From Jurassic Park to science class, dinosaurs have captivated the human imagination.. The impossible size, ferocious power, and incredible majesty of dinosaurs are unmatched in the history of our planet, and if they could, anyone would pay anything to see them in their natural habitat. That ‘s the fantasy behind Cretaceous Rails.
Cretaceous Rails is a mid-weight Euro-game where you give time traveling tours, build five-star resorts in the distant past, capture live dinosaurs, and showcase them. Players take actions using a unique action grid. Instead of placing workers on the tiles themselves, players will choose two adjacent tiles to activate at a time, putting their worker in between them.
Players can take actions to build their railways across the Cretaceous world, cut down the dense jungle, give tours of the dinosaurs in their natural habitat, capture dinosaurs for resort exhibits, pick up cards for building those exhibits, or finally, skip any action to empty their trains of the stuff they’ve picked up from the jungle.
This last part is one of the biggest action economy constraints in the game. When you take anything from the jungle, it sits on your train, and you must take one of your precious, limited actions to empty it. You also get one “free” unload at the end of each of the four rounds in the game, giving a slight incentive towards loading stuff up before round end. These rounds are made up of 4 turns for each player, so you only get 16 turns each. In typical Euro fashion, you are barely able to get your engine rolling before the game ends.
There are basically three main aspects to the game, like a train-powered human being. The skeleton is your rail network, which stretches across the board from a nearly shared starting point. In order to do anything on the board, you need to have rail access to it. Only 2 players can share a space in a 4 player game, so space can get tight, especially when all players are going for the same pools of tourists, volcanoes, and dinosaurs.
The muscle of the game is your tours. Whenever you give a tour, the dinosaurs you’ve captured will go up in point value for each dinosaur of the same color as the tourist next to your rail line. Of course, you have to clear out the jungle before any tourists can see any dinos, so clearing brush is also important.
The heart of the game, however, lies in the resort cards. These cards simultaneously help you spend dinosaurs, improve your engine, break certain rules, and improve your end-game scoring conditions. You see, dinos you have left in your pen are worth only half the points of dinosaurs that are part of a resort attraction. More importantly, each resort card provides a massive boost to your future action efficiency.
These boons also increase based on the floor of your resort you build them on. The higher the better, but you have to build them on top of already existing resort cards, so you can only build so high at the start. Finally, each cards offers a point multiplier for one type of resource or achievement, and these multipliers stack. If you go heavy into building railroads, it’s good to pick up and build build a handful of railroad scoring cards.
The tension here, of course, is that the cards that score railroad length are usually not good for building those rails. They’ll help you in other ways, both forcing diversity of tactics for each player, and making decisions on where to invest harder and harder.
Despite some hard decisions, the game doesn’t take long to play. The Kickstarter page shows 30 minutes per player, and my games match that, even when accounting for a few players notorious for long turns. For a preview copy, the quality of what I received was astounding as well. The pieces and player boards look great, and each player color has unique trains and aesthetics, though they play functionally identical.
I’ve not had my hands on it for long, but I’m already sold on Cretaceous Rails. If any of this sounds good to you, you can check out their Kickstarter page, whose crowdfunding ends on October 24th, or check out our video previewing it at Origins below.
Unpublished game designer, programmer, DM and progressive activist. Always willing to see what cool ideas people have in the board game industry. I love a good gimmick, but strong mechanics are still important.