Full disclosure: A review copy of Gods Love Dinosaurs was provided by Pandasaurus Games.
Another new review for the new year! These are taking me a bit longer than normal to write, and I suspect that’s partially due to the fact that I kinda put all of my effort into a big writing push at the end of last year. I got it done, but, whew, it wore me out more than I expected. Needed a couple weeks off. I’m hoping I’ll be back at 100% soon, but it’s slow going, in the meantime. Thankfully, the games aren’t slowing down, so I’m back with another title from our friends at Pandasaurus, Gods Love Dinosaurs! Let’s check it out.
In Gods Love Dinosaurs, you’ve finally done it! You’ve become a life-giving deity. Good for you. Really moving up in the cosmic order. That’s very nice. Your first act will be to give life to a new ecosystem to right an incredible natural wrong: there just aren’t. enough. dinosaurs. You love them! They have teeth and are giant and can eat anything. You’re so-so about the feathers and the fact that they probably quacked like geese, but with unlimited cosmic power, that’s a quick fix. No more Weird Birds; hello giant lizards. That’s all you want, for your dinosaurs to dominate the wild. But it’s going to take a bit more than praying to, I guess, yourself, to get it done. Will you be able to put dinosaurs back at the top of the food chain, like they deserve? Or will your intelligent design prove to be a little … less than?
First, you gotta prepare your tiles. Do so by organizing them into A / B / C / D stacks and 2+ / 3+ / 4+ / 5 player sets. Take the stacks appropriate to your player count and shuffle them, keeping them face-down. You can return the others to the box.
Place the animal board in the center of the table, and fill it with tiles from the A stack. If you’re playing with 4+ players, use all three rows; otherwise, use the first two.
Now, place the animals nearby:
Give each player 3 eggs:
And have them add them to their nests:
Then, give each player a starting tile:
Each player should place a dinosaur on the center mountain hex, and a frog / rat / rabbit on their respective spaces. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!
Gods Love Dinosaurs is a game about one thing: dinosaurs. You love them. You want more of them. You think of nothing else. But how do we get more dinosaurs?
That’s easy. On your turn, you’ll take a tile and add it anywhere in your ecosystem, such that it’s sharing an edge with another hex. The terrains don’t need to match! If it has an animal symbol on one of the tiles, place the animal matching that symbol onto that tile.
If you took the last tile in a column, that column’s animal activates! This does a few things. First, the player who activated (the player who took a tile last) takes the Volcano Marker. This doesn’t really do anything from a gameplay perspective, it just reminds you whose turn it was once everyone’s finished activating their ecosystems.
Then, depending on which animal corresponds to the column you activated, that animal activation proceeds! There are two types: Prey and Predator. Let’s go through each!
- Prey Activation: Prey is simple. If a prey animal (frogs / rats / rabbits) activates, it immediately expands into an adjacent hex of its favored type (lake / forest / field, respectively) by placing another animal of the same type. Only one animal can occupy a hex, so if there are no available spaces it does not expand. If there are multiple available spaces, you may choose which space to expand into. Note that the prey that you place as the result of an expansion does not expand. You may also choose to not expand a prey animal, if you want.
- Predator Activation: Predators activate by moving around the board and eating prey. Tigers can move up to two hexes in any direction (and may change directions), and Eagles must move in a straight line up to three hexes (so they cannot change directions). They must stop on a space with prey, but they eat all prey on spaces en route to their destination. When a predator moves through a prey space but does not stop there, add another predator of the same type to that location. This is how predators reproduce, probably! I stopped at 9th grade biology. Predators cannot move through spaces with other predators or dinosaurs. If you choose not to or cannot feed a predator at least one prey, it starves and is removed from your board. Sad times.
Either way, once the animal has activated, if the Dinosaur Marker is below that animal’s column, it’s Dinosaur Time. Probably not the official name, but I’m writing the review. If the dinosaur activates, you’re going to do the following steps in order:
- Hatch: Each player may choose to hatch one of their eggs, removing it from their nest and placing a new Dinosaur meeple on the mountain hex of their start tile (with the nest). That space must be empty for you to hatch a dinosaur.
- Hunt: Dinosaurs may move up to five spaces in any direction, changing directions as they move. They may not move through other dinosaurs, but they can eat predators and prey with reckless abandon, and you love it. All Dinosaurs start on a mountain hex, and they must end their movement on a mountain hex (it can be the same one). For every predator a Dinosaur eats, it immediately lays one egg to your nest. Helpful! If a Dinosaur does not eat any predators or prey, it starves and is removed from the board. You are allowed to let Dinosaurs starve, but … why would you?
- Move Marker: Now, move the Dinosaur Marker one space to the right on the tile board. If it’s in the column for the eagles, move it back to the frog column.
- Refill Tiles: After doing all that, refill all empty tile columns with tiles. Start with A, then if you run out, refill using B, and so on. Remember, any tiles with one or two (depending on your player count) tiles do not get refilled; only empty columns do!
End of Game
If, while refilling tiles, you run out of tiles (having exhausted the D stack), the game ends immediately. Otherwise, play continues with the player to the left of the player with the volcano marker. Once that happens, score:
- 1 point per egg in your nest.
- 5 points per golden egg in your nest (one golden egg is just worth 5 regular eggs, and may be exchanged at any time).
- 1 point per dinosaur in your ecosystem.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
The game compensates for player count differences by adding a few additional tiles per player when they join up, but it also increases the chaos of the game at those player counts. At two, it’s very difficult for a player to activate an animal without you giving them the ability to do so. At three through five, it’s very possible that every player between your turns will pull from the same column and activate an animal that you completely did not expect. Possible, yes, but perhaps not terribly likely? Either way, as you probably know if you’ve read other reviews on this site, I tend to prefer games where I can plan out my moves and avoid chaos if they’re going to be longer than 30 minutes, so that still holds true, here. I think it perhaps holds a bit less than absolutely, though; the game is more dynamic with more players, but I really only feel like 5 might be pushing it. At three and four, you just need to stay on your toes and keep your options open with more players. That said, I also enjoyed it at two, so I’d probably continue to play this anywhere between two and four players. Five is just usually too many, for me. Who even has four friends?
- You don’t always want to completely devour your predators. This is kind of a common mistake, especially in your first few games. Devouring predators gives you points, but it makes it hard for you to create additional predators, since you’re now always trying to get new predators on tiles. Keeping a couple around is helpful to allow you to build up further chains of predation that kind of ebb and flow over subsequent rounds.
- That said, you’re really managing how many predators you have at a time. You really don’t want to have too many predators, either, as you might guess. If you run out of prey, they starve, and then you’ve just wasted spots that could have fed your dinosaurs. You need to think about the pathways, as well, as your dinosaurs can only move so many spaces, and you need your predators set up along those pathways to properly feed them.
- Similarly, running out of prey is bad. If you run out of prey, you’re going to have a bad time. Everything will starve, and you’ll start hemorrhaging animals. You don’t necessarily need to have a perfect balance of prey, but make sure at least one area of your board is teeming with life at any given time. Some players will overexhaust themselves trying to keep everything active at the same time.
- Keep an eye on your opponents’ tiles! You should kind of keep track of what your opponents want, so that you have a sense of what tiles they’re going to take. This will let you better plan out what you should take and when you should activate certain animals.
- The big functional win in this game is forcing your opponent to activate animals when they’re not ready for them, and making them either starve their animals, overfeed, or just do nothing. This is key to winning, in my opinion. If you see your opponent setting themselves up for an incredible Eagle or Tiger move, activate it early. That will throw them off and force them to move their predators elsewhere on their board, which may have really far-reaching downstream effects. It’s going to frustrate them a lot, but, if they’re leaving themselves vulnerable to that sort of outcome, they’re not strategizing as well as they should be. It’s cruel, but fair. Bonus points if you force them to activate their dinosaurs before they’re ready and they have to starve one or eat a weird prey that messes them up.
- If you let the center of your play area get depopulated, it’s hard to make inroads back, which can make things tough if you’re trying to spawn new dinosaurs. Prey pretty much only at best double each round, so while that can be exponentially better, if you’ve overfed in an area, it’s going to be hard to get prey back into there. Consequently, it’ll be hard to get predators back in there. If it’s hard to get predators back in there, new dinos will have nothing to feed on. And that’s obviously bad. It’s something you can take for granted, but since you continually build outward, if you’re always expanding in all directions, you risk having a depopulated center where few dinos can be born and feed properly.
- You need to get a few extra Mountain spaces. You need to keep your center Mountain clear so that you can hatch new dinosaurs. If not, you won’t be able to capitalize on your expanded area. Getting an early Mountain and moving your dinosaur to it early can be great if you have enough prey and predators to support two dinosaurs. Just remember to not overfeed, especially early in the game! You need to set yourself up for a long-term thriving ecosystem.
- Try to take tiles such that your opponents are forced to activate animals in the order you want them activated. This is less about the activation and more about leaving your opponent with options that exclusively benefit you. If you take the right tiles, their options will be constrained and they’ll be forced to activate the dinosaur or a predator or really, just whatever is available. If only options you benefit from are available, that’s good! So try to anticipate that and write your opponent into tough corners.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like the theme of this game. It’s all about creating a singularly single-minded engine, and I love that. It’s just you, who loves dinosaurs, and wants nothing but dinosaurs, and you’ll do whatever it takes to get there. That level of determination is excellent, and it’s kind of funny to see a game just kind of go 100% into it.
- The animal (and dinosaur!) meeples are quite excellent. They look really good! I’m a bit worried about them because they’re on the thinner end, so I expect them to not take a lot of physical movement all that well (several of the thin pieces will likely crack, at some point), but they look great.
- I like the sense of progression that players have as they expand out their habitats. It’s really interesting and seems like a really cool thing to like, time-lapse, as the tile areas will expand in size and populations of critters will appear, increase, decrease, disappear, and appear again. It’s a very nice feeling of progression and I think the game does a great job giving players a sense of import via the decisions they’re making.
- The ability to mess other players up by forcing them to fire their food chain engine before they’re ready is deeply interesting. This isn’t quite an engine-building game, but it has some of those elements (mostly in how you place animals so that they breed and then are well-set for predation and such). The ability to fire all engines of one type simultaneously is very interesting, since it means you kind of need to cover your bases in case that happens. I haven’t seen it in a lot of games, and I’d love to see how it plays in an actual engine-building game. Even here, it’s very interesting, because you need to be thoughtful about how you plan and not put all your eggs in one basket (or at least one basket that only you are holding). It kind of requires cooperation.
- I also quite like the way that tiles are taken and refreshed. The thing that I currently like most about it is that it incentivizes spots that aren’t as popular to be popular later, as it only refills empty spots. That means that at higher player counts, you might see spots with one tile stay that way, but not for long. Someone’s going to want that animal to activate, and they’ll eventually have the means to do it. Just make sure that when they do, it benefits you.
- The rulebook is surprisingly low-complexity. I kind of expected this game to be heavier than it is, being honest. Instead, it’s mostly just “take a tile until the column is empty, then activate that animal”, and do that until you run out of tiles. It actually ends up putting this game on the lighter end of the complexity threshold, which means I may try this out with my more gateway-friendly groups, once it is safe to do so again. I think it’ll land pretty well, there. It’s a nice introduction to somewhat-abstract strategy with a player interaction element that isn’t explicitly aggressive, and the rulebook makes it a quick teach. That’s appreciated! I also appreciate that they have a section for “Frequently Overlooked Rules”; I wish every rulebook had that.
- You need a map to figure out the tile configurations for that insert. Let me solve this problem for you. There are 6 slots and 16 sets of tiles (A / B / C / D, 2+ / 3+ / 4+ / 5). You should put A (2 – 3), B (2 – 3), C (2 – 3), and D (2 – 3) in their own slots, and then A + B (4 – 5) and C + D (4 – 5) in the final two slots. They’ll fit perfectly. You’re welcome.
- I think the game straddles a weird line for me that I can’t perfectly fix. It’s odd because I think it feels like a thematic game, where you’re trying to build a thriving ecosystem, but really, at its core, it’s an abstract strategy game with a good theme. And that’s fine! I like abstracts! But I think I’d be happier if it moved stronger in either direction. Which is odd! I’m not normally the one here asking for less theme, but I think I’d either like the game to be more abstract or a bit themier and more complex. Having things like the different predators and prey have abilities that change from game to game would be amazing, but I think that ups the complexity beyond where this game wants to be. As it stands, I think it’s an excellent title for folks who are looking to start getting into strategic games, but it falls a bit short of the kind of game I’m looking for at this juncture in my gaming career.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think Gods Love Dinosaurs is solidly fun! I was, perhaps, a little disappointed, as I thought this was going to be like the game for me, but it ended up being a fun experience nonetheless. The major place where it fell short was that it wasn’t as complex as I think that I had hoped, which is a new feeling. That’s disappointing for me, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate flaws in the game; rather, it’s just geared for a slightly different audience. Where I think this game shines is for folks who are getting a bit more into board games after playing Azul but want something that’s perhaps a bit less complex than Wingspan or others like it. That’s a good area to be in, and frankly, I’m surprised that I thought this was going to be more complex, as that’s a fairly standard weight for games from Pandasaurus. That said, I think there are ways in which this game could benefit from being more complex. It has a rich theme, but I never really feel the theme come through in the gameplay. The predator-prey relationship matters, but the actual prey themselves have no distinguishing characteristics, which takes me out of the game, a bit. It makes me feel like it’s more abstract, when I play. I think I’d like to see a bit more of that complexity so that the game more deeply integrates with its theme, but, at that point, it would be a very different game. And I do enjoy the game that Gods Love Dinosaurs is, now. I think it’ll be a hit with a lot of groups because it’s got great pieces, solid art, and is quick to pick up and play. It’s probably a bit too chaotic at 5 for my tastes, but having games that play well in the 2 – 4 space is never a problem for my groups, once they’re able to meet up again. Either way, I’ve enjoyed Gods Love Dinosaurs, and if you’re into abstracts, dinosaurs, or anything in between, you may enjoy it as well!