Dinosaur Island is a game all about running a dinosaur theme park and making sure your guests don’t get eaten along the way. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it borrows its premise from Jurassic Park — but the similarities end at the concept phase. Dinosaur Island takes the ‘dinosaur theme park’ idea and absolutely runs with it, blending Euro “management” style gameplay with a beautiful 90s-era aesthetic. You’ll need to set aside an entire afternoon to learn the complexities of the game’s phases, but once you’re across the rules and set-up you’ll have a fantastic time with this adventure.
The best part is there’s an in-built solo mode so if you struggle to find friends willing to learn a massive set of rules, there’s some very handy options.
Dinosaur Island requires a fair amount of set-up and comes with dozens of tiny pieces to sort. Gameplay primarily takes place across four different boards (your personal lab and park boards, plus the research centre, marketplace and track boards) so you’ll need a fairly large space to set-up and play — at least 1.5 metres squared or more.
Before you even kick off gameplay you’ll also need to dedicate at least 30 minutes to setting up the play area. Each board requires specific tokens or markers and you’ll also need to set-up your game’s unique objectives, plot twists and supply. The first time you undertake set-up, it’ll take you a good while to figure out what goes where.
There’s a lot of finnicky parts here, and you’ll need all of them to play through each phase of the game — so it’s best to familiarise yourself with each piece and token name before you start.
Learning the rules
Because Dinosaur Island takes place in multiple complicated phases, you’ll need to really sit down and learn the rules before you even think about setting up the game. There are some handy guides online like this one from Roll for Crit or this one from Watch It Played. Both are great explainers, but the manual of the game actually does a much better job at explaining the rules.
It’s dense, but well worth the effort.
Set aside at least an hour to sit down with the booklet and go through each phase (Research, Market, Worker, Park and Cleanup) to understand what actions you can take as you build your theme park and try to protect your visitors.
Dinosaur Island takes place over five distinct phases where players build their theme parks, combine DNA to create new dinosaurs and invite local patrons to visit their parks. Each of these phases must be played in turn order, with players required to take a certain number of actions for each phase.
The opening phase (Research) allow players to research DNA, procure new recipes for dinosaurs or build their stock of DNA in cold storage. Then, they’re able to enter the Market phase. This lets players purchase attractions, specialists or lab upgrades for their park to ensure success in later rounds. Phase three sees players creating their dinosaurs and managing park security, while phase four allows players to officially open their parks to the public.
The concluding phase prepares players for a whole new round.
While you can pursue your own strategy during gameplay, the primary goal is to balance dinosaur synthesis with park safety and ensure a minimum amount of your guests get eaten. I say minimum because you’ll absolutely lose some guests to the dinosaurs while you learn to balance DNA gathering with enhancing security.
It’s a game that takes a long time to learn and a longer time to master, so expect to make a lot of mistakes along the way. You can’t exactly “lose” Dinosaur Island, but you can make decisions that negatively impact your overall park score and reduce your income. In a 2+ player game, you’re competing for the “best” park, so it’s really a sink-or-swim kind of game.
The first few rounds I played were incredibly slow (in solo mode) because I was trying to make the right choices. Each phase is filled with options and you’ll want to try a few different tactics to balance your park before you really nail down what works for you. You can play it safe, but you’ll have the most fun if you learn to let go of a few park guests and make some less responsible decisions.
While gameplay will be too complicated for some regular players, anyone who likes management sims will be rapt by all the mechanics at play here. It’s tough to master, but once you know the rules it’s a total blast.
Dinosaur Island is a complex game, and it’s one you may prefer to enjoy solo. Because it’s difficult to set up and teach, it’s not handy for group play sessions unless you have a dedicated board game area in your home. You’ll also need to spend a good hour or two learning the rules, and another hour or two grasping strategy so any sessions will require a hefty time investment.
I much preferred the solo experience with Dinosaur Island because I didn’t have to watch my fellow players’ eyes glaze over while I tried to explain each phase.
But Dinosaur Island makes for an excellent tabletop experience regardless of how long it takes to learn the game. Every piece here is gorgeous and every complicated little mechanic adds something new to the game.
Having different dinosaurs, businesses and attractions to choose from makes the game endlessly replayable, and it perfectly evokes the classic theme park sims of PC gaming past. For anyone who loves dinosaurs, theme parks or fun board game adventures, Dinosaur Island has it all.
It’s a game that requires your utmost attention but if you’re willing to put in the hours to learn how to play, it’s an immensely rewarding and entertaining time.