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Board Game Review: Dinosaur Exhibit

For today's review, I bring a Kickstarter success story called Dinosaur Exhibit to the proverbial table for a closer look.  


Dinosaur Exhibit is designed by Kristen Mott with art by Jerry Padilla and published by Kristen Mott herself.  The game is designed for 1-6 players and is rated for ages 6 and up with an advertised playtime of 15-25 minutes.

Game Summary:

In Dinosaur Exhibit, you are a museum curator who will be rolling dice in an effort to expand exhibit areas, manage storage rooms, and ideally end up with the best collection of fossils in your museum.  The winner of the game gets the Spinosaurus for their museum's magna opus of sorts.  

While the above description might sound fairly grandiose for what is ostensibly a family game, in reality this is a roll-and-write game with an incredibly simple rule set that can be fun for the whole family.

Game Set-up:

Each player gets their own exhibit map and chooses a side to play on (each side of the paper has a different layout of the curation tools).  Players will need pencils (provided in the game) or some other writing instrument.  I will say that given the rather dark paper for the game boards, my family found pens to be a better option to use for play (especially for my son).  



The longest part of set-up is the organizing of the dinosaur fossils though even that can be done very quickly.  There are seven sets of fossils (with each set consisting of three different types of dinosaurs).  Each is represented by a single card so to complete set-up you need sort each of the colors out to make seven small groups of three tiles each.


Finally, each player gets a specific number of pillar tokens (which depends on the number of players in the game).  Give the first player the two dice and you are ready to go!



How to Play:


Turns move quickly in Dinosaur Exhibit with play being mostly simultaneous.  
  1. To begin, the start player rolls the two dice and selects one for themselves.  The other die is then used by everyone else at the table.  At this point, players shade in one square on their personal board that matches the tool on the selected die.  There are seven possible outcomes on the dice (the two dice are not 100% identical).  Of those, the paint brush, hammer, plaster, map, and display case show up on each die once while the frame and the toolbox are only on one die each.  The toolbox is the only truly special die result in that the toolbox functions as a wild and can be used to shade in any square on the board.
  2. After everyone shades in a square on their board, the dice roller (and only the dice roller) has the option to "spend" a pillar token to shade in an additional square on their board (any square of their choice).  Players have a limited supply of pillar tokens so this action cannot be taken every round.  In addition, unspent pillar tokens are worth points at the end of the game (more on that in a bit).
  3. Finally, the dice roller (and again, only the dice roller), has the option to now select and place a fossil tile (or multiple tiles if possible) onto their game board.  Fossil tiles come in two shapes (2x2 squares and 1x4 rectangles).  In order to place one, you must have 4 shaded squares on your board that share the exact shape of the tile you wish to place on your board.  Once a tile is placed on a board, it cannot be moved for the remainder of the game.  In addition, each tile placed gives the active player a bonus (either in the form of additional squares to shade in immediately or extra points for end game scoring).
  4. Once the current dice roller is done placing tiles, that player passes the dice to the next player in clockwise order.  That player is the new dice roller and repeats the above steps.  Play continues like this until a set number of rounds have been played (where a round consists of each player having one chance to roll the dice).  The number of rounds to play depends on player count (for example, a 2-player game goes 7 rounds while a 6-player game only goes 3 rounds).
Winning the Game:

The winner of the game is the person who has the highest score after a set number of rounds have been completed.  

There are four ways to score points in Dinosaur Exhibit:
  1. Fossil tiles:  Each tile is worth 3 points, regardless of color or dinosaur type.
  2. Classification matches:  If a player has two fossils with the same background color, they earn an additional two bonus points.  If a player has all three fossils of a specific background color, they earn three bonus points instead.  Dinosaur fossils with no matching tiles of the same background color score no bonus points.
  3. Storage units:  Every square on a player's board that is shaded but not touching any other shaded squares or fossil tiles is worth 1 bonus points (storage units can touch other shaded squares or dinosaur tiles diagonally).
  4. Unused pillar tokens:  Unused tokens are worth 1 point each.
Add up the totals from each of the four scoring options and then the winner is the player with the highest total score.  That person gets the Spinosaurus skeleton for display (as indicated by the included winner token).  If players end in a tie, the first tie-breaker gives the victory to the person with the most unused pillar tokens.  If that is still a tie, the winner is the one with the most fossil tiles in their exhibit.

My Thoughts:

As I said in the intro, Dinosaur Exhibit is definitely a family-weight roll-and-write game.  My son started playing this at age 4 without issue (though the concept of the storage units did take him some time to fully understand).  We also found that the game time to play a full game is definitely closer to the shorter end of the stated range (closer to 15 minutes, even at a player count of four players).  

In terms of components, I like everything about this game.  The player pad is nice and large with easy-to-read iconography (even from across the table).  The dinosaur tiles and illustrations are much nicer than they needed to be (though I do wish the red tiles and the magenta tiles had a more distinct color as those two can be a bit tough to differentiate which set they belong to).  



The custom dice are also nice (with one side being different on each die as well).  Heck, even the included pencils have erasers and the name of the game on them!  



The worst component is probably the pillar tokens (simple circular cardboard bits) but even those are chunky enough to be perfectly fine (and really, there's no reason for them to be anything other than what they are).

The Bottom Line:

Pros:
  • Easy-to-learn
  • Quick to play
  • Fun for all ages
  • Great components
  • Double-sided game boards increase the lifespan of the pad of paper
  • Super quick games
Cons:
  • Once the pad of paper is used up you'll have to make your own game boards
  • No dry-erase option
  • Pencils can be a bit hard to read on the game board, especially for younger players
  • The red and magenta tiles can be difficult to differentiate at a quick glance

Overall, this is probably the lightest roll-and-write game that I've played.  As such, it's definitely geared to playing with families but if that's what you are looking for then this game is highly recommended.  There's just enough strategy to keep things interesting for adults but with a heavy dose of dice rolling luck that can mean that kids still have a decent chance of winning any particular game as well.  I certainly don't mind playing this game back-to-back(-to-back) if my son desires!

Overall Score:
8:  I'm giving this game a score of 8 based on what it is and who it's designed for.  As a game geared to family play, this one is hard to beat.  A dinosaur theme, nice components, low rules overhead, and quick set-up/tear-down makes the game super easy to get to the table.  Add in some fun dice rolling and just enough player agency in terms of making choices and you've got yourself a great game for families.  My son was obsessed with this game for awhile - and unlike many games geared to kids, I didn't mind playing this one over and over with him when requested.  Heck, there have been plenty of times where I've suggested playing this game to him (and really, what bigger praise can I give a kids' game)?!

Note:  I am using Board Game Geek's rating scale to come up with my score. 

Board Game Geek's Rating Scale:
10:  Outstanding - will always enjoy playing
9:  Excellent - very much enjoy playing
8:  Very good - enjoy playing and would suggest it
7:  Good - usually willing to play
6:  Ok - will play if in the mood
5:  Mediocre - take it or leave it
4:  Not so good - but could play again
3:  Bad - likely won't play this again
2:  Very bad - won't play ever again
1:  Awful - defies game description


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