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Board Game Review: Get Jurassic with Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘N Write!

I grew up playing Sim Theme Park and Rollercoaster Tycoon; theme park games have a special place in my heart. I also happen to enjoy dinosaurs, thanks to one of my childhood friends’ obsessions. When you combine those two awesome things with a third awesome thing – roll & write board games – you get an equally awesome thing: Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write! This new title, designed by Brian Lewis, David McGregor, and Marissa Misura, and published by Pandasaurus Games is everything I wanted in a theme park designer game!

Plus, the name is fantastic because canonically everyone knows that dinosaurs never roar. They always RAWR! 🦕

I can’t get enough of Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write, so let’s dive in and find out why I’m obsessed with leading tours through my dangerous carnivore paddocks.

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Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write Gameplay

As far as roll & write games go, Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write packs a major punch. After all, it’s basically taking the broader concept of the original Dinosaur Island and condensing it down into an easily digestible dino smoothie. Fans of the original will find tons of familiarity in Rawr ‘n Write, which plays in less than half the time.

During the game, players are designing and managing the cutting edge of theme park attractions: dinosaurs. But this isn’t some ramshackle operation – there are skilled scientists on the team who specialize developing complex DNA strands into the ancient reptiles from ages past.

Each player gets TWO sheets to write on, which is rather unusual for a typical roll & write board game. On one sheet, you’ll be physically drawing out your theme park and tracking resources like Security, DNA, Building progress, Paddocks, and dinosaurs in your park. The other sheet tracks your Staff, Attractions, and Excitement. And what’s that section on the bottom…?

In this day and age, most of us are familiar with the tragedy of Jurassic Park (1993), so we know that introducing humans to some of the most terrifying alpha predators doesn’t always end well. Things can – and WILL – go wrong in your Dinosaur Island park. The chances of a death toll are high, but I guess that’s part of the thrill of experiencing dinosaurs up close.

A game of Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write is made up of Phases within Seasons. At the end of each Season, players will Run their Parks, gaining points and resources for how exciting the park is for their patrons. After three Seasons are played, the game ends, and the player with the most points is declared the winner!

Each season has two Action Phases. During an Action Phase, the beautiful, transparent amber dice are rolled and drafted in snake draft order. When you draft a die, you gain the resources on the top face, marking them on your sheets. Everybody gets the resources on the leftover die, but also the threat level of that die. You’ll need to upgrade your Security if you want to safely manage the threat level of your park.

These dice are then used to take actions. You can take any action you want, but if someone has already taken that action you will also increase your threat level, making those spots less enticing. Here are the available actions:

  • Make Dinos: Spend DNA to make up to 4 dinosaurs, and a Paddock if you don’t have one yet.
  • Raise Funds: Earn 2 Coins or gain 2 Security.
  • Extract DNA: Gain any 2 basic DNA, or gain 1 advanced DNA. All Carnivores need advanced DNA, are worth more points, and take up more space in the park, but they also increase the chance of Disaster thanks to their higher threat level.
  • Duplicate: Gain two copies of the die you place there, minus Attractions. Copying Attractions like Merch Booths, Rides, or Food Stalls would be way too powerful!
  • Build: Draw 3 Roads to connect buildings in your park, or build 1 Attraction, which grants income.

After two rounds of drafting and action selection, players run their parks. Your Attractions and Specialists give you benefits like extra Security or extra dice. Then, you’ll create a tour route comprised of buildings linked by Roads, and follow that from the entrance to one of the park’s many exits to gain points. Tours through new buildings and attractions generate more excitement for your guests, but you better make that tour better each season or the patrons will get bored!

Lastly, we check to see if Security was able to adequately contain the Threats of the park. Threats not covered by Security result in patron deaths, and enough deaths will result in catastrophic disasters. Will your park be able to showcase the most dangerous dinosaurs and profit, or will you be burdened by a never-ending slew of lawsuits and defamation cases?

Play it safe or go for broke – the choice is yours!

Staking Our C.L.A.I.M. on Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write!

Components

Being a roll and write board game, it’s important that Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write showcases the DICE! And I will say that these amber dice are gorgeous and thematically brilliant. We’re extracting the resources directly from the dice, just like POPULAR DINOSAUR THEME PARK MOVIE! I’m also pleasantly surprised at how much can fit on a single die face: two resource icons and simple threat-level dots.

You also get a nice, velvety drawstring bag to mix up those dice in. The Kickstarter version of the game features embroidery on the front of the bag with the game’s logo in golden thread, but the retail version is plain (to my knowledge). If you’re looking for a Kickstarter copy of the game, there have been some complaints about the embroidery looking unfinished on the bag. I can see the reasoning behind it when you’re looking up close, but at arm’s length the embroidery is fine to me. This embroidery is meant to show the 3D depth of the logo, and it accomplishes that. Would it look better with the letters filled in? Probably, but I’m more concerned with the game itself than quibbling over the stitching of a bag.

In the box you’ll also find a narrow and sturdy board for the dice-placing actions and slots for unique Specialist and Building cards to be used each game. These cards are good quality and a little bit larger than your standard US playing card size. You’ll also get four short pencils in the box, which will get used up quickly thanks to all of the drawing, writing, and resource tracking you’ll be doing.

Lastly, of course, are the two big pads of score sheets. Keep in mind that you’ll use one of each per person, per game. Each pad contains 50 sheets, double-sided, so you can squeeze 25 full 4-person games out before you’ll need to print more sheets from the Pandasaurus website. So happy that they’re double-sided!!

If you want to be more sustainable, you can always take four sheets from each, laminate them, and then use fine-point dry-erase markers.

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Look at the ordering of the amber dice!

Luck

Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write is like a blank slate waiting for whatever strategy that you want to pursue. Philosophically, the game reminds me a lot of heavier games like Gaia Project or Terraforming Mars where you have so many options thrown at you and you want to do ALL OF THEM. But you can’t! You have to pick and prioritize, focusing on a strategy that will take you to the victory lane.

Drafting dice leads to interesting decision points, and every draft becomes very impactful to the game: you only draft 6 dice total over the course of the game, and you only take 6 total actions. This makes every choice important and you need to focus your strategy. In the solo game, you’re guided by your chosen Objectives, which might be bonuses for recruiting the three unique Specialists or constructing the three unique buildings. You just won’t have the Coins to do everything, so let the dice guide your decision-making.

There’s also a strategy in blocking your opponents from taking actions. Making Dinos is always going to be something that people want to do, so taking that action will force other players to weight the cost-benefit of raising their threat on top of the threat they’ll gain for making dinosaurs to begin with!

And then, of course, you have the placement of the buildings within your park. Do you forgo short tours in season 1 in order to acquire the larger bonuses in seasons 2 and 3? Do you focus on building the Large Carnivore Paddocks because they take up the most space, thereby requiring fewer roads but more initial resources?


Regardless, every strategy should involve building the T-Rex Jet Ski Park because it’s over-the-top ridiculous and a gigantic building! A fitting capstone to any dinosaur-centric theme park!

Aesthetics

The general aesthetic in Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write is from the viewpoint of an architect and designer working to plan out the perfect dinosaur theme park. You get that feeling immediately from the box art with all of the drafting lines, measurements, and blueprint-style drawings that accompany the artwork of the completed park.

The iconography is exceptional and contemporary. It’s very easy to understand, despite all of the many resources competing for your attention. The only thing I was worried about was the accessibility of the six different DNA types from a color-blindness standpoint. Fortunately, the DNA icons are distinguishable by color and shape, which helps in that regard.

A really nice touch is that one of the score sheets is structurally ordered in the flow for running your park, so you know how the steps occur in order. It limits the amount of times going back to the rulebook to double-check ordering, so I appreciate when everything is out in front of the players. Even though everybody definitely reads rulebooks for fun…right? 😁

The blueprint approach to the design is super effective and distinguishes the game enough visually from the original Dinosaur Island to make Rawr ‘n Write feel like its own thing. It also leaves the actual aesthetic design of your drawn park up to you. People will exercise their creativity to draw little dinos in their paddocks or name their attractions to take ownership of their park. We see that same creativity in other roll & write games like Cartographers, and it’s wonderful!

Interest

Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write is for dinosaur enthusiasts, theme park lovers, and roll & writers. Despite its perceived complexity, the game seems like it would make a great precursor entry gateway to newer gamers before exposing them to the full-fledged Dinosaur Island. The concept of drafting a die and placing a die is an elegant mechanic that is simple enough to explain and understand: first we will take turns taking dice until we have two, and then we will place dice until we don’t have any more dice!

If you like puzzles or optimization problems, you’ll always find something to enjoy in this game. Having free-range over an open grid leads to some very interesting spatial considerations as far as structure placement and road planning. If you moonlight as a hobbyist urban planner, for example, this would be right up your geometric green space alley.

Replayability is another big hot-button word in board gaming right now, used to justify the relationship between dollars spent and hours of enjoyment before the game becomes stale. Between the solo mode, the variable setup with the different Buildings and Specialists, the dice blocking variant, and the Specialist & Building Draft variant, I see myself getting a ton of mileage out of this game. In fact, I might have to start logging my grid-miles on my POPULAR DINOSAUR THEME PARK MOVIE OFF-ROAD VEHICLE because I want to stay current on my scheduled oil changes and tire rotations.

If you’re a fan of other Pandasaurus titles, you’ll find some mechanical similarities between this game and Brew, in terms of the dice placement actions. You might also like this game if you enjoy some of their other great roll & writes like Sonora or Silver & Gold. I’ve already mentioned Cartographers as a comparison, and I would also say Railroad Ink Challenge shares the open-grid concept with pseudo-route building.

Mood

I’ve sort of drifted into discussing mood of Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write in all of my comments above, but I still want to expand on those thoughts in more detail. By drafting through the same collection of dice, it feels like the players are representing rival corporations all trying to take the market share of the dinosaur theme park arena. Everyone is fighting over the resources trying to make the biggest, best, and most dangerous park. All the while, monthly meat expenditures are decreasing on the budget thanks to the patron mishaps occurring while we argue over profit margins.

It’s a really bizarre feeling because in the game we relegate patrons to single dots and x’s on a page. Everything around them is so grandiose in comparison; the paddocks dominate the horizon while the merch stands shill out t-shirts saying “I SURVIVED THE VELOCIRAPTOR EXPERIENCE.” We are nothing more than Machiavellian CEOs focused on lining our pockets with the greenbacks from buses packed full of naive tourists thirsty for the experience of a lifetime.

And as players, we just shrug it off as we run our parks. Run that tour, generate excitement, revel in our earnings, and oh yeah there’s are a few deaths but wow more DNA for me! This game is a real blast to play because it draws on our primeval human desires to build something from the ground up according to our imagination. And if a paddock gets destroyed, well, there’s plenty of nearby real estate to make it nothing more than a forgotten ghost amidst the amazing wonders of the prehistoric world.

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Behold, DINOMYTE LAND!

Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write: Drawing from a Classic

I’m no stranger to roll & write board games; they’re some of my favorite games to pack off to game night to teach to friends. With a game like Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write, it’s probably the easiest game for me to pitch to the group. A game where you get to design your own dinosaur theme park? Yes please, sign us all up!

The game has plenty to enjoy for gamers of all kinds, and instantly became a go-to staple for me. Thematically, mechanically, and herpetological-ly, it has everything that I want and need from a game. If all else fails, I can also play it solo, which is a huge draw!

Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write tests the limits of how much risk people are willing to take to earn substantial prehistoric profits. The theme may be jurassic, but the game is cutting-edge! It should be no surprise based on my praise that Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write is the latest recipient of the Nerds on Earth Seal of Awesomeness! It’ll be stamped on every entry ticket to my delightful dinosaur park!

You can pick up a copy of Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write through Pandasaurus Games directly, or look for it on the shelves of your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS)!