Dominant Species - Board Game Box Shot

Dominant Species

| Published: 2010

90,000 B.C. — A great ice age is fast approaching. Another titanic struggle for global supremacy has unwittingly commenced between the varying animal species.

Dominant Species is a game that abstractly recreates a tiny portion of ancient history: the ponderous encroachment of an ice age and what that entails for the living creatures trying to adapt to the slowly-changing earth.

Each player will assume the role of one of six major animal classes—mammal, reptile, bird, amphibian, arachnid or insect. Each begins the game more or less in a state of natural balance in relation to one another. But that won’t last: It is indeed “survival of the fittest”.

Dominant Species Cards

Through wily action pawn placement, players will strive to become dominant on as many different terrain tiles as possible in order to claim powerful card effects. Players will also want to propagate their individual species in order to earn victory points for their particular animal. Players will be aided in these endeavors via speciation, migration and adaptation actions, among others.

All of this eventually leads to the end game – the final ascent of the ice age – where the player having accumulated the most victory points will have his animal crowned the Dominant Species.

But somebody better become dominant quickly, because it’s getting mighty cold….

Dominant Species Game Components
images © GMT Games LLC

User Reviews (5)

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“An ice age is coming...and bring on the cold!”

Dominant Species is an incredible worker placement game. I actually hesitate to call it that because it’s so different than most of the worker placement games out there. It’s really almost a wargame with a worker placement engine, and a great theme. Each player takes the role of one of 6 animals, each with its own special ability, and with its own place on the food chain. Players start out in an almost completely equivalent situation on the earth, and control both the expansion of the earth itself and the glacier turning all of the different land types into barren tundra via actions. They also control the placement of elements onto the earth (after setup), and an animal can only live on a tile of earth if it has a matching element on its card.

Every animal starts with two of the same element (the amphibians’ special ability is a 3rd, making them more specialized), and can gain new elements via an action, but have to be wary because they can lose the newly acquired elements through card effects and via random draws out of the element bag that are not mitigated. During tile scoring, one of the most important actions, the animal with the largest number of species (cubes) on the tile scores the most points, and the most valuable tiles award points not only to the most abundant animal but to the second, third, and sometimes 4th most as well. ALSO, and this is what the people who decry the *massive* amounts of math involved in the game (sarcasm at full tilt there), animals can be dominant on tiles. This has nothing to do with the number of species you have there, you can be dominant with just one species when someone else has 20 there. If you match more elements than any other animal, and you have at least one cube on a tile, you are dominant on that tile. The rulebook explains dominance clearly, but for new players it can be hard to keep track of because there are elements constantly being added and removed from earth. When a tile is scored, the animal that is dominant (not necessarily the one that scored the most VP from it) must execute a domination card effect, of which there are 5 available each turn. These are often extremely powerful and useful, and the fight over dominance is sustained and important.

This is a truly fantastic game. In fact, it’s SO well designed that it’s kind of shocking at times. But it can be hard to see this clearly at first, because the sheer number of available actions can initially be a bit overwhelming, and the best path to victory may not be clear. It’s important to explain to new players the importance of the survival card (where the animal with the most species on tundra tiles scores bonus points for the number of tiles they are spread across, as the game progresses this can score MASSIVE points), and the Ice Age card’s bonus scoring (where you score bonus points for the number of tiles you dominate, and then the game ends with final scoring).

The different animals all play differently and it’s fun to pick them randomly and try to score well with each different one. There are interesting 2 and 3 player variant rules where each player controls 3 or 2 animals respectively, and their final score is the LOWEST amongst all their animals, which requires you to try to score well with all of them (definitely not recommended for a first play!).

Perhaps the only thing I can say about the game that’s negative is that it can definitely play a bit long, though this is mitigated tremendously with a group of people that have all played before. If euro style games and/or war games aren’t your thing, and you aren’t into games with a deep mix of strategy and tactics, this won’t probably hit for you. If you don’t feel like thinking tonight, don’t table this. But if you’re willing to dedicate the time to learning this and playing it a few times, you’ll be richly rewarded. In large groups I introduce this to, most of the group loves it, but there is often one guy for whom it doesn’t click. Part of the problem is that when playing against more experienced people, you can end up in an unwinnable situation and be forced to slog it out, though I personally feel that learning a game while losing just gets me ready to run it back and win in the future!

One of my highest recommendations for sure

 
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“Domination requires brainpower and focus (even for insects!) (Long Detailed Review!)”

As the game is quite involved, this review is long. If you know how the game is played, or are only interested in my opinions, skip the next sections. I give a very brief discussion of my thoughts on what each action ‘means’ in terms of gameplay in the Action Overview section.

Looking for a game where every decision matters? Does the need to adapt to ever changing board positions appeal to you? Do you like heavy player interaction with many different options to account for? Dominant Species offers a four-hour package to deliver all of this, using some aspects that will be familiar to players of Age of Empires III, and El Grande, but packaging them into a unique, fulfilling game experience.

(Moderately) Quick Gameplay Overview

Dominant Species allows up to 6 players to attempt to gain supremacy (most victory points) for their given animal. Each player get has one of six animals (mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, arachnids, or insects). Most actions will be the same regardless or animal, though each has a special ability. Additionally, animals that are higher on the food chain (fixed throughout the game, with the order as listed above) will win ties when scoring tiles for having the most cubes on a hex. The food chain ranking is balanced by having the beginning initiative (player order) reversed from the food chain order.

Each player starts the game with a number of action pawns (APs). Each action pawn will be used to select an action that you will perform in a turn. There are 12 different actions to choose from, (a few of which may not have an effect in a given round). Action selection is similar to Age of Empires III; in initiative order, each player may place one of their action pawns on an empty action space, continuing until all players have played all pawns. Then, each action is performed by the player(s) taking that action, in order (top to bottom, left to right as you look at the game board). There are limited spots available for each action; turn order may be critical if there is a specific action you have to get.

These actions will allow you to affect what is occurring on the world board. This board is made up of terrain tiles (hexes) of differing types. The type of tile only matters for scoring. More fertile tiles will be worth more points, with points going to the player with the most cubes on the tile when it is scored. Most terrain types have points for second place, with some having points for third and even fourth (similar to El Grande). In addition of terrain tiles, there are also small circles with different elements (six types total). These elements are placed at vertices of terrain tiles. Each player has an animal board showing which elements they have adapted to. As long as a terrain tile has at least one element matching one on a player’s board, that player’s animals can survive there. The more elements you have adapted to, the more likely your animals will survive. If you have cubes on a terrain tile with no matching elements at the end of the turn, those cubes will be eliminated from the game.

The other major function of the elements is to determine who has dominance on a tile. In Dominant Species, you do not have dominance by having the most cubes on a terrain tile. Instead, you must be the player with at least one cube on a terrain tile that has the most matching elements on that tile. Dominance is denoted by putting a cone of your color on the terrain, and matters during the final action of the round, Dominance. When a tile is chosen to be scored, you score based on cube majority. Then, if a player has dominance (regardless of who triggered the scoring), that player will gain a Dominance Card from the card row.

These Dominance Cards will determine how long the game lasts. There are 25 total Dominance Cards with five available at the start of any turn. Any that are taken are replaced at the end of the turn. The game ends at the end of the turn when the last card (always the Ice Age) card is taken. This means the game has the potential of ending in as few as five turns, but may run longer, depending on how quickly people are getting Dominance Cards. These cards all have a one time effect, which, depending on when it comes up, can be extremely powerful, or almost useless. The Dominance Cards are a major factor in the game and must always be kept in mind.

After the final turn, each terrain tile is scored based on cube majority (remember ties are won based on food chain order), and the player with the most victory points is the winner.

Action Overview – With Brief Thoughts

There are 12 actions available each turn. Actions occur in this same order. For those who are interested, below is a brief summary of what each action entails, along with my brief thoughts on how they impact the game:

1. Initiative The player moves up one spot in initiative order and gets to place their action pawn on an empty action space (they’ll perform this action and an additional one this turn. You’ll be able to go earlier in subsequent turns. This does not impact food chain order for breaking ties in tile scoring.

2. Adaptation Select one of the elements present (randomly selected at the beginning of the turn) to add to your animal. Having more elements helps keep your cubes on the board, and makes gaining dominance easier.

3. Regression Each element type present makes all players lose one of that type from their animal. Playing an action pawn here helps protect you from this effect. Elements only get here is they are not taken with Adaptation on previous turn.

4. Abundance Take one of the elements (randomly selected at the beginning of the turn) on any terrain tile corner. May want to do this to place an element you’ve adapted to so you can survive on a tile, or to help you with dominance.

5. Wasteland Remove all elements matching those in the Wasteland box from the tundra. Placing an action pawn allows a player to remove one element from Wasteland box. Can greatly influence tiles you can survive on, as well as dominance. Elements can only get here if not taken with Abundance on previous turn.

6. Depletion Player with an action pawn here may take one element matching that in the Depletion box from any tile. Can greatly influence opponents’ survival as well as dominance. Can be very powerful, but elements can only get here after getting through Wasteland on previous turn.

7. Glaciation Player may place a tundra tile on a tile adjacent to existing tundra. All but one cube of each player is removed from the tile, and the tile now becomes tundra, instead of its previous type. Will only happen once per turn, and can majorly impact the game. Players may place pawns to use Glaciation for upcoming turns, but that pawn is locked up until then. This rarely directly helps the player playing it (other than a few points gained for tundra placement), but can really cause damage to opponents. Often used on high scoring tiles. May be a good action to take to ensure your favored tile(s) are not the target.

8. Speciation The action pawn is placed on a spot for a specific element type. When action taken, choose one element on the board matching the type chosen, and place cubes on all tiles around it. The terrain type will determine how many cubes you place. This is the main way you’ll be getting more cubes onto the board.

9. Wanderlust Allows player to place a new tile on the board. Each turn, three tiles are available (randomly determined). Choose the tile and one of four (randomly determined) elements to put out adjacent to existing tiles. Players then have the option to move cubes from adjacent tiles onto this new tile. This action allows the world to expand. Careful placement (including element choice) can give player majority and dominance of new tile. All players will get a chance to move to the new tile, if they have cubes adjacent to it when placed.

10. Migration Move your cubes to adjacent tiles. How many you can move depends on the slot you select (from 2 to 7). The higher number moves first. You may choose to take a lower number, moving fewer cubes, but doing so after seeing other players’ movements. By this point, you’re near the scoring round, and Migration can greatly impact majority scoring, and even dominance if you move to a tile you weren’t already on.

11. Competition Allows you to kill other cubes. You will be able to kill one cube on each of two terrain types (and also the tundra) where you have a cube. Very good for impacting majority, and picking off cubes aiming to grab lower position points. If a player has dominance with one cube, may be able to take dominance from them.

12. Domination Choose a tile to score. Score based on majority, based on terrain type. Then, if a player has dominance, they choose a Dominance Card. This action is generally very powerful, and highly sought after. Points are generated, and cards which can greatly alter the board both come into play. It’s very possible that one Dominance Card may change majorities, dominance, and even elements on the board.

Animal Abilities

Each of the six animals have a special ability, beyond the previously mentioned food chain (majority scoring tie breaker) and initiative track.

Mammals One cube each turn can survive on a tile without matching element. Recall they also win all majority ties, but go last at the beginning of the game.

Reptiles Act as though they always have an action pawn on the Regression action. This means they’ll be more protected from losing elements from their animal cards. Can be more diverse in adaptations with less care of losing these new elements.

Birds When they take Migration, they can move two tiles instead of one. Can cause a headache for opponents since well spaced Birds can impact majorities of tiles better than other species.

Amphibians Start with three water elements on animal board. Helps with domination (every other animal starts with only two elements. For base setup, they also start on high scoring tiles. Can never lose this third element.

Arachnids Get one free Competition action on one tile each turn. They can kill one cube on any single tile of their choice that they’re on. Makes other players very wary of sharing tiles with arachnids

Insects Get to place one cube during Speciation on any tile. Always get to place a cube on the board, and can put it anywhere. May use to increase presence on a tile, or to swoop in and grab minority place points on far reaching tiles.

My Thoughts

Dominant Species is a great heavy, meaty game. As discussed above, there are many different actions that impact the game that you can try to plan for. The board at the beginning of a turn will likely look drastically different at the end. While you may have a great plan when you’re done placing action pawns, you’ll need to constantly think on your feet (claws? flippers?) to adjust to what everyone else is doing.

The game makes every action count, especially with larger numbers of players. You’re always on the lookout for where competition could be coming from, or how Dominance Cards could spoil your plans. There is very high player interaction in Dominant Species. Everything you do is going to impact another player (and often many other players). There is a chance for this to become a negative for some players. As points are scored throughout the game, there is a tendency for players to gang up on the perceived leader, which is easy to do in Dominant Species. Like in Power Grid, there will often be a benefit to hanging out in a mid position and try to pounce at the right moment to gain victory. A good number of points are scored at the end of the game, allowing players to slow-play in hopes of playing under the radar.

The four hour playing time has been accurate in my experience. There are a lot of actions to learn what they do. Even then, knowing what an action does, and knowing why you would take an action are different things (which is why I added a quick summary of my thoughts above when talking about the actions). You’re trying to control worker placement (action pawns), area control, along with survival, and dominance.

Dominant Species is for a person who wants a heavy, brain encompassing game. This would not be suggested as a gateway game, or even necessarily as a second tier game. You need to be prepared for strategic and tactical decisions. While playing Dominant Species, you will get attacked. Players who do not like high interaction games will likely find themselves miserable for three hours of the game. Different animals have different strengths, which you’ll need to discover and tailor your game to.

Some games that are liked by people in our group who enjoy Dominant Species: Age of Steam, Agricola, Le Havre, Age of Empires III, El Grande.

If you’re ready to find what a true interactive board game experience can be, Dominant Species is waiting for you!

 
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“The evolution of worker placement?”

This review can be found, along with photographs, at http://www.nerdbloggers.com

GMT games, a prolific publisher well known for its quality wargames, has been making grognards smile for over two decades. In 2010, GMT surprised a lot of people with the release of Dominant Species, a game about survival of the fittest during an encroaching ice age that appeared to have more in common with the worker placement mechanics found in Euro style games than GMT’s previous conflict oriented offerings. Designed by Chad Jensen, Dominant Species trades the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific for the glacial arena of the frozen tundra, where the deadly implements of modern war are replaced with the ruthless hand of mother nature and the wily twists of evolution.

In Dominant Species, players control a class of animals in a biological taxonomy, and attempt to evolve their class of creatures to dominate a world being rapidly changed by the encroaching glaciers of the ice age. Players must evolve their creatures to better adapt to the environment and change the environment to benefit their species, all while engaging the other players through direct tactical conflict and cunning strategic migration. While the core mechanic in Dominant Species is worker placement, it’s about as far from archetypal genre titles like Caylus or Agricola as you can get. Players will compete for various actions through the worker placement mechanic, but how they choose to utilize those actions, and where on the board they place their genetic army of species has an awful lot in common with conflict based combat games. As one poofy-haired singer from the 80’s once expressed: “Love is a Battlefield”, and the cutthroat natural selection of Dominant Species certainly supports that notion.

Components:

I was a bit late to the party in picking up Dominant Species, and although I may have thought mean, jealous things about those lucky gamers who acquired a copy during 2010 before it sold out, I was happy to pick up the second printing in 2011; a printing which received upgraded components, as well as the removal of the comic-sans font (the bane of typophiles everywhere) from the rulebook. That being said, the components in the second edition are stellar. From the super-sturdy box, to the thick tiles and board, everything in the box screams quality. And that’s not even mentioning enough wooden bits to shock a lumberjack – and that’s okay!

It’s important to note that the components that make up Dominant Species are all very minimal in design: wooden cubes; cylinders; cones; and very simple, minimalist illustrations that serve more as iconography than artwork. I have to admit that in general I am drawn to detailed miniatures and colorful artwork in games. The way a game looks and feels, and the mood that it conveys can really enhance my gaming experience. GMT could have easily gone this route with Dominant Species, but I can honestly say that it would have been a mistake to add such embellishments. The minimal presentation of the game fits the function much better than complicated artwork would have. There is so much going on in Dominant Species, and so many pieces on the board at any given time, that miniatures or fancy art would have detracted from the playability of the game. The minimal art allows the state of the game to be delivered in a clear, concise way and benefits the game as a whole.

The Box – The Dominant Species box is super sturdy. I think it’s made from the thickest cardboard of any game box I own – and I really appreciate this. I recently moved my entire game collection to a different room, and while putting boxes away, I noticed that some games which I had only played a handful of times had lids that were beginning to sag. I am fairly careful about how I store my games, but regardless of how careful I am, I can’t defy gravity, and the wicked forces of time and nature hate my games.

The Dominant Species box, however, ruggedly laughs in the face of nature (in an anthropomorphically non-sagging sort of way). Millions of years from now when the archaeologists of the future are sifting through the remains of our primitive society, the Dominant Species box will still be around, when the frail boxes of the competition have perished to the elements. Future generations will doubtlessly ponder this, posing the question: “Where is the missing link that brought us from Monopoly to Dominant Species?”

Although I have waxed lyrical about a box for two paragraphs, I do have one small quibble with it. After bagging up all of the components in the game, it can be difficult to fit everything back into the box. Removing the insert, or placing some components under the insert will free enough room to comfortably fit everything, but I am one of those people who doesn’t even throw away the product catalogs that come packed in games, so you will be hard pressed to find me tossing a box insert. Not everyone is as neurotic as I am though, so this is really a small concern.

The Board – The second printing of Dominant Species boasts a large, mounted board. The right hand side of the board has spaces set aside for the placement of action pawns, with useful icons and clearly delineated areas that will remind the players what each of the action spaces accomplish. The center area of the board makes up the geography of Dominant Species, with hexagonal spaces that are filled with terrain tiles as the game progresses. This center part of the board is where the area control portion of the game plays out, as players move their wooden cubes around to claim dominance in territories of the world. Hugging the edge of the board is a victory point track. Like other worker placement games, Dominant Species uses victory points to determine the winner of the game, and although there is a strong direct conflict component to Dominant Species, pure aggression isn’t necessarily going to be the best strategy; there is a lot of subtlety here, and the mechanic of collecting victory points reinforces this.

One aspect of the game board that I really appreciated was the placement of player aids around the play area. Printed directly onto the board are reminders about the number of points that certain actions score, tiebreaker conditions, and other rule and scoring related information. Nothing sinks a game experience like constantly searching for information in the rulebook. By moving often referenced information onto the game board, Dominant Species streamlines play and makes the game experience much smoother.

Player Mats – Each class of animal in the game has its own thin cardstock player mat. This mat displays the starting statistics for a particular animal, and contains a very detailed summary of the actions that a player can take during his turn, as well as the order and steps that take place when those actions are resolved. I really wish that more games would include detailed player aids like this. Like the game board, the delivery of rules information on the player mat reduces so much potential downtime. During my first play of this complex game, I only had to look in the rulebook twice – all of the other information I needed was quickly gleaned from the information on the game components themselves.

Cards – Dominant Species uses a deck of cards to describe different rewards a player can purchase when he takes a certain action. The cards are sturdy, and have simple but pleasing artwork on them. This is the only area of the game where there is artwork for the sake of artwork, as each card has a descriptive image on it. With the minimal presentation of the rest of the game, these cards could have easily been text only and perfectly functional, but the simple, but professional images are welcome, and add a bit of character and whimsy to the game.

Element Tokens – In the game, each class of animal requires certain resources to survive. These resources are called Elements, and are represented by small cardboard tokens. The element tokens can be found displayed on the player mats, and also placed on the intersection of the hexagonal terrain tiles. Players will be manipulating their environment by removing and adding these tokens to the game board to create more habitable environments for their creatures, or more hostile environments for their competitors. Players will also have the opportunity to adapt and evolve their creatures by adding these tokens to their player mat, allowing for their animals to thrive in more varied locations on the game board.

Of all of the components, I personally find the element tokens the least compelling. They have muted colors in comparison to the vivid coloring of the wooden pieces that make up the game, and can sometimes blend in with the board. The icons on the tokens, although simple, have fairly complex shapes, and don’t share the same minimalist appeal that the rest of the game does. Aside from the iconography, I would have liked to see the element tokens a tad bit larger in size as well. Element tokens are placed at the corners of the terrain tiles during play, and they are often knocked around as the board is jostled, and rearranged. Larger tokens would not only increase readability, but would be a bit more resistant to this tile movement.

However, the game does come with a fabric bag to draw the element tokens from, which goes a long way towards reversing my apathy towards the tokens themselves. I really appreciate it when the game publisher supplies everything you need to play a game, and makes no assumptions about the materials at hand.

Wooden Bits – There is a ton of wood packed in the game box. Each of the six player colors has 55 small wooden cubes to represent their units; 10 wooden cylinders, called action pawns, used to take actions on the board; and 10 wooden cones which are used to denote which geographic areas a particular animal dominates. When first unboxing the game, all 450 of these wooden components come packaged in a large plastic bag, but GMT has graciously included smaller bags in the box so that the laborious process of sorting the little wooden bits only needs to be done once. The wooden bits are all vividly colored, although the blue components are more of a turquoise color, which seemed an odd choice when compared to the more saturated, mostly primary colors of the other bits (Black, white, red, yellow, and lime green). Quality wise, the wooden pieces are outstanding; in games that have this many wooden pieces, the odd deformed bit is practically guaranteed, but all of the bits were perfectly shaped in my copy.

Customer Service – While not a physical component of the game, I would like to take the opportunity here to lay praise on GMT for their customer service. A day after purchasing Dominant Species, I managed to get my game manual waterlogged. I watched in horror as it shriveled up like a prune. Since I take photos of games for inclusion in my reviews, I was a bit upset that I managed to destroy part of the game, and quickly emailed GMT to ask about purchasing a replacement. GMT went above and beyond my expectations by shipping me a new manual for free, despite the fact that it was my own clumsiness that destroyed the manual in the first place. I never mentioned that I was blogging, or writing a review of the game, so this level of care is indicative of GMT’s general approach to customer service.

Setup:

Setting up Dominant Species is moderately simple. Players each select a color, and take a number of action pawns, species cubes, and domination cones based on the number of players in the game. Players then determine which class of animals each will be playing, and take the appropriate player mat. Each animal in the game has a special power that lets them bend the rules of the game in one way or another so choosing an animal to play isn’t arbitrary, and each player mat is tailored to a specific animal in the game. After choosing an animal, one wooden cube per player is placed on the start square of the victory point track.

Players then set up the starting world, which consists of a fixed layout of 7 terrain tiles, and a tundra tile in the center. Element tokens are placed at the corners of these tiles in a predetermined configuration to achieve a balanced starting point for all players. The initial configuration of the terrain tiles is printed directly onto the board, simplifying setup greatly. After the starting tiles have been placed, the remaining terrain tiles are shuffled and stacked in three face-down piles, with the top tile of each pile flipped face up. Players will then put species cubes on the map, in specific terrain tiles determined by his particular animal class.

Now that the geography has been set up, focus will move to the right side of the board, where the worker placement portion of the game will take place. On this side of the board there are spaces where players can put their action pawns to reserve actions during gameplay. There are 12 different actions a player can take, but some actions have details which change from turn to turn. These details revolve around certain elements tokens that can be manipulated during that turn. These actions must be seeded by randomly drawing element tokens from the draw bag, and placing them on the corresponding spaces.

The deck of cards is then shuffled and placed face down, and the top 5 cards from the deck are placed face up onto the game board. One specific card, titled “Ice Age” is always placed at the bottom of the deck. The ice age card works a bit like a game timer. When the Ice Age card is selected as a reward, it signifies the last round of the game.

Gameplay:

Play in Dominant Species is split up into three distinct phases: Planning Phase, Execution Phase, and Cleanup. The Planning phase is the action selection/worker placement portion of the game, the Execution phase is when those actions are actually carried out, and the Cleanup phase is where the board is reset for the next round. Players continue to play through these rounds until one player collects the Ice Age reward card, and final scoring occurs.

Planning Phase – In the Planning Phase, players take turns choosing one of the available 12 actions to take. Each action has a limited number of times it can be chosen per turn, so as players choose actions, more and more will become unavailable. In this phase, the player is only choosing actions, and is not actually taking the actions, so players have to be careful that the actions they select early in the phase are not made futile by the action selection of others. Much of the strategy in the game is weighing the importance of certain actions, and creating contingency plans if required actions are taken. With 12 actions, choosing one can seem overwhelming the during the first couple of turns, but as the game progresses, and strategies emerge, this process becomes much easier. When choosing which actions to take on the board, the player must also take the other players’ apparent strategies into account; Dominant Species is as much about furthering your own agenda as it is about blocking your opponents’ progress. Actions in Dominant Species can be both offensive and defensive; sometimes a player is required to take a certain action to avoid negative consequences. An opponent may choose to one of these defensive actions, not for his direct benefit, but to deny the other players the opportunity. This interplay generates a lot of second guessing and bluffing between players, and can create a surprisingly organic social experience woven within the cerebral nature of the game mechanics.

Execution Phase – This is the phase where all of the actions that were chosen in the Planning phase are carried out. Actions are performed in order, from left to right, top to bottom. Because actions are executed in this manner, earlier actions can effect later actions. While the planning phase takes place on the worker placement portion of the game board, the majority of the Execution phase takes place on the terrain tiles. It’s in this phase that all of the plans that were made in the Planning Phase either come to fruition, or completely unravel.

Cleanup Phase – At the end of each round is a cleanup phase. This is where maintenance between the game rounds occur. The elements in the action spaces are moved and repopulated, and any reward cards are restocked.

The Actions – Dominant Species is a fairly complex game. The basic flow of the game isn’t difficult to comprehend, but its complexity arises from the 12 different actions that a player can choose, and the many ways a player can score victory points. I’m not going to go into an in-depth rules explanation, but I would like to give a summary of each of the actions a player can take, because the way they interact really makes up the meat of the game.

Initiative – The first action a player can choose during the planning phase is the Initiative action. This action changes turn order, and allows a player to swap his initiative with the player directly before him. Player order can be extremely important in Dominant Species, especially because some actions can only be selected once or twice per turn, and a savvy opponent can preempt another from taking the action by selecting it before anyone else has the opportunity.

Adaptation – This is how animals change to adapt to their environment. Throughout the game players will be taking actions that allow them to grow the world, and change the element tokens that are available in that world. How well your animal will thrive in this environment depends on the number of element tokens on your player mat that match the element tokens on the various terrain tiles. The Adaptation action allows you to take one of the available element tokens, and place it in an empty spot on your player mat, making your animal more robust and able to thrive on more varied terrain.

Regression – Between rounds, tokens from the Adaptation action that were not used on the previous round move down to the Regression space. At the end of the Regression step, for each element token on the Regressions space, players must discard one matching element from their player mat. By taking the defensive Regression action, players can protect their animal by removing one element token from the Regression space to avoid a potentially debilitating loss of element tokens from their animal.

Abundance – The Abundance action allows a player to modify the placement of element tokens in the game world. Like the Adaptation and Regression actions, the Abundance action has a set of element tokens next to it. By selecting the Abundance action, players are able to take an element token, and place it on the corner of a terrain tile that does not already have one. This action can be used to make areas of the world more suited for your animal.

Wasteland – Any tokens that are not taken during the Abundance action eventually make their way down to the Wasteland action. Similar to the relationship between Adaptation and Regression, the Abundance action adds elements to the board, while the Wasteland action removes elements from the board. Throughout the game players will be placing tundra tiles onto the board, simulating the glacial growth throughout the world. If there are any tokens on the Wasteland space at the end of the Wasteland step, all matching tokens on the map that are adjacent to tundra tiles must be removed. By selecting the Wasteland action, a player can discard a token from the Wasteland space, averting the loss of that element from the map.

Depletion – While the effects of tokens in the Wasteland space can be destructive, there are times when a player may still choose not to take the Wasteland action. However, during the cleanup phase, any elements left in the wasteland space, make their way down to the Depletion space. Like the Wasteland action, the Depletion action affects elements on the game board, but unlike the Wasteland action, the Depletion action is an offensive action. Players who choose the Depletion action will have the power to remove a single element token matching one in the Depletion space from any terrain tile on the game board. This can be a very powerful action, and although offensive in nature, it is another space that a player may choose to block as a defensive strategy.

Glaciation – This is the action that causes the tundra to expand across the board. When a player chooses this action, he places a tundra tile onto any terrain tile that is adjacent to an existing tundra tile. Placing tundra tiles is a way to gain victory points, but it also devastates any species on that tile. When a tundra tile is placed, all species cubes are removed from that terrain tile, save one of each color. If the placement of a new tundra tile causes any element token to be surrounded by three tundra tiles, the element token is removed from the board. The Glaciation action is very powerful, it allows players to score points, and negatively affect their opponents. Because it is so powerful, only one Glaciation action occurs per round. Glaciation works a bit different than the other actions – although only one glaciation action is performed per round, there are 4 spaces for action pawns in the Glaciation space. These spaces form a queue that is resolved over the course of several turns; the leftmost pawn is able to take an action on the current turn, and all others are shifted over, setting up the next pawn in line to take the Glaciation action during the next round. The fact that pawns queue in this space has two important consequences. First, players must plan for this action turns in advance. Second, pawns that are waiting in line for this action are not available for use when selecting other actions. This queuing mechanic balances the use of such a powerful action, and discourages players from placing all of their pawns on the action, and monopolizing it.

Speciation – By taking the Speciation action, species cubes are added to the board. When a player selects one of the Speciation spaces, a player may add cubes to any terrain tiles that contain an element token of the type printed on the Speciation space. The number of cubes that a player can add to a terrain tile is dictated by the type of terrain. More fertile terrain like oceans and wetlands allow more cubes to be added than desolate terrain like deserts and tundra.

Wanderlust – This is the action that players take to grow the board. Players may choose a face up terrain tile from the stacks, and place it on the board. After placing the tile, the player can choose to take one of the element disks in the Wanderlust space, and add it to one of the corners of the new tile. All players then have the opportunity to move cubes from adjacent tiles onto the new tile. Like Glaciation, placing a new terrain tile during the wanderlust action will gain victory points for the player.

Migration – When a player wants to rearrange his cubes on the map, he can select the Migration action. Each space in the migration action has a corresponding number associated with it. This is the number of cubes the player can move. Players may move each of these cubes to an adjacent terrain tile.

Competition – This action is where the direct conflict occurs. When selecting the Competition action, players may remove one opposing cube from a single terrain tile of each type depicted on the space. When a cube is removed from the board this way, it is removed from play entirely, and does not return to its owner. This is extremely important, because as the game progresses and more players choose the competition action, the numbers of species cubes will dwindle. At the same time, the game world is expanding through the Wanderlust action, making it deceptively easy for players to spread their cubes too thin to be effective.

Domination – The final action is Domination. This action is probably the most important of all the actions, because two things happen: the scoring of victory points; and the acquisition of special rewards. While all of the actions up until this point have been important, they primarily serve as a way to position your animal to take best advantage of the Domination action. When a player takes the Domination action, a terrain tile is scored, and the dominant animal on that tile is rewarded a card.

Terrain tiles are scored based on the number of cubes that occupy it. Each type of terrain gives a differing amount of victory points. Points are not only awarded to the player with the most cubes on the tile, but certain terrain types also award points to the second and third placed players as well.

Although tiles are scored based on the number of cubes on the tile, “domination” is determined through entirely different means. An animal is considered dominant on a tile based on the number of matching element tokens that appear on both his player mat, and the terrain tile. The player with the most matching elements is dominant, and gets to choose a face-up reward card, which allows him to perform a special, powerful action. Some of these actions are immediate, such as removing or adding cubes and elements to the board, and some are more permanent, such as the acquisition of an extra action pawn.

Game End:

When the Ice Age card is chosen as a reward for the domination action, it marks the end of the game. The current round is completed, and a final scoring round occurs, during which, every terrain tile is scored. Players then compare their scores, and the animal with the most points wins.

Conclusion:

Dominant Species is an excellent game, and has quickly vaulted into my list of must play games. It will be a treat for people who really enjoy exploring a rule set and trying to get their head around the interaction of a bunch of moving parts. Dominant Species‘ many actions and scoring rules make it one of the more complex games in my collection. While it is complex, it manifests in a different way than most rules heavy games. In fact, the mechanics of Dominant Species are actually very simple. It’s the way the 12 simple actions interact that add such a breadth of choice. Like the rabbit hole from Alice in Wonderland, Dominant Species seems to have a never-ending depth. The more I play it, the more I understand, the more nuances I pick up, and the more I love it.

This complexity, though, will most likely make the game inaccessible to most newcomers to the hobby, and light gamers. Although they will pick up the mechanics easily, the vast number of decisions that can be made from the very start of the game may seem extremely overwhelming. Dominant Species could have been made a bit more accessible by further limiting the number of actions available at the start of the game, and slowly introducing them as the game turns progressed, allowing the depth of the game to open up as the players gained confidence in their strategy. But, targeted toward the experienced gamer, this hand-holding isn’t really needed.

Dominant Species probably won’t appeal to players who shy away from direct conflict in games, either. Most worker placement games forgo direct confrontation for a more passive confrontation where players jockey for position. Dominant Species definitely has this in spades, but it also allows players to directly affect others by taking their element tokens, killing off their units, and glaciating their high-scoring tiles. There is a lot of potential for “take-that” moves. Personally, I like this conflict in my games, but those who do not may find that Dominant Species was not what they were expecting.

Dominant Species does work as a bridge between pure Euro mechanics, and cutthroat competitive play, though. It’s almost like two games in one, in that respect. The worker placement “Planning Phase” of Dominant Species should be familiar to anyone who has played a heavy worker placement game, like Caylus; and it also shares the same abstract, indirect conflict. But, the Execution Phase is where Dominant Species begins to really differentiate itself. The Execution phase is all about area control on a physical map, moving units around, attacking enemy units, and building a concrete positional advantage. Both aspects are needed for Dominant Species‘ success, and are intimately integrated with each other, but there are definitely different skills required to excel in both. It is refreshing to play a game that exercises both abstract and concrete thought at at the same time.

The minimalist art direction, and components work very well, and this really surprised me. I am not a huge fan of abstract games, and I had worried that the lack of flash would affect my game experience. In reality, it was absolutely the opposite. The game has a certain beauty in it’s visual simplicity, and dressing it up would have created sensory overload. I also came to realize that the theme of a game is not necessarily found in the art or components of a game, but in the way the mechanics interact with the ideas that are offered. Dominant Species may look abstract, but it is very tied to it’s theme, and the gameplay just wouldn’t make sense without that theme supporting it. I think that it is quite an accomplishment for a game to portray so successfully, such a solid theme, with basic components.

 
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4
Rated 25 Games
4
123 of 173 gamers found this helpful
“Accountants will love this game.”

During the game, players have to constantly check for dominance in several areas. A true pain in the fiddly butt!

Too much fiddly accounting. No clear objectives. Just constant victory track scoring. Boring. A game themed on evolution: how about survival of the fittest? Unskilled players hose the game, which happens often since it is overly complicated. After two turns I didn’t want to play anymore.

It is a mix of mechanincs boiling down to pure chaos… for several hours!
Being virtually eliminated after ten minutes, yet having to endure four more hours of boredom is not what boardgames should do.
It is way too long and needlessly complex for the unsatisfying gameplay it delivers. The theme feels poorly portrayed as well.

 
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7
Advanced Grader
Movie Lover
I'm Completely Obsessed
9
91 of 175 gamers found this helpful
“A deep, strategic, and rewarding game”

I love this game. The dominance mechanics make sense thematically while still providing challenges in gameplay, the rotating placement of actions and action resolution guarantees minimal downtime per player, and allows you to plan ahead to minimize AP. All species have interesting special abilities which can be used advantageously. There are enough different actions available to make it challenging, different, and allow different strategies to win. Overall a great game I can’t wait to play again.

 

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