by Seth Cohen
Art by Pat Ortega and Bob Walters
Playing Dino Hunt is fun, but a game for ages 8 and up can always use some alternate rules for adult players. After all, Dino Hunt is a collectible card game, and most CCG's involve deck design as a way to win. Here's some down & dirty variants for players who are skilled and want some more strategy in their game.
Variant Deck Design
Dino Hunt is ready to play for 2-4 players out of the box, and is easily expandable to 6 players with a supplement. There are two different ways to do deck design: one-deck play, as done with regular Dino Hunt, or each player can design and bring their own decks of Dinos and Specials.
You and your friends can each design your own deck of Dinos and Specials, and each player draws from their personal decks and discards to their own discard piles. If this is the case, cards that mention "the discard pile" now refer to your discard pile. Or, if your friends no longer trust you and your evil deck designs, everyone designs their decks, and then gives a list of dinos to the person hosting the game. The host will then pool those cards into a one-deck play design, and everyone draws from the common deck. This solves the problem of each player bringing a deck and shuffling cards into a common deck; Dino Hunt cards are an inconvenient size to sleeve, and most players will probably object to marking their cards to make identification simple. Everyone would keep their personal decks of Specials, to maximize their chances of capturing the dinosaurs they designed the deck for.
Since Dino Hunt has a point-based goal, there should be equality in deck design. It simply wouldn't be fair for your draw deck of dinos to be twice as large as your opponents'; as the game progressed, only you would have dinos left to hunt. As dino point values vary wildly, I recommend that Dino deck size be limited by point score, not number of dinos. Total points of dinosaurs to keep things at the half-hour to 45-minute game play length should be no more than 200 points. Divide that by the number of players to get the point value for your dino deck . . . or change that to suit your needs.
Dino Hunt doesn't specifically allow or disallow card trading; I always play it that if it isn't mentioned, it isn't allowed. However, if playing against folks with other decks, you might want to allow card trading during the game. This brings another element of strategy in, and again increases the complexity of the game.
General Dino Hunt Strategy
As the mechanism for getting points is completely die-based, the odds of doing well on your turn depends on the dino you're hunting. A dino you can collect on a roll of 3, 4, 5, or 6 is better than a dino which can only be captured on a 6, even if the easy-to-hunt dinosaur is worth fewer points. And many dinosaurs are dangerous in some way or another; if you roll a 1 or 2, they can make your turn end, or do other unpleasant things. If you haven't already been applying these strategies, then you haven't been playing well. Of course, if you're lucky ("Who needs strategy? I always roll 6's when hunting dinos!") this information is useless to you. You should also focus in on the Specials you need. If your deck has a theme, include those Specials first, then fill out your deck with the range of Specials that are always useful to you or harmful to your opponents (depending on your style of play). And something people often forget: when you clean dinosaurs out of an era by capturing them, you get an extra Special! You'll be using more Specials in this variant-deck play, so don't forget any opportunity to grab one!
Also, to simplify play, rather than rolling a die to see how many dinosaurs you can place on your turn, you could do as the rules say for the first turn on every turn: place 4 dinos each turn. If you use a deck against your opponents and it wins, and you bring that deck back against them, don't be surprised if they've changed their deck designs to thwart yours. Don't be afraid to switch things around in between games.
I'll run through some theme deck ideas, and then mention other concepts you can add to those decks to change things from game to game.
Theme Deck: Big Game Hunting
Take the Dinosaur cards you own. Separate out all the dinos worth 6 points or more, and leave out any Specials that mention low-point dinosaurs, or other cards that wouldn't be appropriate. This has the advantage of giving you high-point critters to hunt and also makes the turns go faster. Normal Dino Hunt play revolves around someone best deciding how to spend their energy each turn. With this variant, there are usually fewer dinos on the board at any given time, and many of the dinos out there are dangerous. You'll want to be strategic in your hunts. As the dinos are dangerous, you'll want to pack a Chronojacker in your Special deck. You might find it easier to kidnap dinos from the other players than to hunt them yourself, especially if you end your turn with lots of spare energy to burn.
Theme Deck: Land, Air, Sea
Ignore the rule about duplicate Experts if using this variant as a deck for all players; put it back in play if using separate decks. Give each player their choice of starting with Sure Shot Sam, the Jet Packs, or the Mini-Sub; or, if building decks, decide ahead of time which player will take which deck theme. Change the text on Sam so that he may only hunt land creatures, not flying or swimming ones. Each time you capture a dino using your Special, you get an extra point for your score. In this variant, you should have both equal numbers as well as equal points (give or take 10%...no need to be completely concerned about this) of dinosaurs who walk, fly & swim. There's no restrictions on what you can hunt...but of course, you'll have better luck if you use your Mini-Sub, Jet Packs, or Sure Shot Sam. If you play this variant and you find Sam to be too weak, you can give the poor boy some antihistamines and let him hunt in the Cretaceous; if it turns out he's too strong (there tend to be more land than air or sea dinos) substitute the Super Stunner for Sam. Change the Stunner to allow use as often as you like, but it can only hunt land creatures. It has an energy cost, so its use is self-limiting. If the Jet Packs are too weak, then change it so that creatures captured by it have their score increased by one; do the same for the Mini-Sub if that too happens.
Theme Deck: Dangerous Dinos
This deck has a lot in common with the Big Game deck. However, things are even more cutthroat. Every dinosaur chosen must end your turn if you roll low. Also, every player gets a Chronojacker. If playing this as your deck vs. others' decks, you'll want to pack a Solar Collector, Favorable Chronowave, Free Ride, Lucky Shot, Power Cells and Radioactive Deposits. You want to have more energy than your opponents so that you can steal what they hunt. You might also want to kick them around the Time Track, so keep a few Timeslips around. If playing this as a single deck that everyone draws from, you won't be so concerned about beating up your opponent with Specials; you'll just be busy watching out for their attacks against you! Also, if you're doing Dangerous Dinos and your opponents aren't, then capture their dinosaurs and leave them with yours! You're specialized in capturing the dangerous ones and they aren't; you'll have a better success rate than they will.
Theme Deck: Building a Herd
You'll need lots of duplicate dinosaurs for this deck, as well as lots of copies of Mated Pair. You'll also want the specific Specials that give you extra points for owning a certain type of dinosaur. You won't need to pack too many of them, because the text on those cards is going to change. For example, Bonehead Battles normally gives you +5 to your point score if you collect a Pachycephalosaur. This type of card now gives you +1 point for each dinosaur of that type you collect in addition to their normal bonus. When doing this deck against other players, you should be sure you're not going up against someone who has built the same herd; the game won't be fun if you're fighting too much over the same dinosaurs with an opponent.
The person who comes up with the Mating Call will have a good time playing for herds of Hadrosaurs, so if you're not that person, don't forget to cause their gadget to Malfunction.
Theme Deck: Trophy Huntin'
No kids in the game, right? You're not using stunners any longer. The value of a deer head is based on the number of points on its horns. The same could go for the Ceratopsians. Score an extra point for each horn it has. (This works best as a one-deck design, so that everyone is going for the same goal.)
Additional ideas to add to any of these decks:
- Carnivore Attack (derived from the Dino War variant on the back of one of the Energy Tracks): Each time you capture a Carnivore, you may send it into a player's collection of won dinosaurs. You may have the Carnivore eat any dinosaur in his stack (discarding that card from the score pile into the discard pile), but you must put the Carnivore back in play, and you must end your turn. This will make game play a lot more vicious.
- Bounty Huntin': Each player randomly gets a card at the beginning of the game. You can either draw from the specials that mention a specific type of dinosaur, or simply draw randomly from the dino deck (I recommend the former, as the dino cards don't have secret backs). That way you have another way of gaining extra points during the game that doesn't match the theme of your deck, which will become obvious over the course of the game.
Uniqueness Counts: You'll actually have to look at the back of the dino cards to figure out which cards fit the theme. You can choose any of these categories, or make up your own . . . after all, your playgroup has to agree to this alternate rule. Any dinosaur card that is particularly unique (only known from one fossil, the only one in its family of dinosaurs, the only one of its kind in the game [there's only one turtle, for example]) is worth extra points or allows you to draw an extra Special when captured. You could also go for other arbitrary measurements, such as size (large, small, heavy, light, etc.). Use your imagination, because the cards have lots of information.
- Finding a Family: the value of a Mated Pair card is doubled if you can also add a Baby dinosaur of the same species to your pair of captured dinosaurs.
- New Specials or Dinosaurs: If your play group agrees to it, you could design new cards (use old cards you're not going to miss). Playtest the cards using a one-deck game; that way, everyone gets a chance to try the cards out and see if their play balance is good. If the card is a new Special, and you want to try it out in a multi-deck game, you could give one copy to each player for their hand of Specials at the beginning of the game; you'd discover whether it was play-balanced very quickly.
Okay . . . now go hunt some dinosaurs! And Bring 'Em Back Alive!
Article publication date: November 17, 2000
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