Friday, October 5, 2007

Saurian Safari! by Chris Peers (2002)

Note: This is a review of the second edition of the rules.

Rest in peace Wade Hackett, for we barely knew you.

Wade, you see, had been my safari guide for three hunting trips to the Mesozoic. He had successfully led the first two expeditions in and out of the Cretaceous period without a scratch, racking up a nice collection of dinosaur trophies along the way. But during a trip to the Jurassic, a pair of allosaurs spotted the hunting party and charged it. Wade’s gun misfired just as one of the allosaurs reached him, and before the other party members could react, the beast was carrying away his lifeless body in its mouth.

Of course, we only know this because one of the expedition members had written it down in his journal. The surviving members of the hunting party were attacked and slaughtered by a trio of ceratosaurs as they made their way back to camp. All that was found afterward were a few bloodstains
on the ground and several crushed weapons with spent casings beside them.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, Dinosaur Safari! is a dinosaur hunting game published by HLBS. It is a miniatures game, meaning it is played with little figures on a table set up to simulate a natural landscape. It also is a lot of fun, although the rules could use some polish.

Players assume the roles of Victorian-era hunters out to bag the biggest game of all time. There is a nice variety of animals to choose from in Saurian Safari!, from dinosaurs to prehistoric mammals, and the rules come with several scenarios that let gamers tailor the hunts to their own preferences.

Saurian Safari! is a cooperative game with the players working together to bag an animal instead of competing against each other. All animal moves are based on reaction tables, so there is no need for a “game master” to oversee animal encounters and the game can be played completely solo. Players will need a d20 set of dice to play the game, as well as the appropriate miniatures.

One downside of Saurian Safari! is that actions take several dice rolls that eat up time. Shooting an animal, for example, isn’t simply a matter of rolling the dice to see whether you hit it. You also have to roll to see whether your character spotted the dinosaur, whether the gun knocks your character down, whether the gun misfired and whether the bullet managed to penetrate the dinosaur’s thick hide. While I appreciate the realism, I wish these actions could be determined with fewer rolls.

The rules themselves also have a lot of gaps and players will need to make up their own rules to fill in the blanks. Luckily, there is a sizable online community dedicated to the game with many helpful suggestions.

The biggest problem with Saurian Safari! is that there are not many miniatures of prehistoric animals available. There are plenty Victorian-era figures for sale and the miniatures world is awash with fantasy creatures, but gamers don’t seem to be interested in real animals. Several internet forums suggest using plastic dinosaur models, but nearly all the models I found were either too small or way too big. I just downloaded pictures of the appropriate dinosaurs from the web and turned them into paper cutout figures, which worked just as well. Also, be warned that miniature gaming can be an expensive and time-consuming hobby. Players need to build their own landscapes from scratch, and miniature figures can cost quite a bit of money and almost always need to be painted.

That said, Saurian Safari! is a fun game once you get into it. Hunts are limited only by the players’ imaginations, and the scenarios and settings can be tinkered with so that no two hunts turn out the same. There also is a certain feeling of exhilaration in facing a rampaging dinosaur and bringing it down with a well-placed shot just seconds before it would have trampled you. Just don't always expect to make it back alive, as poor Wade found out.

  • Saurian Safari! features a make-believe “dinosaur gun” you can choose as a weapon for your hunts, but apparently there were real dinosaur guns made for the movie Jurassic Park: The Lost World. They were actually elephant guns, and according to this article, director Steven Spielberg is alleged to have kept one of the guns. (Thanks to Bob Mozark for pointing out this interesting little tidbit.)
  • None


madmachell said...

I play this set of rules and like them. They are relatively simple and most gamers unfamiliar with the rules are able to pick them up very quickly. Game mechanics can be slow at first, but after the players get the hang of it, I find it moves along quite nicely. The rules are light on scenarios, so unless you just want to traipse about shooting at anything that moves, you may want to set up some objectives, traps and other surprises for the intrepid hunters. Also, we substituted a hex mat with 6" hexes for movement and this made things move along without the clutter of measuring etc. It requires adjusting hunter and critter movement rates to hexes, but doesn't alter the game otherwise. Overall, I would recommend Saurian Safari.

Tas said...

I too use the simple SS mechanics to play Lost World hunts with my kids. However, we use a bare table to start with and move on from there, randomly determining the terrain as we go, which can add a lot of "what is around the corner" excitment.

Yes, miniatures can be expensive, but then kids rubber dinos are plentiful, cheap and hard to break!

Randy said...

I use SS rules to the Dinosaurs and Diorama for the Smithsonian Summer camp program. I simplied the rules to reduce book keeping and speed up the game. I also created Late Jurassic, Early and Late Cretacous scenarios. We found Safari 1/40 scale dinosaurs work fine. Next summer we are using cards for the dinosaur creation instead of dice. Games were fun and kid slearned a few things.

John Smarr said...

I am an upcoming writer and have written a novel about a group of safari junkies who have found through years of going to drunken Kenyan bars the location of a basin in S. America that teems with prehistoric life. They swiftly organize an expedition...but are they the only ones who have been to this lost world? And will it be as they expected?

I am looking into publishing it online as an ebook and in print. But, I need to workshop it a bit and revise. Anyone interested?
-John Smarr

Michael Taylor said...

Unfortunately the "Lost World Safari" Yahoo group seems to have gone extinct! Hopefully those interested in the subject can take it up on the still active "Cave Wars" Yahoo Group.