Designer Diary: Dinosaur World, or Life, Uh, Finds a Way (part 2)

Enjoy this designer diary written by David McGregor, co-designer of Dinosaur World and Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write - live on Kickstarter now!!

Part 1 linked herePart 3 linked here!


They Didn’t Stop to Think if They Should

Our initial idea was to take Dinosaur Island into the Ice Age. We listed issues that gamers have had with Dinosaur Island and Totally Liquid, and then brainstormed ways to “Game-ify DI.” One of the core ideas was to create a Dinosaur Island campaign. Titled “The Rise and Fall of Dinosaur Island,” it saw your park thriving through a period of boom before being riddled with corruption and sabotage. Each of the episodes would act as a module that could be played in a variety of combinations. Some of these modules were more ambitious than others. The earlier episodes were basically sets of new buildings and dinosaurs. One of our goals was to make the park itself more interactive. These initial tiles had placement bonuses and adjacency scoring. The new dinosaur tiles had variable recipes that would change as you created more of them.

The first of the ambitious elements was a stock market module using Ice Age mammals. Mammals were commodities, and we added speculation phases, buy phases, and sell phases. We also wanted players to be able to invest DNA into making mammals and manipulating the markets. Mammals would enter the economy from outside agencies, and players would be adding their own to change the values of certain creatures. Costs and VPs would fluctuate, and the idea was that entering the market would be a highly-interactive but necessary aspect of play. It was a challenge from the start. We did our research by playing stock games with both simple and more complex mechanisms to find something that would work. We saw this as the key module and worked tirelessly to make this function while keeping the rest of Dinosaur Island intact. Ultimately, we used a system where the dinosaurs would enter the system randomly and be up for sale. As they were purchased the player would get “action points” to manipulate the market as they saw fit. It didn’t work. The decisions were obvious and boring, and we shelved it to focus on the other modules. 

Some of the other modules included a series of tasks that you had to complete to satisfy a guy we referred to as “Nerman,” and a complete overhaul of the hooligan system. Nerman, based on Dennis Nedry, would cause issues across the parks, and you would have to allocate workers or money to the tasks. We discussed the idea of these tasks being semi-cooperative like Troyes, or more take-that with the ability to sabotage other players like mandatory quests in Lords of Waterdeep. Either way, this module never got to testing. The hooligan revamp came entirely from my dislike of the original system. 

As one of the earlier playtesters of Dinosaur Island, I had a table flip moment with some poorly drawn hooligans, and I questioned the system throughout the entire design process. If I was going to get my crack at Dinosaur Island, we were going to have to address this. The idea originally became a bag building system. You would court customers through PR actions. The customers were color coded with each color representing various wants and needs. If you were able to place the specific color meeple at the attraction they most desired you would score additional points, excitement, etc. Going heavy on dinos? Court more dinosaur lovers. Love amusement park french fries? Court customers who were amped about amusement park food. The customer draw led to more positive interaction. Instead of the sting of hooligans, you would get the occasional bonus of attracting specific customers. We even added variant cards that would change the function of the customers from game to game. This module worked well, and we were in a state that was ready for development. 

The last of the more ambitious modules were hybrid dinos that blended the three dino types from the base game. The idea was to massively overhaul the threat system and make the game more punishing. Many players were clamoring for a bloodbath, and that was the goal. We were working on dinos that would march around the board shutting down systems and point scoring options. The players would have to invest in Robert Muldoon-style security to march around securing the dinosaurs. This one was more manageable, but it continued to exacerbate a problem we had with most of the modules, as the game was already phase and upkeep heavy. We had hit a wall. Everything we tested added some fun, but also made the game more difficult to manage and more of a table hog. We often left the playtests wondering if it was worth it, and we settled on the reality that it wasn’t. This was probably the lowest point of development for the Rise and Fall campaign expansion.

You Can’t See What is on the Other Side Until You Get There

Throughout our brainstorming sessions, we often talked about cutting and adding components. Brian came up with the idea of doing away with the park boards and building with hexes. Another evening we talked about having a little truck that would move through your park and activate tiles. Eventually, all we had from Dinosaur Island were the dice and theme. Up to this point, the goal was to make a small component-light complement to the roll and write. Despite being campaign focused, we were only working with some new cards, tiles, and Ice Age meeples. We were still designing within the basic structure of Dinosaur Island and had no intention of pitching this as a standalone title. The first play with the hexes and truck tour changed that. Cutting the vast majority of the Dinosaur Island components liberated our design space, and suddenly we started bringing back ideas. We all love games with engine building, and so we saw the park activation as the primary means of scoring points and earning money. Elements we used in the roll and write were showing up and being added to tiles.

From here the design process went fast. We kept some of the phases from Dinosaur Island. You still drafted dice and used workers to collect dinosaur recipes, buildings, etc, but now you had to hold back some workers to ensure you had enough to run your park. The park phase turned into a logistic puzzle where your truck would start in the Welcome Center and travel to adjacent tiles. If the tiles had workers present, you would take the action and collect resources. The various colored meeples that represented customers, now became workers with specialties, and instead of building your customer base, you were building your worker pool. Blue workers became scientists, red truck mechanics, etc., and we kept the bag building mechanism for this. Workers would come in on “resume cards” that were very similar to the boats of Keyflower, which you drafted and added to your bag. Eventually this mechanic just felt cumbersome. Very rarely did we feel any meaningful strategy in the bag building, so we cut it. Simply having the players draft a resume card and take the assortment of workers still required the players to puzzle their way through activating their buildings and efficiently using the bonuses provided by the workers. 

The new park phase allows you to move your “Jeeple” from attraction to attraction, gaining resources as you went. If you move to a dino paddock you get excitement, but you also have to roll the threat dice. Each category of dinosaur deals a differing amount of threat and potentially death. Attractions provide bonuses based on their adjacency and buildings do any number of things. Our goal was to keep the basic economy of Dinosaur Island, where excitement would convert to money at the end of the round, but we also changed excitement to a spendable resource during the park phase. Thematically, some buildings just aren't as exciting for your visitors, but might be necessary for operation. As you visit these, you must spend “Active” excitement to get the benefits. This will lower the total income for the round, but will hopefully get you some benefits. Excitement also reverts back to zero at the end of the round, so you must generate excitement on the turn you intend to use it to get any use out of certain buildings.

The park phase proved to be a favorite among playtesters, but we were growing concerned about players hammering the same route over and over again. Once some players found a juicy combo, they were completely content with doing it repeatedly. We eventually set on using dice to “count down” activations. You could use an attraction as much as you wanted, but each use would become less exciting for your patrons. Eventually, these buildings would cease to produce excitement, but instead cost it. Players could use their nice combos a few times before the value started to decline. 

While this solved one problem, it opened up another. Now buildings at the front of the park had excitement generation in the negatives, and players couldn’t activate them. On a whim, we decided that after 3 years, the park needed to renovate the entrance and create a new one. At the beginning of the 3rd or 4th round (depending on the player count), players add a new entrance for the remainder of the game. Now tiles that were buried in the remote reaches of your park could be hit early, and new combos were accessible. 

The core was set. Dice drafting, worker placement, tile laying, and logistics. We fine-tuned our phase structure, flipped phases here and there, cleaned up the flow of play, and we were ready to playtest. We felt it was of a similar weight to Dinosaur Island, but the experience felt quite different.


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Part 1 linked herePart 3 linked here!

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