The Bone Wars marked one of the craziest, most productive periods in scientific history, as two titans of the burgeoning field of paleontology — Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Marsh — competed to discover and catalog dinosaur fossils.
Cope and Marsh spied on each other, sabotaged each other’s digs, falsified their own records to deter spying, and even blew up their own digs to prevent the other from finding anything else there in their absence.
It was absolute lunacy, and it led to more fossil discoveries than any other point in history.
And, in today’s review, we look at a game that recreates the Bone Wars for your enjoyment. This is The Great Dinosaur Rush.
In this game, players assume the roles of famous paleontologists at a dig site, collecting bones and preparing their specimens for display at a museum.
The game is played in three rounds. Each round consists of three phases: the Field Phase, the Build Phase, and the Exhibit Phase.
In the Field Phase, you move around the dig site and collect various bones. Different colored pieces represent different bones, which can only be placed in a dinosaur skeleton in certain ways. Red are limb bones, yellow are neck and tail bones, etc.
In this phase, you can take standard actions — like determining the scoring of various dinosaur attributes (making a taller dinosaur more valuable than a ferocious-looking one, for instance) or trading bones for points — or you can take actions that increase your notoriety, like sabotaging other digs or stealing bones from adjacent digs.
Notoriety is a double-edged sword, however; your notoriety gets you points at the end of the game… unless you’re the most notorious player, in which case you lose points.
The Field Phase is all setup for the Build Phase, where you use the bones you’ve collected to prepare your exhibit.
Oh yes, part of this game is a puzzle where you get to make your very own new dinosaur. (The screens included in the game block the other players from seeing your dinosaur-in-progress, as well as offering you important information on how to build your dinosaur.)
It’s up to you to figure out how to place them in order to make your dinosaur excel in certain ways. Depending on the scoring values — determined in the Field Phase — maybe you’ll want to emphasize the neck, or the arms, or give it unique attributes like a triceratops’s horns or a stegosaurus’s spiky plates. It’s up to you — it’s your discovery.
Finally, we have the Exhibit Phase, where the screens are lowered and each dinosaur is scored on its attributes as you show off your creation. (I also encourage players to name their creations, which has proven to be great fun in each game I’ve played.)
That’s the end of the first round. For rounds two and three, you go through the Field, Build, and Exhibit Phases again, but the point values are changed.
And at the end of the third round, you settle your notoriety points, determining final scores. Highest score wins!
Although the game can look a bit daunting at the start, it’s essentially Scrabble with dinosaur bones. You get your pieces and try to maximize your points by stringing them together in creative ways. It’s just that instead of words and clever crossings, you’ve got limbs and tails and Allosaurus skulls.
[Here’s my creation, the Dallosaurus. I imagine it’s like one of those toy birds that drinks water, pivoting on its hipbone atop those long legs and dipping its head to eat or drink.]
I was thoroughly impressed by how elegant the gameplay was, and how many actions you could take in the Field Phase. There’s so much you can do as you try to collect the bones you need to make your dinosaur, and it’s a wonderful mix of strategy, skill, and luck.
And then to follow that with pure puzzle solving as you must use every bone you’ve collected to create your dinosaur… it’s a game that engages you on several levels in very satisfying fashion. (The fact that it brings to life one of my favorite rivalries from history is just the cherry on top for me.)
It does take about an hour to play (sometimes longer, when you introduce new players to the game), but it’s worth the time investment. It’s a terrific family game — especially if you use the variant rule that leaves out the notoriety aspect. And it offers a new chance to make history every time you play.
[The Great Dinosaur Rush is distributed by APE Games and appears in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide.]
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