Jurassic Park: Danger! Adventure Strategy Game
Time: ~50 minutes
Times Played: 6
I love dinosaurs and I love the first Jurassic Park film. My desk at work is adorned with a T. Rex cactus holder and my door has some dinosaur knickknacks scattered around. Our home has two T. Rex lamps and in storage in the basement are some of my childhood Jurassic Park toys. Dinosaurs rule everything around me.
Needless to say, when Jurassic Park: Danger! Adventure Strategy Game was revealed, I was over the moon. I had played the Jurassic Park Game religiously with my grandparents as a child (and it was absolute trash but the memories are still cherished) and was hoping that with the explosion of hobby board gaming, Ravensburger would have a solid game on their hands. I wasn’t expecting the wheel to be reinvented or anything but I’ve enjoyed more Ravensburger games than I haven’t so my expectations were high (mostly due to dinosaurs though).
The IP is well established and the game is dripping with theme due to the vibrant colors, artwork, and the character goals (more on that later). The dinosaur player takes the reigns of the acid-spitting Dilophosaurus, the iconic Velociraptor, and the thunderous Tyrannosaurus Rex whereas the human player has the option of choosing from the likes of stalwarts like Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm to characters with less screen time, like John Arnold and Donald Gennaro. Each character has a unique goal and special ability characteristic to their demeanor in the film. Most of their colors also resonate with what they wore in the film and there are quotes from the movie sprinkled about.
The board is modular and fits together perfectly. I was really worried this would be a Settler of Catan situation where pieces wouldn’t fit snugly and would jostle with any touch of the table. That was not the case however. Once the pieces are pressed together and inserted between the island barriers, they’re stuck there until you break the game down. I can’t give enough kudos for this.
The locations are true to the movie and even feature the large gates that would have welcomed park goers to the island and the East Dock sign that Dennis Nedry plowed through on his way to exit the park. The modular nature of the board creates a random and unique atmosphere each game and ensures that the dinosaurs starting location is different with each play through. The hexes are marked however so that some will always be an outer ring and some will be an inner ring. Dinosaurs will always start on the outer ring.
The iconography is simple and easy to read from anywhere at the table and while color coded, the symbols are distinct enough for players that may be impaired visually. The gameplay is also relatively smooth. The cards tell you exactly what you’ll be doing on your turn and any special abilities, for dinosaurs or humans, are laid out on either the player board or the card itself, respectively. The only time we went back to the rulebook was to see what happened when we activated a building as the rules differ for each location.
The winning conditions are easy to remember too. The dinosaurs need to eat three human players and the human players need to get ‘x’ amount of humans to the helicopter pad safely (the number varies on the number of players). Human players do need to turn on the three buildings and complete their character goal before escaping however.
Without mincing words, the character goals are an absolute burden on the human players. For a player to escape, their character must complete the goal associated with their character sheet. The goals of the players are incredibly thematic and allow players to hark back on the nostalgia of the original film but that nostalgia overshadows the poor design of the goals. Some goals are incredibly helpful as John Arnold can turn the fences on from any building location whereas Dr. Alan Grant has to distract the T. Rex, which almost certainly results in him taking two wounds, and Gennaro has to avoid the dinosaurs at all costs and not be attacked once. The goals are also public knowledge, so the dinosaurs can aim and/or sit on the objectives of the human player, such as Ellie Sattler’s, which requires the player to visit the Triceratops before evacuating the island.
The advantages don’t end there however for the dinosaurs. Their attacks are absolute and deal immediate damage. They have no issue scaling terrain or sneaking, whereas the human players need to roll a die to determine their ability to perform certain actions, such as sneaking and climbing (as well as activating buildings). Humans can utilize a card(s) to increase their die rolls but honestly, rolling a die just feels like a lazy mechanism considering all the advances we have in the board game world. Human players also only have a finite amount of cards and having to use one to better a die roll is almost certain doom for any long term plans. This game could have gone the Clank! route and been a pure deck-builder with players discarding cards to turn on a building or could have gone the inverse with a dice drafting mechanism but instead we’re saddled with some weird hybrid that feels clunky and tacked on.
Due to the certainty of the dinosaurs attacks, it’s an inevitability that one human will succumb to the dinosaurs and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that two humans dying per game is the average (this is under the assumption that the humans win. We have yet to have a human victory although they were close once). This sticks with the theme of the film but makes the gameplay incredibly difficult.
The dinosaur player also has the luxury of refilling their deck of cards when the hand runs out whereas human players need to burn a card (which means it’s gone forever) to replenish their hand. Hand sizes are already small and couple in dinosaur attacks (which remove a card from a players hand and two in the case of a T. Rex attack), human players are cycling through their decks at an exponential rate with no real way to mitigate the loss of cards. Fun fact: losing all your cards leads to the death of your character.
Don’t let me forget to mention turn order either. The dinosaur player moves first so they are the aggressor and can thwart any creation of plans that occur on prior turns. The dinosaurs are the true hunters in this game.
The cards also seem to hinder player movement as they cannot be used for other purposes. This is a strategy game where planning is rewarded but sometimes, you cannot Climb and would love to be able to use that card as a Run ability. Even allowing this to be done with a dice check (as that’s the chosen mechanism) would be a step in the right direction. This hindrance is incredibly impactful as players cannot move into areas with dinosaurs either so their well-laid plans could go up in smoke before they have a chance to do anything.
All human players start in the same spot on the board and with the dinosaurs basically being able to go wherever they want. Introducing a new character once the game begins (due to death or escape) is almost certainly an avenue for them to be attacked rather quickly. I feel like it would have made more sense to have the players start at predetermined points on the map (or adjacent to if the space is occupied). Have Ellie Sattler start on the Triceratops hex and have Dennis Nedry start at the East Dock. Currently, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.
One of the games biggest selling points, the modular board, is also one of its biggest problems. Electric fences (which are randomly attributed to tiles) can end up doing more harm to human players than to dinosaurs since the human’s have exact locations they need to be at and dinosaurs just need to attack players. Scenarios occur where the dinosaurs become Rorschach as the humans are stuck in this prison with them, not the other way around.
On the bright side, the board and the artwork for the cards is beautiful and a brilliant representation of the movie but man does it feel bland seeing the wooden meeples and dinosaurs on the board. I can deal with the meeples as they’re colorful but we couldn’t get three dinosaur mini’s to represent the hulking beasts? I’m not trying to turn every game into a Kickstarter miniature-fest but this is one time where it would be warranted. Even the 1993 Jurassic Park board game I played as a child had little miniature dinos and they were the same dinosaurs to boot!
As a two-player game, I think this falls incredibly flat. Having two human characters going against three dinosaurs is not enough to distract the dinosaur player, especially since they know exactly where the human player wants to go. It’s also a mess having to sift through and organize two separate player decks. The only way to have it be truly balanced would be to have the human player play as three or four characters but that’s not a burden I would wish on anyone. The game acts in an asymmetrical style yet everything clearly favors one side over the other.
I think four- and five-player counts are the sweet spot as it slightly swings the fortune towards the human players (who desperately need it). Dinosaurs can only move two of the three a turn (typically) and this forces that player to divide and conquer as opposed to the gang-up style seen when playing with three or less players. It also creates a true dialogue between human players regarding strategy that the dinosaur player can feed off of to concoct their own strategy. Of course, playing with this many players will add some considerable time to the game and playing as the dinosaurs can be frustrating as players scatter about around you, so keep that in mind when choosing who will fill what role.
If this wasn’t a Jurassic Park game, I would have never purchased it (well, had it purchased for me by a doting spouse) and even with that theme, I don’t know how often it will get to the table, if ever. It sits in this weird quasi-realm of a strategic game and a lightweight beer and pretzels game. The only reason I see this getting back to the table is because one, dinosaurs, and two, we want to see if there’s a way to salvage what is inside the box. There’s a game in there, just not a relatively enjoyable one minus the nostalgia trip. Taking the rose tinted glasses off would have me labeling this game between a three and a four on Board Game Geek which stands as “Bad – likely won’t play this again” and “Not so good – but could play again”.
The initial nostalgia rush was almost worth the price point but once we got to the actual game play, this was definitely more Jurassic Park III than the original.