Dinosaur Island: Rawr’n’Write – A (Mostly) Solo Review

It’s possible that you’ve always wanted to run a theme park… that’s certainly been the inspiration behind my two favorite computer games: Rollercoaster Tycoon & Planet Coaster. (It’s possible you may have had other dreams – perhaps shipping various goods back’n’forth across the Mediterranean Sea. In that case, it’s possible that there’s been a game or two published that right in your wheelhouse.)

But for you who enjoy the challenge of building a functioning theme park (albeit one with genetically bred dinosaurs) and who like the roll’n’write board game genre, here’s my woefully short summary and slightly longer thoughts on Pandasaurus Games’ Dinosaur Island: Rawr’n’Write.

“Welcome to Jurassic Park.”

John Hammond

Incredibly Short Summary

Two rounds of drafting dice and using them to activate actions, followed by a round of running your park.

Do that three times.

Ok, that wasn’t really very helpful. Let me try again.

“But if ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.”

Ian Malcolm

Actual Game Summary 

Each player has two different sheets in front of them – one which contains a large blank grid in which you draw your park (and areas in which to save money, roads, dino DNA, and record the purchase of various special buildings and your current security status). The second sheet is used to run your park – and is also the place where you mark various attractions (food & merch outlets + rides), hire staff, record the level of visitor excitement, and – if things go horribly wrong – the number of deaths in your park.

As I noted above, the game is divided into nine rounds – two rounds of park-building (using the dice) followed by a round of running your park.

Park Building (what the rules cleverly call an Action Phase)

The first player draws out the appropriate number of dice (2 per player + 1 more die) and rolls them. Starting with the first player, players draft a die to get whatever nifty thing is on the die (dino DNA, roads, money, attractions, security). Once all players have drafted their first die, the last player starts the second round of die drafting. 

When drafting is completed, players gain the resources from the dice they’ve drafted – and, if they’ve acquired attractions or roads, immediately build them into their park. If they use their coins and spend them to finish paying for a special building, that is built into their park as well.

Then, beginning with the start player, players assign one of their dice to the action board in clockwise order. You can place a die on top of another die in order to do the action twice… but you take the threat on the die you cover as a cost.

You can do any one of the following actions:

  • Make Dinos: spend your DNA to create up to 4 dinos
  • Raise Funds: gain 2 coins or 2 security
  • Extract DNA: gain any 2 basic DNA or any 1 advanced DNA
  • Duplicate: double the resources on the die you place here (all other players gain a single copy)… and you can’t double attractions
  • Build: build 3 roads or one attraction

Once all of that is concluded, the final leftover die gives both the resources AND the threat level on that die to every player. 

Park Running (what the rules cleverly call the Run Park phase)

After two park building rounds, players then run their parks, following the order of actions laid out on their second sheet.

  1. Attractions
    1. Stores: gain 1 random die roll for each merch location you have
    2. Rides: gain 1 excitement for each ride you have
    3. Food: gain 1 coin for each restaurant you have
  2. Staff
    1. Gain the income from each staff member – which can be actions and/or resources
  3. Dino Tour
    1. Create excitement by running a dino tour from your HQ through your buildings and roads
    2. If you end at a Park Exit, you’ll get those victory points at the end of the game
  4. Excitement
    1. Gain resources from your excitement track
  5. Death Toll
    1. Each threat not “protected” by security means one of your park visitors dies – and the death toll track has disaster spaces along it
    2. For each disaster marked off, you must lose something from your park…
      1. A dino paddock
      2. 3 roads
      3. An attraction
      4. 4 stored DNA
      5. Staff Member

Mapping Your Park 

What sets Dinosaur Island: Rawr’n’Write apart from other 2-sheet roll/flip’n’write games (like Fleet: The Dice Game or Hadrian’s Wall – which I reviewed last year) or from the previous Dinosaur Island games is the way in which you draw the map of your park as a key part of the game. 

Working with a large grid, you add attractions, dino paddocks (which can hold up to 4 dinos each), and specialized buildings… and then connect them with roads in order to create your Dino Tour route. Buildings cannot touch each other (even at the corners) and once placed are there forever. 

If a building/paddock is destroyed, it is marked out and nothing can be rebuilt on its spot.

“Ah, now eventually you do plan to have dinosaurs on your, on your dinosaur tour, right? Hello?”

Ian Malcolm

All By Myself

I’ll start by noting that only two of my eight plays of Dinosaur Island: Rawr’n’Write were multiplayer. That said, the majority of my feedback to you, gentle readers (and those who are more interested in breeding the largest/scariest dinos possible), will be about the solo playing experience.

The solo game begins with drawing five cards from the AI deck and choosing 3 of them as objectives – extra goals for the solo player to achieve to score more points.

The dice draft uses six dice… which are then narrowed to four dice by flipping an AI deck card and placing the indicated dice on particular action spots. 

And that’s it – otherwise, it’s the same game system… minus the hate drafting and grabbing actions to cut off other players, of course.

“Life finds a way.”

Ian Malcolm

Final Thoughts

This is not my first Dinosaur Island rodeo – I’ve played both the original game and Duelosaur Island (the two player game) multiple times – but I don’t own either of them. They are both games I’m happy to play but don’t need to have in my collection. (I have not – yet! – played Dinosaur World.)

In my ever-so-humble opinion, Dinosaur Island: Rawr’n’Write is the best of the bunch. I really like the freedom inherent in drawing the layout of your own park, the straightforward variety of 3 different special buildings and 3 different specialists each game, and the not-annoying simplicity of the solo system. In addition, the game has a relatively small footprint for a game with this much going on, making it much easier to play on a coffee table or hotel room desk.

My solo games average between 35-45 minutes each which does not out stay its welcome. Multiplayer games (remember: I’ve only played 2) clock in between 60-90 minutes.

The iconography is clear – and in case it isn’t for you, the rules have an excellent explanation of the many of the individual building and specialist cards as well as the back page of the rulebook having an icon summary.

My one complaint is a constant from all three of the Dinosaur Island games I’ve played – the amber-colored dice. It’s not just that they’re amber-colored, though… it’s the clear acrylic/amber design of them that makes them difficult to read across the table, especially when you’re looking for threat dots. It’s not as big of an issue when playing solo, but it’s been a problem otherwise. I’ve found that playing on a lighter surface tends to help.

With that one caveat, I’d recommend Dinosaur Island: Rawr’n’Write to fans of roll’n’write games, solo players looking for an interesting challenge, and those who are still looking for a game about running a theme park that they enjoy.

Comments from Other Opinionated Gamers

Tery:  I only played Dinosaur Island once, but I really enjoyed it. I have considered picking up a copy several times, but never followed through. When I saw this I decided to give it a try, and I am glad I did. It takes everything I remember liking about the original and translates it into a roll and write that keeps the same feel but adds some new, cool features, like drawing your own park. After the first play we immediately played again, partly because it was so fun and partly because my playing partner did not heed my warnings about letting the dinosaurs run rampant and not addressing the threat, leading to a rather low score. 

Dale: 3 plays, both solo and multiplayer – While I’ve been on the downswing a bit with the whole RAW genre; I really liked the puzzle here of putting together my amusement park.  I’m not even sure if I really consider this a roll and write, as it’s more of a drafting game.  For me, a true RAW would have everyone using the same dice results all the time.  We really could have just flipped over cards and then drafted those things.  In any event, there are plenty of things to do each turn, and there were very few turns that I felt that my options stunk.  The grid for the amusement park is so big; that you can usually make any action work; though there are still plenty of chances to hate draft so that your opponents at least don’t get their most desired action.  Also, because of the individual differences in park layout, dino choice, specialists, etc – it is rare to not have something to do with your action choice.  Unlike Mark, I prefer the multiplayer game to the solo, but I also am not the huge-est fan of solo gaming.  I’d be happy to play this anytime someone suggested it, and it might be my favorite of the Dinosaur Island series.  I also agree that the yellow dice are prettty hard to read, and that would be one thing I would try to fix.  Maybe going back to my old D+D days and finding a dark crayon to color in all the recesses on the die to make them easier to read.

Dan B.: 1 play – I think this is a pretty good roll-and-write on the somewhat heavier side; unlike some attempts at heavier RAW games it’s not top-heavy. And I like it more than Dinosaur Island (although I played that under suboptimal conditions), and definitely more than Dinosaur World, which I thought was mediocre at best. My one concern with this game is that it seemed fairly easy to mitigate the threat from the large carnivores; if it is, then you really have to get large carnivores as they just give too many points to ignore.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it –

I like it – Mark J, Steph, Dan B, Eric Edens, Tery

Neutral – James Nathan, Dale, John P

Not for Me –

About Mark "Fluff Daddy" Jackson

follower of Jesus, husband, father, pastor, boardgamer, writer, Legomaniac, Disneyphile, voted most likely to have the same Christmas wish list at age 57 as he did at age 7
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