bag equal to their excitement level and collects $1 from the bank for each paying patron (hooligans are non-paying guests). Next, place all drawn patrons at available attractions and dinosaur exhibits in the park, (placing hooligans first). Each dinosaur exhibit has space for visitors equal to the current number of dinosaurs in that exhibit. Any visitors that cannot visit attractions and dinosaur exhibits are stuck in line at the entrance.

After all players have drawn their visitors and placed them, it’s time to see if any dinosaurs get loose in your park and eat the visitors. If the player’s security level ≥ threat level, nothing happens. If the security level < threat level, dinosaurs get loose and eat visitors in the park. The number of visitors that are eaten is equal to the difference between the security level and threat level, and patrons must always be eaten before hooligans. Finally, score victory points, earning 1 victory point for each surviving patron (not hooligans) at an attraction or dinosaur exhibit. For each patron at a food attraction, you choose whether to score the 1 VP or collect $2 instead.

During the Cleanup phase, preparations are made for the following round by the following steps: resetting turn order, refreshing the market, revealing new dinosaur recipes, returning workers and scientists, removing visitors, and resolving plot twists.


Ending the Game

At any time, if a player fulfills the requirements of an objective card, they claim that card by putting one of their corporation tokens on the card. That objective cannot be claimed by any other players. If multiple players fulfill the requirements of an objective card at the same time, they each claim the card by putting one of their corporation tokens on the card. That objective cannot be claimed by any other players. Completing an objective is worth 6-8 VPs (scored at game end), and it also serves as a timer, pushing the game toward its conclusion.

The end of the game is triggered when there is only one objective card left unclaimed. Finish the current round, then proceed to final scoring. Each player adds to their score the VPs for the attractions and dinosaur exhibits in their park. For each attraction, score the listed VPs. For each exhibit, multiply the listed VP value by the number of dinosaurs in that paddock; if there are no dinosaurs there, you lose 10 VPs for that exhibit instead! Completed objectives are now scored at face value (6-8 VPs each).Leftover money is scored at a ratio of $5 for 1 VP. In the case of a tie, the tied player with the most leftover money wins.


The Good

Dinosaur Island is a beautiful game. The ridiculously 90’s artwork from Kwanchai Moriya and Peter Wocken is amazing. There was excitement when opening this technicolor box of goods, and unpacking layer by layer of components, dinosaur meeples, large amber DNA dice, and high-quality gameboards (I’m looking at you, Terraforming Mars!).

Dinosaur Island components
Dinosaur Island components

Even the bag that you draw meeples from is a gorgeous green velveteen embroidered with the Dinosaur Island logo. And this is the retail version of the game. The deluxe Kickstarter edition had even more impressive components, including dinosaur meeples in multiple shapes, high-quality coinage, and a sweet slap bracelet that is the first player indicator.

I am also fond of the fact that the designers built-in rules for solo play. It’s not a far deviation from the basic gameplay, so it’s easy to get to the table. I personally like to learn a more intimidating game like this on my own in solo mode, so it is easier to explain and manage when I do get it to the table with a larger group.


The Bad

Once I dug past the advertising and hype to the actual game underneath, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed. When looking at the game as a whole, with the huge footprint for the playing area, multiple playmats for each phase, and the inability to properly store all of the components in the box after play, I expected the game to be a little heavier. Not that having a game that is easier to play than it looks is a bad thing. I feel more comfortable bringing this game out to a less advanced group of players that may be excited about the theming and lured in by the visual aesthetics.

Dinosaur Island Research Phase

But after all of the hype and the excitement surrounding the Kickstarter campaign and the retail release, I honestly expected a little more from the actual gameplay. Maybe when I get this in front of various gaming groups with a different number of players and varying experience levels, I may find it to bloom differently for each occasion. No worries, I’m not giving up hope anytime soon. This game will get its fair share of time at the table.


Final Thoughts

Dinosaur Island is enticing for its nostalgic revisit of one of the greatest movie franchises in history – Jurassic Park. The radical 80’s themed artwork was a revisit to my childhood and made for a very aesthetically pleasing board game. I was also excited about the potential of bringing animal/theme park simulation video games, like Zoo Tycoon and Roller Coaster Tycoon, to my table as an analog game.  

As a fan of more strategic gameplay, I felt a little underwhelmed with the game initially. But after a couple of games, I feel that it has potential to entertain a diverse audience with its appealing theme and ease of play.


Game Statistics

  • Release Date:     2017
  • MSRP:                  $79.95
  • Playing Time:     60-120 minutes
  • Age Range:         10+
  • Player Count:     1-4


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About the author

Shanon Connelly

(a.k.a. “Super Muffin Girl”) is an avid board gamer, cosplayer, and all around nerd girl. She has been cosplaying for over 10 years, attending several conventions every year. She recently started a YouTube gaming channel, "Time to Play!", which previews and reviews board games. Follow Shanon on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (@supermuffingirl).

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