Triassic Terror

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Kayal/Eagle Games, 2 to 6 players, ages 8 and up, 90-120 minutes, $74.99)

triassicterrorboxDinosaurs live! At least they reappear here as players seek to grow their single herd of dinos into the dominant force on prehistoric Earth in Peter Hawes’ new game: Triassic Terror.

Triassic Terror is played on a large board depicting four environments: Swamp, Desert, Forest and Mountains. Each of these environments is further divided into three concentric rings, each ring having spaces for its primary, secondary and tertiary habitats. Presence in primary habitats is worth more Victory Points than secondary which is worth more VPs than tertiary. These habitats are occupied in order of size; the largest herds controlling the primary spaces, second largest secondary and so on. There are also two Raptors, a Pterodactyl and a T-Rex lurking as well.

All players begin with a set of dinosaur meeples as well as a T-Rex and “player” dinosaur (in their chosen color) and a matching scoring marker placed on 0 on the board’s perimeter scoring track. They are also given two player counters (Hatch and Volcano) which will come in handy later in the game. Players begin with a herd of four dinosaurs in the Swamp environment. What they do with them depends on which actions they choose.

The game is played through three prehistoric ages: Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. Each turn (the number of turns in the game vary with the number of players) follows a similar procedure.

The deck of environment cards is shuffled with one drawn and placed face up. On the first turn of each age, a player will either take the exposed environment card (which is then immediately replenished by drawing one from the deck and placing it face up) or draw an environment card blind. These cards simply show one of the four environments. They will also choose an action for that turn.

Six action tiles are placed, each offering a specific ability, that a player claims by placing his colored dinosaur on it. Not only does choosing a tile give that player that action, it also determines turn order for that turn. The six possible actions are:

triassic2New Environment – A player may place three dinos anywhere on the board. These dinos must be in the same environment but may be divided and placed in different rings of the environment or simply join an established herd.

Herd Growth – A player may add 3 dinos to an existing herd and 2 more to another.

Herd Migration – By choosing this action, a player may move two of his herds to adjacent areas. He may move some or all of his dinos. In the process, his dinos will be joined by one from each of any other herds occupying that particular ring (converting those dinos into the moving player’s color while depleting the size of his opponents’ herds). Moving within an environment is free but crossing into a different environment causes “environmental shock” and one dino is eliminated in the process.

Hatch – Choose an exiting herd and add 3 dinos to it. But there’s something extra here. You may also move the Pterodactyl token up to two spaces and EAT any 2 dinosaurs from any habitat in that area! (Eaten dinosaurs are returned to the unlucky player’s stock.) If a player has and plays an environment card, that card acts just like a Hatch action tile EXCEPT no Pterodactyl activity occurs.

T-Rex – By choosing this tile, a player gets to cause real damage to his enemies while helping himself. First, the player replaces the generic T-Rex with the T-Rex in his color. Now, he may move his T-Rex to an adjacent area and EAT 5 dinosaurs! Or he may move T-Rex two adjacent areas and gobble up 3 dinos instead! As a bonus, a T-Rex counts as 3 dinosaurs in determining the size of a herd!

triassic3Raptors – There are two Raptors on the board and this action allows you to move both of them. You move one Raptor to an adjacent area and the other up to two adjacent areas. In both cases, each Raptor EATS as many as two dinosaurs and then SCATTERS up to two more! (Scattered dinos stay in the same environment unless that proves to be impossible. In that case, they are scattered as a pair so that environmental shock leaves one to survive.)

After all players have done their actions, action tiles not chosen are slid down the row (and each seeded with one “white” dino meeple). The used action tiles are collected, shuffled and randomly placed back in line. (Players choosing any of the tiles with the white neutral dinos on them immediately replace them with dinos of their own color, adding them to any of their herds already on the board.)

In addition to the action tile, a player may play one of his action counters but play of these is restricted. You may only use them once and only one during each Time Period. The Hatch tile operates just like the Hatch action (except there is no Pterodactyl associated with it). The Volcano tile is extremely powerful. This tile is placed in any area of the player’s choice and immediately kills two dinos in the primary habitat and 1 each from the secondary and tertiary areas. It also shuts down the area. No dinos may enter or leave the area until the start of that player’s next turn (when the volcano tile is removed). This restriction only semi-applies to the T-Rex, Raptors or Pterodactyl who may leave the area freely – but may NOT enter it while the tile is there.

At the end of each Era scoring occurs. At the close of each Era, players earn Victory Points for their occupation of habitats (VP values are displayed on “stones” right by the habitat circles). Depending on the Era, players may also score for Presence (that is, having at least one dinosaur in all four environments) and earn 8 VPs. The third type of scoring, only done in the final Era in a four player game, is for Dominance: the total number of dinosaurs (including a player’s T-Rex which counts as 3) in all three rings in each environment. Highest total earns that player 8 VPs; second most awards that player 4 VPs. Highest combined total wins!

Graphic production of Triassic Terror is, in a word, impressive. The big board is heavy and nicely done (although it is a little dark in some areas so be careful that your dinos don’t blend into the background). It is also two sided, the side used depending on the number of players. Player aids are provided to help keep track of what action tiles do. (There are three of them, two in English and one in German. Since the game handles up to 6 players, it might have been nice to have six of these in the game.) The tiles are thick and the dinosaur pieces add a fun factor to the game, bringing me back to my childhood days. (So nice, in fact, that I’m willing to forgive the presence of a PINK T-Rex!) The insert is an incredible feat of engineering with everything fitting snugly in place. And leaving air holes in the plastic bags so that they close completely is a thoughtful design decision, something you don’t see very often. And speaking of design…

It is evident that Peter Hawes has spent a lot of time on this. The balance between offense (attacking with T-Rex, Raptors and Pterodactyl) and the desire for growth is constantly shifting. The change in control of habitats when numbers of dinosaurs in a herd rise or fall happens immediately and your grip on Victory Points ebb and flow just as quickly. Player interaction is high and intense. Since player order from turn to turn is determined by the actions you decide to take, you sometimes need to pass up an action you wish to take to capture a better position in turn order and yet, sometimes, the power of an action trumps turn order considerations. These decisions are meaningful and often difficult which adds to the excitement as positions in the environment – and their scoring potential – can turn on a dime. With so many “moving parts”, it can be a little tricky to digest it all at one sitting and questions can arise as to what is and is not permissible. The rulebook (actually there are two rulebooks, one in English and one in German) is exceptionally well done with lots of full color examples for reference to solve any problems that might arise.

It’s good to have an idea of what you want to do but, although you may have visions of a grand strategy here, Triassic Terror is an extremely tactical game and it is about as fluid a game as you will ever encounter. You can, literally, strike halfway across the board in a single move to cause havoc. Herds grow, migrate and, with the help of T-Rex, Raptors and Pterodactyls, can (and do) vanish in a flash! Shifts in position and relative strength occur in a blink of an eye. You need to be able to react with nary a moment to spare. Add to this the game’s wonderful production values and you really have something special. Triassic Terror? Terrific!

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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