Dominant Species got played. Dion Garner, Matthew Frederick, and Robert Bolan came over to try this out with me and none of us were disappointed. Dion was the reptiles, Matthew - amphibians, Robert - arachnids, and I was the lowly insects. Rules for the game are pretty straightforward and I was able to cover the rules in about 20 minutes. The first round was about what you'd expect from four players that hadn't seen the game and weren't sure what the flow would be like at all. For myself, I didn't want to run out of cubes later in the game, so I didn't plan to expand like a crazy man. I wanted to diversify my insects to survive on more than just grass-type lands, and chose to grab a sun element. Stupidly though, I chose to speciate (that's a word, I swear) from a spot on the board where I'd be sending my insects to immediate extinction (speciation is where you get to place your animals out into the world as a way to grow your influence). Given I had little to no adaptability for those areas the first turn, I scaled back my approach immediately. By the end of the second turn, I wasn't sure that was a great plan as I had one creature on about 4-5 spots and things looked poor for me. I had 1 point and while Dion wasn't far ahead of me, Matthew was way out in front and Robert was doing ok. I turned things around mid-game position wise, but was still WAY back in the points. Matthew still had a commanding points lead, though it looked like the glaciers were going to slow him down shortly (thanks to Robert). Dion made a few smart moves and appeared to be in a position to shoot ahead. At one point he caught Matthew. Unfortunately for him, we realized the glaciers had killed a few resources on the board and after adjusting the populations with some extinction, Dion's bonus points for Survival on tundra were dramatically reduced. At this point, I had clawed my way back in and though I was still behind, I liked my position heading into what looked like the last couple turns. Unfortunately for me, Dion used migration (and the fact that he ruled the food chain - ie tie breaker) to basically take away 80% of my major scoring. When we got to the last turn, the scores had tightened up considerably and it looked like it might be anyone's game but mine. Robert was doing well and I figured he might be the serious threat - I used the Glacier action to knock a lot of his population and his big scoring tile out of the picture. During the last round, the domination cards had a couple of seriously good powers for the last round. I took an early scoring opportunity to clear out a lot of cubes from the board. I took the Biomass card, which let me eliminate species on tiles where there where more species than resource tokens. This let me regain control on the places Dion had invaded as well as knock Matthew out of contention on a lot of places. As we started tallying final scoring, things were looking good for me as I was scoring a lot of points. Dion however had managed to get the Hibernation card, which allowed him to retrieve 5 species from out of the game and place them anywhere on the board AND then ignore extinction for them for one round. Dion essentially stole a sea tile from Robert and won the game.
My initial impressions on this game are good. Each species is unique enough to make things different without being quite as different as say the sides in Chaos in the Old World. The rules are not all that hard, but understanding the flow of the game is where things become really interesting. And while we each saw mistakes being made by the other players, there is also enough going on that there is usually a lot of "correct moves". That makes it engaging nearly the whole time you are playing. This isn't a game for people that don't like conflict - the whole game is one bash each other fight for survival. The biggest knock on the game is that the game is long. We ended up at about 70 min a player, in part due to this being the first game for all of us and rules and partially due to my slowing down the middle of the game to help my wife with our son who wasn't feeling well. With a couple of players knowing the game, I'd guess this is about 45 minutes a player (60 if you are Nathan Winchester). I've read that people think the cards are overpowered. It is true that they are not equal - you just have to play your turns keeping in mind the things that are going to occur at the end of the round - in other words, the cards are very manageable. I'm actually looking forward to how much tighter the game becomes with 5 or 6 players and I'm looking forward to playing again.