Full disclosure: A review copy of Dino Dude Ranch: Hatchlings was provided by Letiman Games.
I really like reviewing the game and an expansion back-to-back; it creates a satisfying continuity. I had been meaning to get to these for a while, but only really found the time over the holidays to sit down and process how I felt about them, so I’m glad I can finally publish those now. As I’ve said, expansions are always a bit tough, since you have to process the whole base game and then also get through the expansion, but this one was thankfully a bit easier since the expansion is simple enough that you can just teach it with the base game. Anyways, let’s take a look at Hatchlings, the first Dino Dude Ranch expansion!
In Hatchlings, well, once thing led to another and suddenly you have all these dinosaur eggs. You don’t know where they came from (or, if you do, you refuse to tell me, which is rude), but you’ve got a bunch of them and you need to deal with them. Thankfully, your dino parents will take care of their own; you just … don’t really know how to tell dinosaur eggs apart until they hatch, so you need to maybe figure out which is which? That’s fine, though. Not a huge deal. Don’t let that distract you, though — you still have a whole dude ranch to run! And you best do your best, lest you get stuck with a bunch of unhatched eggs. Will you manage to figure out a strategy to run an egg-cellent dude ranch?
Setup is also mostly the same as the base game. You’ll want to shuffle the Dinosaur Eggs:
Put them in a face-down stack on the nest:
Add the Oviraptor (and the Raptors!) to the bag with the rest of the dinos:
There are also some new Hired Hands cards; add them to the rest of the stack:
It’s unfortunate that you can tell the difference between them and the new ones, but … that’s manufacturing!
Beyond that, you’re doing the same stuff. You may see some new Bonus Cards, too!
You’re all ready to go!
Hatchlings is played identically to Dino Dude Ranch, but with a few new additions:
- Dinosaur eggs! These are the primary new thing in the game. You can now hatch dinosaur eggs on your ranch to make your parent dinosaurs happier (and more valuable). To get an egg, simply spend one food on your turn. If you spend a leaf, add the top egg from the deck to your ranch. Fish? Draw two, keep one. And for meat, draw three, keep one. Put the unused eggs at the bottom of the deck once you’ve chosen.To hatch an egg, you must have a dinosaur of that type on your ranch without an egg already on it. If you do, that egg immediately hatches and you place the egg face-up on top of its parent dinosaur for bonus points!
- New Hired Hands cards! These deal primarily with dinosaur eggs, as you might guess.
- A new Dinosaur! The oviraptor is a mean dinosaur, though, as it requires a Leaf, a Fish, and an egg to come to your ranch. When that happens, discard the egg from the game.
Play proceeds as normal until one player fills up their board with eggs, dinosaurs, and / or tar pits. The player with the most unhatched eggs also takes -2 points as a penalty! Hatch those eggs. As with the base game, the player with the most points at the end of the game wins!
Player Count Differences
I’m not entirely convinced that this changes the game enough from the base game that it introduces new differences at various player counts. The major changes are new Hired Hands cards, which, sure, are likely going to be split between the various players, and the eggs. With the eggs, at higher player counts they’re likely to cycle a bit more rapidly, being a finite resource, but I doubt any player is going to buy all of them. The one major thing is that the raptors may become less useful, since it’s increasingly unlikely that you’ll get all of them as the player count increases. Yeah, that said, I don’t think I have a huge preference for any player count.
- Use meat to sift through the eggs. You can choose one of the top three eggs to keep, which will usually ensure that you can find at least one viable egg that you can hatch immediately. The only other reason to keep extra meat around is if you’re trying for the Raptors.
- Maybe don’t go for the Raptors at higher player counts. It’s very easy for the other players to conspire and deny you the Raptors you want if there are enough players (and frankly, they should be doing that — make it so that you only get a shot at a Raptor if the player before you buys dinosaurs on their turn). If each player takes a Raptor they’re fairly worthless; it’s only if you happen to get them all that they’re worthwhile anyways, and it’s totally possible that enough Raptors to make it worth your time won’t even come up during a game! I mean, if you see them and have extra meat, might as well, but you may be better served spending that meat on getting eggs or Pterodactyls.
- You really don’t ever want to have unhatched eggs. You take an end-of-game penalty if you have the most, so just … don’t take eggs unless you have a diverse mix of dinos available to parent them. The only exception to this is via the Oviraptor, but that’s kind of a logical exception.
- If you’re going for an Oviraptor, just use a leaf to get an egg. It’s a quick way to get an egg. If it actually matches, keep it; if not, just immediately spend it to get the Oviraptor. That’s just good business. Honestly, I kinda find that that’s still one of the better strategies in this game, especially because you’re not generally rewarded for going wide, so it’s likely that some of the eggs you get will be useless. The Oviraptor is a solid recovery mechanism.
- Save some of the stealing / discarding Helper cards for when players get eggs hatched. Since the baby follows the parent, using this can not only waste your opponent’s points, but also the resources they spent to get the eggs! Sort of a two-fer, but the two-fer is just doubling up on punishing one of your opponents. It’s, again, every bit as cruel as it sounds, but someone’s gotta win this game — might as well be you.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Aw, dinosaur babies are cute. They’re just tiny dinos, which is delightful. Very nice add.
- The eggs finally give you something useful to do with those extra meat / fish resources. Especially since you get more eggs to look through if you spend rarer foods. It’s a nice way to add a pathway for players who are playing a more vegetarian-focused pathway to do something with their extraneous resources. The new Helper cards are also useful, since they mostly deal with these eggs and getting more or using the ones you have.
- If you don’t really care about the eggs, the Oviraptor is also a nice add. Having a dinosaur that doesn’t really play well with the eggs is also nice, as it means players aren’t forced to use the egg mechanism in order to do well. You still have to interact with it somewhat in order to participate in the game, but this is a nicely valid other path to success.
- I really like the raptors, conceptually. They’re a nice almost-racing element, since they put the onus on other players also buying into them to prevent you from having them all. I think that’s a nice bit of player interaction to add to the game, and I think it’s well-implemented.
- Fits in the base box. I love it when expansions can do this — makes them more transportable, even if I’m not sure what to do with the expansion box, at this current juncture.
- The jagged edge on the eggs is cute, but it ends up leading to a number of mildly damaged pieces when you try to get it out of the punchboard. Turns out those pieces don’t punch particularly well. Larger jagged edges might let you avoid that in the future, but who knows.
- Having the rules on a rulebook instead of on cards would have been preferable. These are … challenging to read and keep in a cohesive ordering. That’s not really what you want from a rulebook.
- The new Hired Hands cards are distinctly different than the old Hired Hands cards. Welp.
- Still doesn’t do a ton to address the luck element. I mean, if you bought an expansion for a game you were frustrated with because you felt like it was too luck-dependent and expected it to overhaul the entire game’s core mechanic, I’m … a bit worried about your prioritization, but it would have been nice to have some variants that maybe added a bit more of a skill component to the game? The extra dinosaurs are nice from a diversity / dilution standpoint, though, as they make it a bit less likely to have TOTALLY unfavorable boards, but beyond that it’s mostly just extra add-ons for the game.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, Hatchlings is a very good expansion for the original Dino Dude Ranch! It doesn’t really distract from the core gameplay (but enhances it, as a good expansion will do) and provides new avenues to success for players. Naturally, the core game is relatively unchanged, so if you hate tar pits or dice rolling, this isn’t going to be the fix for that (and this might be too light of a game for anything “fixing” that to be on the roadmap; just try Dinosaur Island). Pleasantly, the baby dinosaurs are a cute addition to the game; I just wish that the punchable tokens were a little more robust. And while it’s nice that more Hired Hands cards come with the game, I think something must have happened in the print run that I have since they’re pretty significantly different from the original game’s cards, which makes it kind of obvious when you’re about to draw one. That’s a bummer. Beyond that, I think that I’d probably always throw the expansion in when I’m playing Dino Dude Ranch, and would probably even teach the game with it, given that it doesn’t require too much additional work to understand. If you’ve really enjoyed Dino Dude Ranch and are looking to take it to the next level, the Hatchlings expansion is definitely worth checking out!