Review – Dominant Species

Posted on by Jesta

An area control, worker placement game.

Title: Dominant Species

Year Published: 2010

Designer: Chad Jensen

Publisher: GMT Games

Players: 2-6

Game Time: ~240 Mins

Set-up Time: >10 Mins

Ages: 14+

Theme: Prehistoric

Mechanic: Worker Placement, Area Control.

How to win: Get the most Victory Points by controlling areas before the Ice Age arrives..

Game Description

90,000 B.C. — A great ice age is fast approaching. Another titanic struggle for global supremacy has unwittingly commenced between the varying animal species.
Dominant Species is a game that abstractly recreates a tiny portion of ancient history: the ponderous encroachment of an ice age and what that entails for the living creatures trying to adapt to the slowly-changing earth.

Each player will assume the role of one of six major animal classes—mammal, reptile, bird, amphibian, arachnid, or insect. Each begins the game more or less in a state of natural balance in relation to one another. But that won’t last: It is indeed “survival of the fittest”.

Set Up

Dominant Species Player Pieces

I am playing the Birds, because they’re Yellow.

Give each player an Animal and add the Initiative token to the track in reverse food chain order. Players take 10 cones and a number of Species cubes based on the player count.

Place the 7 starting tiles as marked on the board and put a Tundra tile on the central Sea tile. Put 2 of each element on the board as shown in the starting spaces. Players put Put 2 species and a dominance cone on their starting tile with one species either side. It’s all printed on the map too.

Dominant Species Tile Setup

This is how the board looks without the tiles, it’s printed to show you the starting set-up. I’ve put one Animals pieces on as an example.

Put the Tundra tiles in the Glaciation tile space and create 3 face down stacks of 8 tiles in the Wanderlust section, turn the top of each stack face up.

Dominant Species Earth Tiles

Put the Survival card to one side and shuffle the deck ensuring you put the Ice Age card on the bottom. Put the top 5 cards in the ‘Dominance’ section on the board.

Dominant Species Dominance Cards

Put 4 elements in the Adaption, Abundance and Wanderlust section on the board.

Dominant Species Elements on the Board

The Elements on their stating spaces with one moved out the way so you can see the icon underneath.

Game Play

Each turn is divided into 3 phases:Planning, Execution, Reset.

Planning Phase
In initiative order, players will place an action pawn on any ‘eyeball’ action space one at a time.

Dominant Species Action Pawns

Disks are removed and resolved one at a time starting on the top row and working down from left to right on each row. All actions are voluntary, but if you want to skip the action the entire action must be sacrificed.

Initiative – Move your animal one space up on the Initiative track, then move the action pawn to any other vacant eyeball space.

Dominant Species Inititive

The Bid player moves up one space in turn order, and replaces their action pawn.

Adaption – Take your action pawn and any one Element in this section to add to your Animal. You can’t have more than 6 Elements as shown by the available spaces on your board so if this action would take you above 6 this action is forfeited.

Dominant Species Adaption

The Bird player has gained an additional food source, learning to eat Grubs to stay alive.

Regression – Always activates even if no action pawns are placed. Each Animal removes one element disk for each matching element in this box. For each action pawn here, prevent the loss of 1 disk and note that Reptiles ALWAYS have a ‘free’ action here.

Abundance – Take your action pawn and any one Element here and add to any free corner on any earth tile.

Dominant Species Abundance

ANY free corner includes corners on the edge of Earth.

Wasteland – Always activates Tundra tiles even if no action pawns are placed here. For each action pawn the Animal removes one Element from this box and then, for each remaining element, remove all elements of that type that touch Tundra tiles.

Dominant Species Wasteland

The Sun was left on the board, this Sun is adjacent to a Tundra, so it’s going to go!

Depletion – Take your action pawn and remove a matching Element on any earth tile.

Dominant Species Depletion

The Arachnid player removes a Water token from Earth.

Glaciation – Take the LEFT MOST action pawn only and add a Tundra tile next to an existing one, putting aside each species cube. Then remove all elements surrounded by 3 Tundra tiles and gain victory points based on adjacent Tundra tiles. Place 1 of each Species back on the tile, the rest are returned to the players gene Pool. If no Tundra tiles are left, the action is forfeit.

Dominant Species Glaciation

This water token is surrounded by Tundras, so it’s leaving the game.

Speciation – Take your actions pawn and place a new Species on every tile adjacent to one matching Element on Earth. The number of Species placed is determined by the tile type and after all Speciation, the Insects May place one species on any one tile on earth even if they don’t play an action pawn.

Dominant Species Speciation

The Bird player adds 3 Species to the Jungle and 1 to each Tundra as they surround that Grub token they selected.

Wanderlust – Take your action pawn and any one face up Earth tile to add to Earth. The tile can go in a vacant space next to any existing tile. Then you MAY select any one element in the Wanderlust section to add to the tile. Also, you Gain victory points based on adjacent Earth tiles. Finally, In food chain order, Animals may move any number of adjacent species to that tile.

Dominant Species Wanderlust

The Bird player played the Forest then Migrated to Species in.

Migration – Take your action pawn and move up to X species onto adjacent tiles. Birds can move up to 2 spaces.

Competition – Animals take 1 opposing species from a tile where they control a species for each matching tile. After all Competition, Arachnids may kill one species on any one tile on earth they populate.

Domination – Take your action pawn and score a tile that hasn’t been scored already. Tiles are scored by the number of SPECIES on that tile with ties being broken in descending Food Chain order. The Dominant Species (who has the Dominance cone on that tile) on each scored tile MUST take and play a Dominance card.

Dominant Species Domination

The Amphibian player has most Species and will score the most points for this tile. But, the Bird player has Dominance (based on food sources) and will draw a Dominance card if this tile is scored.

When the Ice Age card is taken, the game will end at the end of the current round.

Reset Phase

Extinction – Remove any species on a tile without a food source. The Mammals can choose one species to save each round despite not having food.

Dominant Species Extinction

3 Amphibian and 2 Bird Species die from hunger leaving one Meat-Eating Arachnid in the Forest.

Survival – The player with the most Species on Tundra tiles takes the Survival card and then scores the card.

Dominant Species Survival

Reseed – Fill up the Dominance cards, slide the action pawns down on the Glaciation action space, remove Elements from Regression, Depletion and Wanderlust.

Then slide Elements in Wasteland to Depletion, Abundance to Wasteland and Adaption to Regression then draw 4 new Elements for Adaption, Abundance and Wanderlust. Flip face down Earth tiles face up and go back to the Planning Phase.


If the Ice Age card was played, score each tile on Earth in the same way as Domination, without playing Domination cards.

Most points wins. Tie is broken by Food Chain order.

Round Up

This is quite a heavy game and isn’t too dissimilar to an area control war game really. You’re killing your opponents, you’re pulling their food sources out from under them hoping they go extinct… It really is survival of the fittest.

It’s also hard for some people to remember the difference between controlling a tile and having Dominance on it.

You control a tile by having the most Species (cubes) on it, simple. You only need one Species on it for Dominance as this relates to the food sources on the tile matching the food sources on your Animal board.

The rest of the game is fairly simple once you get the hang of it, it’s just getting it right is very hard.

It’s a long heavy game, brain intensive, tricky and needs you to keep on top of a lot of information.

Most of the time if I want to play area control I’ll play something like El Grande and if I want to fight I’ll play something like Blood Rage. But Dominant Species does both VERY well, even if the game is much longer.


A game I enjoy, but not too often.

I give it 6/10

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