Welcome, young diplodocus, to the Jurassic period! A mere 160 million year hop back through time, this exhilarating era boasts such an embarrassment of prehistoric riches that noted multi-millionaire John Hammond decided to make a theme park out of it! How did that go for him, you ask? Unbelievably poorly! Perhaps, though, that was because you need to actually be a dinosaur, grazing on the ancient plains of yore to truly understand their majestic magic… This is exactly the goal of Jurassic Snack, a light, child-friendly abstract strategy game for two players, published by The Flying Games. Or, perhaps it was because John tried to contain a blood-hungry fourteen-ton Tyrannosaur with a faulty electric fence. Who can say?
Life Finds a Way
Jurassic Snack comes from legendary designer Bruno Cathala (Kingdomino, Shadows over Camelot, 7 Wonders Duel) and plays almost identically to another of his very early games, 2002’s War & Sheep. Played upon four small pasture boards, each with nine spaces, your objective is to guide your starting herd of four diplodocuses through the tasty trees and bountiful bushes, munching vegetation tokens as you go. Each of these tokens is flipped over and collected as you move your dinosaur into them, revealing a range of effects. A patch of delicious grass is the simplest and most beneficial to your final score but others have a far more interesting and immediate effect on the gameplay.
You could trigger a volcanic eruption, destroying precious food in a scorching tide of molten lava, or even bag yourself some secret dinosaur intel that allows you to peek at all the tokens on a board section of your choice. You might hatch an egg, adding a new diplodocus to your herd, or convince a friendly flying pterandon to swoop down and transport you to another space of your choice. However, the real game-changers lurking in Jurassic Snack are the tokens that replace one of your friendly, plant-chomping herbivores with a ravenous, unpredictable Tyrannosaur!
We Have a (Flying) T-Rex!
The main endgame condition for Jurassic Snack is usually to clear the entire board of vegetation tokens and count up your score at the end… but once the carnivores enter the fray, dinner takes a back seat to survival. There are two Tyrannosaurs lurking in the wings of Jurassic Snack, just waiting to turn your peaceful ten minutes of tactical grazing into an anarchic free-for-all. Once one of these ferocious predators is on the board, it can be used by either player on their turn to hunt and frighten the diplodocuses out of the game. Lose them all and it won’t matter how clever you’ve been with your grass munching; it’s an early and sudden loss for you! Adding to the chaos is the “Air Raid” token that allows you to drop a Tyrannosaur into any empty space on the board. That’s right. Flying Tyrannosaurs. Keep out of my damn nightmares, Jurassic Snack.
The constant threat of a sudden Tyrannosaur in your game is what gives Jurassic Snack a hidden depth and variability that belies its bright, cheery artwork and chunky, colourful playing pieces. Before the predators show up, your tactics are likely to be a matter of basic area control. Your dinosaurs can only move in two consecutive straight lines per turn until they bump into something, be it foliage, another dinosaur or the edge of the playing area, so you’ll likely be doing your best to chomp your way through as many grass tokens as you can while positioning yourself to block your competition from doing the same.
Jurassic Snack can play out almost an entire game this way so that a Tyrannosaur appearance in the final couple of rounds becomes more useful to frighten opponents away from the last few meagre scraps of food. Inversely, two Tyrannosaurs can show up in the first two minutes, turning Jurassic Snack on its head as each of the players force the meat-eaters from one end of the board to the other in an attempt to win by sheer aggression, the grass tokens becoming an obstructive nuisance at best.
Let’s talk components. Jurassic Snack comes to you in a tiny little travel-sized box with an average playtime to match; a perfect contender for that free speck of space in the top of your rucksack or suitcase on that long family train trip. Oddly, the instructional leaflet tells you that you’re getting 28 of the grass tokens- which is just the right amount to fill the board up with- but it seems like you end up with two more than that. Hey, you won’t catch me complaining about extra tokens, especially as the father of two kids who seem to have been put on this earth to banish the damn things into a parallel dimension as soon as my back is turned. At worst, it can only add a little more variation to your game, right? Win win!
The lovely vibrant artwork comes from Camille Chaussy, illustrator on a number of other Bruno Cathala games such as Ice Team and Frog Soup; in fact, the pasture tiles remind me a lot of the scenery from another two player Cathala dinosaur game, Raptor. However, the standout pieces in Jurassic Snack are undoubtedly the dinosaurs themselves. The ten chunky diplodocus minis, half in deep blue, half in yellow, and two bright red Tyrannosaurs are - somewhat unsurprisingly - the primary reason that my young children continue to be drawn to Jurassic Snack, ensuring it hits our table at least a few times a week. In my experience, it’s very much a case of “come for the pieces, stay for the game” with younger players and, similar to other great titles that draw in their audience through excellent aesthetics such as Kraken Attack, my little gamers ask to play Jurassic Snack by way of its miniatures, rather than by title or mechanic.
So, Who’s Hungry?
What really impresses me about Jurassic Snack, beyond its deceptively engaging cut-throat strategy that turns on a whim, is its sheer potential for variation. While the core tile-turning system plays out a lot like Hey, That’s My Fish! or perhaps a slightly gentler Tally-Ho!, you can arrange the four mini pasture boards that make up the play area in just about any shape or order you like to keep the game fresh and challenging. A sequel of sorts, Jurassic Brunch, is even on the near horizon which will allow you to combine both games to form a veritable four player prehistoric feeding frenzy. I’ll be grabbing that one myself and hoping that The Flying Games eventually expand this excellent title into a 32 man battle royale that I can gleefully squash Gloomhaven with down at the games club.