15 February 2020

Board Game Review: Draftosaurus

The cover art, which features a cartoon-style T-Rex roaring at a man on the other side of the fence from his enclosure, as the man uses a selfie stick to take a photo of himself with the dinosaur.

If you're looking for an adorable variant on a card-drafting mechanic, then look no further. Draftosaurus by Antoine Bauza, Corentin Lebrat, Ludovic Maublanc, and Théo Rivière, published by Ankama, is a very simple card drafting game, but instead of drafting cards, you're drafting dinosaurs!

Players take on the role of zookeepers looking to populate their parks with newly cloned dinosaurs. Each player wants to get the best combination of dinosaurs possible to make their dino-zoo more interesting to patrons than the other parks' owners.

Before we get any further, let's take a look at our numbers:

Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take. Gamer Profile Ratings measures how strongly a game will appeal to players based on their interest in one of four areas. These areas are measured as High, Medium, or Low. Strategy describes how much a game involves cognitive challenges, thinking and planning, and making sound decisions. Conflict describes how much direct hostile action there is between players, from destroying units to stealing resources. Social Manipulation describes how much bluffing, deceiving, and persuading there is between players. Fantasy describes how much a game immerses players in another world, another time.
Strategy: 3
Randomness: 3
Complexity: 1
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 15 minutes
Gamer Profile Ratings:
  Strategy: Medium
  Conflict: Low
  Social Manipulation: Low
  Fantasy: Medium

An Overview of Draftosaurus

The five player boards, with some of the dinosaur meeples placed on them, and the bag of dinosaur meeples with the large wooden die.

The game consists of a bag of ten each of six types of dinosaur meeples (minosaurs?), five player mats, and a large wooden die. Players each take a player mat and draw a handful of six dinosaurs from the bag. Keeping these dinosaur meeples hidden from their opponents, the players choose one to keep and pass the rest to the next player. Place your chosen meeple in one of the pens on your player mat. Then choose another dinosaur from the handful that has been passed to you.

There are six pens on your player mat. They include:
  • A pen where you may only place dinosaurs of a single type.
  • A pen where you may place no more than one dinosaur of each type.
  • A pen where you may place any three dinosaurs.
  • A pen where you score points for each pair of matching dinosaurs.
  • A pen where you may only place a single dinosaur, and you score points if that is the only dinosaur of its type in the entire zoo.
  • A pen where you may only place a single dinosaur, and you score points if you have more of that type of dinosaur in your pen than any other player.
After the first round of six dinosaurs, all players draw six more from the bag, and play a second round. Then you score all your pens. 

Permutations in Draftosaurus

The first issue is the die. Players take it in turn to roll the die. This limits where you may place your dinosaur this turn. Note, however, that the player who rolled the die is not limited by the die roll; that player may place their dinosaur anywhere. The die results include:
  • You may only place your dinosaur in the wooded area of your player mat (the upper left three pens)
  • You may only place your dinosaur in the grassy area of your player mat (the lower right three pens)
  • You may only place your dinosaur in the pens on the left half of your player mat
  • You may only place your dinosaur in the right half of your player mat
  • You may only place your dinosaur in a pen that contains no other dinosaurs
  • You may only place your dinosaur in a pen that contains no T-rex meeples
Sometimes, you may be unable to place a dinosaur in any of your pens. This may be the result of a die roll (getting the die roll that prohibits you from placing a dinosaur in a pen that already has any dinosaurs in it, for example) or because there are no legal pens into which to place the dinosaur (the single-type pen is full, you already have the current dinosaur type in the one-of-each pen, the two single-occupancy pens are already full, etc). Alternately, you may decide that it's in your best interest not to place the dinosaur in any of your pens, for long-term planning reasons.

In this case, you may put the dinosaur in the river that divides your player mat into two sides. Dinosaurs here at the end of the game are worth one point each; not a lot, but better than nothing.

And finally, the mats are double-sided. If you want a slightly more advanced version, with a bit more technical scoring, all players can flip to the 'winter' side of the map, which has different requirements for placement in the pens.

The two sides of the player mats displayed side-by-side.

Final Thoughts on Draftosaurus

This a great little filler game, suitable for young players, but with enough depth to satisfy more experienced gamers when playing with younger people (or as a light game between heavier games). My one complaint with this game is that it would have been so much nicer if there were some way to contain the dinosaur meeples as they're being passed around the table. Small cups or boxes would be ideal. John has some small cups that just fit in the game box which he has included as permanent components of the game, just to make it easier to pass the meeples around.

Other than that, I think it's cute and fun. But let's not forget the six characteristics of a good game:
  • It allows for upsets.
  • It's fun to lose.
  • It's relatively simple.
  • It ends decisively.
  • It has no player elimination.
  • It relies on player agency.
You know we've got a winner, because it's got all six! But as always, I hope you can decide for yourself, based on what you've read here, whether this is a game you should get for yourself. So give it some thought, make a good decision, and remember to

Game on!

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