Which Dinosaur is the best Dinosaur !?
Unless you’ve been living in a Stoneage cave for the last million years you can’t fail to know about the Jurassic Park franchise. This epic series of films took every little boy and girl’s favourite prehistoric critters and somehow made them even cooler, telling the story of the repeatedly botched attempts to make a theme park populated with dinosaurs. Soft, fleshy humans plus razor-toothed, meat eating monsters, what could possibly go wrong?!?!
Four movies later it seems that humanity still hasn’t learned its lesson but what we have figured out is that dinosaurs are cool. In fact there’s one sickle-clawed, pack-hunting beasty that’s become a bit of an icon:-
and someone has finally decided to make a game about them.
Born from the prolific minds of Bruno Cathala (7 Wonders, Cyclades, Shadows Over Camelot) and Bruno Faidutti (Citadels, Mascarade, Incan Gold) Raptor seeks to capture the thrill of pitting humans against their ultimate reptilian nemesis to find out how long it takes one enraged momma raptor to turn an entire science team into Big Macs. With such a killer French design team behind this game you know its going to be a battle of brains as well as brawn but will it capture the true excitement of hunting the ultimate dino? There’s only one way to find out.
Raptor – A Lean Mean Killing Machine!
Raptor doesn’t have a tonne of components, but the bits and pieces that come in the box do their job well. Scenery pieces, board sections and tokens are of nice, thick card stock that should take repeated plays and the box comes with rules and summary sheets for each player in four different languages (English, French, Dutch and Spanish) so you can play with all your Euro dino buddies too.
The miniatures in Raptor are good quality too. The baby Raptors have good detail for their size and a really nice touch is that each of the science team members has a unique sculpt, helping you bond with each one before they’re inevitably eviscerated by mum. Sadly the game’s centre piece, mother Raptor, is a little flimsy and looks like it was plucked from a Christmas cracker or one of those bulk bags of 100 dinos you can grab from your local £1 store. All minis come unpainted so you can break the old paintbrushes out if you fancy but unpainted minis didn’t really detract from our play.
The only other niggle with the components is that the player decks feel a bit thin and will probably need sleeving or some sort of protection in the long run. Apart from that the iconography is clear and the artwork is characterful and immersive. Board sections are also double sided giving you the chance to play through a lush jungle or sandy desert. This adds a nice little variation but again doesn’t really affect gameplay.
Setup in Raptor is pretty straightforward. First, you randomly create a board with the 6 main board tiles, 4 exit tiles and 9 rocks. Mother Raptor starts on one of the main board tiles with each of her babies on a tile of their own and the science team begin with just 4 scientists, one on each of the exits. Each player then grabs a summary sheet and their deck of cards, drawing three to form their starting hand, then you’re ready to begin.
Some Mother’s Do Have ‘Em – But Not Usually With So Many Teeth!
Gameplay is simple but with plenty of tactical decision making. Each player has a deck of cards numbered from 1 to 9 and most cards also have an ability linked to them which is unique to that player deck. The raptor deck is focused on disabling scientists, moving baby raptors and recovering from damage while the scientists’ deck can bring in reinforcements, knocks out baby dinos and set fire to sections of the board, slowing down the raptors’ movements.
At the beginning of each round both players secretly select one card from their hand and play it face down in front of them. Both cards are then revealed with the lowest number getting to activate its ability and the highest number getting a number of action points equal to the difference between the two cards. If the two cards are matched for value they cancel each other out and the round ends.
For the science team, their card skills provide some interesting abilities. For example the Raptors can’t move through fire and this card becomes one of the most important for controlling mum’s movement, separating her from the babies and limiting her chances to attack. Mum can spend an action to extinguish fire, clearing all adjacent spaces for one action, but this does mean at least one action isn’t spent munching on your scientists.
The dinos deck also has some nasty tricks up it’s sleeve. Mum can wake up sleeping babies, call them to her tile, recover damage and scare scientists so they miss their next turn. By far the worst card in the raptor’s arsenal, and possibly the game, is hide and observe. This dangerous ability lets the player remove mother raptor from the board and place it back in any space once the scientists have finished their turn. Then at the beginning of the following turn the raptor player gets to look at the card the scientists are going to play before choosing the dinos next. This is a massive advantage and it’s great fun to watch the horror on the scientist player’s face as mother vanishes from the board, guaranteed to reappear in the worst possible place next turn, knowing exactly what you’re about to do.
On top of the regular card abilities both sides also have some cards that have an additional skill, the chance to reshuffle your discard pile and form a new deck. This is vital for refreshing your draw pile, giving yourself a bigger range of cards to play with and the chance for good cards to get back into your hand sooner while making it really tough for your opponent to guess what you’ll play next.
Scientists or Raptors! Who would you bet on ?
Action points can be spent by moving and attacking with any of your figures. Baby raptors can only move one space per AP and can’t attack while the mother raptor moves as far as she wants in a straight line for 1AP and can attack scientists for the same price, taking them permanently out of the game. The science team move at the same speed as the baby raptors and while it’s possible to have up to 10 of them on the board during the game they are limited to one aggressive action per turn, either shooting their dart gun at a dino or capturing an already sedated baby. This means the science team has it’s work cut out co-ordinating the movement of several different figures while trying to stay alive long enough to capture the baby raptors or take out their enraged parent.
Played cards are left face up, giving you a clear idea of what the other player has left in their deck. This means that as the game progresses you get a pretty good idea of the cards that the other player is holding back without ever being completely certain of what they’ll play next. Once a player’s draw pile runs out discarded cards are shuffled, forming a new draw pile and the guessing game starts all over again.
The game has two win conditions for each side. The dinosaurs win if three baby raptors ecape from the board or if mum manages to clear the board of scientists. The science team win if they manage to capture three babies or if they manage to shoot the mother dino five times.
Raptor is fun, simple to set up and play and has a level of tactical depth that only reveals itself once you get stuck into the game. The tactical decisions begin during the setup with the raptor player trying to find long, clear lines to move along while also hiding her babies from the science team. At the same time scientists are looking to block the exits without leaving themselves vulnerable to vicious dino attacks.
After a couple of rounds a natural rhythm starts to build as you adapt to your opponent’s moves, looking to gain AP to escape dangerous situations or using an important ability to really put the brakes on the other player’s plans. Leaving played cards face up makes this decision making fun but still retains enough mystery to be exciting. You normally have a pretty good idea what your opponent has and might do next, but you can never be completely sure, which builds the tension with each card flipped. While abilities often have powerful effects, the action points give you more flexibility, so you’ll often be looking to balance access to both with your choice of cards. Good players will very soon start putting themselves in their opponent’s shoes and playing unexpected cards to confuse and obstruct the enemy.
Despite the seeming imbalance between the two sides there is plenty of threat and tough decisions for both players.
While the raptors seem like the easier choice at first, our playthroughs revealed just how vulnerable you feel as your slow moving babies are gradually surrounded by the scientists or a well timed card instantly knocks out several of your offspring. Plenty of times we found mum surrounded by burning jungle and humans moving in to capture her unconscious babies, requiring a last minute dash through the flames to save the day.
Playing as the science team is also pretty exciting. You find yourself constantly shying away from the mother raptor, ganging up on the babies and making noble sacrifices to slow down ma just enough to make that final capture.
She Can’t See Us If We Don’t Move…
As a game about hunting dinosaurs Raptor really had to get just two things right, make the humans feel vulnerable and the raptors terrifying. The game does this in spades with any player fielding the scientists for the first time feeling like they’re attacking a porcupine with an army of balloons. In fact, at times Raptor can feel pretty one sided with the mother dino tearing across the board, slaying scientists left right and centre while they attempt to run away at the top speed of an OAP snail.
Straight out of the box the dinosaurs are definitely the easier team to play, with the scientists requiring some real thought to clinch the win. This will be a Marmite moment for some players because you will either love or hate the challenge. Asymmetrically designed games like Raptor mean that one side will always favour your play style more than another, but for many players the challenge of learning the game’s cadence and tactics well enough to win as either team will bring a real sense of achievement.
The official play time of 30 minutes printed on the box is actually pretty accurate meaning that you can usually get to play as both teams in about an hour without too much effort. Raptor fits an interesting niche as a fairly light, two player miniatures game that requires a bit more thought then just bash your enemy until it stops moving. The card mechanic is more deterministic than rolling a handful of dice and will probably appeal slightly more to Euro fans and thoughtful gamers while the direct player confrontation and exciting theme will draw in more action oriented players.
Raptor is a light, fun and unique game which crosses boundaries between traditional mini games and abstract strategy, offering a depth of tactical decision making that belies its relatively cheap price. If you like thoughtful, interesting titles or just have a bit of thing for dinosaurs then stick this on your shopping list.
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I'm pretty much a lifelong gamer, playing since I was a kid and now gaming with other big kids who are also pretending to be adults. I'll give almost any genre a go but love nothing better than sitting down at the beginning of a new tabletop adventure, with a fist full of dice and a really crazy plan that just might work...