On a recent family visit in Ontario, our beans were awake at a painfully early time, and we had to hide away in a TV room to avoid waking up the rest of the family. Browsing Netflix brought us to One Strange Rock, a documentary-style series on Planet Earth from the perspective of eight astronauts. The episode we watched was narrated by the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith, and covered the cosmic circumstances that allowed for living beings to thrive for both humans … and dinosaurs.
Prophetically, days before watching this show, S.O.S. Dino arrived in my hands. a new game from a newer publisher, LOKI . Once the whole family was awake, I brought the beans down to the dining room table to show them this new arrival, their eyes lit up!
“Volcanoes and Lava!” says Big Bean
“Dinosaurs! Rawrrrr!” growls Little Bean
We quickly dove in, the girls playing with the four colourful and goofy-looking dino pieces, while I put the cardboard mountains, spiky rocks, and volcanoes together. The rulebook was easy to grasp, even while I kept one peripheral eye on the munchkins. Little Bean lost interest in the actual game pretty quickly, so I had to make sure she didn’t wander away with one of the dinos!
What is the premise? Volcanoes are erupting with boiling hot lava, and the dinosaurs need our help to escape! They are trapped in the middle of four unstable hot spots, and need to rescue the dinosaur eggs scattered about the landscape, then reach the tall mountains in the distance to avoid a scalding red hot bubble bath. The board is a square grid pattern, and the mountains are located at the four corners. Other components include a plethora of cardboard tiles, a cloth bag to hold them, six cardboard eggs, and several 3-dimensional cardboard structures (volcanoes, mountains, spiky rocks, and thorny bushes).
Mechanically, SOS Dino is a very straight forward tile placement game. Each turn involves pulling one tile out of a cloth bag, and placing it on the board. Typically, the tile is a Carcassonne-esque lava tile, flowing in one of four directions like a hot road to immolation. Each lava tile is decorated with a colourful flower that matches the flowers on each of the four volcanoes, which indicates which part of the board the tile must be placed. The dinosaurs are also coloured to match these flowers, and the matching dino is frozen with fear for that placement. Icons on the tile indicate whether one or two dinos can move one space each, or if another lava tile must be drawn. One minor gripe here – pink and purple were two of the four colour choices in the game. My girls didn’t have any trouble telling the difference between them, but the adults playing often mixed them up, which fortunately resulted in an instant correction from Big Bean!
Speaking of adults, everyone who I roped into playing SOS Dino were absolutely smitten with the components. They found the game to be an adorable, yet challenging puzzle to solve, while also doing the persistent work of keeping little minds focused on the goals of the game. In fact, my mother enjoyed the game so much, that she requested to borrow it to show to her other grandchildren! For that fact alone, SOS Dino is receiving an unprecedented mid-article…
Two Big Thumbs Up!
In all our excitement, we forgot to credit the creative minds behind the game! Credited as “Ludo & Theo” on the box, Ludovic Maublanc (Mr Jack, Ca$h & Gun$) and Théo Rivière (Sea of Clouds, Nagaraja) are also co-designers on Draftosaurus, which recently received rave reviews here at the DWP. Artwork for SOS Dino is by Mathieu Leyssenne, who helped create great games such as Jamaica and Meeple Circua.
SOS Dino comes to a conclusion when the last dinosaur reaches the safety of a mountain, the last tile is drawn from the bag, or if all dinos succumb to the dangerous elements of the game – being covered in lava, or having a meteorite land on their head. Wait … meteors landing on heads? Yes indeed! The other type of tile in the game is a meteorite, which has their own designated spaces on the board. If the matching space for a meteorite tile is already covered by lava, it is discarded, and another tile is drawn. Otherwise, the meteor wipes out anything in the space, and any dinosaur may be moved two spaces. It’s dangerous for a dino to stop on one of those spots, but it’s great to get a double hop when one lands!
Once the end of the game is reached, the players count their collective score. Two points for each dino saved, and one point for each egg rescued. The best score possible is 14, and the player team can measure how successful they were by how close they came to a perfect point total.
The dinosaurs are not assigned to any individual players, and as such, it can be played solo without any rule alterations. It was a great way to learn the game properly, and clarify any details I missed when diving into the box with my little ones. In my solo excursions, I missed the chatter of little voices to drive the excitement of the game, and found it a bit easy to solve on my own. While I probably wouldn’t put this game in the mix of games I regularly play solo, I would absolutely recommend it for a solo activity for a child. It’s recommended for ages 7+, and that sounds about right for an unsupervised solo adventure.
Although my 4 year old Big Bean needed prompting to stay focused during the second half of the game, the limited choices for placing lava tiles were absolutely perfect in the early rounds. It was simply to point out where a tile could be placed, and leave the decision to her. What most impressed me, however, was how intuitive the setup was for future plays of SOS Dino. Big Bean was able to set up the dinosaurs, volcanoes, mountains, and spiky rocks with virtually no prompting!
LOKI has done a fantastic job with the production and design of SOS Dino. With their stated goal of producing games for players aged 4 to 8 (and up), I’ll be keeping a close eye on their releases in the months and years ahead. The other five games currently listed on their website look equally adorable!
“This is the derpiest looking thing and I love it,” is how one of my friends described this game. It perfectly sums up the appeal of SOS Dino – colourful and cute to appeal to young gamers-in-training, and also a lighthearted take on what is ultimately a dark story.
One Strange Rock indeed. Our verdict…
Two Big Thumbs Up!
Two Little Thumbs Up!
S.O.S. Dino is a cooperative tile laying game, designed by Ludovic Maublanc and Théo Rivière, with artwork from Mathieu Leyssenne. It accommodates 1 to 4 players, with an expected play time of 30 minutes. Recommended for ages 7 and up.