Full disclosure: A review copy of SOS Dino was provided by Iello.
I feel like since we’ve moved out of HABA’s kid-specific titles, I might want to cover some more kid-friendly games, especially as we enter the holidays. I don’t really do a gift guide or anything, mostly because I’m trash at giving gifts, but I like the idea of presents, so, here we are. Either way, SOS Dino is a new game from Iello’s kid-friendly imprint, Loki. I’m having trouble keeping track of all of these, but I’m doing my best, so, let’s work with that. What’s going on in SOS Dino? Why are these dinosaurs in such peril? Let’s dig in and find out!
In SOS Dino, the worst thing you can imagine has happened to the dinosaurs! Volcanoes all over have erupted, and lava is heading towards their nests! …That’s not the worst thing you can imagine? That’s weird. Pretty sure it’s never gonna get much worse than this. Play as a team of dinosaurs trying to save their eggs and climb up mountains where they’re going to be happy and safe forever. Will you be able to protect the dinosaurs and their children? Or will your ultimate failure prove to be meteoric?
Set out the board:
Set the dinosaurs on their starting spots:
Also, set the eggs on their starting spots:
You’ll need to build the mountains:
Note that they have nocks on the bottom so that they’ll fit nicely on the corners of the board. Also set up the volcanoes:
You can place them on their starting spaces. Add the tiles to the tile bag:
You may want to leave out the volcano tiles:
You can put them under the volcanoes if you want; it doesn’t really matter. Set the rocks on their various spots:
If you want to play a harder game, you may also place the Thorny Bushes down (or swap them for the rocks):
Once you’ve done all that, you’re ready to start!
Your goal in SOS Dino is to save the dinosaur eggs! And the dinosaurs, if you can swing it. Avoid the lava flow, grab eggs, and climb the mountain! At the end of the game, check your score and see how you did!
On a turn, simply draw a tile from the bag. When you do, place it so that it continues the lava flow for the matching volcano (check the flowers). Tiles may not be played on rocks, thorny bushes, meteorites, or the lake. If you cannot place a tile, remove it from the game and draw a new tile instead. Then, resolve its effect:
- One arrow: Move any dino other than the dino matching this tile’s flower color one space (check the back if you’re not sure).
- Two arrows: Move any two dinos that aren’t the dino matching this tile’s flower color one space each.
- Volcano: Draw another tile immediately, place it, and resolve its effect.
- Meteorites: These are special; they must be played on their matching space (check the symbols). Then you may move any one dinosaur up to two spaces. That can come in handy!
Sometimes, you’ll close off a lava flow. If you close off all the flows for a volcano and draw another tile of that volcano’s color, it explodes! Remove it and place the four-way tile on that spot and then continue the flow as normal. That’s a problem! If you close off all the lava flows again, then simply ignore the tile when drawn and do not resolve its effect.
If the lava flow must be placed on a tile containing a dino / nest / egg, place it and remove the dinosaur and / or egg from the game. Try not to think too hard about what just happened.
When you move the dinosaur, if you move onto a nest with an egg, move the egg to a mountain; you’ve saved it! If you move the dinosaur onto a mountain (moving it from an adjacent space), the dinosaur is placed on top of the mountain and cannot be moved again; it’s saved!
Play continues until all dinosaurs cannot be moved. Check your score! You get 1 point per egg saved and 2 points per dinosaur saved. If you scored higher than 9, you win! See the rulebook for the full scoring chart.
Player Count Differences
None, effectively; it’s a by-committee cooperative game, so you can play this as easily at one player as you can at four players. Personally, I find it nice to have a few people to bounce these decisions off of, but your mileage may vary with that one. It may be best with some groups to institute a turn rule that every player makes independent decisions on their turn and other players aren’t allowed to talk, or something. Depends on how many problems you have with players trying to run the game themselves. Not really a factor in our game groups anymore. As a result, I prefer this towards the lower end of the player count, but I don’t care that much.
- Don’t overfocus on one dinosaur. This is a common error for a lot of players. They want to move each dinosaur, individually, as far as they can and then move on to another dinosaur. That’s all well and good, but that limits your overall utility because certain tiles prevent certain dinosaurs from being moved. My general recommendation is to try and gradually move each dinosaur rather than moving one as far as you can (generally something I’ll refer to as breadth-first rather than depth-first, for you computer nerds).
- Make sure you’re directing the lava correctly. This is key. It may seem useful to cut off the lava flow, but that’s not necessarily your best move, especially if it’s going to cause the volcano to explode prematurely. What you’d rather do is direct the lava into a safe zone (ideally a large expanse with a lot of available real estate to get wrecked by lava). Sometimes, connecting two lava flows can be useful in this regard, since it allows you to add tiles from either flow to that flow. If you get the right tiles, this offers you a lot more control over the future of both flows. Just remember that there’s always at least one end piece for each color.
- Protect your dinosaurs. You really don’t want them to get hit by lava. If need be, focus on one that’s in imminent danger to get them out of it as quickly as possible. Don’t just leave one in an excessively vulnerable position for too long or you might pay a hefty price.
- Remember that dinosaurs are more valuable than eggs. I hate to “which of my children do I love the most”, but dinosaurs are explicitly worth twice as many points as an egg. If you have to choose between the two, choose the dinosaur and cut your losses. You won’t get a perfect score, but you’ll almost certainly get a better one.
- Sometimes exploding the volcano can be an extremely good thing. This gives you a number of new avenues to direct lava, which is helpful. Just don’t do it too early, or you risk being forced to cut off access to one mountain, which will undoubtedly make your game a bit more challenging to complete successfully. Beyond that, though, it’s good.
- I generally recommend against moving onto meteorite spaces. It’s not like, anywhere close to guaranteed that a meteorite will be drawn when the dinosaur is on its space, but is it really worth risking it? I usually move through those spaces (as the result of another meteorite) so that I don’t have to stop there. Otherwise, well, the dinosaur can get squashed. It’s comical, but in a profoundly sad way? So try to avoid it.
- Keep probability in mind. If you’ve gotten a bunch of tiles of one color, it may be worth banking on that color not coming up for a while since the tiles are, you know, finite. This may matter a bit when planning, since you know that dinosaurs cannot move when a tile of their color is drawn.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the theme. You’re trying to rescue dinosaurs from the oncoming lava! It’s very heartwarming. It’s sort of like Rescue Polar Bears in terms of “let’s save some animals that everyone likes”.
- The pieces are also great. Very high component quality in this game. Thick cardboard and weighty pieces make it a game that’s got a really good tactile experience going for it.
- The difficulty scaling works to make this a game appropriate for a wide variety of experience and skill levels. I really like the idea that you can also just randomize which bushes and rocks you use to make the game kind of variable in its setup each time; this means that even as kids get used to the rules, they may not be able to take the same pathways every time, which can add some drama to the game. Add in the variable nature of the lava flows and you’ve got a game of consistently changing landscapes, which is nice.
- The 3D nature of the game makes it very visually appealing, too. I’d love to not have to assemble the mountains and volcanoes every time, but it’s kind of worth it for the overall 3D experience that the game provides. Especially for a game that’s got a bunch of tiles, it’s nice to see them literally going above and beyond to add additional quality to the game.
- Doesn’t take long to play. As you’d expect from a kid-friendly cooperative game; you can bust this one out pretty quickly, especially as everyone learns how to play, which is nice.
- Very simple game to learn. Literally just draw a tile and do its action; not much more to do than that. Just watch out for the meteorites!
- Oddly macabre theme for a game targeted at kids. I get that everyone knows what happened to the dinosaurs, but watching them kinda die in-game seems a bit aggressive. But I’m a bit sensitive to this kind of thing, I guess? Who knows; y’all know best for your kids.
- It feels like it would make sense for the eggs to be closer to the dinosaurs as components, rather than cardboard. It’s a very nitty nitpick, but again, that’s what the Mehs are for! I may eventually steal the eggs from Go Cuckoo! if I want to play a Maximum Component Quality version of this one. That would be a really fun time.
- The by-committee cooperative play style can be really bad for players if a player is trying to run the game entirely by themselves. Just be careful, especially if you’re supervising a game being played rather than playing it yourself. I’d recommend still thinking about the game in turns and letting the player be the only person to touch pieces on their turn. If you’re supervising the game, maybe let the player who’s turn it is tell you what to do? Kind of like the idea of Dragon’s Breath where Dragon Dad melts the ice. I just tend to prefer if a game has a fix in place for quarterbacking, but not every game does (it’s hard in perfect-information cooperative games).
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I think SOS Dino is a solid title! I actually really like that it’s a kid-friendly title, since it means it’s a lot easier to get it to the table, but the added difficulty options can turn it into a pretty challenging game! We definitely did not get a perfect score on the higher-difficulty modes, so, I’m not going to say it’s too easy by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, I’m going to say that I think it’s kind of a blast! It has the path-building that I like from a bunch of other games, but as more of a menacing, slow-moving problem that you have to solve as a group. Add in the cute dinosaurs as the things to save, and suddenly it’s easy to find a group of dino protectors to mobilize on the spot. I wonder how you explain the dinosaurs getting immolated by lava to kids, but that’s not a me problem; that’s a problem some other parent is going to have to deal with. So that’s fun. Either way, though, I’m delighted by the number of kid-friendly cooperative games that are starting to hit the market, like Ocean Crisis and SOS Dino. They’ve got good themes, nice components, and I think are just solidly fun. If this sounds like it’s up your alley, I’d definitely recommend checking out SOS Dino! I’ve really enjoyed getting to play it.