The players arrived around 7:15 pm, by which time I had already set up the game basics. KathyB, Nick, Tom, Joanne, and Angela were all there, and Kathy had decided to bring Ellie as well. They were eager to get to the game, so we finished the set-up and all, and then got down to the game.
This was my fourth play of the game, and the second time I played with the Friday night gamers. After I briefed the others on the rules clarifications that I'd gotten over the last week and a half or so, and we were off to the races. Since Ellie wanted to play but Kathy wasn't sure she was up to the challenge of playing an Animal on her own (the game is a little bit complex), Ellie teamed with Joanne to play one Animal in the game. We drew the Animals being played in random order - Kathy got the Reptiles, Nick got the Insects, Tom drew the Arachnids, Joanne/Ellie drew the Mammals, Angela drew the Birds, and I drew the Amphibians. It was an interesting mix of Animals for sure in terms of the player assignments.
From a strategy point of view, I decided that I wasn't going to take an aggressive approach to start with, since I was wary of how Tom was going to play the Arachnids this time out. The Dominance cards that came up to start the game were a pretty inane lot, other than the Disease card and the potentially bad Mass Exodus card. The first Turn I managed to adapt to a new element (Seeds) as well as do some migrating and speciating, while also taking the Habitat card on my Domination action. The others played a conservative first Turn as well, and things were pretty close at the end of it, the separation being only 3 Victory Points. The second Turn saw Tom aggressively dispose of a couple of Joanne/Ellie's Mammals that occupied his Arachnid spaces, but she had started the aggression per s´ with a Glaciation move on the Sea tile where he'd speciated and all, and so the die was cast. I snagged the Nocturnal card this Turn (allowing me to shift up on the Initiative track), and the game was still pretty close, though I led by some 7 Victory Points.
The third Turn saw a shift in direction of the game, as Tom's Arachnids became more aggressive, while Angela's Birds used their extra movement allotment to spread out somewhat more. I added another Water element to my Animal card through Adaptation, thus securing Dominance in a couple of places, and then Glaciated one of the places that the Insects, Arachnids, and Reptiles were fighting over, and drove their species numbers somewhat down, while also scoring a few more Victory Points. Kathy's Reptiles took the Intelligence card (which grants an extra Action Pawn to the user and those above them in the Food Chain), and so she and the Mammals benefitted from that. Tom's Arachnids and Joanne/Ellie's Mammals played the Blight and Disease cards, and I went Extinct on two adjacent tiles, but it was the Reptiles and Insects who suffered the most from the Disease card, and they both went extinct in a couple of tiles. I made the terrible mistake this Turn of taking the Aquatic card this Turn, rather than Hibernation, and thought it was going to cost me on the next Turn. The Fourth turn proved me right, as Tom's Arachnids placed the first AP on the Domination track. I managed to place a couple of APs on the Domination track, but knew that I was in trouble if I let anyone else take the Niche Biomes card, so had to hope for the best. Sure enough, I got double whammied this Turn. While I managed to snag the Ice Sheet card (causing an immediate Glaciation), Tom's Arachnids took the Niche Biomes card and Kathy's Birds snagged the Evolution card. I wasn't hurt too badly, but I did slip in the Victory Point totals to third, with the Insects leading the way. Interestingly, the Hibernation card was still in play, as no one felt their species losses from the gene pool were too costly yet.
The fifth and sixth Turns of the game turned out to be relatively quiet. I managed to diversify by adding a new element, Sun, to my Animal, speciating and migrating into some Sun spaces while covering my bases on some of the glaciated tiles during the fifth Turn, and snatched up the Fertile card for a few Victory Points. Glaciated one of the Mammals/Arachnids shared tiles for a few more points as well. The others were playing a somewhat cautious game by this point, but I had a sort of agreement with Kathy's Reptiles. Between the play of the Parasitism card (where your Animal and the ones below you in the Food Chain gain an AP) and the Predator card, my fortunes went up somewhat and then waned, but by this time it was clear that Angela's Birds were doing really well. The sixth Turn saw the arrival of several interesting Dominance cards that had the six of us vying for them. I speciated, migrated, made the Sun a bit more abundant on the board, Glaciated another tile with lots of Birds on it, snatched up the Fecundity and the Cold Snap cards, and did some damage with that combination of actions, but slipped to fourth place in Victory Points by the end of the Turn, courtesy of the Catastrophe card that wiped out one of my key Wetland tiles. *sigh*
The seventh Turn would prove to be the last for this game, with the arrival of the Ice Age Dominance card. Given that the Immigrants card (one of the nastiest in the Dominance card deck) showed up this Turn, as we knew it must, I tried to prepare for the game end with spreading myself out a bit more on the earth tiles, as well as shore up a few key tiles where I could claim dominance. The others did their best to position themselves up on the board as well, but the alliance I had with Kathy's Reptiles fell to the wayside this Turn, and she Glaciated one of our shared tiles. Joanne/Ellie's Mammals had abandoned their feud with Tom's Arachnids by this time, as both sides realised that they were just handing the game to the rest of us, and Angela's Birds appeared to have a commanding lead by this time. Angela must have thought that I was a threat to her this Turn, so she chose to play the Immigrants card, rather than the Ice Age or Omnivore cards, this Turn, but I had prepared for this, and sacrificed one of my Action Pawns. When we started calculating the final scores once the Ice Age card was drawn and we had finished the game, it looked like it was going to be closer than we had thought, and it definitely was! The final scores for the game were Birds (Angela) 161, Reptiles (Kathy) 159, Amphibians (JohnK) 150, Mammals (Joanne/Ellie) 144, Insects (Nick) 140, and Arachnids (Tom) 139.
When we talked after the game was over about what had happened, while the others were helping me pack up the game, it came out that no one really knew who was going to win this one. While Angela looked like she was going to run away with it and her Birds at one point, she never had more than a 12-point lead on any of the rest of us, and every player seemed to keep every other player in check at one point or another. Tom admitted that he made a mistake in the game not playing the Arachnids more aggressively after the first Turn, but Joanne and Ellie's Mammals had kept him in check during the middle turns of the game, and he realised that there was very little he could do by the time Turn 6 came up. Nick struggled with the Insects, and was almost wiped out twice during the early going when he forgot to speciate a couple of times, and nearly lost it all to Glaciation and some judicious play by Kathy and her Reptiles. I can't say I was that displeased with my final score in the game, scoring a huge chunk of points for dominance on some key tiles, as well as maintaining several Sea tiles for scoring Victory Points in the final accounting. I enjoyed this game quite a bit, as the stragising was fast and furious at times, and a couple of the Planning Phases went a bit slow as players tried to figure out what to do for their turns. The game wasn't as violent as it could have been, although Tom's Arachnids were somewhat circumspect with the use of the free Competition action. Kathy played the game quite well this night I thought, and I was impressed with the way Joanne and Ellie balanced out their game; Ellie had wanted to go after her mother's Reptiles in the middle game, but Joanne talked her out of it, saying there were bigger things at stake. When it came down to it, Angela racked up the win with the Birds because she played to their strengths, and because she used her common sense to balance out the various game concepts that she had to work with. She really deserved the win, and Kathy said that either of them could have won it, depending on what had been done differently in the final game Turn before the Ice Age card was drawn.
So all in all, a good night of playing Dominant Species. That said, I look forward to my next game this wonderful board game. Can hardly wait. :)