Design Challenge 3: Dino Detectives #2

Dino Detectives

Dino Detectives is a dinosaur themed dexterity game for 2-6 players. This is a discussion of the design process. The game is unfinished and shelved. Read the first draft rules here.

Original Design Goals: 

  • A dexterity-based game
  • Differentiated from Rukshuk (the only dexterity/balancing game other than Jenga I’ve ever played).

Discussion: Dino Detectives is a take on tower-building / balancing / dexterity games, where tiles are stacked vertically to build a specific structure. The skillful part of the game involves the stacking of the pieces themselves, which have rough or uneven edges, making the pieces balance imperfectly on one another. I brainstormed some themes to fit that mechanic, and settled on the theme of curators building fossil dinosaur skeletons for display in a museum.

Since the Dino Bone tiles are blind-drawn from a bag, I also wanted to incorporate an aspect of silliness into the gameplay. Instead of trying to build anatomically correct skeletons of real dinosaurs, I wanted the players to have the flexibility of making whatever weird and wonderful creatures they could. As a result, I added the ‘discovering new species’ angle on the story, meaning that (almost) any combination of body parts would be permissible. So two Brachiosaurus legs, a Tyrannosaur torso and a Triceratops head is a totally acceptable creation in Dino Detectives. The only strict building rules I have are:

  • A completed display must have 3 or more pieces,
  • Only ‘Leg’ parts may touch the ground,
  • A display must have a ‘skull’ before it is completed and scored.

In addition, the Dino Bones tiles have artwork only on one side, and a tile name and point value on the other. By building the display with the artwork facing outwards, the other players get to see the weird and wonderful skeleton you’ve put together, and you can see the name of your new species by reading the names of each tile left to right, top to bottom. Tile names are 3-4 letter phrases like: IKY,  PARA, ANKY, TORO. By appending ‘SAURUS’ to the end, you will see that your new dinosaur species is the IKY-PARA-ANKY-TORO-SAURUS.

The Negatives: A major negative about this design is that I have no way to effectively prototype this game. I cannot manufacture tiles to playtest, develop or refine this game in any way. At best, I could source some strange shaped wooden blocks with two flat sides and repurpose them with stickers, but I would be at the mercy of whatever blocks I could source. Custom-made pieces would require a major outlay of money to prototype, and I doubt even a major publisher would pay for that.

Other negatives:

Inaccuracies – Some people may complain about teaching people inaccurate facts about dinosaurs, the shape, size and posture of the display pieces, the arbitrary use of the names for each tile, or even the suggestion that museum curators simply ‘make it up’ when making displays at a museum,

Butter Fingers – If the pieces are too hard to stack, players may not score any points at all. Dexterity games can have the effect of unintentionally punishing or excluding players who struggle with the primary task of stacking/balancing/building etc.

Production Costs – Similar to the problem with prototyping / development, production costs on the final version of this game may be very high.

The Positives:

Challenging – some players will enjoy the challenge of building a high-scoring display,

Press your luck – with bonuses available for larger displays, players may be tempted to press their luck and try for larger displays,

Replay value – lots of potential replay value (assuming you enjoyed the game the first time!)

Theme popularity – lots of people love dinosaurs, especially kids. This game could be sold in National geographic stores, museums and major department stores, since it is closer to ‘Family Game’ than ‘Hobby Game’.

Expansions – additional versions could be created for the Ice Age, Megafauna, and other time periods.

Final Thoughts: Although Dino Detectives can’t be easily prototyped, I think it has lots of potential for producing a fun experience. I believe I have differentiated it enough from Rukshuk, even though the gameplay and scoring is very similar. If this game was placed in front of me, I’d love to give it a try.

Image Credit – Header Image features modified work of Othniel Charles Marsh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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