A couple of Fridays ago i played a 3 player Dominant Species with The Big Dude and Solitaire M. It took us 4 hours but felt like 2. A sign, of not just a good game, but of a great one.
What is Dominant Species about?
“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.”
At it’s heart Dominant Species is quite simple to explain. You have a number of Action Pawns (wooden cylinders) and players take turns in placing them one by one on any of the available actions. Once all players have placed their APs then execution of the chosen actions is followed in a specific order. Although there is quite a number of actions that can be chosen these are pretty straightforward to explain.
The difficulty in Dominant Species is that even though the rules are in their majority quite clear and simple, there are a lot of them. Somewhat confusing is distinguishing between “dominance” and scoring points which i cannot explain without going into more detail about the rules. Also choosing and executing the actions can be quite tricky because this a very deep game. The consequences and combinations of actions can overwhelm players. Finally, the time investment required to play the game. Although it never feels like it’s taking too long it is not a game to play on a week night and also puts many people off from trying it out in the first place.
In my opinion the only flaw with the game is the Domination cards which sometimes can be too powerful and therefore upset the balance of the game.
It’s strange that in the designer’s description the word “abstractly” is used. It certainly does not feel abstract at all while playing it even though your species are just represented by wooden cubes. This is because Dominant Species manages to convey the feeling of being a species fighting for survival and ultimately domination of the planet.
Your animal will need to adapt to new elements (such as water, sun, grass, meat, seed), migrate, attack other species and discover new areas to inhabit. All these while the tundras expand and the coming of the ice age is just a matter of time.
That’s precisely what makes Dominant Species such a special game. Because every time you play it tells a story and it’s a story you played a part in.