Brian Lewis, co-designer of Dinosaur Island, suggested that we make a small expansion to pair with Rawr ‘n Write, and my partner Marissa Misura and I graciously jumped on board. We listed issues that gamers have had with Dinosaur Island, and then brainstormed ways to tweak it. One of the core ideas was to create a Dinosaur Island campaign, which saw your park thriving through a period of boom before being riddled with corruption and sabotage.
The first of the ambitious elements was a stock market module using Ice Age mammals. Mammals were commodities, and we added speculation phases, buy phases, and sell phases. We also wanted players to be able to invest DNA into making mammals and manipulating the markets. Ultimately, we used a system where the dinosaurs would enter the system randomly and be up for sale. As they were purchased the player would get “action points” to manipulate the market as they saw fit. It didn’t work. The decisions were obvious and boring, and we shelved it to focus on the other modules.
Some of the other modules included a series of tasks that you had to complete to satisfy a guy we referred to as “Nerman,” and a complete overhaul of the hooligan system. Nerman would cause issues across the parks, and you would have to allocate workers or money to tasks. We discussed the idea of these tasks being semi-cooperative or more take-that with the ability to sabotage other players like mandatory quests. Either way, this module never got to testing. The hooligan revamp came entirely from my dislike of the original system.
As one of the earlier playtesters of Dinosaur Island, I questioned the system throughout the entire design process. If I was going to get my crack at tweaking Dinosaur Island, we were going to have to address this. We originally proposed a bag building system. Through PR actions, you would court customers that were color coded to represent various wants and needs. If you were able to place the specific color meeple at the attraction they most desired you would score additional points, excitement, etc. Instead of the sting of hooligans, you would get the occasional bonus of attracting specific customers. This module worked well, and we were in a state that was ready for development.
The last of the more ambitious modules were hybrid dinos that blended the three dino types from the base game. The idea was to massively overhaul the threat system and make the game more punishing, which many players were clamoring for. We were working on dinos that would march around the board shutting down systems and point scoring options. This one was more manageable, but it continued to exacerbate a problem we had with most of the modules, as the game was already phase and upkeep heavy. Everything we tested added some fun, but also made the game more difficult to manage and more of a table hog.
Throughout our brainstorming sessions, we often talked about cutting and adding components. Brian came up with the idea of doing away with the park boards and building with hexes. We also added a little truck that would move through your park and activate tiles. Eventually, all we had left from Dinosaur Island were the dice and theme. Up to this point, the goal was to make a small component-light complement to the roll and write. We were still designing within the basic structure of Dinosaur Island and had no intention of pitching this as a standalone title. The first play with the hexes and truck tour changed that. Cutting the vast majority of the Dinosaur Island components liberated our design space, and suddenly we started bringing back ideas.
From here the design process went fast. We kept some of the phases from Dinosaur Island. You still drafted dice and used workers to collect dinosaur recipes, buildings, etc, but now you had to hold back some workers to ensure you had enough to run your park. The park phase turned into a logistic puzzle where your truck would start in the Welcome Center and travel to adjacent tiles. If the tiles had workers present, you would take the action and collect resources. The various colored meeples that represented customers, now became workers with specialties, and instead of building your customer base, you were building your worker pool. Workers would come in on “resume cards,” which you drafted. This required the players to puzzle their way through activating their buildings and efficiently using the bonuses provided by the workers.
The new park phase allowed you to move your “Jeeple” from attraction to attraction, gaining resources as you went. Our goal was to keep the basic economy of Dinosaur Island, where excitement would convert to money at the end of the round, but we also changed excitement to a spendable resource during the park phase. Thematically, some buildings just aren't as exciting for your visitors, but might be necessary for operation.
The park phase proved to be a favorite among playtesters, but we were growing concerned about players hammering the same route over and over again. Once some players found a juicy combo, they were completely content with doing it repeatedly. We eventually set on using dice to “count down” activations. You could use an attraction as much as you wanted, but each use would become less exciting for your patrons. Eventually, these buildings would cease to produce excitement, but instead cost it. Players could only use their nice combos a few times before the value started to decline.
While this solved one problem, it opened up another. Now buildings at the front of the park had excitement in the negatives, and players couldn’t activate them. We decided that after 3 years, the park needed to renovate the entrance and create a new one. Then players add a new entrance for the remainder of the game. Now tiles that were buried in the remote reaches of your park could be hit early, and new combos were accessible.
The core was set. Dice drafting, worker placement, tile laying, and logistics. We felt it was of a similar weight to Dinosaur Island, but the experience felt quite different. After a long journey and many many playtests, it’s finally ready for you to enjoy for yourselves