Dinosaurs of the Lost World: A Review

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This game was published by Avalon Hill in 1987 as a “family game”. Contrary to what is expected today from games that receive a similar billing, the rulebook for this DotLW is a pretty dense (8 pages of text with only a few pictures to break it up) and has the traditional AH model of subsections – like 8.5: Battle Strength.

To preface the review, I have to say that this game is great. The game itself is based on the concept that each player represents an expedition that has to explore the Lost World, and in the process, gain valuable information and evidence (represented by VPs) about the Dinosaurs which inhabit the land. To win the game, you have to be the first expedition to escape the island with 25 VPs (or escape with 25 VPs within 40 turns if you are playing the solo version). On a whole, this game is one of the best exploration games I have ever played – the game is thematic enough that it actually feels like you are exploring a jungle island, passing one of my tests for “great” games in being how well it captures the imagination. Beyond evoking the feeling of exploration, the game also succeeds in weaving a story that chronicles the adventures of your expedition party.

For the time, the game board would have been considered on the forefront of game design for hobby games and downright groundbreaking for family games. First, there are two sections of the board: (a) an outer-ring that is roll-and-move (with some restrictions that are related to the amount of VPs that you have), and (b) and inner hex board where the expedition moves about having encounters. The outer-ring consists of spaces that result in you being able to do such things as (i) find tools, (ii) trigger events, (iii) find random tools, (iv) climb trees (which means peak at hidden encounters on the inner-board), (v) move creatures, and (vi) take additional turns. The inner-board consists of the shared campsite of the expeditions, four static encounters and many hidden encounters that are randomized prior to each game – which serves as a basic technique for changing the geography of the island (think of Survive! for a similar approach). The inner-board hex encounters include such things as stumbling into dinosaur “lairs”, which include nine classic dinosaurs (Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus, Pterodactyl, Triceratops, etc.) and two groups of humans (Indians and Apemen). Additional encounters are “discoveries” and consist of things like finding tools, rope, balloon, a shortcut, etc. – these are naturally counter-balanced by a set of hazards that cause you to lose a tool, turn, or both (Pit Trap, Carnivorous Plants, Bamboo Trap).

At the beginning of the game, you choose eight tools in which your expedition is equipped with.  Different tools provided bonuses, in the form of experience cards, for different encounters/adventurers while some tools (rifle and shotgun) are used for battle.   There is a tool sheet and a reference list that indicates in which adventures different tools are useful – so there can be some strategy in choosing your tool set, or you can just ignore that and pick what you think sounds cool.  Each turn you can either roll two dice and move on the outer-board or decide for your expedition to have an encounter on their current hex on the inner-board (e.g., movement on the inner-board is governed by the spaces on the outer-board).

Now, all the action happens on the inner-board, where the adventures take place.  If you choose to have an adventure instead of role, your expedition is transported to the adventure mini-boards – which are basically comic book-esque adventure panels.   If you are going into the adventure without any tools that are helpful (and you don’t have any experience cards from completing prior adventures, etc.) then you roll a single die to determine which space you land out.  Each adventures (and there are 14 of them) have between 14 and 16 spaces, so you will be in the adventure for at least three turns.  Each roll results in a different encounters, ranging from drawing experience or event cards, to directly scoring VPs, to doing battle with various dinosaurs.

On the other hand, if you have experience cards, those often come with a number that can substitute for a die roll (ala, what in my opinion is the best “classic family game”, Careers).  So, with the right equipment and a couple other experience cards coming into the adventure, you can plan your moves such that you try to get mostly favorable encounters.  Then, every time you complete an adventure you get to draw an experience card.   This makes deciding to go into an adventure a risky proposition if you don’t have the right tools – as it should be since your party isn’t properly outfitted for doing such things as looking for pterodactyl eggs, for instance – however, that decision has to be made if others are getting too far ahead.  What’s the worst that can happen?  Well, you can lose experience cards, VPs, tools, or you can go into battle with the dinosaurs.

Battle with the dinosaurs is pretty straightforward, simple, and can be very tense.  Each dinosaur has a strength and speed rating – with strength ranging from 2 (pterodactyl) to 8 (T-Rex) and speed ranging from 1 – 3, where the stronger dinosaurs are the slower dinosaurs.  The dinosaurs combat rating is basically Strength + D6; whereas, the party combat rating is D6 + (D6 for each rifle, up to 2) + D6 for an ally.  The rifles are good for 5 uses and the allies are good for 3 uses, there is also the option for using a gas bomb one time.  The winner is just the high roll.  In my experience, I am usually rolling 3 dice against the dinosaur and when about 2/3 times or so.  Winning means that you get to stay in your hex (if the dinosaur moved onto you) or keep doing the adventure.  Losing means you have to go back to camp and lose a turn – which is where most of the tenseness comes into play: the Chase Track.  Not only do you lose a turn, but the dinosaur chases you back to camp.  Basically, you start a number of spaces ahead of the dinosaur that is equal to their speed (i.e., a 1 speed dinosaur starts one space behind).  The track is 18 spaces long and the expedition party and the dinosaur roll a dice to move along the track.  Every time the dinosaur catches the party, the party has to discard a tool, and if they are out of tools, they have to lose a VP.

As an example of narrative, here is a short game (only fifteen turns) that I played solo this afternoon:

The party started off with: camera, food, two rifles, cage, shovel, hose/clothing, and a canoe.  The first few turns consisted of the party hacking through the jungle and discovering hexes that were empty.  On Turn 4, we discovered the Pterodactyl Rookery and decided to explore. 


Since we had a protective cage, we were prepared for these flying reptiles (i.e., draw 3 experience cards): spot an Eroyps, spot a Glyptodon, and film some Pterodactyls (all for 3 VPs).  A quite adventure all in all. We climbed out of the rookery and stumbled upon a hot-air balloon, giving us one of the possible six methods for escaping the volcanic island when our exploration was over.


After hacking through the forest for a couple more days, we stumbled upon a meadow full of Stegosauruses (sp?) . Unfortunately, we didn’t have any gear that would help us with this adventure, but the rumbling of the volcano in the distance (i.e., Turn 40) was fast approaching and we had less than an eighth of the specimens we needed before we could leave the island – so we through caution to the wind and snuck into the meadow.



Immediately, we spotted a Stegosaurus family (1 VP), but our luck shifted and one noticed us, charging full steam ahead.   We bested him in battle by firing off two rifle shots, and then found a piece of his natural body armor (1 VP). While we were engrossed with this, another Stegosaurus snuck up behind us. Most assuredly due to our surprise, we fired off two shots, but they went wide – the chase was on. We were able to make it back to camp, but in the process we lost our cage, shovel, and canoe – some things are just too awkward to carry when you are being chased by a pissed off dinosaur.

After bandaging our wounds and resting for a day, we decided to set back out into the wilderness.  We discovered a long abandoned camp of the rumored Maple White expedition, picking up a machete, pick-axe, and some jewelry.   Venturing out from there we were able to find a rope as we happened upon what appeared to be a town governed by apes!




Luckily we had some food with us in case we needed to barter for our lives (2 experience cards).  We spotted an ape that appeared to be coming back in from a hunt and decided to follow him further into the town.  Suddenly, everything grew very quite (i.e., Drew the dreaded event card that the island explodes on the next movement roll of 11 or 12).  We made to the apes village and were able to film them in their natural habitat (1 VP).  Using our food, we befriended an ApeMan who agreed to become our ally (2 VP).  After meeting the rest of the tribe, we will set out for our next adventure in the morning.

Sadly, this is where our tale ends because the volcano exploded as the adventurers were plotting their next move…….




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