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Sep 21

Dominant Species IGS Play Report/First Impression

The most recent IGS session in which I participated involved the evolutionary struggle known as Dominant Species, by Chad Jensen.  During the game, 2-6 players take on the role of different animal types battling for supremacy in a primordial Earth heading into a new ice age.  The animals that can be played are:  Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, Birds, Arachnids, and Insects.  Each animal has a special ability that gives a unique feel as well as advantages at particular strategies.  By pursuing a wide variety of actions ranging from: giving their animals positive adaptations, having their animals explore new territories, and aggressively attacking other animals, as well as many other actions,  players seek to score the most points by game’s end.  It is an exciting, no-holds-barred strategy game in which players must not only struggle with each other for dominance, but strive to simply survive on a planet where mother nature has gone mad.

Play Report

As this was basically my first time playing Dominant Species (1st beside the practice game) my description will be a brief overview of what took place as I was too unfamiliar with the game to write a very detailed report.

The game was initially supposed to have six players, but do to a late cancellation we only had five.  The players in attendance and the animals that they played were as follows:

Insects  played by Rich

Arachnids played by James

Amphibians played Nate

Reptiles played by Steve

Mammals played me. Chris.

Despite being the winning animal in the practice game, no one chose to play the Birds.

Early Game

Insects:  Due to the availability of a dominance card that would grant him an extra action pawn, Rich chose dominance on his first turn.  During the remainder of the early game he focused on increasing his number of adaptations.  This became very important, because the rest of us adopted the motto, “When in doubt kill an insect.”   Some of us took this motto more seriously than others.

Arachnids:  James also had the opportunity to pick the a dominance card that gave the Arachnids and the Insects an extra action pawn each.  James having one more action than everyone, but Rich who had two more than the rest of us.  With these two things occurring on the first turn the other three of us were quite concerned about how heavily the extra actions would weigh on us throughout the course of the game!  In addition to the early dominance, James expanded his territory through wanderlust actions and guarded them with the threat of the Arachnid’s special attack to keep out intruders.

Amphibians:  Nate spread the availability of his food type through the abundance action and grew the territory with use of wanderlust as well.  Nate was primarily spreading out the species that he already had instead of making new ones.

Reptiles:  Steve was developing his animal with adaptations and growing the area where its wide array of food sources were available, but was largely avoiding the placement of more species.  No one was quite sure what he was doing, but it appeared he was employing some sort of late game strategy.  As we were noobs, we would have to wait and see.

Mammals:  Due to the fact that none of my food type came up in the wanderlust or abundance areas, I decided to speciate heavily and try to spread out.  I knew that the mammal’s special ability increased their survivability if some they lost a food source.  As a result, the plan was to create a large number of species, spread out, and focus on adaptation in future rounds so that I might disperse even further.

Middle Game

Insects:  With two extra actions right out of the gate Rich was most definitely rolling!  Coupled with the insects ability to add one species to the board each turn regardless of whether or not they chose speciation, the extra actions started showing their effect on the game right from the start.  He began using his extra actions to bid turns out in front for control of the glaciation action.  This gave him massive control over the environment and maybe even more importantly to him, prevented us from crushing his territories with glaciers.  I would like to say that it was at this stage that I began an intense propaganda assault on Rich claiming that the insect horde must be destroyed at all costs, but that would be a lie because it was not propaganda!  It was without a doubt a hard truth that it was going to take an organized effort to bring him back to the pack, and although everyone did attack him to some degree or the other, it remained to be seen if it would be enough for us to catch up.

Arachnids:  After his initial speciation rush, James eased off on unit production and focused on further wanderlust actions, and reserving glaciation actions that were not already spoken for by Rich.  It was also at this stage that I scored a rather large survival bonus of 15 points and James took notice.  This led to a dramatic increase in mammal arachnid hostilities over control of the glaciers.  This also led to a bit of a distraction in both of our insect killing efforts much to Rich’s benefit.  Sadly, many a mammal met his end at hands of the wicked arachnid’s free competition kill action.  This situation was made worse by our direct competition for control of the glaciers.

 Amphibians:  Nate began to make a greater effort to add pieces to the board during the mid game as he had suffered many casualties by this point.  Due to his proximity to the insect hoard, he was the unfortunate victim of many early glaciations before Rich took over control of the action.  Having spread out his food supply early through wanderlust and abundance Nate was able to gain dominance in a few locations with relative ease due to the amphibian’s triple symbol.  He was not in tons of spaces, but where he was the amphibians were dominant. It was also during this part of the game that Nate began taking the initiative action and climbing up the turn order.  At one point this caused the insects to be relegated to third from first.  A delightful development!

Reptiles:  The mystery continues, as Steve still placed practically no species on the board and has score next to no points.  He has managed to develop a maxed out number of adaptations and started spreading food sources even further through wanderlust and abundance.  He managed to maintain on again off again dominance of a lone mountain territory that kept changing hands between he and I.  Even when scored for dominance it was worth almost no points, but he still managed to control a card on most turns.

Mammals:  I was cruising along nicely at the start of the mid game.  I was pursuing a spread out strategy of gaining points in areas where others claimed dominance, while attempting to gain the survival points for control of the glaciers.  This was working pretty well for me until I scored a 15 point survival bonus and James (Arachnids) took notice and the great mammal arachnid ice wars began.  I really did not want to fight James as I was quite certain that Rich was going to win unless we all united to destroy him, but I was also not very interested in giving up the glaciers as it was my primary source of points.  Due to my not seeking to dominate territories of greater value I was sacrificing control of any cards and the points that come along with said action, and thus desperately need the survival points.  To fight James over the glaciers meant probably losing to Rich, but giving up my only source of points meant losing for certain whether it was to Rich or someone else.  So as you might expect, we fought.  This mostly resulted in neither of us gaining the survival bonus.  Due to this conflict I began taking the competition action two times around.  I tended to kill two insects and one arachnid whenever possible, as I was still trying to prevent Rich from winning.

Endgame

Insects:  The only question for Rich was whether he could hang on to his massive lead or not.  His control of the glaciation action, along with his maxed out adaptations, made it quite difficult to remove him from any areas without employing the competition action.  Due to his high number of adaptations he continued to hold dominance in several locations despite his dwindling numbers.  This did not bode well for the rest of us.

Arachnids:  Against my best efforts, the arachnids were slowly winning our war, but unfortunately we were both falling ever further behind the insects.  A lot of arachnids had been killed during the game and James was out of pieces towards the end of the game.  As such, he had to rely on small, but elite spider death squads that were far too effective for my tastes at bringing destruction to the mammals.  On the very last turn of the game he did finally manage to score a rather hefty survival bonus for control of the glaciers, but it may have been a Pyrrhic victory.

Amphibians:  Nate’s biggest problem was being stuck between the highly adapted insects and the hyper aggressive arachnids.  The insects lead brought all manner of devastation to the territories that the amphibians were coexisting in and the arachnids were killing everything in sight if there were no tasty mammals to munch on.  Much of the glaciation was killing of his extra food sources which reduced his capacity to achieve dominance.  given that dominance seems to be the primary path to victory for the Amphibians, this was definitely bad news.

Reptiles:  Steve’s big finish came as a shock to us all.  A number of bad events all came up in the same round and caused massive damage to everyone who had large numbers of species on the board.  Steve followed these up with several speciation actions and even some migration.  The combination of these efforts and events left the endgame world looking surprisingly dominated by the sneaky reptiles!  Given that it was many of our first full games we were not certain how many points the reptiles were going to pull of right at the end, but we knew it was going to be a ton!

Mammals:  My game was basically destroyed with about three turns to go.  For those of you familiar with game I will name the cards that were all played in the same round:  Catastrophe, Blight, Cold Snap, and Biomass!  Due to my incredible noob status, I misunderstood Cold Snap and proceeded to migrate even more species on to the glaciers in one last attempt to gain the survival bonus.  This mistake coupled with the effects of Biomass, and aggressive competition from the arachnids were completely disastrous.  I speciated my last few pieces in an effort to gain some dominance points at the end of the game, but due to James misinterpreting the likely course of events in one territory, he inadvertently gave dominance to Rich!  Boo!

Final Score

Insects137

Reptiles 104

Arachnids 102

Amphibians 86

Mammals 73

Recap

Rich played a great game and took full advantage of his extra action pawns.  Using them to lock up glaciation for turns in advance was a huge advantage.  He was on the receiving end of a lot of effort to bash the leader, but it was not quite determined enough to bring him down.  Congrats to Rich on a strong win in an intense game!

Steve shocked us all, even himself, by just how many points he scored on the last turn to steal second place from James!  I think we under estimated just how many points a player could gain from the final dominance scoring.  I did not record the grand total, but I believe he scored roughly 60 to 70 points out of 104 at the end of the game.  Most impressive considering he had next to no pieces on the board for most of the game.  Perhaps more experience players would have noticed his strong strategic positioning, but beginners like us were completely unprepared!  Great job Steve!

James played the arachnids in the fashion that I imagine is how they should be played. I am of the opinion that they should be highly aggressive and are well suited to succeeding on the glaciers.  I think he realized a little too late how good the glaciers could be and by the time he was able to establish control the game was over.  All in all he had a pretty good game as we all thought he had second for sure until Steve’s amazing end game scoring spree.  If James and I had focused just a little more on Rich, he may well have won the game.  Well played nemesis.

Nate just did not seem like he could get things going.  I discussed earlier how I think this was related to his position relative to the insects and arachnids and what negatives that brought his way.  Tough game for sure, but hey, you beat me buddy!

Chris (Me) was doing quite well until the turn of endless disasters.  That combination of events, my ongoing war with James, and a few serious rookie mistakes lead to my dismal last place finish.  I learned a lot, had a great time, and will make sure that I am better acquainted with the rules and the cards before my next game.  Despite my poor finish, I was very impressed with Dominant Species and look forward to playing it again!

First Impression

Dominant species is a beast of a game!  It is not for the faint of heart and is so vicious it nearly qualifies as a contact sport!  All of the wonderful mechanics of a top shelf eurogame with the blood thirsty thematic roar of some good old-fashioned ameritrash!  Considering that I have only played a shortened practice game and one full game I feel under qualified to offer a very insightful review.  My gut feeling is that it is fantastic game and I rate it an 8.5 out of 10.0.

I would recommend Dominant Species to only the most hardcore of gamers.  It is very easy for bad blood to develop during the heat of battle and it is best left to those that handle the emotional roller coaster.  Of course, I love cutthroat direct confrontation in my games so this is actually a plus for me.  The greater the chance of being completely destroyed, the greater the satisfaction when you emerge victorious!  I can also see the opportunity vastly superior play than I engaged in during our session.  I love games that a player has the chance to learn new strategies and try out bold tactics!  This game is for gutsy, aggressive, and thick-skinned players who do not mind a steep learning curve.

I would not recommend Dominant Species to gamers that are conflict adverse, dislike any randomness, and have a gaming preference that leans more in the direction of multi-player solitaire.  I would say that I believe the game is less random than it appears to beginners and it seems that great efforts have been made to manage the chaos in such away that veteran players accept such outcomes as events for which they simply must plan ahead.  I am most certainly not of that level yet, but I can see how this appears to be the case.  Sure, a crazy long shot of disastrous odds could align to ruin your game, but if you are losing it is more than likely your fault.  Like it was mine.

In conclusion, I would say that dominant species is a strategy game that I am looking forward to playing several more times in the future.  I am eager to redeem my poor performance, and like any serious gamer, I am already formulating my schemes for the attempt!  Dominant Species, is part of the new trend in game design that mixes super tight mechanics with the thematic gold to create exciting hybrid games that will likely dominate the hobby in the coming years!

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