Photograph showing game of Dominant Species in progress with bird (yellow), amphibians (blue) and reptiles (black) in play.

Dominance, Boats and Viruses

Jobby has a few mates visit on Saturday for some heavier board gaming…

The stars were aligned and a couple of my friends, Martin and Simon, were able to come over to play a couple of board games. These two are part of my group of friends who are happy to play heavier games (Dungeon Lords and Food Chain Magnate being a couple of favourites). For this day, I went dictatorial and declared that the first game we would play would be Dominant Species (mainly because I hadn’t played in 3.5 years!).

Survival of the Fittest

Dominant Species is a game about animals adapting to changing conditions during the onset of an ice age. The board is made of hex tiles showing differing terrain with ‘elements’ (grubs, meat, seeds, water, sun and grass). Each player plays a type of animal: mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, arachnids or insects. Competition on the board is both for having the most species (cubes) on each tile and for having the best match between the players’ animals and the elements on the board. And it’s brutal!

Photograph of table with Dominant Species set up ready for six players.
Dominant Species set up for six players. (I know we played with three but this looks better!)

Since Simon sat down at the table first we gave him first pick of the animals and he chose Birds as he is a bit of a twitcher. We removed the animals adjacent and opposite to the birds leaving two animals left. Martin chose amphibians leaving me with reptiles.

Scoring is not automatic in this game, the majority of it happens when a players selects the Domination action. They then choose a tile and animals are scored according to who has the most species on the tile. Then, whoever is dominant (has the best match between their animal’s needs and the environment) gets to select a card to play from a display of five cards. Making the decision of which tile to score is interesting.  I might choose to score a sea tile because I have lots of reptiles swimming around there but then the birds might dominate so I’d be giving the bird player a chance to play a card… and the cards can make a really big difference!

We found that in our game Simon and I were competing over dominance a lot and somehow both ignored Martin. The amphibians start with an advantage for dominating and he was making the most of that. Although I tried to stop him I found myself having to fight off Simon as well and wasn’t effective at keeping Martin under control. Martin played card after card and devastated us other players.

Photograph showing game of Dominant Species in progress with bird (yellow), amphibians (blue) and reptiles (black) in play.
Birds (yellow) rule desert and forest but the amphibians (blue) are the true rulers of the Earth!

Martin was also making good use of being the most numerous on the tundra tiles. Tundra expands across the Earth in this game as the game goes on. It’s difficult to survive there so the player with the most species on tundra tiles gets bonus points at the end of the game. I don’t know if Simon and I underestimated the importance of that or whether we were just too locked into our own struggle together but Martin scored a lot of points due to the tundra survival bonus.

After 2.5 hours the takeaway kebabs had arrived and we only had one round left. We all agreed to just do the final scoring as Martin was so far ahead. He certainly won by a massive margin with only three points separating me and Simon!

A Ship Named Keyflower

After much dodgy takeaway meat was consumed we got the next game set up, Keyflower. This was one of my challenge games with Sarah last year and I wanted to try it with my friends. It’s a wonderful combination of worker placement, auction and resource management. With a sprinkle of tile laying!

After a bit of a ropey rules explanation (I need to work on that for this game) we got going. The lads seemed to get into the spirit of bidding against each other and messing with each others plans. They also soon worked out upgrading tiles (which is one of the main ways of scoring points) and the need to move resources around their village.

Photograph of a game of Keyflower in progress. Summer is the round currently being played.
In the middle of Summer. I want a boat and a tavern this round. Simon wants the carpenter and Martin is going to the mason.

The clever part in the game is the colour restrictions. Players get an assortment of meeples from a bag at the start. These will be a mixture of red, blue and yellow. If a player uses a red meeple to use or bid on a tile then other players can only use red meeples on that tile for the rest of the round. Bids may only be placed if they are bigger than any previous bids. Similarly, using a tile requires placing one or more meeples on it to get the benefit. If another player has used the tile previously this round then more meeples must be placed, and there is a limit on six meeples total on a tile.

Working round these rules cleverly means that players can deliberately block each other. Just place three meeples of the same colour on a tile for the first use and then no-one else can use it this round (since other people would need to place four meeples and that would total seven meeples which breaks the six limit). Get yourself a green meeple (only available through certain tiles) and then you can probably guarantee that you’ll win the bid.

The game went well. It was obviously a bit of a learning game. Each season in the game feels pretty different with Spring providing a lot of resources where Autumn (Fall for those across the pond) provides a lot of scoring tiles. In the end it was tight between myself (scoring from points on tiles) and Martin (who scored a lot for stashing stone on the mason tile). Martin pipped me by a couple of points. Simon, who seemed to be having a whale of a time failed to get anything going for scoring points.

Closing the Night with Diseases

We had time for one last game so Martin chose Pandemic. I hadn’t played it for a while so was happy to crack open that box. Despite my protestations, Martin wouldn’t play on any level than Easy. We dealt out the roles: I got Researcher, Simon got Scientist and Martin got the Operations Expert. We seeded the board with some cubes and set about trying to save the world!

Photograph of Pandemic in play. A green pawn stands among a lot of black cubes.
The Operations Expert in the midst of a black plague

This game never really felt like a challenge to us – from the start we kept in control of the diseases. A late first Epidemic card meant that the discard pile was large and this made it easy to prevent Outbreaks. In fact, we only got one Outbreak in the whole game.

It didn’t take long to discover the red cure and we left Simon over in Asia to mop up all the red cubes. Martin made a couple of tactical choices of where to build research stations which enabled us to get around the board easily. As expected, with his role, Simon did made most of the discoveries but Martin also managed one as well. I did manage a couple of card trades but seemed to spend most of the game mopping up cubes.

In the end we won with plenty of draw deck and not many cubes on the board. In fact, we eliminated the red disease entirely! Yeah, next time we’re definitely playing on a harder mode!

Happy with our victories, the last bid me good night with an itch to play more Keyflower and Dominant Species!

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