Jurassic Park was a cultural phenomenon that inspired a whole generation of Dinosaur fanatics, myself included. While there are plenty of Dinosaur-themed board games, most of them seem to revolve around building a theme park, rather than putting you into the shoes of surviving the aftermath of a failed one. Sauria, on the other hand, does exactly that.
You can find a video version of this review on my YouTube Channel.
Sauria wears its inspiration lovingly on its sleeve. It’s showcased in the artwork, throughout the theme, and embedded in the gameplay. Sauria is imbued with the very essence of Michael Crichton’s legacy. Above all else, the game grants you the sense of immersion of walking through a collapsing Jurassic Park.
You play as one of 8 survivors on the island. To win, you must have acquired more victory points than the other players, and each character has its own goals and objectives. However, survival takes precedence above them all, as dying on the island makes any victory points you have gathered worthless. Although, there are also solo and cooperative variants you can play if you want a less adversarial experience.
|Gideon’s Bias||Sauria Information|
|Review Copy Used: Yes||Publisher: Millian Games|
|Number of Plays: 10+||Designers: Maximillian Dennis|
|Player Counts Played: 1,2,4 & 5||Player Count: 1-5|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: Survival, Adventure|
|Fan of Weight: Yes||Weight: Medium|
|Gaming Groups Thoughts: Loved it||Price: $69.99|
Sauria is a game that opted for standees as opposed to miniatures. While I don’t know the behind-the-scenes process of Sauria, I feel like this was the right move and allowed Sauria to have the freedom of including so much stuff in the box. Sauria simply feels like a complete game.
The variety of standees looks nice too. Each of the 8 characters has one, and there are many species of dinosaur. Some of the bigger beasts have a single standee, such as the fearsome Tyrannosaurus or Giga. While others have multiple standees allowing several of them to be on the island at once.
Sauria comes with a ton of different cards split between dinosaurs, various types of items, objectives, wounds, and events. The visual design of the cards makes them easy to understand and aids in learning the game. Once you have the basics down, everything makes sense at a glance.
You get a nice island board and tons of hex tiles to place on it. These thick tiles make up the locations of the game and the lava that spews from the volcano during the mid-game. There’s a handy cardboard cheat sheet detailing each of the locations, which is nice.
There’s a variety of generic cubes and four different colored bags for noise cubes. The 8 character boards are nice and thick, and they feature a recessed area to place cubes to help track special actions. As someone who is incredibly clumsy, I appreciate that feature.
Finally, there’s a wide variety of special tokens and custom dice. As a whole, Sauria is a great-looking game with a fantastic table presence. As dinosaurs begin to litter the board, it would be clear to any onlooker that you were playing a dinosaur game. It’s likely you could even guess the type of game it is, just by looking at it.
I love the brightness and colorful nature of the game. Survival games don’t have to be drab to signify their seriousness, and while Sauria is colorful, it isn’t whimsical in any way.
I do have some unfortunate quality and ease of use criticisms. First up, there are a couple of visual oversights. The round tracker token is too big and can cause confusion if it happens to be bumped or nudged. The Hunter character’s objective cards are off-color compared to its matching board, and Amateur is spelled incorrectly on the Photographer’s character board. While not a deal breaker, it does make the game seem less polished than I would like.
Secondly, a few aspects of the game are a bit clunky. You use four different bags for noise cubes, each bag matches a different region of the board. Not only is passing around four different bags cumbersome, but it’s also a pain to set up since you need to include a set number of cubes within each bag based on the number of players.
Character objectives are also kept secret. You have to track which ones you have completed. The only aid you’re given is a handful of character-specific tokens with no guidance on how they should be used. I found it far easier to just grab a pencil and paper to track my objectives. Objectives tend to be very specific actions that can be easily forgotten before the game ends. The tokens do little to remedy that.
Suspense not Horror
There is a slight mental hiccup that you have to overcome when playing Sauria. When you think of a dinosaur survival game, you probably think of avoiding anything that’s large and scaly with rows of dagger-like teeth. However, most of your objectives will actually require you to seek out and interact with the dinosaurs in some way.
Sauria is still very much a survival game. It just seeks to recreate the tension and excitement of dinosaur movies rather than the dread and fear of the horror genre.
However, Sauria has a clearly designed objective system that allows you to choose how much you want to split your focus between surviving and completing objectives. Every character has three objective cards and they are randomly dealt one of them at the start of the game. Each card has four objectives that grant various amounts of Victory Points. The harder the task, the more points they grant.
It can be tempting to try and complete the entire card for all 10 points, but that’s rarely reasonable. You have a limited number of rounds to escape. You’re always pressed for time, the dinosaurs are dangerous, and the volcano begins filling the island with lava halfway through the game.
If you die, you don’t score any points. I’ve seen players win with only a single victory point because they survived while the others got too greedy. After all, you don’t need all of the victory points to win, just more than the other surviving players.
This dynamic means you need to keep a close eye on the other players. You never know the specifics of their objectives, but you have a general idea. The Hunter always needs to hunt dinosaurs for example, while the Photographer will always need to photograph them. Weighing your odds against the other players is a key part of knowing when to push your luck.
I really enjoy the variable nature of the game. Each turn you have to reevaluate an ever-evolving situation to determine what objectives you can complete while leaving yourself enough time to get to safety. The fact that objectives cards aren’t all or nothing gives you plenty of wiggle room to work with, and it is a lot of fun.
Action & Adventure
Each of the 8 characters has unique traits, starting gear, and an affinity for certain special actions. When combined with their unique objectives cards, each one offers a very different dinosaur survival experience.
There are 16 rounds, each round you have three action points to spend, and different actions require various amounts of action points. Most action costs are detailed on the character boards, while the rest can be found on the location cheat sheet.
Actions range from moving or attacking to searching a location for supplies. Special actions, such as evade or hide require you to spend a charge cube. You can refresh your used charges by resting in certain locations.
Some characters are better specialized for certain actions. The Hunter gets three charges for the unload action, while the Counselor gets three sprint charges, allowing her to move around the island faster to rescue her campers.
Sauria has a strong focus on player agency, with the action point system, you rarely filled pigeonholed into a course of action. The clock is always ticking, and any given action can have long-term consequences, but that weight is always placed squarely on your shoulders.
One thing I really like is that anytime I’ve died, I was able to trace back my actions through the course of the game and figure out points where I made a poor decision.
Even when an event card or a bad die roll tosses you into an unexpectedly deadly situation, you have a choice. There were times I fought an angry carnivore when I could have hidden or evaded it. There were times when I sneaked but should have sprinted, or sprinted when I should have snuck.
As I mentioned before, Sauria is all about capturing those suspenseful and tense movie moments. Each game is a new story woven through the actions of the players, events, and luck. But the game never attempts to remove your own agency for the sake of drama.
Dramatic moments are forged between the symbiotic relationship of Sauria’s randomness and your own choices. That really matters, because when those moments happen, they don’t simply happen TO you, you take part in them.
Survival of the Fittest
Regardless of your chosen character, you’re going to have to explore the island, search for supplies, and a way off of the island while attempting to complete your objectives. There are three ways to survive, and they each have complications to make them work. Find and repair the boat, send a signal, and be on the helipad by round 13, or power the bunker and hide in it.
There’s a bit of a catch, however, once any of those conditions are met, they are met for all players. If the boat is fixed, any player can use it for example. Objective cards always reward a victory point to a specific means of escape, but you are free to use any of them if it means you survive.
There’s a degree of semi-cooperation going on. The island is large and dangerous, working with another player increases your chances of survival, but you risk losing the game to them if they acquire more points than you. There’s no true traitor element to Sauria, but a constantly tense atmosphere. The enemy of my enemy could be my friend, and that also applies to the dinosaurs.
We have a T-Rex
The Dinosaurs aren’t simply a prop for the game to use, they are the stars of the show, and Sauria does a great job of giving them the proper amount of spotlight. Dinosaurs are placed on the island in several ways, events and encounters can trigger them, but most commonly they appear from players making noise.
Many actions generate noise, especially at night. When noise is generated, cubes are pulled from that regions matching bag, and if any of them are red, it’s dino time.
There is a wide variety of dinosaurs, and they have their own quirks. Herbivores are generally peaceful, but you can spook them, and that will cause them to attack. Carnivores are aggressive, and some dinosaurs are pack animals that can seek each other out.
Combat is played out via dice rolls. The dice have varying amounts of strength, green being the weakest and black the strongest. All weapons and dinosaurs use specific combinations of dice. In the case of weapons, many of them are more effective against smaller dinosaurs rather than large ones. Larger dinosaurs also have bigger health pools.
Survivors, on the other hand, have ten health, For each wound, they take a wound card under their board. Each wound after the fifth flips a wound card, and they always have bad effects. Once all five are flipped, that survivor is dino food.
The interesting thing is how the dinosaurs behave. On their turn, dinosaurs can roam the island, and they interact with each other. Carnivores will hunt other dinosaurs as well as you, and they will fight to the death. In addition to breathing some life into the simple standees, this opens up some strategies. If a herbivore, or another survivor for that matter, is closer to that big T-Rex than you are, it will go after them instead.
If you are cornered and don’t have the means to fight, you can hide, and it will pursue prey elsewhere. Dinosaurs can become distracted by flares, or tranquilized. They can become preoccupied with consuming a corpse, allowing you to slip by. Once the volcano erupts, they will flee from the lava.
In addition to adding more depth to the gameplay, the fact that dinosaurs interact with each other adds another layer of immersion to the game and makes them feel like more than mechanisms on a card.
Much like the dinosaurs, the island also lives and breathes. Exploring the island is a large part of the game. No matter what your objectives are, you’re going to need supplies such as weapons, tools, and first aid.
Locations have specific categories that dictate the types of items you can find there. Ranger locations tend to be plentiful in weapons, for example. Many also have a location action as well, such as powering up the island or using a viewing platform to view distant locations.
At the start of each round, events are also pulled based on whether or not it’s day or night. A gentle rain may refresh your charges, automated feeders might distract the carnivores, or the power might trip and shut down. Events not only force you to adapt every round, but they give the sense that the Island moves without you.
In addition, there are encounters strewn about the island and in certain locations. Each one poses a situation to the players, some can be good, and others bad. However, the game once again highlights player agency. You always have multiple choices to choose how the event resolves.
Toward the midgame, the volcano erupts, and lava spews forth every round. Once the lava flows to areas nearest the center of the volcano, you can no longer predict the lava flow. A lava card is pulled each round to determine the region it expands to.
The volcano activates at just the right moment to keep the tension tight and the players moving. The moment it happens, it’s time for players to really evaluate what they think they can accomplish before getting to safety. Lava takes no prisoners.
The Island itself really takes the place of a third protagonist, the first two being the players and the dinosaurs. It works in tandem with the rest of the game to encompass that suspenseful action and adventure movie feel that the Jurassic films showcase so well.
The Saur Bits
Sauria is an ambitious game that manages to capture a massively cool experience with all of the depth and variability required to make it a special one. There tends to be an inevitable consequence to this type of scale, where some aspects of the game have issues. Some of these could have been avoided in the design process, while others simply exist as a by-product of what the game does right, Sauria has both of these.
When it comes to the former, we have the clunky nature of having several cube bags for players to set up and pull noise cubes from, in addition to some of the component quality issues I mentioned earlier.
The solo and cooperative modes also feel underbaked. Co-op is extremely vulnerable to quarterbacking with no natural mitigation. Players have to meet a threshold of victory points, and no character is allowed to die. This severely limits the freedom and agency of the game that I praised so much, and it leaves such little room for error that someone taking the reins is an inevitability.
Solo play is just a great deal less interesting, fewer dinos see play, less of the island is explored, and your freedom of choice is once again limited. You have to complete every objective on your card and survive. Those are aspects of the game that could have seen a bit more care.
On the other end, Sauria chaffs a bit under the weight of its mechanisms, but it’s largely a consequence of having those mechanisms work so well. For example, the living breathing nature of the dinosaurs is fantastic, but it does cause some downtime.
Once the Island is packed with dinosaurs, it takes a good bit of time to go through each of them one by one and have them do their actions. Especially when multiple dinosaurs are fighting to the death in one round. Since players only get three action points per turn, and some actions take all three, you can be left waiting for quite a while between turns. You will have to wait on the other players, the dinosaurs, and the events to resolve.
It’s a price I’m willing to pay to have the dinosaurs function as they do, but I’d have been remiss not to mention it.
Sauria has a strong thematic presence most of the time. But it can also trip over itself. For example, most of the objectives make sense in context. It might seem strange to be off doing some of them instead of escaping, but think about how the Jurassic movies worked. Dennis Nedry stole the Barbasol can of embryos, that’s an objective. Billy took a raptor egg in Jurassic Park 3, that’s an objective. Ellie Sattler tending to the sick Triceratops was an objective.
The inclusion of the Volcano is where the logic breaks. The Paleontologist’s objective to heal a sick dinosaur, or the Sabteur’s objective to break locations don’t make much sense when everything is going to be covered in lava anyway.
Sauria is a survival game that allows you to live out your own Jurassic Park-inspired story while trying to escape a dinosaur-filled island. Snapshot any moment from the films, and it’s probably represented in Sauria. Hiding in the mud as a massive carnivore steps over you, using a flare to distract a hungry beast away, the clash of titans as two prehistoric behemoths battle as you slip away. It’s all there.
The game’s mechanisms shoulder the weight of the gameplay just as well as its storytelling aspects. The sheer freedom of choice you have to pursue your own survival and goals goes a long way toward making the game a blast to play.
At the same time, that freedom is what enhances those nail-biting dramatic moments of tragic failure or epic triumph, because it was you taking part in those moments and not simply watching them happen to you.
Sauria isn’t without its pitfalls, but as the saying goes. You have to crack a few eggs to make a dinosaur come to life, and Sauria does that better than any other board game I’ve seen.
Sauria already had a successful crowdfunding campaign that was delivered to backers. However, Sauria has a new Kickstarter on February 21st, 2023 for a reprint of the Sauria base game and a new expansion titled Claw of Sauria featuring new survivors, game modes, and Dinosaurs!
Check out my preview of Claw of Sauria!
The cardholders I use in my reviews are courtesy of InfinitionsTabletop on Etsy
More reviews you may enjoy
- Lots of stuff packed into the box
- Sauria immerses you in a tense action and adventure dinosaur movie of your own making
- The game weaves randomness and player agency into an incredibly well-done package
- The Island and dinosaurs feel alive
- The action point system and multiple objectives allow you to plan your own path
- 8 characters with very different playstyles
- There are a few component quality issues
- Dealing with four different bags of cubes is a hassle
- When the island is filled with dinosaurs, there can be a lot of downtime waiting to resolve each dinosaur’s actions
- Solo and co-op variants are lackluster