Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the Kickstarter campaign’s success. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s website or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review.
- For ages 8 and up
- For 2 to 6 players
- Approximately 30 minutes to complete
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Hand/Resource Management
- Child – Easy
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Dig for dinosaur bones, but beware of the hungry competition
- Gamer Geek rejected!
- Parent Geek mixed!
- Child Geek approved!
American paleontologist who helped reshape modern theories about dinosaurs, Robert T. Bakker, said, “Fossils have richer stories to tell – about the lub-dub of dinosaur life – than we have been willing to listen to.” There is always something new to discover, and the only way to find it is to dig. Dig in the earth and then dig through all the possibilities of what life must have been like for these long-extinct giants that once walked where we now stand. In this game, players take on the role of a paleontologist and attempt to find and then build a complete dinosaur skeleton. Little do the players know that the real competition is the paleontologist sitting next to them. So dig deep and dig fast.
Fossil Canyon, designed by Kevin Lynch and to be published by Polymath Play, will reportedly be comprised of 64 Playing cards, six Paleontologist Player tokens, 32 Puzzle pieces, and eight Helper cards. As this is a review of a prepublished game, I cannot comment on the game component quality. The illustrations on the Playing cards are a mix of clipart and very well done dinosaurs (of museum display quality), which makes total sense as Fossil Canyon was developed and designed in collaboration with the Field Museum of Chicago.
Although it has nothing to do with the game, it’s also worth noting that the instruction booklet comes complete with a very nice writeup on how fossils are formed and an explanation of the interesting field of paleontology: good reading to educate yourself and other dino lovers in the family.
Prepping for Your Dig Adventure
To set up the game, first determine which player will be the “Scorekeeper.” Give this player all the Puzzle pieces. Ensure the Scorekeeper has enough table space to build the puzzle, as this is a necessary component to help keep track of the player’s score in the game.
Second, have each player pick a color or randomly distribute the Helper cards. Place any not used back in the game box.
Third, each Helper card has an image at its top. This image represents the player’s Paleontologist token. The Scorekeeper now finds the “Museum” Puzzle pieces that match the color of the player’s Paleontologist tokens and connects them in player turn order, from top to bottom.
Fourth, shuffle the Playing cards and deal four face-down. Place these four cards into the game box without showing them to any player. Spread the remaining cards in the middle of the playing area, keeping them face-down. This is referred to as the “dig site.”
Fifth, each player now takes a specific number of “Fossil” Playing cards from the dig site. The number taken is dependent on the number of players in the game. The player should keep their selected cards hidden from their opponents. If the player selects an “Action” Player card, it should be placed face-up to the side and another card selected. Return any face-up “Action” Player cards to the dig site once every player has their cards.
Sixth, each player should now see if the selected cards from the dig site create a full skeleton. If they do, they pass those cards to the Scorekeeper now. The Scorekeeper attaches the matching skeleton Puzzle piece to the player’s museum. After which, the Scorekeeper places the Player cards into the game box.
Seventh, the players now look at the remaining Player cards they have and select up to three to keep hidden. Any not selected are placed face-up in front of the player.
That’s it for game set up. Let’s get digging!
Digging in the Dirt
Fossil Canyon is played in turns with no set number of turns per game. A player’s turn is summarized here.
Step One: Dig
The first thing the player does is select two Player cards from the dig site, one at a time. There are two different types. These are “Fossil” and “Action” Player cards.
“Action” Player cards represent random events that will either hinder or help the player. If drawn, they are shown to all the players and immediately resolved.
“Fossil” Player cards represent one of the many pieces to be found and are necessary to construct a full dinosaur skeleton. Each “Fossil” Player card lists interesting facts and includes the number of needed fossils to complete the skeleton set in question.
When drawn, the player puts the “Fossil” Player card in front of them and determines if they have a complete skeleton. If they do, the skeleton collection is passed to the Scorekeeper, who scores the completed skeleton and then discards the “Fossil” Player cards. Interlocking pieces keep score for each player’s Museum.
Step Two: Trade (optional)
The player may now take any of their “Fossil” Player cards and trade it with any other Player card owned by an opponent, be it face-down or face-up. This optional action is not something the opponent can stop, so do expect some grunts of frustration as almost complete skeletons are suddenly pilfered by a competing paleontologist.
The player may then trade for a second time if they so choose. However, this time it will cost the player two Player cards to select one Player card from an opponent.
Again, if the player completes a skeleton, they should pass the Player cards to the Scorekeeper, who will record the score.
Step Three: Determine Bonus (if any)
If the player completed any skeletons on their turn, they may now draw one card from the dig site. If the drawn card completes a skeleton, score it now.
Step Four: Adjust Hand
The last action on the player’s turn is to adjust their Player cards, ensuring that three or fewer are face-down and the remaining are face-up.
This completes the player’s turn. The next player in turn order sequence now takes their turn starting with step one noted above.
Endgame and Final Scoring
The endgame is triggered if the dig site no longer contains any cards during a player’s first card draw in step one. All players reveal their face-down “Fossil” Player cards. The game continues, but players no longer take steps to draw cards from the dig site. As such, the only action that can be taken is trading. Trading is only possible if the trade itself will complete a skeleton. In other words, players cannot trade to skunk an opponent out of points unless the player score points by doing so. If the player cannot trade “Fossil” Player cards to complete a skeleton, they have no more turns during the game. However, opponents can still trade with them.
Once it’s determined that no more skeletons can be completed with trades, the game ends. The Scorekeeper now announces the final scores, which is easy to determine based on how the Puzzle pieces are connected to each player’s Museum. Ties are broken by determining which player has the most valuable skeleton.
Several game variants are provided in the rules that include instructions on making the game shorter (by giving players more cards at the start of the game), adding additional scoring options, and removing the “Action” Player cards that negatively impact a player’s gameplay.
In addition, the instructions include rules for a Go Fish variant (cleverly named Go Dig), a memory game, and 20 Questions where players can test their dino knowledge. Additional details on these game variants and others are freely available from the game’s website.
The Child Geeks enjoyed the game, finding it fun to learn and talk about dinosaurs while playing a game that wasn’t complicated to learn and pretty easy to play. According to one Child Geek, “It’s all about keeping your cards hidden and then pouncing on another person’s bones when you see a set. I liked the game, but it can make you feel pretty bad, too, so be careful not to get your feelings hurt when your fossils are stolen.” This Child Geek’s comment brings up a good point. Fossil Canyon allows players to “steal” cards without the opponent’s ability to block it. This can get frustrating for younger players who have not yet learned how to better work through their emotions. Heck, I’m an adult, and even I was not too fond of it. Another Child Geek said, “I love dinosaurs, so of course, I loved this game.” Yep, if you love dinos, you will enjoy Fossil Canyon. That, my friends, is a foregone conclusion. So, too, is the Child Geek’s vote which gave Fossil Canyon their full endorsement.
The Parent Geeks enjoyed the game’s approach to educating and the opportunity to talk about dinosaurs with their children, but that’s about it. With their peer group, the game fell flat because the game is very straightforward and random, both in the outcome and the continuous way cards are shifted throughout the game. According to one Parent Geek, “A good game for families and my children, but not with just adults. I tried it with my kids and loved it. I tried it with some adult friends of mine, and it just wasn’t fun. This is definitely a game for the family table.” Another Parent Geek said, “Good game for those children who love dinosaurs and their parents who don’t know a thing about these long-dead reptiles but are eager to learn. Great for the family, but not a lot of fun with just adults.” The Parent Geeks gave Fossil Canyon a mixed endorsement, praising it for the children and family but not getting much in the way of love with just the adults.
The Gamer Geeks found the game to be ridiculous. According to Gamer Geek, “First, let me say that I don’t think this game is for gamers. That said, I’ll give it a pass and not rip into it too much. As game designs go, I felt it was pretty shallow, and there isn’t much of a game there. Drawing cards blindly and then having them stolen from you isn’t what I would call a good time.” Another Gamer Geek said, “Not a gamer’s game and barely a game to being with. I’ll leave this to my children and talk about dinosaurs with them just using the cards. But I won’t be playing it as a game.” When all the votes were in, the Gamer Geeks gave Fossil Canyon a big thumbs down.
Fossil Canyon is the perfect game for those families who have a dinosaur lover in their midst. As the Gamer Geeks said and the Parent Geeks alluded to, Fossil Canyon does not hold adults’ interest for very long. Even casual gamers found the gameplay a bit on the chaotic side to be something that felt enjoyable. All of that goes away as soon as you seat a Child Geek or two at the table and play the game. I, too, really didn’t think much of the game when playing it with adults. I chalked this up to possibly not being much interested in dinosaurs. Nope. Fossil Canyon isn’t a game for me.
Big shift when I put the same game in front of my youngest child. Lots of energy, lots of talk, and lots of fun.
So where does that leave us, dear reader? I think it obvious, but I’ll state it all the same. Fossil Canyon is a family game, and by family, I mean kids. The theme aside, which is great if you love dinosaurs, doesn’t add any depth to the game to make it an enjoyable experience. Very much worthwhile if you have kids, though, but not much fun without them playing, either.
Do dig into Fossil Canyon if you have a few dinosaur enthusiasts in your ranks. I think you’ll find it bone’tastic.
This is a paid-for review of the game’s final prototype. Although our time and focus were financially compensated, our words are our own. We’d need at least 10 million dollars before we started saying what other people wanted. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek, which cannot be bought except by those who own their private islands and small countries.