DINOSAUR ESCAPE, Peaceable Kingdom, 2015
4+, 10 minutes, 2-4 players, Co-operative
Imagine the scene. Your two young children play a board game together. Imagine it's something competitive, like Candy Land. Imagine that by the end of playing Candy Land, the children somehow haven't lost the will to live and one of them actually wins the game. What happens next? If they're like most young children, there are tears from the player who lost. You now have two choices. You can either teach the child who lost that life is actually like that, that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and that they should toughen up before life crushes them asunder. Or, you can teach the kids that winning doesn't have to be at the expense of someone else and that they could instead play a game where they're part of a team against the game. Now, I'm not judging you as a person if you choose the first option, merely as a parent. But let's imagine you took the second option - this is where you pull out a cooperative game for children which, statistically speaking, is likely to be by Peaceable Kingdom, creators of Hoot Owl Hoot, Race to the Treasure, Engineering Ants, and more. But you grab Dinosaur Escape because it says "Dinosaurs Included" on the box and that's as good a reason to grab a child's game as any.
The rules for Dinosaur Escape are so unbelievably simple that instead of just explaining them, I'm going to show them to you.
Did you notice it? The extra customer care bit they did? Children lose pieces to games. They break games. Peaceable Kingdom will replace them for you for free. That's really good.
The board itself is colourful, simple and well-designed, with differing zones, a place for the volcano and an island to escape to.
|I imagine that when the asteroid came that wiped out the |
dinosaurs that earth actually looked rather a lot like this.
The pictures on the tokens are well drawn, surprisingly well considering that it's a children's game. There's something different about this as compared with, say, Hoot Owl Hoot, and it's mainly in the artwork. Where Hoot Owl Hoot has extremely simple cards with colours on them to show which square to move to (which reminds us of.... shudder.... Candy Land), the artwork on these tokens is actually rather impressive, with shading and more than one colour. You can actually use these tokens to have a discussion about something prehistoric with the children. And that's where this game does really well. Your three dinosaurs are herbivores, and they have to avoid the carnivorous T-Rex. You've got the start of an educational discussion right there. Then you can take the models, which are high quality plastic models, and use them to start talking about why Stegosaurus had plates, why Triceratops had horns, why Brachiosaurus had a long neck, etc. This game begs to be turned into an educational opportunity.
Part of what makes this game so good is that it's a combination of a few differing game elements:
1) A memory game
2) A building game
3) Light strategy choices
Players have to remember what's under each fern, they have to reluctantly build up the volcano and they have to choose which way to send their dinosaurs in order to make their escape. In other words, they have to learn to play the odds. Yes, it's possible to lose the game in the first ten turns, and I've actually seen that happen thanks to incredibly unlucky dice rolls. Normally, though, that doesn't happen.
|Triceratops, I have freed you. You may now go and eat ferns|
somewhere else that is unlikely to be destroyed by a volcano
but nevertheless still faces a grave flood risk.
|"All my life I've suffered your noxious gases, only to be|
ironically killed by different noxious gases."
Having the volcano at the centre of the game, and as the main threat, is excellent game design for children. They literally watch the threat build up - indeed, they actually have to build the threat up themselves. They do so reluctantly but joyfully, because it's great to build a volcano. Other children's games usually have the threat measured on some kind of meter or track, but here it's real and dominant and exciting. It looms over the game. And it's an extremely simply 3-D puzzle.
|Yes, he had survived. But the loneliness and ennui|
that set in afterwards made Triceratops wish
he had perished along with his friends.
So, what makes this game so profoundly different to something like Candy Land, which we have already reviewed? There are a number of very profound differences, actually. Firstly, obviously, it's a co-op game so there's very little chance of tears afterwards and, moreover, it builds communication and teamwork. Secondly, the randomness is mitigated by strategic choices by the players, and their own ability to remember game elements makes them actively involved in the game. Thirdly, there's a giant bloody volcano that builds up during the game! Fourthly, the artwork and models are excellent. Finally, there's no going back - there's no real punishment. Yes, the T-Rex makes you go back to a square, but once you draw the T-Rex, if you draw it again then it's your fault, not a random game element the likes of which you can find in Candy Land.
|Did I mention there's a bloody awesome giant volcano in this game? |
Okay, but the big question is, will adults want to play it? For me, the answer is a resounding yes. If during play I ever starting to think, "I wish I were playing Fury of Dracula right now" then I just throw in a dinosaur-related fact to the kids to prove my adulthood once more. And the kids love this game and watching them love it and work together is joyous.
The strangest thing for me is the rating. Our 3-year old plays this with no issue, and moreover, this game can be played solo. That's right, a solo child's game that works. I'm also not sure what a 4th player would do, considering there are only three dinosaurs. Maybe build the volcano? That doesn't seem fair. I'm also not convinced about the timing - probably closer to 15 minutes as an average. So, really, this should be rated 3+, 1-3 players, 15 minutes.
Let's get some numbers on this game.
Accessibility: 5/5 - A 3-year old can understand it. Enough said.
Design: 5/5 - For a children's game, I think this is simply excellent design. It promotes cooperation, the models are great, the board is great, the artwork is great, and... that's right... there's a bloody great volcano!
Depth: 2/5 - This is not going to tax your brain like Siege of Jerusalem, and for good reason - because it's a kids' game! But it's more complex than just roll and move and involves memory and light strategic choices.
Replayability: 3/5 - I've seen this game be played by two children at least twenty times, probably closer to thirty. At 15 minutes a game, that's a lot of time you could be doing the ironing, or the kitchen or... oh crap, I was meant to tidy the kitchen tonight. Kids enjoy working as a team, they enjoy this kind of game and they want to play it again and again.
Availability: 5/5 - Easily available online and in gaming stores, for less than $20.
Summary: As young children's co-op games go, I think this is possibly the best one. It far exceeds any others I know in terms of game design and artistic content. The strategic choices aren't as complicated as some of the others, like Race to the Treasure, and the 3-D models and volcano are just what children of this age range want.
Final Score: Well done, Peaceable Kingdom, through this game, you've turned our kids into cooperative gamers. Mainly for excellent game design in terms of what it sets out to achieve, I'm awarding this game a very respectable 73%.