Game: Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write

Release Year: 2021

Publisher: Pandasaurus Games

Designers: Brian Lewis, David McGregor, and Marissa Misura

Player Count: 1 to 4 players

Play Time: About 45 to 60 minutes

Rules Complexity: Advanced

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The roll-and-write genre of board gaming has earned a bit of a reputation. They tend to be extremely simple and lightweight because there's only so much complexity you can have with a sheet of paper and not many physical game pieces.

And that's not a bad thing. I previously reviewed Welcome To..., a relatively simple flip-and-write game (i.e., uses cards instead of dice) that happens to be one of my all-time favorite board games. Simple can be good.

But what if you want a roll-and-write experience that's more thinky, more strategic, more crunchy, more involved, but not so complex as to melt your brain?

Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write might just be your jam.

Here's everything you need to know about Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write, how it plays, my own experiences with it, whether the complexity level is right for you, and whether it's a worthwhile game to add to your collection.

This review is based on my own personal copy of Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write, which I bought used from BGG's GeekMarket. Not a free review copy.


Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write may be a roll-and-write game, but it blends a whole lot of interwoven mechanisms (e.g., dice drafting, worker placement, engine building) for a more advanced game than you'd expect in the roll-and-write genre.

Each player is trying to build the most successful dinosaur theme park, represented by your individual park sheets. To do this, you will need to: acquire DNA to create Dinosaurs, hire Specialists for their special abilities, construct Attractions and Buildings to maximize the Excitement of visitors, and make sure you have adequate Security to handle the increasing dangers of your park.

The general flow of Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write takes place over 3 rounds, with each round consisting of 3 phases: 1st Action Phase, 2nd Action Phase, and Run Park Phase. (The two Action Phases are identical.)

During an Action Phase:

Players will take turns drafting two dice each. The custom dice in Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write provide various resources—like DNA, Coins, Roads, etc.—that you'll need to grow your park. Resources are gained as soon as dice are drafted.

In addition to the resources, the custom dice faces also have varying levels of Threat on them (ranging from 0 to 3 per face). When drafting ends, there will be one leftover die. The resource on this leftover die is gained by everyone, but the Threat on this leftover die is also gained by everyone.

After that, players take turns placing dice on the Action board. These actions allow you to do things like create dinosaurs, gain Coins, increase Security, acquire DNA, construct Attractions, etc.

Each action has limited space for dice placement. However, you can still place your die on an occupied space by stacking your die on top of the occupying die and gaining the Threat on the die face you've covered.

During a Run Park Phase:

The various Attractions and Specialists in your park will grant bonus resources. You'll also give a Dino Tour to visitors, increasing the Excitement Level of your park depending on how you've laid out your buildings and pathing. Then, your park's Excitement Level will provide further bonus resources.

But it's not all sunshine and rainbows.

At this point, if your park's Threat Level exceeds the amount of Security you've established, then visitors will die (and deduct points at the end of the game). Plus, as more and more visitors die, you'll be forced to suffer Disasters like destroying Buildings, losing DNA, losing Specialists, etc.

The Run Park Phase has five individual steps, which are too involved to explain in detail here. However, the layout of the park sheet makes the order and execution of each step very clear and intuitive!

By the end of Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write, players will have gone through 6 Action Phases and 3 Run Park Phases. Over these Phases, you'll have constructed Attractions and Buildings, hired Specialists, created Dinosaurs, given Dino Tours, increased your park's Excitement Level, and collected excess DNA.

All of these factors provide points, which get tallied after the final Run Park Phase. Whoever has the most points is the winner!

Setup and Table Footprint

One thing I really appreciate about Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write is the relatively streamlined setup compared to its depth of gameplay.

The Action board sits in the center of play. Shuffle the Building and Specialist Decks, draw three of each, and place them next to the Action board. Put all of the Dice in the Dice Bag. Place the Phase Marker on the Phase Track.

Each player takes a complete park sheet and a pencil. Some stuff on the park sheet gets marked at the start of the game (based on which random Building and Specialist Cards were drawn), plus each player starts with a certain set of DNA depending on their turn order. And that's it!

Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write is ready to play in 3 to 5 minutes.

Like most roll-and-write games, Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write doesn't take up much table space at all. The sheets are pretty small and densely packed, yet designed well and organized cleanly enough to not be overwhelming.

Apart from the central Action board, each player just needs enough space to write on their own sheets. In fact, as long as everyone has an adequate writing surface, you could potentially play this anywhere. (And if you opt for the Rawr 'n Write iOS App, you don't even need a writing surface.)

Learning Curve

Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write is an advanced game. While it isn't as complex as, say, Hadrian's Wall, it's still mentally demanding and a significant step up from mainstream roll-and-write titles like Railroad Ink and That's Pretty Clever.

The thing is, the mechanisms are relatively simple. No single element is that confusing in isolation, and the overall game flow is clean and makes sense. However, all of the mechanisms intermingle in different ways, so it can be hard to understand how the various elements contribute to the overall puzzle.

When you look at the park sheets, you'll see 10 distinct areas:

  1. Security/Threat Track
  2. Park Layout
  3. DNA
  4. Buildings
  5. Dinosaurs
  6. Attractions
  7. Specialists
  8. Dino Tour
  9. Excitement Track
  10. Death Toll Track

Each area on the park sheets requires explanation. And even though some of these areas can be explained quickly, it's still a lot of information to process before you can start playing the game in any meaningful way. (There's also a lot of iconography involved, which steepens the learning curve just a tad.)

On top of that, there are lots of ways to earn points without a singular main objective to keep you grounded, focused, and on the right track. This might be great for flexibility and replayability, but can be tough to make decisions around.

The teach for Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write will be significant even for hobby gamers, who will likely need one or two full plays for all of it to truly click. Non-gamers and casual gamers should avoid this one; it will be too much.

Game Experience

Decision Space

Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write is a tough game that mimics the challenge of being a theme park designer. You have many different aspects to manage, and you need to make sure they play well together or else there could be catastrophic consequences.

In every round, you have a variety of decisions to make. I'm far from an expert, but here are some of the things I'm thinking about while playing:

Which Dice are you going to draft? Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write moves in a snake draft, meaning everyone takes turns drafting from first player to last player, then reversing the order and drafting from last player to first player. You draft a total of 2 Dice per Action Phase, so every choice matters.

You're usually going to want at least two of the Dice, but you can only grab one at a time—and prioritizing can be tough. What's the most valuable resource to you at any given time? Is it the DNA for certain Dinosaurs? Or the Security because your park is at a dangerous level? Or the Coins so you can buy stuff? Or the Roads so you can connect your Buildings in time for the next Dino Tour?

And it's not just about what resources you want. You also have to think about the Threat on the Dice because whichever Die is left undrafted will increase the Threat Level of everyone's parks—and the most dangerous Dice tend to be the least useful ones, so you sometimes have to choose between taking the Die you need or taking the Die so you don't risk getting slammed by a lot of Threat.

Which Actions are you going to take? There are five different Actions you can take and they're all equally important for the success of your park, but some Actions may be more important to you at a given time than others.

The problem is that each Action is only "free" for the first to claim that Action, and Actions are claimed via turn-order draft. If you want to use an Action that's been claimed, your park's Threat Level increases by the amount of Threat on the last Die used to claim that Action.

On the main side of the Action board, each of the five Actions has one free spot for Die placement. On the 4-player side of the Action board, the "Make Dinos" and "Raise Funds" Actions have two spots each while the remaining Actions have one spot each like the main side of the board.

So, let's say you really want to use the "Build" Action but someone has already claimed it—with a Die that shows 3 Threat. Are you still going to "Build" and increase your park's Threat Level by that much? Or are you going to risk claiming a different Action this turn, hoping that someone else will claim the "Build" Action with a less threatening Die so you can claim it on the second time around and take less Threat? Or are you going to pivot your strategy entirely?

What's your strategy for pursuing points? In Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write, you can earn points in several different ways—but each of those ways only grants a handful of points. You can dive deep into one path (e.g., churning out a bunch of Dinos) or you can spread yourself out with a broader engine.

To figure out the best path in any given game, you have to analyze the randomized setup of Buildings and Specialists. Buildings offer one-time bonuses and unique scoring conditions with more opportunities for points. Specialists offer unique one-time and recurring bonuses that bolster your park's engine.

Knowing which ones to shoot for—and the timing of when to get them—is critical for optimizing your score. But it's not so easy because you won't always get to draft the Dice or Actions that best fit your strategy, so you'll need to constantly adapt and adjust your strategy every turn.

If you can't switch up your plans on the fly, you'll fall behind. And if you want to be good at switching up your plans, you'll need to understand the various mechanisms of Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write by heart.

How are you going to lay out your park? Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write has a small polyomino-style puzzle mini-game with Attractions, Buildings, and Dino Paddocks. Whenever you construct these, they have to be placed within the grid-based map that represents your park layout.

Your park layout decisions are important for two reasons: first, you can't construct anything new if you run out of space, and second, you'll want to connect your buildings with Roads in an efficient way to maximize your Dino Tours.

Bad building placements and wasted Roads can have surprising consequences for your strategy, so you'll want to look ahead and plan well.

Luck Factor

Given that it's a game with dice and cards, Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write does have some luck involved. But the game has enough going on that you always have ways to mitigate luck and even take luck into your own hands.

How much are you going to push your luck? That's right, Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write has a bit of push-your-luck when it comes to Security and Threat!

You can think of Security and Threat as two separate tracks that only come into play during the Run Park Phase. If your Threat Level exceeds your Security Level, then the excess Threat kills park visitors and can escalate to causing Disasters. But as long as your Security Level matches or exceeds your Threat Level, nothing happens.

So, during the Action Phases, you may want to make risky moves that accumulate Threat if they help you to execute your strategy and achieve your goals. As long as you make a plan to Secure your Threats, those risky moves can be good—but it's up to you as far as how much risk you're willing to take.

You might even purposely take on Threat knowing that you won't be able to Secure it, intentionally killing visitors (i.e., losing points) and evoking Disasters (i.e., causing setbacks) because you think your high-risk moves will be worthwhile.

Player seat order is probably the luckiest element. The order in which players are seated will heavily influence the drafting results of both Dice and Actions during each Action Phase. There's no getting around this.

Consider an example: In a 3-player game, 7 Dice are rolled during the Action Phase and 6 of them end up drafted (i.e., 2 per player). Suppose 5 of the Dice are really good and the other 2 are useless for you. If you're first in turn order, you'll likely end up with 1 good Die and 1 bad Die while everyone else gets 2 good Dice; if you're third in turn order, you might even get the exact 2 Dice you want. Such is the nature of a snake draft (i.e., one round clockwise, then one round counterclockwise).

Next, consider Action placement: In a 3-player game, the first player in turn order gets to place first and fourth out of six total placements—and since there are 5 total Action spots, the first player might be uncontested both times. Meanwhile, the third player in turn order gets to place third and sixth; the first placement might be uncontested, but the second one will likely catch Threat.

To be fair, you can play around these quirks and shift your game plan accordingly. Some might even argue that this is the point of the game. While it can suck if you're stuck with an unlucky roll or seat position in a round, it's never so bad that it ruins the experience. (Plus, it helps that first player rotates every round.)

Fun Factor

Like many roll-and-writes, Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write is a tactical puzzle-solving game, except this one kicks it up a few notches with its layered design.

The game is an efficiency puzzle comprised of several different mini-puzzles that influence each other and feed into each other. The fun rests in analyzing all your options and figuring out the best route forward—then recalculating that route when circumstances change and opportunities are yanked from under you.

At the end of the day, you're just drafting dice and crossing things out on a sheet of paper. It's 95% mental exercise, 5% tactile experience. (If you've played games like Cartographers, Welcome To..., or Railroad Ink, then you know what this is like.)

The difference with Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write is how much more you have to think about and the layered strategic decisions you have to make.

It's really satisfying when you get to the second or third Run Park Phases and watch as your park engine revs to life and churns out all kinds of progress. It's fun to reap the rewards of all the complex choices you made in getting to that point.


Given that Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write has a bit of engine building in its DNA (no pun intended), it's no surprise that it starts off a bit slow before ramping up to an exciting and hopeful final Run Park Phase.

The three-round structure with Action-Action-Run substructure is inspired. You have two Action Phases to build up your park before running it, so each Run Park Phase gets stronger and more rewarding. There's a definite sense of progress through each round, and you always have the Run Park Phase to look forward to.

I also appreciate that there's a fixed game length of 3 rounds. It's not a race to see who can achieve something the fastest, but rather a test of efficiency to see who can do the most with the same amount of opportunity. You're competing as much against yourself as you are the other players, which keeps tension high.

Turns are generally quick with little downtime, save for one exception: if a player makes the first of a certain species of Dinosaur, they also have to add that species' Paddock to their park map. If they start four different species in a turn, they have to add four different Paddocks—and that can take a while.

Besides that, I think Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write has a wonderful game arc and a reliable play time that cleanly ends around 45 to 60 minutes. It feels deep and rewarding, and the time flies by.

Player Interaction

In Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write, you can't directly affect anyone else's park. However, there's more player interaction in this roll-and-write than most other roll-and-writes—it just happens to be indirect.

It's basically the same kind of interaction you get in any game where open drafting is a core mechanism. Think Azul, Splendor, or even Kingdomino. You take something from a central pool (in this case, Dice) and thus prevent others from getting it.

But there's also the worker placement element, where claiming an Action sort of blocks other players from using that Action (unless they assume Threat).

For me, it's just enough interaction to be interesting but not mean. While I'd probably still consider Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write to be a multiplayer solitaire game, it's definitely not a knock against it.

Solo Mode

The Solo Mode in Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write is top notch. The gameplay is 90% the same and loses none of the core experience.

For the most part, the Solo Mode sets up the same way as a 2-player game. However, when randomizing the Building and Specialist Cards, three of them are removed from the pool (because they wouldn't make sense without an opponent).

You'll be playing against an AI opponent, but only you have park sheets. The AI opponent doesn't actually "play" the game; it only exists to simulate someone else drafting Dice and claiming Actions, thus making your life harder. All of this simulation is done using a simple 10-card deck of Solo AI Cards.

As part of setup, you'll also draw 3 random Objective Cards (which are the same as the Solo AI Cards except rotated). These random Objectives provide extra ways to earn points and guidance as to how you might want to approach the game.

So, the only real change to gameplay is during Action Phases:

You start the Action Phase by rolling 6 random Dice and ordering them in a row however you want. Then, you flip a Solo AI Card. This card tells you which of the Dice (e.g., the first, the second, etc.) are moved to the Action board and which Action spots they each claim.

From the remaining 4 Dice, you get to draft whichever 2 you want for yourself, gaining their resources. Then, from the remaining 2 Dice, you choose one for its resource and one for its Threat value. In total, you gain 3 resources and some Threat (unless you end with a Die face that has no Threat), just like the real game.

The rest of the game is exactly the same. Based on your final score, you can compare yourself against the chart in the rulebook to see how well you did. Alternatively, you can just play against yourself and try to beat your score on repeat plays.

I'm extremely impressed by the Solo Mode in Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write for how simple it is to run without losing any gameplay essence. It's one of the best solo modes I've seen, elevating the game's overall value quite a bit.


I find Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write to be immensely replayable, and there are three main reasons for this.

First, the complexity is hard to solve. A lot of roll-and-write games are pretty simplistic, meaning you can usually work out the "best move" for any particular situation. Once a game feels "solved"—even if it isn't actually solved—it tends to lose a lot of its luster and starts to feel both repetitive and uninteresting.

Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write has enough interwoven complexity between mechanisms to prevent most people from ever reaching that "solved" state. There are just so many factors to consider. You might have an inkling of whether a particular plan is good or bad, but rarely do you have a perfect plan.

Second, you can't always do what you want. Even if you were to come up with a solid plan of attack for accumulating big points, the nature of Dice drafting and Action worker placement prevent you from executing that plan.

You're constantly re-evaluating your plan based on the Dice rolls, the Dice availability, and the potential Actions you can take. Everything is always shifting, always moving, and you have to make do with what you can. You'll never find yourself in the same exact situation, and that keeps the game engaging from play to play.

Third, the variable setup keeps things fresh. The random Buildings and Specialists that are selected at the start of a game have a significant impact on what the best strategies might be for that particular game.

The Buildings inform different paths towards extra points, while the Specialists inform different ways to build up your park engine. The interplay between these cards often lead to varied valuations for resources and actions.

I think Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write would be quite replayable even without its variable setup. But with it? It continues to feel fresh after many plays.

Production Quality

I'm impressed by the production for Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write. To be fair, there isn't much to the game in terms of components, but a lot of attention and effort went into making sure the game feels good, looks good, and plays well.

The giant dice are big, chunky, and satisfyingly tactile. It's rare for dice to get this big. The only other time I've seen dice of this size is in King of Tokyo, but these are more memorable because of the unique faces. And while I don't typically like translucent dice—they can be hard to read—it's not bad at this size.

The Action board is clean, easy to read, and straightforward. What I appreciate most about the graphic design is that there are no extraneous or distracting details. The important info is in big, easy-to-read text and the whole thing is both functional and nice to look at. The Phase Track at the top is also a helpful touch.

The park sheets have a smart layout that aids in game flow. For as much information is packed onto these sheets, it never feels cluttered. There's just enough whitespace for each section to feel separated, and the color coding certainly doesn't hurt.

And the layout of the right sheet is particularly inspired. While Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write could've fallen apart under the complexity of its Run Park Phase, the right sheet's layout makes it very easy to not only execute the phase's steps but also understand how to optimize the steps for your strategy.

Cherry on top: Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write's sheets are double-sided!

There's a lot of iconography, but it all makes sense and feels intuitive. Yes, there's a learning curve just from the sheer number of icons. But once you're familiar with the game's concepts, the icons are straightforward—and if you're ever confused, there's a nifty icon reference on the back of the rulebook.

The rulebook is smooth, beautiful, and teaches the game well. Despite the overall complexity of Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write, the rulebook succeeds at taking you through the concepts before showing you how the game plays.

And when I say "show," I mean it! It's packed with illustrations on every page, helping to ensure minimal questions and misunderstandings.

Between that, the colorful instructions, the bolded keywords, and the smart layout, it's actually one of the better rulebooks I've seen in modern board gaming.

The box is unnecessarily big, but the insert aids in setup and cleanup. I really wish the box was smaller because Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write would be such a great game to travel with. That said, the box isn't that big—noticeably smaller than the standard Ticket to Ride box size—and the insert makes it feel like a more premium game.

The Bottom Line

Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write

Excellent Score Guide
  1. Interwoven mechanisms lead to complex, interesting decisions
  2. Fast setup, small table footprint, smooth game flow and pacing
  3. Lots of replayability, doesn't grow stale with numerous plays
  4. Phenomenal Solo Mode is easy to run and maintains spirit of the game
  5. Production feels premium despite affordable price
  1. Steeper learning curve than most roll-and-write games
  2. Box could be smaller (but would sacrifice the excellent insert)
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