All is quiet and still there is a struggle for life. You just can not see it at first glance. This fight is result of individual small battles, which take place from time to time. More important decisions are happening on longer axis, where each animal species is competing for survival of its entire race.
We land 17,000 years in history. Ice age is ending on our planet. One environment is being replaced by another, grassy meadows are formed, but also deserts. Under the melting snow and ice appears inhospitable mountainous landscape. As soon as the animals have tailored to the cold weather, there is a new challenge. During the following years, their destiny will be decided – which of them will disappear from the planet entirely to be replaced by more agressive, which will climb on their skeletons. Better and stronger. Survival of the fittest.
Topic of survival and fighting in retreat of the ice age was already once a theme for excellent game from Chad Jensen called Dominant Species (review in Czech). Then we have a chance to review also another game by the same author, concerning development of a metropolis in Urban Sprawl (review).
But now we go back to the ice age, just in a little lighter manner. Here is a game called Dominant Species: Card Game. Its publisher is still GMT Games company, which issued in addition to the aforementioned games also excellent sci-fi strategy Space Empires 4X (review).
The box has a joint cover picture with the original board game, a crocodile, a rhino and bird with exploding mountain in the background. Just box dimensions are significantly smaller, but still a little bigger than usual for a card game. However, the quality and thickness of the box itself remains respectable, and when you take it into your hands, you feel immediately, that you are holding a really decent game.
A sense of what awaits you inside? There are mostly cards, just like the name implies. There is a big package of 120 action cards, plus a further twelve cards of biomes, in which will your wards compete against each other for survival. But this time, you will not play for a particular race, but you will be rather trying to help everyone equally and capitalizing on sending animals to the right place at the right time.
To do this, you will get one more cardboard tile with two scales – one is a survival track and the second indicates victory points and determines best player in the end. Fortunately, the author did not give up on wooden components, which decorated original Dominant Species. This means, that box also contains six wooden discs in six colors and twelve cubes – two in every player color.
Round counter is used on a survival scale, while the cube will indicate number of victory points. Second one will players put in front of themselves, so its easily distinguishable who is playing which color. And then there are still two wooden figures, one marks starting player, second gradually ticks across ten time periods, which must be played before the final scoring.
The game contains six animal classes again – amphibian, arachnid, bird, insect, mammal and reptile. Players here recognize also six food elements, which contribute to the survival of all species: grass, grubs, meat, grain, sun and water. Each animal needs some of these elements to survive, as well as each biome card provides some of these elements. It always depends on place, which you are currently in according to the card.
120 action cards can be divided visually into two kinds – 99 animals and 21 events. When we look at the graphics, we find that it is same, like in new third edition of Dominant Species and therefore is a newer one, than we had available during our review on the larger game. Graphics is rich and contributes to the nice experience of the game.
Each animal card can be rotated in two ways – portrait or upside down. In both situations, you will see a single number indicating the value of the animal in the food chain. Black is for healthy animal, while the other red means, that this animal was once supressed and therefore faces extinction threat. Whenever one of your animals is attacked by predator in the game (it happens automatically after playing card), you turn the card upside down and make a red, lower, number active. There are also icons under these numbers, which mark elements needed for survival of this animal.
Similarly they are located on the biome cards, which will gradually be revealed in the middle of the table. Each period in the game is always represented by one card from this pile. There is clearly indicated, what elements are provided by this environment (and therefore, how many victory points you get in the round evaluation), but also that animals are favored in this land or vice versa disadvantaged (+1, -1).
The last type are brown event cards, which contain the name, a picture, but also the effect of written text. In the lower left corner, you will find a symbol indicating, whether it is an immediate action (left arrow) or has longer duration (two arrows enclosed in an ellipse shape).
That concludes our tour around card types and we can start preparing the game. Players have to put their wooden components (in their color) to use – they lay one of the bricks on zero on points counter, and also one round token on another zero in survival track. Then you put the black cube on box 1 on the timeline, which indicates, that first era of global warming awaits you.
Now you prepare biomes supply. You must first set aside a sea card and shuffle the rest eleven cards. You select random nine of them and put them on top of the sea biome, which will always be played as the last, tenth round. You then immediately reveal the first one and put it on the table next to the pile and then reveal also next biome card and put it with image side up on the biome deck. This way, players can plan ahead. Each of rivals now gets seven cards from a shuffled action deck and you can begin the game.
Each player turn is absolutely simple. He has always only two choices – play card from his hand or pass and give up his actions throughout this era – a time, when one biome card is face up. When the time comes, when players are no longer willing to play more cards (they all passed) or one of them has nothing to play, era ends and scoring begins.
And what are players trying to achieve by playing action cards into the food chain? They are obviously trying to profit and game victory points by gathering the greatest number of points in the food chain. This number is combined from cards played, but another important value for victory is to play animals in compliance with current biome elements.
The importance of dominance in the food chain increases with round, which takes place. The player (or players) with the highest sum of card values in food chain gain victory points corresponding to the current round number, ie one in the first round and a maximum of ten at the end of sea era.
On the contrary, importance of the symbols on the cards diminishes. Even these icons are summed in each food chain pile and are evaluated as they are drawn on the biome card. Player gets points for supremacy according to number of printed symbols of this kind.
But you can also play events during the game and use them in your favor or against opponents. It depends on the type of card and its effect, which may be deferred until the scoring happens.
Players are forced to fight for dominance in the food chain in all rounds, because each of players, who shares the winning spot in a given era, is rewarded by one move forward on the survival counter. A player, who is in the best survival position at the end of the game, gets five bonus points, while opponent in last place loses a same amount. However, players in positions further back, get bonus cards for the final round to lower their disadvantage.
Between eras, there have to be do maintanance activities. Above all, you put away current biome card, and move next from the top of the deck. Then you reveal new one and leave it on the deck, so everybody can see, which location is waiting for you next time. You also move the piece on the turn counter and shuffle all played cards back into the deck. Then active starting player gives his token to player to his left. Each player then draws two new action cards in addition to those, they already have in hand.
Players can interfere with the opponents using supression of animals in their food chain and reduce their value for the scoring in this round. This happens, whenever a player plays a card with a crossed-out symbol of some species. Active player must then choose one card and rotated 180 degrees with its red number up. This reduces the animal’s total value. If this card is suppressed again, then it must be imeediately discarded and adds no value to your score anymore.
Players collect victory points during ten eras using two basic of ways, but they are at the same time competing for a position on the survival track. Once last tenth round is played and players add plus / minus points for position for their survival, you can declare the winner – player, whose cube arrived furthest on victory points track.
Dominant Species: Card Game is another game in series seeking successfully to translate a board game concept into a simpler and faster version of the card game. And standing to this seeminly impossible cutting, Chad Jensen’s did not lose his head and did not overcombine game system. The result is a simple and straightforward game, which includes decisions, but also a direct conflict.
Victory is not easily achieved without beating your opponent directly. You have to be constantly on the alert, watch your opponent values, both in the food chain, as well as with regard to the actual biome card. You must react to their cards, attack and change your goals. Only two card features are enough to ensure, that you constantly think about what to play next. And the decision is not easy.
The whole experience is enriched by great action cards. There is not too much, so you do not have to worry, that you get your hand crowded with unusable cards. But you can plan ahead very successfully, because you know, what era will come out next, and what kinds of food will you need. It is important to adapt priorities and playing cards either for food and value.
Suppressing opponent’s cards is a matter for predators and here is a little connected to another game about evolution, which came from Russia and is called Evolution: The Origin of Species (review). But Dominant Species Card Game remains its and everything revolves around the era cards instead.
Given the large number of cards, which are always available at the beginning of all round (ie you never draw to the bottom of the deck deck), the game is sufficiently variable. That combined with randomly shuffled biomes guarantees a constantly new challenges and choices every time. But the randomness can be an issue for someone, although its quite natural for such card game to have a little luck involved.
But the game is mainly based on direct interaction and response to the opponent’s playing cards. While maintaining attraction in all numbers of players, it lives up much greater to its potential in competition of least three or four players. That does not mean, it would not be fun in two, its more tactical and will not forgive any mistakes. But its little less fun alltogether.
Game time perfectly reflects the fact, that it is a card game. It seamlessly fits into 30 minutes and fewer than 60 minutes in a larger player group. The most time-consuming event is evaluation of individual elements each round, when you compare their opponents value to yours.
With less demanding game mechanism, there is also related a greater influence of luck, we have already mentioned. First of all initial hand of cards can decide a lot, but all the cards have their uses, they can be played in two ways, or even kept for following rounds. This diminished chance a bit.
Victory point gains are increasing towards the end, resulting in an excellent gradation. That’s what we like most on this card game. Along the way, you are constantly collecting points, but as you approach the end, it becomes more and more important, what cards you keep and how you work with the creation of your food chains.
Dominant Species: The Card Game is a game, that will captivate every lover of pretty, simple and conflict games. For fans of the original board game, this will be a different experience, but due to a common topic, we can recommend them to at least try it. Thrilling experience awaits you with excellent gradation until the last card played.
+ escalating importance of rounds
+ nice action cards illustrations
+ simple gameplay
+ two ways of gaining points
+ randomly ordered biomes
+ supressing enemy animals
+ players have no particular species
+ larger number of rounds and play options reduces luck factor
+ planning ahead
- lower importance of food in later rounds
- randomness in drawing cards