Game Pile: Draftosaurus

There’s a couple of other dinosaur park themed games that hit the market recently, which ranged from the positively bombastic Dinosaur World by Pandasaurus to the more multiplayer-friendly Dinosaur Island: Rawr and Write by Pandasaurus to the sprawling euro of Dinosaur Island by Pandasaurus to โ€” you know, maybe it’s just Pandasaurus games.

Nonetheless, you might be the kind of person to whom the theme of a dinosaur theme park, as inspired by classic 90s piece of pulp media, Dinopark Tycoon, just makes your heart sing, but you don’t want to have to reconstruct an actual academic model of a human heart out of cardboard and math. To you, I wish to show you the dlightful Draftosaurus, a game that sells itself almost immediately when I show you the meeples.

This game is a delightful little mid-box sized drafting game where rather than making food or a deck of cards for another game, you are building a little dinosaur park. You have a handful of dinosaur meeples at the start of the game, and you get to pick one and put it in your park. Then you hand your hand of meeples on to another player, and the player next to you on the other side hands you their hand of dinosaur meeples. This means you’re steadily working through this population of dinosaurs, and each turn, a dice roll determines where most players (but not all of them) have to put their dinosaurs.

Your park is basically a carefully divided set of scoring possibilities, things like ‘all these dinosaurs match’ or ‘you only have one of this dinosaur’ or ‘there are a lot of different dinosaurs in this space.’ If you follow the dice roll, you’ll see the way the map is designed so you almost never have no choice, but you’ll rarely be able to make your ideal choice. You draft dinosaurs, you roll the dice, and when you’re done, you count up the points and the person with the most points wins.

This game is really charming, and a lot of what makes it charming is in the art of the park, and in the design of the meeples. Seeing just cute differently shaped dinosaur meeples, brightly coloured and distinct from one another, makes the play of this game a lot more fluid and toylike than a typical card game. Most drafting games I’ve played (and like!) you need to retain a lot of information in your head based on what you’re drafting and your shifting priorities. It’s the same difficulty of an artful drafter, but somehow it’s all a lot more easily materially present in front of you. What’s more, with the information being public, other players care a lot about what they hand you, and you care about what you give up.

This game is a really nice little drafting game, I recommend it heartily, but it also made me think so much about how rare and precious it was to get to play this game.

It’s obviously been extremely rough to be interested in board games in two years when just associating with people in a public space is, itself, difficult. I’ve still been acquiring them, just not at the rate I ordinarily would, but I also just haven’t been able to play them as much. The living room table, this past two years, has gone from being a place where we gather to eat and sometimes play games that needs to be kept clear is of late, just a surrogate holding space for the many different things that have had to be made into impromptu systems or holding patterns for other things. It is not just that we do not have a group to play games with (which is obviously a problem); it is that the spaces we play games in, and the habits we form for it have become frayed.

Fox and I don’t like the same kind of games in the same way. Not that I don’t love love love cooperative games, but I have a love of short, sharp competitive games. They’re great for when it’s hard to make other games, or hard to play other, larger games. But that kinda thing doesn’t jive with Fox โ€” neither of us like losing to the other. We learned that lesson back when we played Soul Calibur against one another in the late 90s. Not a good scene.

But tonight, we sat down and played Draftosaurus, on a portable table on our air mattress where we’re sleeping, for a round. And we talked about it, and the ideas we liked in it, and we immediately started to examine the question: How would we make a game like this that we liked better.

This is something I love about board games. Making them is very easy, so much so you can do it with paper and pens and nothing else. I miss being able to take these short, sharp huffs of genius with my partner, with my other friends, and then playing not with the game in front of us, but with the game in our heads.

It’s worth fighting to hold on to.

All images are sourced from the BoardgameGeek Images page for the game Draftosaurus.