GMT Games is widely known for their quality war games, often based on real events throughout history.  Every once in a while, they publish a game for us traditional gamers who like more mundane themes and are usually designed by the talented Chad Jensen.  The fantastic Dominant Species board game is my all time Favorite game.  I love the theme of Dominant species and the mechanisms are stellar.  I was curious about Dominant Species: The Card Game only because of the fact that it is the little brother to my top choice in games, but must admit I had lots of reservations about playing it.  I was lucky enough to have GMT Games send me a free copy to check out.  This will not be a comparison review to Dominant species, that will be coming later.  I will do my best to rate this game on what it is intended to be. So, let’s find out what it actually is…..

Dominant Species: The Card Game

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Publisher: GMT Games

Designer: Chad Jensen

Players: 2-6

Time: 15 min/player

Overview

The time of the great Ice Age has passed, the earth is now starting to warm back up.  As the ice melts, land becomes fertile with life once more.  Players will compete over who is able to control each land area called biomes.  As play moves on, the biomes become more valuable each level.  The player who is able to adapt and survive the best will be the victor, in Dominant Species: The Card Game!

Gameplay

Dominant Species: The Card Game is played over 10 rounds.  Each player starts the game with 7 cards.  The deck is made up of 99 species cards and 21 event cards.  You randomly deal 9 biome cards and place them on top of the sea biome which is always the last biome of the game.  You randomly choose the starting player and begin the game by turning over the first biome card.

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The goal for each round is to earn the most points through the biome cards.  The biome cards give you specific information on them.  They give you what food is available this round, for points.  It also tells you which species of animals are good at adapting to that biome and which are not.  There are a couple of ways to score points with each biome.  At the end of the round who ever has the highest “food chain” total will win the biome.  The biome is valued at the current round.  So, the round one biome is only worth one point, while the round 9 biome is worth 9 points.  The other way to score points is from food value.  Who ever played the most of each type of food on the biome card will score points based on how much food of that type is on the biome card.  For instance, if a biome is showing 3 meat icons, the person with the most meat on their played cards will earn 3 points.  You do this for all the food shown on the biome card.

The way you take your turn is simple, you can play one card or pass.  Once you pass you are out of the round, which is not always a bad thing.  Each player takes a turn in turn order until everyone has passed.  The two types of cards you can play are species cards and action cards.  The species cards are going to be the main focus of your turns.  When you are playing your species cards you will be playing them for domination over the biome and food icons.  The large black number indicates the “food chain” value for your presence at the biome.  The food icons below it are the food you control on the biome.  You want to match, as best you can, the biome food icons.  You can play any species you want.  Sometimes your animal will be suppressed.  If you play a card that has another species below the food icons with a no symbol on it, you can suppress someone else’s species.  When this happens simply turn your species card 180 degrees until the red number is showing.  If your species gets suppressed while showing its red “food chain” value then it is removed from your area.  Once everyone has passed you score the biome.

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The other type of card is the action card.  These come up sparingly and can have a major impact on the game.  They are usually one time powers but some can influence the rest of play.  When you play an action card you read it out loud then follow the action.  Some of these cards seem pointless when you get them, but can understand how they would be different if obtained at a more appropriate time.  While others can dramatically help you at the right time.

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There are a couple of unique changes when it comes to some of the rounds.  In the 3rd and 9th rounds, all the cards in the discard pile are reshuffled into the main deck.  Meaning the action cards that have been played so far have the chance of coming out again.  At the end of each round, each player gets 2 new cards.  At the beginning of the tenth round, you get cards equal to the space you are on the survival track.  Aaahhhh, the survival track!  Whenever you score points at the end of a round for the “food chain” value NOT the food icons, you move your marker up one on the survival track.  That means if you tie for the biome score you both score points and move on the survival track.  Being that you only get 2 new cards for each round, sometimes it is best to save a card and settle for a tie.  Especially when the later rounds are worth so many points!

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That is pretty much the entire game, you do this for 10 rounds and the person with the most points is the winner.  There is one final game scoring….the person who is farthest on the survival track gets 5 bonus points, the player who is lowest on the survival track loses 5 points.

My Ratings

Components: 4/5

The components are solid, maybe a little too solid!  Everything looks and works well.  The cards are so tough and overly thick. This is what knocks it down just a tick for me.  When I shuffle the massive species and action deck they are so stiff that it makes it hard to do properly. I love to shuffle cards.  You know when people play with poker chips as they play poker….I could sit and shuffle cards all day.  Not these!  Everything else is good.  The icons are big and bold making them easy to read.

Mechanisms: 2/5

We don’t have a section in our review of theme but when there is an issue with theme I need to make it known somewhere so I have chosen Mechanisms.  I have absolutely NO IDEA what i am supposed to be as a player???  Most games start out saying things like, “You are a trader in the Mediterranean…”, “Each player plays as a company vying for ….”, “In this game each person plays as a colony of ants….” (Myrmes, just played it last night. Such a great theme!)  What am I in this game?  I can play any species I want?  So can everyone else?  Am I the biomes?  Am I a spiritual animal guide?  Am I a stick?  I have no idea?  I would have loved to see this game with individual decks of each species.  Everytime you play you would get a new experience.  They really dropped the ball in this area.  The theme is just so disconnected from the mechanisms.

Strategy: 4/5

For a somewhat quick game, this is where I think the game shines.  I really like the level of strategy that is here.  I love that you only get 2 cards at the end of each round.  This makes playing more cards early extremely important.  Saving cards for later rounds that are worth so many more points is key.  How long to fight over three points in round three might not be as important as keeping a card for round 6 to make sure you get 6 points! I also like the fact that it is okay to pass on a round and not play a single card.  There are times where you won’t have any food icons that match any of the icons on the biome….so why play anything?  Save those cards for later to improve your chances in a future round.  I do wish that the action cards meant more when played.  Some are obviously so much better than others!

Replayability: 2/5

Other than this being a quick game to maybe fill in at the end of the night I just can’t find much about it to continue playing it often.  If there would have been separate decks for each species and the play differently from each other, it would have added so much variety.  As it is now, I will play it every so often but only because it is a quick filler game.

Final Thoughts 12/20

I like Dominant Species: The Card Game for what it is….a filler.  It is not the best filler in the hobby but it does its job just fine.  There is a good level of strategy here, the higher player count the more strategy.  As a two player game, my wife and I can cruise through it pretty quick.  I will play this game on vacations when I can travel with it and play it quickly.  I really wish there was much more theme and differential abilities between the species.  This is a beginning thought to what could become a great game with some tweaks and more development.  I feel like this game was pushed quicker than it should have based on the popularity of its bigger brother.  As for now, I will continue to keep this game for a nice filler.

-Tim