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Tiny Epic Dinosaurs Game Review

Dino-ranching 101

Nothing says ‘tiny epic’ like a wee wooden dinosaur in the hand. Join Bob for a peek at the wonders of dino-ranching in Gamelyn’s Tiny Epic Dinosaurs.

If Jurassic Park has taught us anything, it’s that dinosaur theme parks are not the safest places. How comforting, then, for the risk-averse to know that they can still get their dino-fix without all that liability by simply moving back a step on the supply chain. At least, I think that’s what’s going on in Tiny Epic Dinosaurs, where nobody gets eaten and the terrible lizards are pure profit.

Sure, they can escape, but we don’t really worry about what happens after that

(Light) Rules of the wee ranch

Each player’s ranch card contains a unique grid of ten spaces with a few natural barriers—mountains and water. To begin each round, players collect resources based on the icons visible in empty spaces. Resources—meat, veg, and supplies—are tracked by wee wooden markers on the player mat.

Players then take turns placing their ranch workers. Four of the ranchers are wee meeples, while the lead rancher is more normally sized. Players can select occupied spaces only by placing ranchers of greater “value.” In other words, if a wee rancher is out there, then either two wee ranchers or the lead rancher would suffice to visit the location.


The locations serve several purposes:

  • Gaining dinosaurs either free-range or via payment of resources in the market. Free-range dinos come with a roll of the dice that might yield two or a trip to the infirmary, which really has no ill bearing other than it leaves the space open for another rancher.
  • Gaining and removing barriers that serve to hem your growing dinosaur collection. Dino species must be kept separate, so the barriers are a critical component.
  • Gaining resources—the meat, veg, and supply crates.
  • Gaining research cards which grant singular abilities or hot new genetic “products” that come with matching wee purple meeples.
  • Fulfilling contracts using dinosaurs that are currently in the pens of your ranch. These contracts provide the bulk of points in the game. In the event of a remarkable feat of planning, players may fulfill their one private contract, but only in a turn in which they’ve already completed a public contract.

Once all of the ranchers have been placed, they are collected again and the unusual business of building, feeding, and breeding begins. First players utilize any barriers in their hold to build pens sufficient to separate the dinosaurs. At the end of this phase, any incomplete pens will see one dinosaur escape. Herbivores destroy another barrier as they go and Carnivores take a friend as a snack for the road. Even though a player can only receive each penalty once per round, the consequences are stiff, so it always behooves you to acquire critters and barriers at a sensible and calculated pace.

Dinosaurs must then be fed from the stores of greens and red meat according to their type. Once again, failure to feed a dinosaur could result in escape with the same harsh penalties.

During the breeding phase, any dinosaurs with a mate in the same complete enclosure will produce a bundle of joy. Of course, if there is no room in the pen for said bundle of joy it will escape, potentially incurring the penalties for failing to plan.

After a bit of maintenance to fill out the card displays and whatnot, play advances to the next round via a delightful “I❤Dinos” coffee mug marker. During the fourth round each player receives an additional rancher to expand options. There are six rounds in total, after which players score to determine a winner. Points derive from fulfilled contracts, remaining dinosaurs in the ranch, and any research cards that contained bonuses.

If you happen to lay hold of the Deluxe Edition, you also receive the Laboratory mini-expansion. Each player receives a laboratory mat with a wee microscope marker. During round setup, a series of beakers are placed above each of the action mats that are released to the players who first select the various action spaces. These beakers advance the microscope along particular paths, potentially releasing bonuses such as dinosaurs or resources—another wrinkle in the decision-making process throughout the game.

A wee bit thorny

Having now tried two of the Tiny Epic titles (you can read my review of Tiny Epic Tactics here), I find myself at odds with the series for potentially irrational reasons. First and foremost, I am struggling to get over the psychological barrier of the small box. When a small box game has six public boards, two player boards, six rounds of seven phases and pushes towards an hour with even two players, alarms go off in my head. Alarms that say, this should be over by now. I can’t seem to disarm them.

If I sit down to think about it, though, I am impressed with Tiny Epic Dinosaurs. There is more than a fair amount of game inside this little box. Oversize cards replace boards; wee meeples replace meeples; mini cards replace standards. I celebrate the effort to squeeze these mechanisms into so small a container. But despite being impressed, I’m not glowing.

Speaking of the squeeze, my second issue—particular to this Tiny Epic title—is the wee-ness of it all. I am well aware of how many times I used the adjective in my description of the game. I did so because these bits are frickin’ tiny. There is really only one normal sized component in the box, the lead rancher. Everything else is the kind of small that sparks fears of arthritic inflammation and lost components.

The special purple dinosaurs induce another sort of inflammation. There are fifteen unique purple meeples in the box, each corresponding to a card. Purchasing said card involves examining fifteen micro-meeples to find the one that matches. It’s annoying to the point that I’ve often chosen to pursue other contracts just to avoid sorting through the pieces. After all, I was just going to sell it off in the next round.

Find the wee Ankylosaurus!

I am old enough now that I struggle with small things. I play the trombone as I try to read small cards; I have to tilt my head eleven different ways to see the outline of small things. I can hear you saying, Bob, get some bifocals already!! I will, but I doubt I’ll feel great about small things even after. My eyes and my expectations are at odds with the production.

A wee bit nice

Having set that rant aside, there is an interesting puzzle in Tiny Epic Dinosaurs. There is a Merlin-esque, backwards-through-time mental progression in putting together the pieces. Fifth, I want to cash out a contract or two. Fourth, I can get there faster by breeding than by free-range collecting, so I need to set the mamas and the papas in a pen with an available space for the crib. Third, I need to make sure I have enough food so they stick around to start a family in the first place. Second, I need to have the barriers to give their romance room. Now, where do I place the next rancher? My brain has felt the tickle of it all.

Gamelyn Games and designer Scott Almes scaled the game well by printing the action mats on both sides with changes based on the player count. The changes keep the tension alive. It’s not every round that you’ll consider spending extra ranchers to double up on a spot, but it will happen, especially when you’re in hot pursuit of a contract.

I appreciate the wrinkles of that pursuit, too. Typically a dinosaur must go to the holding pen during phase two, then to the ranch in phase three before fulfilling a contract in the next round. However, there are spaces that allow for placing a dino into a pen early to then cement a contract in the current round. I really love that Almes included this side door. Those extra meeples must be judiciously allocated when a super-efficiency move presents itself.

The private contract—the one that can only piggyback on a public contract—is not often worth a care, but I like that it’s there. I have pulled it off, but the planning involved was more for personal satisfaction than true endgame profit. Often it’s easier to nab two public contracts and a few of the dreaded, tiny purple dinosaurs for points. As long as you’re minding the other players around the table, you’ll likely know what you need.

The purple dinosaurs, infuriatingly small as they are, break some of the rules for pens that make them highly attractive avenues to scoring. When it comes to contracts any old barney will do, but they each come with special abilities that make them far more interesting than the run-of-the-mill raptor and its meaty appetite. There is room to make your ranch whistle its own tune, giving each play a slightly different feel.

There is a solo mode featuring the Rival Rancher that I did not engage for this review. In short, the Rancher is primarily involved in the worker placement phase, gumming up the works on the action mat where their card comes to roost. Rival Rancher actions follow a progression based on a grid of enclosure spaces depicted on their player mat. The Rival gains resources in a hunt for bonus actions and also snipes public contracts and research cards for endgame points.

Despite my misgivings, I think Tiny Epic Dinosaurs is a fascinating entry in the dino-game genre. Oddly enough, it is not even the first entry in the dino-ranching genre thanks to 2016’s Dino Dude Ranch. I love that it’s not an amusement park, even though it’s a little strange to think of efficiency-breeding and herding terrible lizards at the wholesale level. It’s a clever what-if and an engaging puzzle to boot. I really struggle with the tiny-ness of this particular Tiny Epic title, enough that I don’t get excited to play, but I can celebrate alongside those who are not so miffed by having their fingers locked in a pinching position.

If you love the commercial narrative scale of Dinosaur Island but favor the peace of the countryside, or if you love the containment puzzle of Draftosaurus but wondered what it would feel like with even smaller pieces, you might enjoy Tiny Epic Dinosaurs. But if you’re on the verge of bifocals, beware the wee.

  • Poor - Yawn, surely there’s something better to do.

Tiny Epic Dinosaurs details

Disclosure: Meeple Mountain received a free copy of this product in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. This review is not intended to be an endorsement.

About the author

Bob Pazehoski, Jr.

On any given day, I am a husband and father of five. I read obsessively and, occasionally, I write stories of varying length, quality, and metrical structure. As often as possible, I enjoy sitting down to the table for a game with friends and family. I'm happy to trumpet Everdell, in all its charm and glory, as the insurmountable favorite of my collection.

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