Full disclosure: A review copy of Dino Dude Ranch was provided by Letiman Games.
Alright, we’re closing out the year / starting up the next year and I want to make sure I move a bunch of games which have been on my queue for a while before it’s too late. One such game is Dino Dude Ranch, from Letiman Games, which just got a follow-up in Dino Dude Ranch: Hatchlings, the expansion that came out this past year. I’ll talk about the base game this week and the expansion next week; get excited.
In Dino Dude Ranch, you’re wrangling some Jurassic friends to try and open up a theme park where you can show off these Cretaceous critters. That said, you need to feed them, and some of these dinos have … particular tastes. Roll some dice and hope for the best, but will you be able to feed these new arrivals and open up a ranch that’s the envy of the world?
Not a ton to set up. Put the dino tiles into the bag:
You’ll want to add four to the Jurassic Hunting Grounds:
That’s where you get dinos from to put in your ranch. Set the Tar Pits off to one side:
Now, give each player a player board. You’ll want to use the 15-dino side for long games, 12-dino side for short games:
Shuffle the Hired Hands Cards and place them on the Jurassic Hunting Grounds board, as well:
Set out the various Food resources — leaves, fish, and meat:
Those are the deluxe components; the standard ones are cardboard punch-out tokens. Give each player a player aid / Rancher Bonus Card:
These give you certain amounts of end-game points for fulfilling certain criteria. Last, give one player the dice:
Choose a start player randomly, and you’re ready to go!
The game is pretty straightforward. On a turn, roll the dice to collect the resources pictured on the dice — meat, fish, leaves, Hired Hands cards, or the dreaded Tar Pit. If you roll a Tar Pit, add it to your board immediately. If you’d like, you can instead play a take-that variant where you add it to any other player’s board. Not really my preferred lifestyle.
Once you’ve rolled, you may buy up to two dinosaurs from the Jurassic Hunting Ground for your park by paying their costs (pictured on the tile) and add the tile anywhere on your board.
If you’d like, you may also spend any two Food resources to buy Hired Hands cards and add them to your hand. You may also, at any point on your turn, play one of these Hired Hands cards for their designated effect. You may only play one per turn, though. Don’t get too wild.
The game ends immediately when one player has filled up their board. The player with the highest score wins!
Player Count Differences
At higher player counts you’re going to start feeling the heat around what’s currently in the Jurassic Hunting Grounds, as with only four dinosaurs it’s possible that you’ll have a completely different set available to you on your turn (as is the case with a lot of market-based games), so try not to get too invested. The key to remaining involved in the game between turns is the Hired Hands cards, as some of them let you react to other players’ actions even if it’s not your turn.
That said, there’s still enough downtime that I probably personally wouldn’t go for this at 5 players, but that’s just me.
- Roll well. There are very few ways to have a better overall experience with this than just being really good at rolling the dice and getting the outcome you want. The dinosaurs are randomized, the dice determine what resources you get, and there are no trades allowed short of a Hired Hands card maybe giving you something you want. Strategically, that’s not the most inspiring advice, but also this isn’t really the game that you should be coming to if you’re looking for heavy strategy.
- Go after your Rancher Bonus. It’s a cheap way to get a lot more points, which is generally a pretty nice strategy if you’re looking to try and win a game. That should be your best guide, but good luck if you’re having trouble getting dinosaurs of those types to appear.
- Try to keep pace with your opponents’ picks. You don’t want to have like, 6 fewer dinosaurs than your opponents, as they can end the game at any time and you’ll just be out points by virtue of having a mostly blank board. That said, if you have mostly T-Rexes, feel free to disregard this advice (though I’d be surprised that nobody’s come after you).
- Hired Hands cards aren’t bad choices. You can frequently buy one if the JHG isn’t looking all that good and potentially get some decent effects (+2 points immediately, remove a Tar Pit, take two of any resource). That can sometimes be better than wasting your energy on getting dinosaurs you don’t want. Bonus points if this forces your opponent to take one they don’t want, because you might get lucky on the flip and get something you do want. It’s a similar strategy to Splendor, at times; you’re often best waiting on a lucky draw.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Cute theme. You’re building a home for your dinosaur friends — who isn’t into that? It’s a bit less of a production than Dinosaur Island, sure, but it’s still got a similar style.
- Having a shorter variant is nice. It makes the Hired Hands cards kind of moot at low player counts (it’s better to just rush the dinos) but it’s very short, so who cares all that much.
- The dice are very nice. Big fan of engraved ones. The deluxe components are also nice, albeit a bit small.
- Cute art, as well. It’s a great gift for your friend who’s insufferable about what dinosaurs really look like. Should drive them up the wall.
- The kerning on some of the text is questionable. The thematic big-font text can be hard to read, as the “i” and the “r” in Hired Hands kind of blends together since the individual letters aren’t outlined. I think that was a stylistic choice given the outline, but, not my favorite.
- I wish the tiles (and the bag) were a bit bigger. The bag’s a tiny bit small for the tiles, so it’s often hard to feel confident that they’ve all been shuffled. The tiles, well, they’re just kinda tiny. Bigger ones would be nicer, but then you’d need a bigger box and the whole thing just spirals upwards in cost.
- Some of the cards are pretty aggressive. One, for instance, just lets you choose a dinosaur and discard it from another player’s Ranch, which might be a net negative of 9 points. That’s … a lot. You can essentially bury another player with that. I’d probably remove that and a few others from the game, if I were looking to make improvements, but then again I’m pretty much against take-that across the board, so, that’s on-brand.
- The luck of the die rolls can be a bit frustrating. Even one free reroll might make the game feel a bit more strategic, as someone who took no fewer than 5 or 6 tar pits in one game. At that point, it’s kind of a triple-ding — not only do you lose points from the tar pit, but you also lose resource potential and space on your board, meaning you’re taking three hits on a die roll you can’t control. For your more strategy-focused players this might be a bit grating, but I doubt the kids will mind all that much.
Overall: 6.25 / 10
Overall, Dino Dude Ranch is pleasant. I think it’s well-targeted as a family game, especially for younger gamers who can recognize the shapes and figure out which dinosaurs they want, which is good (in that case, just remove the Hired Hands cards and play without them; make it a “roll again” or something). From a “strategy gamer” standpoint, well, there are a lot of games that involve dice and a lot of them have a bit more strategic depth to them than this one does. That’s fine and all, it just means that this might be a game you play with kids before you break out something like Istanbul: The Dice Game or Dice Forge, as I feel like the strategies there are a bit more exact than what I get out of Dino Dude Ranch. That said, I’ve enjoyed my plays of it; it’s very smart in that it’s fast and doesn’t overstay its welcome at all. If you’re looking for a very quick, very light game about dinosaurs or something that the whole family can enjoy together, maybe try Dino Dude Ranch!