Imagine an island in the Pacific where not all dinosaurs are extinct. A mama raptor and her five babies are cavorting in the island sun. (Don’t ask me where daddy raptor is. That’s never addressed.) A team of scientists has arrived to capture the dinosaurs, presumably for legitimate preservation and study, not Jurassic Park-style weirdness. Of course, mama raptor is not in favor of this plan, so she will battle to eat those scientists and save her babies. Who will win?
How It Plays
In Raptor, one player plays as the raptor family trying to evade capture and the other plays as the scientists attempting to capture the raptors for study. Game play consists of playing cards simultaneously and then moving your minis on the board according to the actions/effects dictated by your card.
Each player has a deck of nine action cards specific to either the raptors or the scientists. Three cards are drawn from these decks to create the player’s initial hands. Each card has both a number on it and icons which indicate the special effects of that card. The numbers indicate the number of actions you may take. The special effects are specific to each player, but include things like being able to remove sleep tokens from the mother raptor, move the baby raptors, frighten the scientists, place scientists on the board, put baby raptors to sleep, or set a fire that limits the raptor’s movements. There is also one card in each deck that has action points, but no special effects.
Rather than taking turns, cards are played simultaneously in Raptor. Each player chooses one card from their hand to play and then both players reveal their card at the same time. If both cards show the same number, both are discarded, a new card is drawn to bring the hand up to three, and players reveal another card.
This won’t happen often, though. In most cases, the cards will have different values. The player who played the card with the lower value gets to apply the special effects of her card, but receives no actions. Effects are not optional. You must apply special effects, if possible. The player who played the higher card now gets to take a number of actions equal to the difference between the number on his card and the number on the other player’s card. So, for example, if the player played a card with a value of seven and his opponent played a three, the higher number player gets four actions (7-3=4). The player does not have to use all of his actions and can, in fact choose to take no actions. This player does not get to use any special effects, however.
The raptor player may split action points between the mother and any number of babies. The scientist player may split action points between any of the scientists that are on the board. Actions differ for the two players, but generally involve movement, killing a scientist, putting out a fire, waking up a baby, putting a baby to sleep, capturing a baby, or recovering from fright. Each action has its own specific rules and I won’t bog this review down by explaining each of them. However, it is important to note that each scientist can only play one “aggressive” action (shooting or capturing) per turn. The same scientist cannot both shoot and capture a raptor on one turn, regardless of how many action points you have. If you want to both shoot and then capture on one turn, you must have two separate scientists in position to do so.
Once both players have performed their actions/effects, they draw back up to three cards in hand and begin another round. Cards played in previous rounds are left face up in front of the players (unless someone has had to reshuffle their draw deck because they ran out of cards or because of one of the special effects on their cards), making it possible to gauge which cards remain in each deck. The game goes back and forth with players playing cards, taking actions, and playing special effects until the game ends.
The raptor player wins immediately if three baby raptors escape the board, or there are no more scientists on the board. (Mama ate ’em all! Yum!) The scientist player wins immediately if the mother is neutralized with five sleep tokens, or three baby raptors are captured.
A Fun Rumble in the Jungle or Spare the Dinosaurs and Put Me to Sleep, Instead?
I don’t usually give away the conclusion of my review at the beginning, but since I’m about to get all fangirl on Raptor, you might as well know now: I loved this game. When I saw the description of it, I had a feeling that it would be a winner for us. Two player? Check. Thematic? Check. Asymmetrical? Check. Fast and easy for a weeknight yet with solid strategy? Check. Everything looked to be in our wheelhouse and I wasn’t disappointed.
First of all, the game is just plain fun. The rules are simple to learn (and the player aids and “helpful hints” make this process even easier) and play is fast, lasting in the 15 – 30 minute range. It’s an easy game to pick up and play on a weeknight. The dinosaur vs. scientist theme is something that any Jurassic Park fan will enjoy. When you play the raptors, you get to say cool things like, “Watch your six! Raptor’s got a new alpha.” When you play the scientists, you get to say things like, “Hold onto your butts.” Well, that’s if you’re into quoting Jurassic Park/Jurassic World. But who isn’t? Plus, Raptor scores very high on the “let’s go again meter” because you just know you can do better next time and it’s fast enough to play just one more game. Before you know it, a night has passed.
It’s simply entertaining to sit down and match wits with another player to see who will prevail in a miniaturized version of Jurassic Park. And speaking of the miniatures, they really contribute to the fun. Though they are small, they’re well done. Each scientist is a different sculpt, giving each one a little personality. And the raptors are, well, simply cool. There are also cardboard rocks which add more dimension to the board. This game could have been themed as almost anything, but the dino theme is a winner and is enhanced by the components.
The game is also very re-playable. The two-sided board is a nice touch. (One side offers a jungle to play in, the other is a savannah). The sides aren’t hugely different from one another, but it is nice to have a different way to play. The tiles are also set up randomly so each board will be a bit different from the last. The random card draw means you will never know exactly what you’ll have to work with and in what order, so no two games are identical on that front, either. The asymmetry adds to the replayability because even if you’ve mastered one side, you can switch to the other.
Speaking of asymmetry, I was pleased to see that this game is truly asymmetrical. As I noted when I reviewed Zombies vs. Cheerleaders, I’m leery when I see games touting asymmetrical play. I’ve been burned too many times by games that claim to be asymmetrical, but which offer nothing more than different colors or ever so slightly different abilities for the different sides. Thankfully, each side in Raptor plays very differently. The raptor player has to rely on cunning and strength to dispose of scientists while simultaneously shepherding her babies to safety. The scientist player has to strategically deploy his team and use his weapons wisely to slow down the mother and capture the babies. Since each scientist can perform only one aggressive action per turn, that player can’t just start shooting blindly and hope to hit something.
The most interesting part of the game to me was the simultaneous card play. Players choose which card to play secretly and then reveal their choice at the same time. Making the decision difficult is the fact that you will have a totally different set of choices for your turn depending on whether or not you play the higher numbered card. You’ll either be taking standard actions or using the special effects of your card. Ideally you can find a card in your hand which will help you either way. It’s not an ideal world, however, and you often have to make a choice and hope that you get to do what you plan to do.
Since the discard pile is always visible, you can get a better idea of what your opponent might play, but you can never know for certain. This adds a tension to the game that makes it even more fun. Sure, it might still have been a good game if all you were doing was moving pieces around the board and trying to outwit your opponent. That would make it more like chess. But when you introduce the card play, you bring in an element of unpredictability and strategy that makes the game more exciting.
Some will decry the card play as being too random and requiring too much guessing, but I consider it to be very thematic. If you were really chasing these dinos (or trying to evade the scientists), unexpected things would get in your way. Jungles aren’t predictable places, after all, and no animal behaves 100% predictably, either. You can try to think through the likely obstacles and mitigate your luck, but something may still get you. So it is with the card play in Raptor. Still, if this sort of things bothers you, Raptor may be a pass for you.
So are there any other potential negatives to Raptor? For me, no, but I can see where there are things about it that might bother some people. There is a bit of meanness to the game because you have to be aggressive to eat those scientists or shoot those raptors. It’s not possible to just hang out passively on one side of the board and win. People who don’t like aggression won’t like Raptor very much.
Finally, I’ve seen the question of balance crop up. Some people feel that Raptor is skewed in favor of the scientists. I have noticed that it is more difficult to win as the raptors, but it is not impossible. Out of eighteen games we played (yeah, we got a little obsessed), eight were raptor wins and most of those only came after we’d played a few games and gotten the hang of things. After several games, we started splitting the wins almost 50/50. It isn’t impossible to win as the raptors, but it does require more careful play and you have less room to make a mistake.
However, I would argue that this isn’t a failure of balance as much as it is a thematic interpretation. If this were a real scientific mission, the scientists would have most of the advantages: Jeeps, communication devices, guns that shoot a far distance, tracking instruments, larger numbers, and more evolved brains capable of analyzing situations. The raptor has… Teeth. She also has size and natural instincts, but those don’t make for a fully fair fight against a herd of armed scientists. No wonder it’s harder for her to win. She has to do everything right to make up for her lack of advantages.
It feels thematic to me knowing that I’m going to have to play really well to win as the raptor. That said, if you’re playing with first-timers, kids, poor sports, or non-gamers, I’d recommend that they start out as the scientists. The raptors are cool and everyone wants to play them, but they aren’t easy. Not that it’s a walk in the park to win as the scientists, either, particularly against a skilled raptor player. My experience with the game shows that the first games will likely go to the scientists because they are a bit easier to play. But once both players have played both sides and are skilled at the game, wins are likely to be closer to the 50/50 range, which indicates a well-balanced game.
Speaking of the bad, mean scientists with all of their advantages… I find it amusing that the scientists are the ones who die in this game. Mama raptor eats them. (And you can throw in any sound effects you want when this happens in the game.) However, the dinos don’t die. They are merely tranquilized and captured. If you’re playing with kids or sensitive people who worry about the animals, you can confidently tell them that no animals are harmed in this game. Humans, however… Munch. Munch.
This game has quickly risen to the top of my two-player only pile, even displacing my all time favorite, Claustrophobia (at least for certain circumstances). Why? First of all, it’s much easier to get to the table. Much as I love Claustrophobia, it does require a bit more set up, and a lot more play time. Raptor is fast, both to set up and play, and perfect for a weeknight head-to-head with hubby. I can play three or four games of Raptor in the time it takes to play one game of Claustrophobia. Also, the theme is a bit more interesting to new players. Dinosaurs are a huge hit with most people whereas demons vs. humans in the Helldorado universe is a harder sell. Claustrophobia is still my go to game when I want a more epic experience, but when I just want fast, fun, and tactical, Raptor is right there.
I would recommend Raptor for anyone seeking a solid asymmetrical two-player game that’s easy to learn and play, thematic, quick enough for weeknight games, and which offers high replayability and scores high on the “let’s go again” meter. Just don’t make the mistake of confusing “easy to learn and play” with light. This is a thinky, tense game that, while it doesn’t take a lot of time to play, requires careful, strategic thought in order to do well. If you like your brain burn in quick bites, this game is for you. Munch. Munch.
iSlaytheDragon.com would like to thank Matagot for providing us with a copy of Raptor for review.
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