What's Eric Playing? #240: Dino Dunk
Full disclosure: A review copy of Dino Dunk was provided by Twin City Games.
I mean, there was no way I wasn't going to try my best to play this game. If you've read any amount of this blog you know that I love dexterity games and I love silly themes, and this looks to be both of them.
So, in Dino Dunk, well, it's the Triassic Tropics versus the Mesozoic Meteors in a 5-on-5 match for the title! Shoot, dribble, pass, and dunk your way to victory in a basketball game for the ages. Will you wreck your opponents like a meteor? Or will a shutout hit you like an ice age?
So, there're a few ways to set this up. I'm going to explain the normal game, and then I'll include the Exhibition Game Setup later on.
First (and most important, imo) move is to roll out the play area:
It comes double-sided; one for each team's home court:
I'm partial to the Mesozoic Meteors' turf, but they're both beautiful, so whatever. You'll also want to set out the scoreboard / shot clock:
Now, choose your teams:
The teams are functionally identical but the dinosaurs themselves are not; each has a special ability and a size (Small, Medium, or Large). You may have 1 Small, 1 Large, and 3 Medium Dinosaurs on your team for a regulation game. You'll grab the cards for the dinos you want (there's a set of each dino for each team):
Generally, you just kinda pick them and reveal which ones you chose, but if you wanted to be fairly extra, you could do the Dino Draft or something and make a spectacle of it. Anyways, not part of setup, moving on.
There are four additional tokens:
These are the two team's score tokens (with a 10 on the other side to allow for long games) the double-sided possession marker (used with the shot clock), and the ball. Choose a team to start with the ball and have them pick a dinosaur to start with the ball, as well. Place that dinosaur along the short edge of that team's side of the play area and then place the ball adjacent to the dinosaur so it's still on the play area. Both players may then add their remaining dinosaurs to their side of the play area (just not past the midpoint) however they'd like.
Once you've done that, you can start!
If you're playing your very first game, you may want to use some extra rules. For this one, all dinosaurs of a certain size are the same and have special Exhibition Ability Cards:
Use those, instead. You may also want to start each team with a backboard:
Put those behind your team's basket (the volcano). It'll make the game a bit easier.
Those are essentially the only setup changes!
Alright, so, the game itself is surprisingly similar to basketball. On your turn, you can activate up to two dinosaurs on your team for one action each. At the end of your turn, advance the shot clock token by one. If you advance the shot clock such that it's now in your opponent's side of the scoreboard, a turnover occurs. For this type of turnover, the other team gets the ball and you reset the field as though you were running through Setup again (but keeping the same team). Anyways, activating your dino. Depending on the dino, these actions can be Move, Pass, Shoot, or Dunk. Let's go through those one at a time.
When you move, you flick your dinosaur. You may move while holding the ball, but once your dinosaur stops moving, place the ball adjacent to the dinosaur such that it is fully on the board.
Moving Out of Bounds
If your dinosaur exits the play area, return it to the play area at the spot closest to where it exited the play area. If your dinosaur exits the play area with possession of the ball, that's a turnover. Your opponent chooses a dinosaur to obtain the ball and moves them (and the ball) to a spot along the short side of their board. Flip the shot clock indicator over to the other team's side and place it on the 0. Play continues with the other player's turn.
If you'd like, you can attempt to steal the ball. You do so by flicking your dinosaur such that you hit the ball token but not the other player's token (if you hit the ball first and then the other player, it's fine). If you do, you take possession of the ball and may place it anywhere adjacent such that the ball is fully on the board. If you hit the dinosaur in possession of the ball (or hit another dinosaur such that the dinosaur in possession of the ball is hit), that's a foul.
When a Foul occurs, you must immediately remove the offending dinosaur (the one whose move action caused the Foul, not necessarily the one who hit the dinosaur with possession) from the field. They can be returned to the water area (such that they're touching one of the play area's edges) at the end of your next turn.
If you fouled your own dinosaur, that dinosaur is stunned and cannot do an action this turn. If you foul an opponent's dinosaur within the three-point zone (the volcano itself), that's considered a shooting foul. They may immediately take a Shoot (or Dunk) action (more on that below). If they make it, they get 1 Free Throw. If not (or if it wasn't a shooting foul), they get 2.
A free throw in Dino Dunk is very similar to one in basketball. You clear the board, go up to the foul line, and attempt to flick the ball into the basket. If you overlap the basket at all, you're successful and you score 1 point! If not, well, you may have the chance to try again. Either way, once you're out of free throws, possession changes. Reset the board as though you were setting up the game again and start over from 0 on the new possessing team's shot clock.
Passing is probably the easiest maneuver in the game, conceptually. In practice you're going to find it a bit more challenging.
All you have to do is ... flick the ball such that it hits another one of your dinosaurs. Doesn't matter if it goes out of bounds afterwards, just needs to hit them and you're solid.
If you hit one of the other team's dinosaurs, you've just given them the ball. They flip the shot clock indicator and move it back to zero and they choose where they want to place the ball such that it's adjacent to the dinosaur you mistakenly passed to.
If you fall short, that's a loose ball. If you overshoot and the ball goes out of bounds, that's a turnover.
Note that we're not monsters; you may consider a ball passed successfully if it's within about 3 inches (the length of one card's long side) of a dinosaur with no dinosaurs in between the ball and the dinosaur you want to obtain the ball. I wouldn't rely on that, but it's there.
Worth mentioning. Certain missed flicks can lead to a loose ball, or a ball without any player currently holding on to it. Anyone can attempt to retrieve it on their turn via a Move Action. If you pick it up (by hitting it with a Dinosaur without knocking it out of bounds), advance your shot clock by 1 (as a penalty). If your opponent picks it up, well, that's a turnover. Your opponent chooses a dinosaur to obtain the ball and moves them (and the ball) to a spot along the short side of their board. Flip the shot clock indicator over to the other team's side and place it on the 0. Play continues with the other player's turn.
Shooting is your primary method of scoring points. As you might guess, your dinosaur must have possession of the ball to shoot it, and only Medium dinosaurs can Shoot. When you shoot, you flick the ball towards the basket (the top of the volcano). If it's overlapping the basket, that's a successful shot! Score 3 points if the ball started outside of the volcano entirely; 2 points otherwise. Reset the play area and the other team takes possession.
If you undershoot, that's a loose ball. If you overshoot and the ball goes out of bounds, similar to a pass, that's a turnover.
A Dunk is highly technical but also pretty awesome. This can only be performed by large dinosaurs. In order to do this, you must put the ball on top of the large dinosaur's disc, and then flick it.
- If the ball falls off: That's a loose ball.
- If you go out of bounds: That's a turnover.
- If you fall short of the basket: You retain possession but must place the ball adjacent to yourself following the normal rules.
- If you're overlapping or on top of the basket: You score! Gain 2 points, then reset the play area and the other team takes possession.
The game ends at an agreed-upon point value by both players (usually 4, though it's not a bad idea to go for 6 in your first game). The player who hits that point total wins!
Exhibition Mode / Variants
So, in Exhibition Mode you get rid of the player abilities and also simplify fouling. A foul only occurs when a dinosaur in possession of the ball is knocked out-of-bounds by another dinosaur. They then simply attempt two free throws before possession changes. A nice way to simplify it for new players.
With backboards, you're free to hit them, but the ball still has to overlap the shooting area for it to count as a successful Shoot action.
You can also add layups, if you'd like. With a layup, instead of performing a Shoot action, a dinosaur on the snowy part of the volcano may perform a Move and, if they're overlapping the basket once they finish moving, score 2 points as though they had performed a Shoot action successfully. If you do this, you need to play on Tropic Turf (since it has snow).
Player Count Differences
Generally, it's a 2-player game, but if you need to you can have it support up to 4 by having each player activate one dino of their choice. It's a dexterity game by committee, but there's no "I" in team.
Personally, I'd stay at 2 for this one.
- I generally have an opener. So what I do is I use the T-Rex and group all my Medium Dinosaurs on the left side. I pass to them as my first action (I'll generally hit one) and then I use the T-Rex's Roar and Run to clear the field for them, as the T-Rex can do a free Move action after making a successful Pass. That knocks a lot of opponent dinosaurs out.
- Get good. You're going to need some pretty precise flicks to pull this game off. The ball is small and pretty light, and some of the larger disks are heavy, so you'll have to change your intensity from shot to shot. Makes it hard to get good, but practice makes perfect.
- Target the ball. You do not want to foul someone, but if you hit the ball first, you can take possession of it. Try to do that. You want to have the ball as much as possible.
- Sometimes you gotta take that half-court shot. I mean, there are only two Truly Valid ways to win; this is one of them. Sometimes you have to go the distance and let it rip from half-court. It's not like, a good idea, but sometimes you have to believe in yourself.
- I can't strategically recommend Dunking. It's extremely hard to do well, but, as you might have guessed, one of the only other two Truly Valid ways to win. It's just so satisfying when it works. You could, as a potential variant, play until someone crosses the point threshold, and then they have to Dunk to win. That may take a long time, though.
- Protect the ball. Usually I find it's helpful to guard the ball with two dinosaurs (or use the Ankylosaurus's ability to guard the ball with its tail). That makes it hard for a player to hit the ball for the steal and increases the likelihood that they'll inadvertently foul you.
- Don't underestimate the small dinosaurs. Sure, they can't shoot, but they're highly maneuverable. Use that to sneak in and steal the ball or get past defenders that you'd have to smash through otherwise.
- Also, uh, don't forget that every dinosaur cannot take every action. You cannot shoot with small dinosaurs or large dinosaurs, and only large dinosaurs can dunk. Do not make the mistake of incorporating actions you cannot take into your strategy; it will generally end poorly for you.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Absolutely wonderful theme. It's dinosaur basketball; what's not to like? Literally nothing. Everything is wonderful. The art is perfect for the game, the whole thing just sings.
- Highly expandable. I could see new locations, new teams, new dinosaur types; the whole thing is really interesting to me. But, then again, it's easy to build off of a solid core game.
- Once you get the rules, plays pretty quickly. The variable scoring helps with that (and is going to ruin my statistics tracking), but you can also just play first one to drain a shot wins or something.
- Very much seems like a well-thought-out framework. It's a solid translation of a basketball game to a tabletop environment; they clearly did their homework and tried to make the game as internally consistent as a dinosaur basketball game could be and I appreciate that.
- Relatively easy to set up. Just kinda unfurl the board and you're ready to rock. The pieces can just ... go.
- Dunking is incredibly satisfying. The one thing I really look for in dexterity games is the potential to make a really good play and this has that in spades. Dunking is the best, sure, but there are plenty of other ways to make really awesome plays that just, rule.
- The shot clock is a nice way to add tension. It's good! Makes the game kinda move at a decent pace without anyone getting too stressed about it. Like I said, there are a lot of smart game design choices baked into this one.
- Man, do I hate putting stickers on things. Thankfully, this has a sticker guide (which is why it's a Meh rather than a Con), but it's still pretty stressful to try and make sure none of these are messed up in any way. Stickering games is an Ongoing Nightmare for me.
- Definitely a bit more rules-dense than other dexterity games. It's a bit simpler if you already know how to play basketball, but beyond that, you're going to have to spend a bit more time with this one than, say, Mars Open or Ice Cool. That may be a dealbreaker for some, but I'd at least argue that it's worth the effort. It's precise, but it's fun. Most of where we get tripped up is the nature of turnovers; it might be useful to have certain categories of turnovers where you reset the whole play area versus just having one dinosaur make their way over to the edge to start the next turn.
- The theme makes the game seem targeted towards younger folk, but the gameplay requires a pretty solid bit of manual dexterity and precision. I'd say it's closer to Flip Ships in terms of complexity than, say, Ice Cool, and I think there's an important distinction between the two (even though I think both are quite fun). Ice Cool is fairly restricted in its Potential Things To Do; you flick the penguin or you don't. Flip Ships, there are variables and effort and strategies to consider, and Dino Dunk is very similar (along with the threat of the shot clock winding down). Since Ice Cool has such a strong structure around the game, you don't really need to worry about power, making it very kid-friendly. With this one, unless you put a ring around the play area (not a bad idea, to be honest), you need to be a lot more concerned about the strength and accuracy of your shots to be successful. I'm highlighting that as a con just to make sure I note the potential for a disconnect, there, but your mileage may vary with this one.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, Dino Dunk is solid! There are a few things, sure, that prevent me from calling it an absolute slam dunk, mostly around rules complexity relative to the theme, but like Fantastiqa Rival Realms, some games are worth making the effort to dig into the rules and learn how to play the game. Besides, was there really any question as to whether or not I'd like an actual dinosaur basketball game? Like, come on, do you even read this blog. This will appeal to the more strategic dexterity gamers who are looking for something a bit more skill-dependent but maybe a bit sillier / themier than Crokinole, I'd imagine. That said, I think it's a nice midpoint between the more difficult / challenging dexterity games and the simpler, more kid-friendly ones. Basically, what I'm trying to say, is that if you love dexterity games like I do and you're looking for something with a bit more structure, a bit more of a challenge, and a heck of a great theme, to boot, check out Dino Dunk!