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Dominant Species is a game that grabbed my attention after hearing numerous glowing reviews online and my own desire to "step it up a notch" so to speak in how involved the games are that I play.

Dominant Species is easily the most involved game in my collection and requires players that are serious about playing a game (you know what I mean). If you're interested in getting together with friends, having a few drinks, and shooting the shit while playing a board game I think I'd have to recommend looking elsewhere.

Playing a game like Dominant Species not only takes hours if played correctly, it's the kind of game that requires the game itself to be the center of the action and not something that is just the glue to get some people to a table together.

Game Play

To start the game each player will choose a different species of animal to vie for dominance with. Choices range from mammals, arachnids, amphibians, birds, etc. and have different inherent bonuses, bonuses and starting setup.

The board is made up of a hex map that will hold tiles for different kinds of climates/terrain that will build and expand as the game goes on. It goes without saying that different species thrive in different climates so the strategy obviously lies in leveraging the world to serve your chosen species best. Of course this is before the tundra and the ensuing ice age roll in.

The most interesting part of the game for me is the "Planning Phase" where players take turns deciding what actions they'll take in the next phase. So you're not taking actions, just declaring which actions you're going to be taking.

Each player has a number of Action Pawns (the number can go up and down over the course of the game) that they'll use to declare actions. On the game board there's a huge action display that lists out the different options, and a corresponding number of times that action can happen per round. You can see it in the picture below running down the right side, the big cylinder blocks are the action pawns.

So players take turns taking their available pawns and placing them in the spaces for the action they'd like to take. There are 11 different actions with names like "Adaptation", "Glaciation" and "Wanderlust". I'm not going to go into great detail here, but these actions will let you do things like change terrain on the map, adapt your species to a new element, or move around the board.

Once the players have all depleted their available pawns then the game moves into the execution phase, at which time the pawns are removed from the board top to bottom and left to right with the action being taken when the pawn is removed.

So it doesn't matter the order of your turn in placing the pawns, since you'll take your action in a set order depending on what you pick. So if you put your first pawn on the Domination track (the last one) then you'll take that action last in the round.

Some sections of the action display like "Regression" and "Wasteland" will affect all species on the board that have particular elements attached to them, which of course can change over time. So you could try to hurt your opponents chances by forcing one of their species traits into regression putting them into a spot where they can't survive.

Of course they'll be doing the same to you. Some actions let you expand areas of control, some let you adapt to more elements, some offer victory points. You need to strike a careful balance to keep your species relevant and garner some points for yourself.

End of the Game

Winning rounds an being crowned dominant of certain terrains over the course of the game gains you access you "Dominance Cards" that you can use for special abilities or actions. A few are laid face up at the beginning of each round and when a species is declared dominant on each tile that player can take a perform the actions listed on the card.

These rounds continue until the Ice Age card shows up on the board, at which time all the animals out are scored and whichever player has the most victory points is declared the dominant species and wins the game!