Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Better than El Grande? (Dominant Species)

Kozure purchased Dominant Species recently, and Shemp made it his pick this week.

In Dominant Species, each player represents a type of creature in the animal kingdom (reptile, mammals, birds, insects, arachnids or amphibian). The world slowly expands to reveal various types of terrain while simultaneously the ice age creeps up and turns a subset of the terrain to inhospitable tundra. The various types of creatures struggle to evolve and adapt themselves to the available terrain while simultaneously trying to outnumber the others.

At it's core, Dominant Species is a worker placement/ area majority game. There are a large number of options each turn, from selecting from an available list of adaptations, to exploring the land, to migrating and attacking other creatures. Players select where to place their 3 action pawns (to start) amongst the available options. Afterwards, the actions are resolved. The board play itself felt very much like playing El Grande EXTREME edition... Various mechanisms are pushing many coloured cubes around the board, all in a contest to gain majorities. What sets this game apart is the vast array of options and intertwined mechanics. In particular, the area majority has two facets which must be managed simultaneously: Who has the largest number of animals present, and who is the most adapted to the environment. When scoring occurs, the player with the most animals gets the most points (similar to El Grande), but the player with the best adapted animal gets to draw from several face up cards which can confer powerful bonuses to that player.

With all these extra layers of stuff comes the inevitable longer playtime. in our game, we played a shortened version (Kozure removed a number of cards. 10?) and it still clocked in at 3hrs. Honestly, I didn't really see what would have improved with the full game. There doesn't seem to be long term strategies that would only come to fruition after a certain amount of play (as opposed to Through the Ages, where "idea" strategies take longer to compared to the short term military strategy). Personally, I would probably choose to play the same way next time.

In our session, I played the arachnids, who's special ability is that they can kill one animal (one cube) of their choice every round for free. I took a domination card called "Blight" (I think) which allowed me to eliminate certain resources from the board. The intended effect was to slow down Kozure, the leader at the time. The actual effect was nearly wiping him off the board when extinction was checked. He was reduced to a single cube! Over the course of the game, Kozure saw his early fortunes fall and Shemp took the lead. I managed a comeback, and when the end game points were calculated I won by a handful of points. It was very close.

Overall, I quite enjoyed the game. The theme is well executed, there appears to be multiple players of strategy, there is a good amount of player interaction, etc. It's long though. And it's a thinker, open to definite analysis paralysis. Given the similar feeling to El Grande, I'd likely choose to play that game most of the time just because it's so much shorter. Still, there is lots of depth to explore here, so I'd be happy to play again!

1 comment:

  1. jaywowzer9:41 PM

    This is one that I've been very tempted to pick up, but the limited supply has temporarily postponed making a final 'buy' decision. Hope you play again soon so I can read more of your session reporting and commentary. I'm less concerned about the game length than I am on the AP potential to create downtime. In the meantime I've pre-ordered Urban Sprawl (the other GMT P500 title from Chad Jensen).