So last night was my first game of Dominant Species. I’ve heard a lot about this game, it being one of the top 100 games on BoardGameGeek, but never thought to seek it out. It seems a little heavy for my group, although my group is progressing quite a bit these days. I finally got to try it at a game night hosted by Aaron, and this is what went down…
Learning the game
Aaron’s got a limited number of games that plays 6 players which are not party games, and Dominant Species was chosen based on overwhelming accolades. Gabe, whose collection of board game is massive, taught the game to 3 of us new players. He patiently went through each of the actions possible, and demonstrated how to calculate dominance and scoring. I find the game to be a fairly straightforward to learn, but the strategies and direction can be confusing at first for a new player. The player aid and rules book are thankfully incredibly well written, and we found ourselves referring back to it quite a few times for special cases and clarifications.
I found that the hardest part to learn was the abundance and depletion section. This has to do with the fact that abundance and depletion is discussed early in the game, but extinction and domination is not talked about until the final step. If it was me I’d give quick overview of the process before going through the possible actions.
The game then begins with us rolling dice to choose the species we want to be. I chose the birds for their mobility. This choice saved me from total annihilation a few times, as you shall find out. For my first action I picked glaciation, because that was heavily recommended as an important action. This was also my worst mistake of the game. For my glaciation action, I targeted Aaron’s wetland amphibians to eliminate the points from that tile. He was apparently not so happy about that action. For the rest of the game he decided to stop playing Dominant Species, and start playing Carcassonne. He decided to take revenge on my damn birds and took glaciation and Wunderlust for the rest of the game to chase me down and score points purely by tile placement.
I knew amphibians were cold blooded, but not like this…
So the game went on, with the rest of the group playing a fairly normal game. I managed to score a few points from domination thanks to my birds’ migration ability. I was also fortunate in the draws to only have the seeds show up in abundance a couple of times throughout the game, thus it was not depleted. Out of the corner of my eyes however is the ever inching Tundra of Aaron that is slowly but surely depleting my home and food supplies. There were a few times where Aaron had a choice to score 10 points to place a tundra, but instead he chose to kill a whole flock of my birds instead.
On the other side of the tundra was a relatively calm jungle of Jay’s spiders. They got plenty of grubs to eat, with no fear of the neighboring tundra going in that direction. The spiders soon expanded to an ocean with even more grubs that allowed them to multiply further. They started taking over the neighboring tundra for the survivor bonus, and was steadily climbing up the ladder through points from domination.
Don’t birds eats spiders? but I guess mine are vegetarian
While all this is happening, the reptiles, mammals, and insects are waging a fierce war for food . Their food tokens are often drawn into the abundance tray, forcing the players to take action so it won’t go into the depletion bin. They are also compelled to adapt to the ever changing food supply, evolving into much more versatile animals. Despite all this, the mammals still went extinct at one point during the game, and speciated again to join my bird army down south.
Glaciers only flow one way – Aaron
The game ended in the 7th round, with the fertile card appearing on the board. Aaron now has a choice. He can eliminate the 25 possible points from Jay’s spider by glaciating the other direction, and let the reptiles take victory, or continue his onslaught of birds. At this point we all know what he’s going to do. The spiders were victorious over the reptiles by a mere 3 points, thanks to some freezing tundra spiders and the huge spider family in the jungle. The reptiles dominated a lot of land at the end thanks to their adaptability. They were as good at eating seeds as my birds, plus using other nutrients as well.
I thoroughly enjoyed the game. I always like games where the rules are intuitive, but the strategy is deep. I find this game to be even more cutthroat than Food chain magnate, the last game I wrote about. As you can see from this playthrough, the potential for kingmaking is great. Despite that, I find the interactions to be enjoyable for the most part. This freedom of movement and interaction adds another level of diplomacy and intrigue into an already strategic worker placement/area control game. I’d totally play the game again, once Aaron forgets about the first turn tundra.