Gods Love Dinosaurs is a family board game that is suitable for 2-5 players and takes around an hour to play. The box says for ages 10+. But I’d say eight-year-old gamers, maybe even younger, will have no problems. You should largely ignore the title and prominence of the ‘D’ word on the box, monster fans. Because this is an abstract game about ecosystems, not dinosaurs. You’ll be laying tiles into your own tableau, then populating them with creatures (mainly rabbits, frogs and rats). Then occasionally you’ll let the few predators you’ve collected (eagles, tigers and the odd dinosaur) have a bit of a munch on them. Someone clearly did their marketing homework.

But it does have some pretty nice T-rex bits in the box, as part of a set of 200 wooden creature meeples. The prey ones in particular are pretty small, but they work well enough on the table. You’ll also find a small board, almost 100 tiles and a little volcano standee. The artwork is abstractly cartoony and is colourful without getting in the way. While the limited iconography is clear throughout. At around £40 it feels just about reasonable. But if I’d had to have a stab in the dark, I’d have guessed a price point nearer £30.

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Teaching Gods Love Dinosaurs

There are a few concepts in Gods Love Dinosaurs that may be new to family gamers. And it would be easy to play badly and end up with very few points. But there is no hidden information. And what you’re doing makes thematic sense. So it will be easy for a half-decent teacher to walk everyone through the first game. After that, it should be plain sailing.

You start the game with a circular seven-space tile containing one of each ‘prey’ (rabbit, frog and rat), plus a dinosaur in the middle. In play, you take it in turns taking a tile from the animal board and expanding your tableau. They don’t need to match up in any particular way, but matching terrain types makes sense. Most of these hexagonal dominoes tiles have an animal on one of their two spaces. When you take one, you place an animal of that type on the allocated space.

The animal board has five columns (with two/three tiles in each, depending on player count). When a column is empty, the animal pictured at the bottom of that column activates for all players. If it’s a ‘prey’, that specific animal type multiples. For each you have, you can add one extra on an adjacent space – as long it is the right terrain type. If it is a ‘predator’, move each you have up to their movement limit. For each prey they eat along the way, you get a new predator of that type. And the viscous circle of life goes on.

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Do the dinosaur

In addition to animal activation, a dinosaur starts the game occupying the left-hand column on the animal board. If that column is activated, players’ dinosaurs also activate after the animal. They eat any prey they move through (but you gain nothing). But if they eat any predators, you gain a dinosaur egg.

Dinosaurs must also stop on special mountain spaces. And if you’ve freed up that central space on your start tile, you can spawn a new dinosaur at the start of this dinosaur phase. More dinos equal more eggs – and dinos/eggs are worth a point each. As that’s the only points there are, it’s pretty important. But on the flip side, anything that can’t feed dies. so if you put too many dinos out and don’t get your animals going, they’ll starve and die. Aww.

After dinosaurs activate, the board is refilled with tiles and the dinosaur moves to the next column. There are four stacks of tiles (presumably to keep an even-ish distribution of animal types throughout the game). And when you can’t refill the board, the game is over.

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The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I love the idea behind Gods Love Dinosaurs and looked forward to it. And the game is well produced. But beyond the artwork it lacks personality. Because unfortunately it’s a theme that demands a level of interesting gameplay this rather linear abstract fails to deliver. Everything works. With each tab fitting sleekly into its slot. But there is no game arc and no variety, leaving little of interest for a gamer over multiple plays.

  • The kids: We love dinosaurs! And the pieces are cool. It’s fun to make new rabbits and rats and then have the tigers and dinosaurs and that eat them up. But you must be careful where you place the tiles and have enough creatures so that everything can eat otherwise some of your animals may die. It is a hard game and there is a lot to think about. But it is really good fun and I want to play it more and beat dad.

  • The trasher: The Gods Love Dinosaurs board game is purely tactical. Because there is only one strategy (collect eggs and dinosaurs). In a two-player game, this makes things nip-and tuck. You have some level of control, so can create shortages and trigger animals when it is of little use to your opponent. But with more players control is lost and it can become of a bit of a luck fest. More about making the most of what’s available than anything else. But even with two, games tend to get rather samey and predictable. OK, but not really for me.

  • The parents: This is a pretty good family game. We could easily teach it to the kids, but it also offers us a bit of a challenge. Sadly it isn’t very educational, except for a very basic demonstration of how an animal ecosystem works. You’d think they could’ve put a bit more in the box in that respect. And it isn’t a game we’ll reach for if the kids don’t request it. We enjoyed the first few plays, but the decisions aren’t really interesting enough to keep us interested if its just the two of us. But it’s certainly one of the better options on the kids’ shelf!

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Key observations

Adding dinosaurs to the game, and then pushing them in the title, may well have been a mistake. Because it adds an expectation that the finished product in no way meets. It’s a pretty clever and workable abstract design, but not an exciting aggressive one. This is a game of clever tile placement and resource management. Some find that fun, but it’s not ‘FUN!’ fun. This is particularly frustrating as there are so many ways they could’ve injected some personality into the mix. But they chose to use none of them.

The lack of game arc is particularly galling. I’d hoped the ‘A-D’ tile sets may have injected this, but instead they’re only there to enforce the status quo. So every player is always getting prey, then predators, then feeding to then dinosaurs for points. This means the real game is in starving players of options by taking the right tiles at the right time. But behind that the multiply, eat, repeat engine just chugs along relentlessly in the background.

Even some of the positive (8+) reviews say the game has a single strategy and may become repetitive. But this is in part what can make it a great family game. While the tile draw brings a bit of luck, largely it’s a game of meaningful decisions in terms of tile placement. This means parents will be engaged. But the kids don’t have any extra levels to get to – meaning they’ll be catching up their parents first in terms of ability. They’re going to enjoy eating the animals too. So it can really work well in this environment.

One final issue we had was around the scoring system. There are precious few points and play is pretty linear. Which meant all our games were close. In fact, several were draws. This points to a game that is too well balanced, which may well explain a lot of the criticisms above. Also, the tiebreaker gives the win to the player who went latest in turn order – which just seems pointless and irrelevant.

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Conclusion

Ultimately, for me as a gamer, Gods Love Dinosaurs was a disappointment. As we started playing it felt like a good mix. I love a good tile-layer and the (actual – not dinosaur) theme worked. The first game was fun, learning what we’d done wrong and looking forward it fixing it. And fix it we did, in game two. By the end of which the cracks were beginning to show. Game three was actually pretty boring – which is when we reached out to get the family vote. Luckily, kids dig it so the game will go to a good home. Which is great news.

But I don’t buy I’m not the target audience. I love a good family game. I’ve got over 150 plays of Ticket to Ride under my belt. Fifty-plus of Carcassonne. And there are plenty more light games on my shelves. Those family games offer a little extra something. Whether it be variety, or extra levels you can reach with repeat plays. Or, with the best examples, both. Of course, those games benefit from years of expansions. And the Gods Love Dinosaurs board game has so many ways it could be expanded. But for me, at least one of those should’ve been explored in the box. Because as it is, it’s lacking that crucial spark.

Originally posted at Punch Board Media