Review: Triassic Terror

Posted by James (admin) on January 30th, 2014

Triassic Terror gameTriassic Terror is a dinosaur-themed, area control game by Peter Hawes – designer of Francis Drake (I will be reviewing this soon), Wars of the Roses and Heads of State.

During the game, players try to dominate the landscape by growing their dinosaur herds and moving them from area to area.  The board is split into 4 different terrains which are each split into 3 areas.  There are 3 positions within each area – the largest herd in an area takes the best position, second largest takes the next one, and third largest takes the last one.  If there’s a fourth herd in an area, it immediately dies – welcome to the harsh brutality of Triassic Terror.

The game lasts several rounds and Victory Points (VPs) are scored after each era (a group of rounds).   VPs are scored based the on position a herd occupies in an area – each area scores slightly differently but the most VPs are always for the better positions (occupied by the biggest herd in the area).  One side of the board is for 2-4 players, the other for 5-6 players – the difference being that the numbers of VPs scored are slightly different and all 3 positions in each area score in the 5-6 player game (rather than just the top two).

At the side of the board are tiles showing the 6 different actions which are placed in a mostly random order.  Players take turns clockwise picking the action they want to use this turn by taking the tile and replacing it with the plastic dinosaur of their colour (and each player has a different type of dinosaur too).  Once every player has selected an action, players then take turns carrying out their selected action but in the order in which their coloured dinosaurs are placed.  Therefore, the action tile taken dictates both your action as well as when you will take it.

Triassic terror coverThe 6 actions are quite varied.  One lets you add dinos to any area, another lets you add dinos to two existing herds, and another lets you move your herds in 2 areas.  The movement is quite humorous as it confuses other herds and 1 dino from any other player’s herd leaves with yours (becoming your dinos).  This is just as well because 1 dino dies from shock whenever you move dinos to a different type of terrain!  Like I said, it’s brutal.

The other 3 actions let you move the Tyrannosaur Rex, Velociraptors, and Pterodactyl.   The T-Rex action lets you replace its figure with the T-Rex of your colour, then move 1 or 2 areas and eat 5 or 3 dinos respectively, plus it counts as 3 of your own dinos too until someone else uses it.  The velociraptors move,  then eat 2 dinos, and then also scatter 2 dinos into neighbouring areas.  The pterodactyl lets you add some dinos to a herd of yours and then move the pterodactyl and then (unsurprisingly) eats 2 dinos.

Each player has two single-use special abilities to use during the game: One places a volcano in any area (killing a few dinos and blocking all movement in that area for a while); the other adds 3 dinos to one of their existing herds.  At the start of a era, players get a few extra dinos.  During scoring at the end of an era, one of two bonus scores is also awarded for either having a herd in every terrain, or having the most dinos in each terrain.

Overall, Triassic Terror is a brutal area control game.  If you don’t like confrontation, this isn’t the game for you as you need to be prepared for your dino herds to be eaten, stolen and displaced.

Triassic Terror close-up

Just a photo of the pieces (not a legal game position).

The action selection system offers some critical and tricky decisions.  You have to balance which action to take against the turn order in which you will get to perform it.  Also, you may want to take an action just so an opponent can’t use it for themselves or against you.  Plus, other players may have taken some actions before you can.

Turn order makes a big difference but has a nice balance.  Picking actions early gives you choice but less information with which to make your decision; whereas, it’s the opposite when later in picking actions.  When taking actions, going first when means you can ‘do it to them, before they do it to you’, but going last means no-one can alter things after you that round.

The six actions are varied but each is quite limited in what it offers and you always want to do more than each one allows.  This adds a nice uncomfortable feeling that your choice is very important.

Whilst you can make plans before your turn, it’s hard to have any definite ideas until it’s actually your go because a lot can change on each player’s turn.  The simple actions are quick to perform, but the attacking actions (Tyrannosaurus, Velociraptor and Pterodactyl) usually require longer consideration because they offer a lot of possible permutations.  As a result, this can create some downtime for players, especially when the Velociraptor action is being taken because it can have so many options (plus its effects mean the next players will probably need to double-check their plans).

I think the amount the game situation changes between turns will be more pronounced with more players.  Four players felt like a good number, and I’m intrigued to try it with 2 players (although 2-player area control games can be a bit tit-for-tat) as well as with 3 players (where I think players ganging up on the leader will balance out the ‘2 players fight whilst the other wins’ issue).  I think playing with 5 or 6 players would probably be too chaotic for my liking.

I did feel the Velociraptor action seemed a bit too powerful as you get to use 2 raptors to eat dinos and then displace some too.  A player who uses their whole action to add 3 dinos to a new area could see 2 of them eaten and the other displaced to another area by just a single velociraptor (if it’s near enough to attack them, of course).  I thought that maybe players should not be allowed to displace their own dinos using velociraptors as it means the action can allow a player to move their own dinos as well as eat others.

Francis Drake inner

Inside the game Francis Drake by the same designer/publisher which has the same sort of box inner with lid. Plus, it also has the hole in the box base so you can lift the board out easily (far left).

Physical Components
Physically, the game is of high quality.  The dino meeple are cool and the plastic dinosaurs are a nice touch too.  It’ll sound weird but the box is excellent. It has a custom plastic inner with a clear plastic lid fitting onto the sections perfectly. Plus, the box tray has a small slot removed at one end so you can lift the board out from underneath, instead of jamming your fingers down the side.  This is really nice attention to detail.

It’s interesting to watch adults with the plastic dinosaurs.  When playing your first game, my advice is to give the pieces to the players, and then leave them for a while before you try explaining the rules so they can get playing with the pieces as toys out of their system.

The only thing missing physically for me was that the pterodactyl wasn’t a plastic figure (it’s a wooden disc) but that is a rather demanding request and isn’t a complaint.

The game has nice artwork and the dinosaurs and dino meeple look great.  However, there ar
e a few improvements I would make.  The pictures on each of the action tiles are very nice, but I would have preferred these to show iconic descriptions of what each action does – players learn what the different actions are, but icons would make it faster, especially for first-time players.  The action tiles could show the artwork on one side and the icons on the other so players could choose the art once they know the actions.  (There is a reference chart with the game which does explain things but it’s quite busy so not easy to see at a glance.)  Also, I found the board artwork slightly busy and would have liked the map toned down or simplified a bit so the areas and positions stood out more.  In the end though, none of this got in the way of our game.

I enjoyed Triassic Terror but, boy, you’d better be able to take a joke as you watch players maul your dino herds.  One of the designer’s favourite games is El Grande (also a classic favourite of mine) and I can see the influences; however, the effects of each action feel much greater in Triassic Terror – in fact, the brutality of the actions matches the theme rather well.

It’s hard to plan ahead so you need to have an idea but roll with the punches too.  This means the game can slow down when players take their turns (especially using the attacking actions), but players just need to stay on top that and keep things moving.  Same goes for avoiding any analysis paralysis.

Whilst the game design is straight-forwards and simple, it delivers a lot to consider, especially when you consider how few actions each player takes during a game.  If you want lots of control over your pieces and long-term strategy then this isn’t the game for you as the game situation changes rapidly; however, Triassic Terror delivers a challenging area-control game where every action is important and creative, strategic thinking is critical.

You can read the rules and see more details on the game’s website using this link:

[Played with 4 players]

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