Dominant Species was one of the first 10 board games that I bought when I was introduced to this hobby by Grant and Alexander, a little over a year ago now. One of my favorite themes in any game is wildlife and animals. I can’t remember how I came to know about Dominant Species but when I heard of it, I watched some videos and decided it would be something that I might enjoy. I don’t think I realized then what I was getting myself into. This is a pretty deep and engaging game that can take quite a while to play and even longer to truly understand. I have played it at all player counts. Enough of the intro, let’s see what I think of Dominant Species.
Publisher: GMT Games
Designer: Chad Jensen
Time: 120-240 min.
In Dominant Species, designed by Chad Jensen, each player is a species of animal trying to survive the elements, the growth and emergence of other species as well as the up coming Ice Age. Through out the game, you will be vying for power in each region on the board through a number of actions and rounds. The game will continue until the Ice Age has reached the earth, the one species that has been able to survive the changing climate and pressure from other species the best will be declared the Dominant Species.
Each player will choose a species that they will control. There are 6 different species all with their own special abilities. Based on how many players, you will have a certain amount of action cylinders and species cubes. You get all of your dominance cones for each game. On the board, there will be one of each terrain type and 2 of every food chit, placed on the vertices of the tiles. Then each player places species out on each terrain depending upon what food sources are available. If you have one food source touching a tile, you place one species on it. If there are 2 food sources that your animal survives on then you place 2 species on it. All the dominance cards are shuffled and placed on the side, with the Ice Age card always on the bottom..
A round consists of each player placing their action cylinders on the board in the available action spaces. Once all the actions have been placed, you will hen move to the activation phase starting with the top of the board and proceeding down in order from left to right. There are plenty of possible actions one could take. Adaptation allows you to adapt to other food sources in the world by placing a food chit on your player mat. Abundance lets you put a food chit in the world so that there is more food for you to survive on. When you glaciate, you put a glacier tile over an already existing tile on the board. Speciation means putting more of your species out on the world. Migration is used to move your species from one region to another. Competition lets you kill off another species that is located in one of your territories. Wanderlust is the way to add new terrain tiles to the board. When you choose Domination, you score one of the terrain tiles and then who ever has dominance there will get to choose a domination card and apply its effects. There are also actions that effect turn order, food getting taken off the earth and losing food chits off your player mat.
It really is that simple of a game…..right! Wrong!! The beauty in this, in my opinion, is that the basic mechanisms are pretty straight forward. Put your action cylinders on actions then perform the actions. But there is so much more you have to think about. This is an area control game at its heart. But how and why you control these areas is the best part. There are 2 ways to control an area. One, by having more species on a region than anyone else. That will score you the most points on that tile…..BUT you can’t choose a domination card unless you dominate that tile……and the domination cards are SOOOOOO brutal and important. There are often times where you will take a card just because you don’t want it to happen to you, and it feels so wrong yet so right at the same time. So, that brings us to the second way to control an area, by having dominance. Having dominance means you add all the food chits on a terrain to the food chits on your player board. If you have 2 water on the tile and 2 on your board, that is a total of 4. When you have dominance on a specific tile, then you place one of your cones on it to signify that you are dominant there…..but you might not have the most species, meaning if you score that tile, you will get less points than someone else but you will be able to choose a dominance card.
The game continues to go each round until the Ice Age card is taken by someone in the dominance phase. When that happens, that round is completed and the tiles are scored one last time. The species with the most points wins the game.
The components are great in this game, and who would expect any different from a GMT game? There are tons of stuff in this game. The only ding it got are the player boards….or should I say player card stock? The player boards are not thick at all. They are a heavy paper. I would have loved to have a middle weight board to make them just a bit more sturdy. Even though the components are great, if they ever made a deluxe version…I would buy it in a heart beat!!! Over all, the game is fantastic to look at and play. Art work is great, the cylinders and cones look great on the board. Just over all fantastic.
Now I’m gunna start gushing praises for this game the rest of the way. The mechanisms in this game are absolutely stellar! There are so many to talk about. The way that everyone places their actions before they are triggered. You may start the round with one plan, then halfway through throw it out the window and do something else. Or completely forget what it is you were doing. The duel area control mechanism where you can focus on getting more points but be vulnerable to the dominance cards, or get the dominance cards yet fewer points, but you might hope to get both when placing your actions but by the time all the actions are taken, you have neither. It is such a great design! How about those dominance cards…..if no one takes the action…..the game could go on for 2-3 more rounds. The only way to end the game is by taking the Ice Age card and that is always on the bottom of the deck. Everything just makes too much sense. The order in which the actions are taken…..first everyone has to adapt to the world….then you can change the world by adding new food….then grow your species…..you need more room so then you get to wanderlust…..then you can migrate…..then kill others…..and finally announce your dominance to everyone. But then there is an order in every action phase….for migration, the person who wants to move the most species goes first while the player who moves the least amount goes last, but we all know that the person who goes last in an area control game has the advantage. That is the beauty of this game…..it all makes so much sense in the theme of animals and surviving!
Where to start on strategy?? I have already touched on the area control aspect. What about the 6 different species and each having their own ability. Birds get to move farther than other species, insects get to speciate more, spiders get to kill some one every round for free, amphibians get to start with 3 food instead of 2. These special abilities form your strategy the entire way. The other thing I didn’t mention is the food chain….when there is a tie for the amount of species in a region the species that is higher on the food chain breaks the tie. This is huge when dealing with spreading out and making sure you are on as many tiles as you can. I also haven’t mentioned that you can focus only on glaciers. Because, the person who has the most species on glacier tiles at the end of each round will get bonus points. There have been games where I have seen someone get 50 points in the last 2 rounds just from glaciers…….50 POINTS!!! There is strategy oozing out of every pour of this game. Every action, every thought, every move, every turn, every card…..strategy!
There are 6 species in the game and so 6 plays right off the bat right? Not only that, but there are different ways to win or score points. Go for the glaciers, speciate as many terrain tiles as possible, bonus points for wanderlusting. You can try each one in a different game. The game also comes with a long and short version. Now this is a game that you have to be in the mood for…..and probably shouldn’t play it every week….it is that stressful. I literally get a kink in my neck every time I play it. But there are tons of ways to strategize and play that makes the replayablility great.
Final Thoughts 19/20
Dominant Species is my favorite game of all time for a reason. I absolutely love everything about it. I love the way it makes me think. I love the theme. I love the way the mechanisms play right into the theme. I love the way it flows. I love the stress that it gives me. It is just as good with 2-3 players as it is with 5-6, though it plays much different. When there are only 3 players you get 5 actions, when there are 6 players you only get 3. At higher player counts it makes it that much more tense on trying to do what you want. There are simply not enough great things to say about this fantastic design by Chad Jensen and GMT Games. This is a game that if you like deep, heavy, thinky euro strategy games that have NO LUCK what so ever, it should be in your collection! There might be a better game out there but I haven’t found it yet….it will take something pretty special to knock this off my top game.
Actually…..I just talked myself into playing it again…..tonight!!!