Put on your work boots and make sure your health insurance is paid up, because we’re headed to the dinosaur ranch. Feed and breed those dinos for lucrative contracts, and try not to get stepped on in the process!
What Is Tiny Epic Dinosaurs?
Tiny Epic Dinosaurs is a game for 1 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 45 to 60 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $20 for a copy of the base game, or $25 for the deluxe edition. Note that although the box says “14+,” there’s nothing inappropriate in the game for younger players, and I think experienced gamers as young as 10 could probably handle the gameplay, which involves some worker placement and resource management. The prototype version I reviewed did not have solo rules available yet, so I will be reviewing the multiplayer mode only.
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Tiny Epic Dinosaurs Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. For instance, the dinosaur meeples in the prototype were 3D-printed plastic, but the final version will have wooden dinosaurs instead. Also, the resource trackers are wooden cubes in the prototype (which may present issues for red-green color blind players) but typically Tiny Epic games will have custom-shaped tokens in the finished version.
Here’s what comes in the box:
- 4 Double-Sided Central boards
- Round/Overview board
- 8 Double-Sided Ranch/Player boards
- 16 Rancher meeples (4 each in 4 player colors)
- 4 Lead Rancher meeples (in 4 player colors)
- 15 Allosaurus meeples
- 15 Brachiosaurus meeples
- 15 Raptor meeples
- 15 Stegosaurus meeples
- 11 Unique Dinosaur meeples
- 4 Leaf tokens
- 4 Meat tokens
- 4 Supply tokens
- 24 Barriers
- 20 Contract cards
- 22 Research cards
- Round Tracker cube
- First Player marker
- Wrangling die
- 8 Automata cards (for solo play; not pictured above)
- 2 Double-Sided Ranch Rival mats (for solo play; not pictured above)
The deluxe edition adds the Laboratory mini-expansion, which includes:
- 4 Laboratory mats
- 4 Microscope meeples
- 9 Beaker tokens
(My prototype did not include the mini-expansion.)
As with other titles in the Tiny Epic series, the game uses oversized cards for the “boards,” and half-sized cards for the other cards (contracts and research). The rancher meeples are mini-meeples, and the Lead Rancher meeples are regular-sized. Even the dino meeples are tiny! The miniaturized components allow Gamelyn Games to pack a small box with a lot of stuff, but not everyone likes playing with such small bits.
Your player board has a track for the three resources (leaf, meat, and supply)—but you do need to be careful not to bump the card or you can lose track of where things were. The card is also used to store your unused ranchers as well as dinos and barriers that you collect during the round. Finally, the right side of the card has information about the four basic dinosaurs: what they eat and how many points they’re worth.
The artwork on the cards is cute, with colorful and somewhat cartoony dinosaurs illustrated by Niki Vaszi. Currently all of the player boards are identical, but I think it’d be fun to have multiple options for the rancher artwork just for some more variety. (The ranchers on the cover and the player boards look a little like Gamelyn Game’s Michael Coe and his wife Brittany.) The reverse sides of the player boards are ranches: each one has the same number of spaces and types of resources, but with different arrangements. Mountains and water provide natural barriers, and there’s one enclosed space with a fence as well. The ranches all function the same way, but I like the variations here.
Overall, I felt like the iconography on the boards is all pretty intuitive and the game is pretty easy to learn. The only thing that causes some confusion is the round/overview board, because it has a round tracker (1 to 6) on the left edge, with the phases of each round (7 phases) right next to it, and so first-time players often got mixed up and thought the round tracker was keeping track of the phases. We ended up using a dinomeeple to track phases until everyone got used to the round structure.
Everything is designed to fit into a compact box, which is easily portable.
How to Play Tiny Epic Dinosaurs
The goal of the game is to score the most points by raising dinosaurs, selling them for contracts, and doing research.
The round/overview board and the four central boards are laid out in a row in the center of the table. The central boards are double-sided, each marked with player counts: the more players you have, the more spaces there are. Shuffle the contract cards and reveal one more than the player count above the board. Shuffle the research cards and reveal 2 cards below the board. Place the dinosaurs and barriers in a supply nearby, and place the round tracker on Round 1.
Each player takes two ranch/player boards and chooses one to use as their player board and the other to use as their ranch. Take one of each resource tracker (leaf, meat, supply) and set them near your board. Take all of the rancher meeples: place 1 next to Round 4 of the round/overview board, and place the rest (including your lead rancher) on the ranchers space of your player board. Each player also takes 1 contract card—these are kept secret until fulfilled.
Choose a starting player (the last player to visit a dinosaur museum) and give them the first player marker. Then, players will gain starting resources based on turn order: nothing, 1 leaf, 1 meat, and 1 supply.
The game lasts 6 rounds, and each round consists of 7 phases—some only require brief explanations, and others are more involved:
- Resource Collection: collect the resources not covered by dinosaurs on your ranch
- Assign Ranchers: take turns placing ranchers on the central boards to take actions
- Retrieve Ranchers: get all of your ranchers back
- Arrange Ranch: place dinosaurs and barriers on your ranch; unenclosed dinosaurs escape
- Feed Dinosaurs: feed dinosaurs; unfed dinosaurs escape
- Breed Dinosaurs: breed dinosaurs; unhoused baby dinosaurs escape
- Refresh Cards: refill contracts; discard research cards and refill
During the Assign Ranchers phase, players take turns placing ranchers onto the spaces on the central boards to take actions; this is the where most of the action happens in Tiny Epic Dinosaurs. You can acquire dinos, barriers, and resources; purchase research cards; and fulfill contracts. Each action category has a number of spaces, providing different benefits or with different resource costs to use the space.
Unlike most worker placement games, you may use a space that is currently occupied if you send more ranchers there. The lead rancher counts as 2 ranchers for this purpose. You may still not use a space if your own ranchers are present, however.
The “free range dinos” spaces allow you to roll the die to acquire a dinosaur of a particular type: the net means you get 1 dinosaur, the egg means you get 2 dinosaurs, and the claw marks mean you get 1 dinosaur but your rancher(s) are sent to medical leave.
When you acquire a research card, you may take one from the face-up cards, or you may draw 3, choosing one and adding the others to the face-up market. Research cards include equipment that gives you ongoing abilities, end-game scoring bonuses, or even unique dinosaurs that have special abilities.
To fulfill a contract, you must have the required dinosaurs on your ranch (not in your holding area). Place your rancher on “contract” space, remove the corresponding dinosaurs from your ranch, and take the contract card. When fulfilling a contract, you may also fulfill your private contract from your hand in the same action, and then draw a new private contract.
This phase continues until everyone is out of ranchers, and then they’re all retrieved (including those from medical leave).
Barriers are placed during the Arrange Ranches phase, and may not be moved once placed. Dinosaurs, however, may be moved around during this phase. Each square of your ranch can hold a single dinosaur. Your dinosaurs must be enclosed (whether by fences, barriers, water, or mountains) or they’ll escape; in addition, you may only keep dinosaurs of a single type in each contiguous enclosure. You’ll also want to pay attention to what they’re covering up, because the spaces that have dinos sitting on them won’t generate resources during the next round. Unique dinosaurs—which come from the research cards—do not have to be fully enclosed, but they still can’t share an area with any other dinosaurs, so you’ll have to fence them off from each other.
Any dinosaurs that you can’t make room for escape, which causes a penalty. An escaping herbivore breaks a barrier, and an escaping carnivore eats a dinosaur. You only suffer each type of penalty once per round.
Then, you feed your dinosaurs according to their diets; any dinosaurs that aren’t fed escape. Then, for every pair of matching dinosaurs in the same enclosure, you breed another dinosaur of that type—and, again, if you don’t have a place to put it, it escapes.
The game lasts 6 rounds; the first player marker does not rotate automatically each round, but only if a player takes the “first player marker” action. Also note that in round 4, everyone gets interns—take your extra rancher meeple next to the round card.
At the end of the game, players score points for contracts and research cards, as well as any standard dinosaurs they have on their ranch. Highest score wins, with ties going to the earliest player in turn order.
Why You Should Play Tiny Epic Dinosaurs
It feels like dinosaurs have been making a comeback lately, though true dino lovers know that they never really went away. They’ve just been biding their time, waiting for the moment when they’ll once again rule the earth. Tiny Epic Dinosaurs is one more step toward that inevitable future!
The theme, of course, is going to be a big draw for a lot of people. When I first got a sneak peek at some artwork at Gen Con this summer, it was hard to keep quiet about it! Who hasn’t dreamed of building their own dinosaur ranch (despite the cautionary tales of countless books and movies)? It may be a while before science is able to reverse-engineer a T. Rex from DNA taken from a mosquito trapped in amber, but for now we can get some practice, thanks to this game.
As it turns out, raising dinosaurs is a dangerous occupation. (Who knew?) This is represented in the game by the wrangling die, which you roll when you try to capture a free range dinosaur: if you roll a claw mark, your rancher is injured and sent to medical leave. It always makes us flinch a little when that happens, because you can imagine what happened thematically, like a rancher getting a little too close to a stegasaurus’ thagomizer. But in terms of the game, it’s not actually that terrible: your rancher goes to medical leave, sure, but they’ll come back at the end of the round, and you still get your dinosaur. What it really means is that your rancher doesn’t block that space from being used by another player—or even yourself. That’s an interesting twist in a worker-placement game, having a chance that a space won’t stay occupied after being used.
Another way Tiny Epic Dinosaurs diverges from typical worker placement games is that you can use an occupied space if you send more workers there, which makes for some new considerations. For instance, there’s one contract fulfillment space that is free, but the others cost food or supplies. If that free space is taken, is it worth spending an extra rancher to save a supply, or will you come out ahead by sending that rancher elsewhere? Conversely: if you’re going to an empty space, do you send a regular rancher just to get the action and save your lead rancher for an occupied space? Or do you just send your lead rancher to a space you know your opponent wants to use, so that it’ll cost them even more ranchers to follow you?
Other than those changes, though, Tiny Epic Dinosaurs does feel like a classic worker-placement game, with players jockeying for position and racing to take up positions before their opponents do. You’re managing resources and keeping an eye on your rivals’ ranches so you know which contracts may still be available for you to fulfill.
Figuring out how to arrange your ranch is also a little puzzle in itself. What’s the best place to put your dinosaurs so that you can still collect the resources you need? You’ll need to place some barriers soon, because your ranch only starts off with a single space fenced in. If you have several of the same type of dinosaur, you can get away with fewer, larger enclosures. But if you have several types of dinosaurs, you need to keep them separate from each other. And don’t forget to leave room for those babies! Even though dinosaurs are worth points, baby dinosaurs—whether from breeding or from rolling the “egg” on the wrangling die—can be a hassle if you didn’t plan ahead and save some room for them.
I like the way that the penalties work for escaping dinosaurs: herbivores knock down barriers, and carnivores eat other dinosaurs. It’s a nice thematic element: you really need to think about how many dinos your ranch can support, and maintaining the right balance is more important than just trying to get as many dinosaurs as possible. Even though contracts are only worth a few more points than the base value of the dinosaurs, selling them off means that you no longer have to feed or house them, and then you can go get some more!
The research cards are a lot of fun, too: there are a lot of interesting abilities that come with both the equipment and the unique dinosaurs on those cards. For instance, there’s the spinosaurus, which lets you spend a meat to clear out one worker space, sending all the ranchers there to medical leave. Sic ’em, Spiny! Mobile barriers lets you rearrange your barriers every round, which gives you a lot more flexibility as your dinosaur population shifts. A few cards award bonus points at the end of the game if you hit a particular goal, so those can help drive your strategy. It’s hard to win with research alone, but getting a few of the cards may give you the edge on completing some contracts or maintaining your ranch.
I’ve been enjoying Tiny Epic Dinosaurs, and it’s been a hit with my gaming group. I think it scales well for the different player counts, and it’s a lighter weight alternative to the massive (and also fun) Dinosaur Island. It focuses on raising dinosaurs rather than a theme park, and I think it really works: the gameplay is streamlined even though there’s a lot going on. And for only $20, it’s a pretty great value for any dinosaur lover.
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Tiny Epic Dinosaurs Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.