Dominant Species (Video Review)


Game Overview
90,000 B.C. — A great ice age is fast approaching. Another titanic struggle for global supremacy has unwittingly commenced between the varying animal species.
Dominant Species is a game that abstractly recreates a tiny portion of ancient history: the ponderous encroachment of an ice age and what that entails for the living creatures trying to adapt to the slowly-changing earth.
Each player will assume the role of one of six major animal classes — mammal, reptile, bird, amphibian, arachnid or insect. Each begins the game more or less in a state of natural balance in relation to one another. But that won’t last: It is indeed “survival of the fittest.”
Through wily action pawn placement, players will strive to become dominant on as many different terrain tiles as possible in order to claim powerful card effects. Players will also want to propagate their individual species in order to earn victory points for their particular animal. Players will be aided in these endeavors via speciation, migration and adaptation actions, among others.
All of this eventually leads to the end game — the final ascent of the ice age — where the player having accumulated the most victory points will have his animal crowned the Dominant Species.
But somebody better become dominant quickly, because it’s getting mighty cold….

Game Play
The large hexagonal tiles are used throughout the game to create an ever-expanding interpretation of earth as it might have appeared a thousand centuries ago. The smaller tundra tiles will be placed atop the larger tiles — converting them into tundra in the process — as the ice age encroaches.
The cylindrical action pawns (or “AP”s) drive the game. Each AP will allow a player to perform the various actions that can be taken, such as speciation, environmental change, migration or glaciation. After being placed on the action display during the Planning Phase, an AP will trigger that particular action for the owning player during the Execution Phase.
Generally, players will be trying to enhance their own animals’ survivability while simultaneously trying to hinder that of their opponents’ — hopefully collecting valuable victory points (or “VP”s) along the way. The various cards will aid in these efforts, giving players useful one-time abilities or an opportunity for recurring VP gains.
Throughout the game, species cubes will be added to, moved about in, and removed from the tiles in play (the “earth”). Element disks will be added to and removed from both animals and earth.
When the game ends, players will conduct a final scoring of each tile — after which the player controlling the animal with the highest VP total wins the game.








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4 thoughts on “Dominant Species (Video Review)”

  1. First let me say that I am impressed you could understand this game so well just playing it solo or two handed. I predominantly play wargames but also play Eurogames etc…with family. GMT is a wargame publisher. DS looks like a Eurogame; yet is seems popular with the GMT customers so I figured it might be for me. I’ve never owned a game (ostensibly) about evolution or surviving climate change, but the topic seemed mildly interesting. I (erroneously) figured that any GMT game that makes it to a third edition should be a really polished gem…and splurged (blindly) for the deluxe set.

    After playing 3 or 4 times for many, many hours I gave the game away to the only person who liked it. We played three handed twice and five handed once. We never came close to finishing, but it became especially tedious in the five handed game…which we assumed would be the most fun. As you say it was WORK. There was very little laughter even though the group was companionable — we spent most of the game just staring intently at the board and wondering how to win.

    As you said, repeatedly, it is an ABSTRACT game pretending to be about species struggling to survive the coming of the ice age. The thematic element should be regarded as a marketing overlay however. AFAIK the mechanics do not match any natural processes in any substantive way, I think, because it is actually a wargame masquerading as a Eurogame. Unfortunately it does not succeed in coming up with the both of best worlds — it comes up empty.

    I think you CAN legitimately ask, “What do they see in it?” Perhaps some people really like accounting…but I think the real answer is that the “Emperor has no clothes.” Besides pretending to be about something it’s not, the myriad decisions are NOT as impactful as you might think. The player who ultimately won our 5 player, 6 hour marathon was universally (meaning by himself as well) held to be the weakest player among us as measured by a grasp of the rules. In other words the outcome of all the abstract mechanics is as random as its relation to species migration or evolution. This game is a waste of time.

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  2. I don’t think that something that is this well received can be dismissed though. I do think that there is something inherently appealing. The people who support it largely seem to be gamers who want to understand the interactions in a game’s systems, and there is clearly some sort of rich set of these present. I also can only suppose that with repeated plays an understanding (perhaps including an understanding of the group dynamics of the players) will alleviate some of the ability for someone to ‘sneak’ into a victory; that long-term strategies will be more obvious and thus can be countered. I’m willing to take all these things on faith, and STILL cannot see why it is worth the effort. Are there so few games that do not provide that richness for less burden? Because, there can be nothing beyond gameplay which drives people to like this.

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  3. I think there are two reasons that some people claim to like it. First, as you point out, Chad Jenson has a preexisting following. Second, it is published by GMT, a producer of wargames, many of them hex based. I firmly believe that many of their customers have never played really good Eurogames so they think this is innovative.

    I will concede that, before one realizes the game mechanics are actually a Rube Goldberg engine, it is intellectually interesting to work on the puzzle of a viable survival strategy. But in the end none of us CARED who won, or lost, or why it happened. The post game discussion just died away for lack of enthusiasm. In my experience this is the mark of a dead end product which is why I gave it way. As you say, it can’t be accused of being another overly simple Eurogame…because figuring out how to best place those cylinders on the progress track requires deciphering so many inter-dependencies …but again, at the end it’s sound and fury signifying nothing.

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  4. I think most of the people who really love this game (many of whom are not wargamers at all), truly like the complex interlocking puzzle. This is really a poster-child for the heavier euros, many of which aim for that. It’s easier to achieve a deeper (and thus replayable) game by adding complex interactions than a design from which such depth emerges organically. Simulations often have such depth, but may be less desirable due to verity trumping gameplay.

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