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!
“Reaping the Rewards” is a look at the finished product from a crowdfunding campaign. Tiny Epic Dinosaurs was originally funded on Kickstarter in October 2019, and has now delivered to backers and is available for purchase now. This review is adapted from my original Kickstarter Tabletop Alert, updated to reflect final components and rules.
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 retails for $30 for the base game and $35 for the deluxe edition, which you can find at the Gamelyn Games website. There’s also a playmat available from Gamelyn Games for $25 that helps you keep everything organized during play. 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.
Tiny Epic Dinosaurs was designed by Scott Almes and published by Gamelyn Games, with illustrations by Nikoletta Vaszi and graphic design by Benjamin Shulman.
Tiny Epic Dinosaurs Components
Here’s what comes in the box:
- 4 Player mats
- 4 Double-Sided Ranch mats
- Wrangling die
- First Player marker
- Round Tracker Mug marker
- Round/Overview mat
- Contracts mat
- Research mat
- 4 Double-Sided Central mats
- 16 Rancher meeples (4 each in 4 player colors)
- 4 Lead Rancher meeples (in 4 player colors)
- 4 Leaf tokens
- 4 Meat tokens
- 4 Supply tokens
- 15 Stegosaurus meeples
- 15 Raptor meeples
- 15 Brachiosaurus meeples
- 15 Allosaurus meeples
- 15 Unique Dinosaur meeples
- 26 Barriers
- 28 Public Contract cards
- 8 Private Contract cards
- 30 Research cards
- 8 Rival Rancher cards (for solo play)
The deluxe edition adds the Laboratory mini-expansion, which includes:
- 4 Laboratory mats
- 4 Research cards
- 9 Beaker tokens
- 4 Microscope meeples
- 2 Unique Dinosaur meeples
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 lead rancher meeples are mini-meeples, and the rancher meeples are even smaller yet. Even the dino meeples are tiny! They’re pretty adorable and it’s amazing how much detail they have at that size; all of the dinosaurs can also stand up vertically, which is nice. 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.
I will note that, even though the box and the bits are tiny, the game itself still takes up a decent amount of space on the table—it’s a tiny box, but not tiny gameplay!
Your player mat 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 Nikoletta Vaszi. There are now four different rancher groups, one for each player mat. (The ranchers on the cover and the top right mat in the photo look a little like Gamelyn Game’s Michael Coe and his wife Brittany.)
The reverse sides of the player mats are used in the solo game—each one has a different grid of actions tied to the four basic dinosaurs.
The ranch mats are double-sided with two different maps: 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 mats (designed by Benjamin Shulman) is all pretty intuitive and the game is pretty easy to learn. The only thing that causes some confusion is the round/overview mat, 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. You can use an extra token to track the phases until everyone’s used to it.
The wrangling die is a custom six-sided die showing three different icons: a cracked egg, three claw marks, and a net. The icons are engraved and painted, and the die has rounded corners. Thankfully, it’s not miniaturized like the rest of the components—it’s a smidge smaller than your standard D6, but looks pretty big compared to everything else.
Everything is designed to fit into a compact box, which is easily portable. Despite the fact that Tiny Epic Dinosaurs has by far the most wooden bits of any of the Tiny Epic series so far, it actually fits into the box a lot more easily than many of the other titles, because the dinomeeples are so tiny! (Also, it has somewhat fewer cards, which can take up a lot of space.) Like other games in the Tiny Epic series, the box interior has some artwork printed in it as well—nothing that affects gameplay, but a fun touch.
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 four central mats are laid out in a row in the center of the table. They’re double-sided, each marked with player counts: the more players you have, the more action spaces there are.
Shuffle the public contract cards and reveal one more than the player count next to the contract mat, placing the rest on the mat along with the shuffled private contracts. Shuffle the research cards and reveal 3 next to the research mat. Place the dinosaurs and barriers in a supply nearby, and place the round tracker on Round 1.
Each player takes player mat and a ranch mat and chooses a side to use as their ranch. Take one of each resource tracker (leaf, meat, supply) and set them near your mat. Take all of the rancher meeples: place 1 next to Round 4 of the round/overview mat, and place the rest (including your lead rancher) on the ranchers space of your player mat. Each player also takes 1 private 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 mats 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 mats 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. A rancher in medical leave doesn’t really harm you, but it means that your ranchers aren’t blocking that particular action space from other players (or yourself!).
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—but you must first fulfill a public 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 non-unique dinosaurs.
Any dinosaurs that you can’t enclose will 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—as well as a new private contract.
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.
The Laboratory expansion adds a couple of things. First, there are four new research cards: a scoring bonus, a resource ability, and two new unique dinosaurs. These can be mixed into the base game even if you’re not using the laboratory mats.
During setup, mix up the beaker tokens (I know, they’re actually flasks and test tubes, but they’re called “beaker tokens”) and place a number of them (based on player count) above each of the central mats. Give each player a laboratory mat and a microscope meeple, which is placed in the center of the mat.
Each time you are the first one to place a meeple on one of the four central mats, you must take a beaker token and move your microscope along the matching line, and then the beaker token is discarded. If you reach one of the bonus spaces, you get the bonus immediately, and then reset your microscope to the center. Since there are a limited number of beaker tokens and they don’t get refilled, this adds just a small bonus that could affect your decisions, but doesn’t change the gameplay tremendously.
The solo mode is set up like a 2-player game, but with an automated “rival rancher.” Each of the player mats has a different rival on the back. Set up your own player area as usual, and give the rival the first player token. Shuffle the rival rancher cards.
On the rival’s turn, it plays a rival rancher card and uses it, and then attempts to fulfill contracts. The card is placed above the matching player mat, and each card counts as 1 rancher per action space on that mat, so if you want to take an action on that mat, you’ll have to outnumber the rival.
Then, it takes an action: if the mat was currently empty—none of your ranchers and no rival rancher cards—then the rival rancher gains dinosaurs, which are placed in the columns from bottom to top. If the mat was occupied, then the rival rancher uses the lowest uncovered action in the corresponding column; if the column is filled, then it uses the ability printed on the top of the card. In the case of the Poacher, it discards one of your barriers. Whenever the rival rancher reaches 13 of a resource, it takes the “max” action associated with that resource, and then resets the resource back to 0. The Poacher pictured above steals dinosaurs from your ranch.
Some rival ranchers can take research cards—they don’t get the special abilities associated, just the point values.
The rival rancher will then attempt to fulfill one public contract, starting from left to right—if it has enough dinosaurs, it will discard them to claim a contract.
The rival rancher doesn’t do any of the other phases like feeding or breeding dinosaurs. During cleanup, shift all the contracts to the left and refill as usual, and reshuffle all of the rival rancher cards for the next round.
Your goal is to score higher than the rival rancher.
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 2019, 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.
Tiny Epic Dinosaurs is GeekDad Approved!
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 $30, it’s a pretty great value for any dinosaur lover.
The solo game is a nice challenge that still preserves the feel of the multiplayer game, but also adds some new wrinkles. I like the different rival rancher abilities—playing against the poacher, I had to remember that it was really likely that my barriers would be discarded, and plan for that accordingly. If the rival rancher manages to collect dinosaurs to fulfill contracts, then it can score points—but if the dinos don’t line up, then it gets more powerful action effects.
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Gamelyn Games website!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.