Tiny Epic Dinosaurs is another great game in the tiny epic collection. There are dino meeples, a solid theme, and a nice amount of strategy.
Tiny Epic Dinosaurs is a tiny box jam-packed with a big game full of dinosaurs! Ever since I first saw The Land Before Time, I’ve wanted my own dinosaur… and to visit a dinosaur park… and to pet a dinosaur…. just all the things. And this game lets you research, breed, and sell an entire ranch full of dinosaurs.
Games can be played with 1-4 players, and the four Action Mats are double-sided to allow for scaling. Players have six rounds to gather the most victory points by assigning rancher meeples to get dinosaurs, food, and other supplies. It’s a race to get the best dinos, supplies, and research to breed and sell dinosaurs to fulfill contracts.
The player mats are made up of grids with different terrain (water, mountains), and resources on most of the squares. Each mat is double-sided, and there are different map layouts to choose from, which helps switch up the gameplay.
The resources visible on each ranch mat are the same for all players and are collected in the first phase of each round, creating a balancing act of placing enough dinosaurs to sell – more on that later – and leaving enough resources available to actually play the game and feed your dinosaurs.
Placement of dinosaur barriers along the dotted lines on the ranch mats corrals your dinosaurs and prevents them from escaping once you’ve got them on your ranch. Each dinosaur breed also needs to be isolated from other breeds, so a lot of the strategy in the game is figuring out how to effectively pen the dinosaur types. The barriers are semi-permanent too, so trying to define good pens for both short-term dinosaur placement and long-term growth is an interesting puzzle to figure out.
The whole premise of the game is that players are dinosaur ranchers, and the goal of raising and breeding dinosaurs is to sell them to fulfill contracts. Dinosaur sales are made via Public and Private Contracts, with the caveat that Private Contracts can only be completed when a Public Contract is also turned in. Each contract has a specific set of dinosaur breeds required to gain the points.
I have yet to turn in a private contract. Frankly, it’s hard enough to fulfill a Public Contract, let alone also have the specific set of dinosaurs for a Private one as well. The contracts are enticingly high-value cards, but I prefer to pursue points with the Research deck and the occasional Public Contract.
There are four “normal” types of dinosaurs in Tiny Epic Dinosaurs: allosauruses, brachiosauruses, stegosauruses, and velociraptors. These four breeds can be gained through the Free Range and Dino markets on the Action Mats. Once the dinosaurs make it from the market to the ranch, dinosaurs need to be placed within barriers so they can’t run away. If you have any sets of two of the same breed of dinosaur, they breed at the end of each round and make a dinosaur baby that is immediately placed on the ranch.
The dinosaurs are either herbivores or carnivores and are fed based on their feeding charts. If any dinosaurs are unfed at the end of a round, they escape (even if they’re corralled in a pen). Unfortunately, in addition to losing the hungry dinosaur when it escapes, the herbivores or carnivores have different escape penalties. Herbivores destroy a barrier on their way out, and carnivores eat another dinosaur before running away. These losses and penalties can be pretty catastrophic for the ranch, so keeping everyone fed and corralled is critical to a successful game.
There are two types of cards in the Research deck: Genetic and Science. Both types have special abilities: Genetic cards provide a unique purple dinosaur with a companion power and Science cards let you manipulate your game and board in special ways that deviate from the standard rules.
I found that the Research deck was the easiest way to gain points quickly and effectively. The unique dinosaurs usually have a lasting ability that can be used for multiple rounds, in addition to the point value assigned to each card. This lets you rack up points while occasionally breaking some rules. The unique dinosaurs also don’t need to be corralled – they can hang out in the ranch without a barrier and don’t escape unless they’re unfed.
The Science cards, as I mentioned before, let you manipulate the game somehow as you play. They let you add an extra action space, ignore rules, get more resources, etc. Personally, I don’t get as much use out of these as the Research cards, but they’re still an interesting twist on the game.
Breaking rules is always a mechanic I love. And racking up points while I do it is icing on the cake. I really like focusing my efforts on this part of the game.
One interesting facet of the Free Range Dino section is the Wrangler Die. Whenever a normal dinosaur is gained from there, players roll the die and get one of three effects: nothing additional, an egg with a second dinosaur of the same species, or a wound that puts both the rancher meeple and the dino meeple in Medical Leave.
I really like this layer of chance in the game. Forcing the meeples into Medical Leave, for example, opens up the space on the Action Mat for another meeple to use. And having at least two of the same dino meeples means you’ll definitely get to breed that species.
Tiny Epic Dinosaurs is a fun game with a great theme. I like that every phase forces you to make quick decisions that impact both your immediate and long-term game. There are a lot of avenues to focus on – the strategy in this game seems to lie within picking just the right balance of everything. The game overall flows well and offers a fun challenge.
-Read into the Knight here-