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GMT are best known for their excellent War Games but every so often they surprise us and break the mould with a game of a completely different genre. In 2010 the Chad Jensen design, DOMINANT SPECIES, saw the light of day, and over the years it has been revised and reprinted at least 5 times. Chad [Jensen] recently turned his game brain to the City Building genus that is quite prevalent in today's board-game market and came up with WELCOME to CENTREVILLE, a 2-4 player dice-driven 90 minutes of fun. (roughly 20 minutes per player plus rules checking and decision making). I agree with the designer that WtC plays best with 4 players and though it is okay with 3 it falls rather flat with just 2.

 

Players rolling dice and using the results to determine their Turn Actions is nothing new. Being allowed to keep some of the die results and roll the remaining dice again is nothing new. Having colourful dice with some same some different icons instead of numbers or spots is also nothing new. And yet when these "nothing new's" get together under one roof they become "something new". Each player's game depends on how they use the results of the dice.

Chad has also taken a leaf out of Reiner Knizia's [early days] book by making this a game where there is a need to balance your actions. There is a running track around the board on which each player has 2 markers, one for Wealth and one for Prestige, and the only one of the markers, per player, that counts towards the endgame is the lowest valued one, whichever that is. Thus one player may have, for example, 40 Prestige and 35 Wealth while another player 37 Prestige and 36 Wealth and a third player has 28 Prestige and 50 Wealth. In this case the winner would be the second player because the scores are: Player 1: 35 VPs  Player 2: 36 VPs and Player 3: 28 VPs giving Player 2 the largest, smallest score; a typical Knizia scoring mechanic. Even more Reiner-like, if there is a tie then it is the player whose second marker has the higher score (of the tied players), quite similar but not exactly the same as RK's classic "Euphrates & Tigris". I will now point out that WELCOME to CENTREVILLE is NOT a clone of the aforementioned "Euphrates & Tigris" I am merely mentioning that Chad Jensen appears to have cleverly looked at the work of one of the best game designers of the modern era and devised his own version of the popular mechanic to propel his latest creation towards board game stardom. If Chad hasn't been influenced by Reiner Knizia's earlier game styles then he has taken up the reins of a well run horse without prior knowledge, and galloped on towards a well deserved victory. 

 

The board is set out in City Blocks, four main blocks of 16 lots, surrounding the Central Park area. The Lots are zoned, 1 (3 sections), 2 (5 sections) and 3 (7 sections), each Lot is distinguished by a dark black outline, the closer to the park the lesser the value of the buildings (player's cubes) have, closest being of worth One, then Two and Three - there is a single square for the 4th Lot . The four Zones are coloured Yellow, Purple, Red and Blue and they score either Prestige (Red & Purple) or Wealth (Yellow & Blue). Every scoring Round the four Blocks are scored separately, adding up the value of the player's buildings according to the Lot they are in. Around the Zones and park is a walker's path which acts as a visual scorekeeper (there are 50 spaces and a 50/100 coin per player for when 50 has been breeched).

To be able to build in a Lot you need to play out the correct Contract dice sides, the colour of these match the colours of the Zones, thus if you roll a contract icon on the Red die you can place a building in the 1 value Lot of the Red Zone. With only one of each Die you obviously cannot roll 2, 3 or 4 same colour Contracts. The "?" side of each Die is a Joker and is used to clone any one of the other dice sides, but even with these it would be difficult to get enough correct results to ensure the game flowed. Therefore you only need ONE contract of the required colour, you make the remainder of the necessary faces up with other colour Contracts and Question Marks. Your completed die roll for the turn may leave you with unused dice. There is no penalty for these but neither can they be saved for future rolls.

 

Each side of the dice has a specific purpose. There are the Contracts and Question Marks, then there are Votes, Benches, Trees, College Mortar Boards and on two dice only an Hourglass. Suffice it to say that you can generally utilise all the faces that you roll in your Turn, especially as you can reroll the dice up to two times. The only face that cannot be rerolled is the Hourglass. This has an immediate effect of moving the game Time marker one space down the Time Track. Having a Time Track is consequential to the length of time the game takes to play, thus stating 20 minutes per player on the box is a little presumptious. With 4 players there are 12 spaces on the Time Track, with 3 players there are 9 spaces and with 2 players 6 spaces. As there are two Hourglasses possible each roll and players roll the dice at least once on their Turn it is feasibly possible (although admittedly highly unlikely) that after just one Round the Time Marker could have moved 8 spaces, thus, again very unlikely, it could reach the end of the Track within the next Turn. On the other hand it is also feasible but highly unlikely, that an Hourglass is never (or hardly ever) rolled, thereby lengthening the game time inexorably.

The College Mortar Boards allow players to purchase vocation tiles from the board, spending one, two or three depending on how many rolled and the tiles available. Players collect these tiles and position them along the edge of their player boards in the appropriate places. Part of the game's balance is collecting these tiles as they score well at the end of the game depending on the number of different vocations. You are not limited to one Vocation tile per type, in fact collecting stacks of them has a great effect on your scoring. 

Trees surprisingly are not for building in the park, they are for the outskirts of Town - the 4th Lot in each Zone (only 4 Trees or Trees + Question Marks can be used) and also the River; it is the Park Bench Dice faces allow you to build in the park, each building there influences all Zones - it is often very important to ensure you get at least one building in the park - and across the board is the Bridge across the River which encourages scoring for Centreville's beautiful Cottages. As I said, every die has usable faces, it's just the way you decide to use them.

 

WELCOME to CENTREVILLE is one of those games that has a dull coloured and not particularly interesting looking game board. If it is being played in a room where you are, say at a games convention it isn't a game that will immediately catch your eye. Unless you see the game box first. The box is bright and breezy, colourful, eye candy and designed to draw you towards it. The dice are similarly brightly coloured, totally in contract with the rest of the components, take a look at the Red Zone for example, it could just as easily be Brown or Pink, all the colours have been dummed down.

The rules are well written and brilliantly set out in good order, the way rules should be, with illustrations, examples and clarifications. The game is not interactive in such a way that you trade or deal with each other but you can influence other player's actions by your own. It has an amount of luck, there are dice so it follows that there is luck. There are also numerous single tiles that have specific effects for the player currently holding them. We have yet to find, if there is one, a specific path to take for probable success. There are plenty of options for each player on their Turn but because of the built-in random feature (the Dice) it is unlikely there is such a path to constant success. Another way to score points and aid you in your decisions and options is to have people in Government Offices. Each of these Offices, Mayor (Black), Urban Planning (Green), Police & Fire (Grey), Public Works (Blue), Finance (Yellow) and City Council (Red) each requires 2 Votes on the dice, one of the colour that matches the Position plus any other colour. 4 Votes of any colour can buy you a Master tile. The colour of the tile you buy doesn't have to be the same as any of the dice used to buy it. However the Master tile's colour does determine which die you can turn to whatever face you want by invoking the power of the Master. Favour tiles are gained mostly when your token is replaced at the top of the score chart, they can be used to obtain Favour Bonuses (tie breakers etc). 

I don't think that companies such as GMT who irregularly depart from their chosen war games path to put their production values into games that border on the family/gamer genre get enough credit, consideration and accolade for their courage in continually testing the waters with these different types of games. Should they lose the staid wargames look for more of a homely family look ? Maybe, because to some of my friends who do not play/like the heavier style board games its appearance was a little off-putting until I explained to them how it played. Once I got them into playing they discovered just how enjoyable and how much fun it is and they soon accepted its somewhat stoic appearance and gradually realised that to be fun a game doesn't have to be completely bursting with carnival balloons and luminous colours.

I do not grade games by stars or points for a couple of reasons. One is if I ever gave a game a 10/10 then if along came a game I liked better then it would have nowhere to go, you cannot give 11/10 and then 12/10 etc., and the other is that my reviews are only my opinions. I don't mind companies using any phrases or whatever from my review during their advertising and marketing, in fact I am pleased that some actually do, but my 9/10 may not be someone else's 9/10 and then I lose a reader or the game loses a potential customer because I scored it. On the other hand if I give a brief description of what type of game it is, how it is played and say something along the lines of I would put it in my once or twice every 3-4 weeks stack then you know that I like it but it isn't a game I want to play every day. I have made it clear that in our times of playing we haven't found the perfect winning tactic, but if we play it 2-3 times a week it is likely that we eventually will and that would kill the game for us. However by playing it roughly once a month, enjoying lots of other games in the meanwhile, then it is unlikely that we ever will find that perfect way to play and win, thus keeping each game fresh and fun.

To recount. The components are suitable for purpose and suitably strong for regular play, but along with the board they are mainly uninspiring in both colour and illustrations. The Rules are clear, well laid out and easy to follow, making it quick to go from opening the box to playing the game. The dice provide many options for Actions, as do the tokens. They [the dice] along with the Disaster tiles provide the random features. The game is enjoyable, thoughtful and satisfying. It is not thrilling or edge of seat exciting but it is a very good example of how a game of balancing finance, prestige and building should and does work. It is our opinion that it is not advisable for 2 players even though there are rules changes specifically for them. Three player games are okay but the best experience is with a full complement of four players who enjoy the lighter side of gaming. The box cover gives a reasonably imaginative visual on what is to be expected inside, but the components do not give the same visual impression. I felt I had to mention the dullness of colour use because there is so much of it, but I would also like to say how much I/we enjoy being made WELCOME to CENTREVILLE.

DOMINANT SPECIES Card Game

      

     

GMT are generally regarded as a WAR games publishing company, yet every so often they surprise with an off the wall game that has an excellent theme yet is really an abstract fun game.

Dominant Species, the board game, is an excellent example of this. The following is a description of the board game. I copied this part (in Red) from the Boardgamesgeek.com site but much of it is directly from the back of the box:-

Game Overview

15,000 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."   Through wily action pawn placement, players will strive to become  dominant on as many different terrain tiles as possible in order to claim powerful card effects. Players will also want to propagate their individual  species in order to earn victory points for their particular animal. Players will be aided in these endeavors via speciation, migration and adaptation actions,  among others.  All of this eventually leads to the end game -- the final ascent of the ice age -- where the player having accumulated the most victory points will have his animal crowned the Dominant Species. But somebody better become dominant quickly, because it’s getting mighty cold....

Game Play
The large hexagonal tiles are used throughout the game to create an ever-expanding interpretation of earth as it might have appeared a thousand centuries ago. The smaller tundra tiles will be placed atop the larger tiles -- converting them into tundra in the process -- as the ice age encroaches. The cylindrical action pawns (or "AP"s) drive the game. Each AP will allow a player to perform the various actions that can be taken, such as speciation, environmental change, migration  or glaciation. After being placed on the action display during the Planning Phase, an AP will trigger that particular action for the owning player during the Execution Phase. Generally, players will be trying to enhance their own animals’ survivability while simultaneously trying to hinder that of their opponents’ -- hopefully collecting valuable victory points (or "VP"s) along the way. The various cards will aid in these efforts, giving players useful one-time abilities or an opportunity for recurring VP gains. Throughout the game, species cubes will be added to, moved about in, and removed from the tiles in play (the "earth"). Element disks will be added to and removed from both animals and earth.  When the game ends, players will conduct a final scoring of each tile -- after which the player controlling the animal with the highest VP total wins the game.

Dominant Species, the card game uses the basic idea of survival but is a quick paced fun game that can be played quickly because the rules are so well written and it can also be easily explained to younger players. Players have a hand of cards - there is no hand size limit once the game has started - most of which have a picture of one of the six species involved and a food value; actually make that 2 food values for the cards can be turned around (not over) so that the species can be shown as suppressed (endangered) in which case the food value is devalued.

There are 10 rounds per game; the 10 Biome cards that determine the round are randomly selected from a small deck so that each game isn't exactly the same. The Biome card shows one of more element types with possibly a different number of element icons per element (eg. 3 Suns 1 Water). Players play cards towards the Biome card until they cannot or do not want to play any more or they can pass at any time. They may play any cards, one at a time, whether or not the card being played has any match with the Biome card. At the end of the round (when all players have passed) they add up the total food value - this may be enhanced or depleted by Event cards - and the player who has the highest food value total wins this part of the round and scores points accordingly - they also get to move their token on the Survival Track (this will determine the number of extra cards they get for the last round). The points scored depend on which round is being played - so Round 1 scores 1 VP while Round 4 will score 4 points etc.

Now the elements on the Biome card come into play - the player with the most of each element icon on their played cards win points to the number of element icons (per type) on the Biome card.  For example: If there are 2 Sun element icons on the BIome card, the player with the most Sun elements gets 2 points (not 2 per card or per icon).

The event cards can be game winners if held back until the best time to play them. Players can only play one card (event or species) at a time. Once a player passes they can no longer take part in the round but any cards already played still count - other players can continue to play cards.

This is a very nice game, it plays well, the cards are mostly well conceived - the only part of them that could have been better in my mind is the suppression icon on some of the cards. This is rather small, with the species under the red suppression circle (with a diagonal line), and very difficult to make out in regular home light. That is the only flaw I have found and this isn't enough to upset the want to play - the game is great fun to play.

 

      

     

GMT are generally regarded as a WAR games publishing company, yet every so often they surprise with an off the wall game that has an excellent theme yet is really an abstract fun game.

Dominant Species, the board game, is an excellent example of this. The following is a description of the board game. I copied this part (in Red) from the Boardgamesgeek.com site but much
of it is directly from the back of the box:-

Game Overview

15,000 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."  
Through wily action pawn placement, players will strive to become  dominant on as many different terrain tiles as possible in order to claim powerful card effects.
Players will also want to propagate their individual  species in order to earn victory points for their particular animal. Players will be aided in these endeavors via
speciation, migration and adaptation actions,  among others.  All of this eventually leads to the end game -- the final ascent of the ice age -- where the player having
accumulated the most victory points will have his animal crowned the Dominant Species. But somebody better become dominant quickly, because it’s getting mighty cold....

Game Play
The large hexagonal tiles are used throughout the game to create an ever-expanding interpretation of earth as it might have appeared a thousand centuries ago. The
smaller tundra tiles will be placed atop the larger tiles -- converting them into tundra in the process -- as the ice age encroaches. The cylindrical action pawns (or "AP"s)
drive the game. Each AP will allow a player to perform the various actions that can be taken, such as speciation, environmental change, migration  or glaciation. After being 

placed on the action display during the Planning Phase, an AP will trigger that particular action for the owning player during the Execution Phase. Generally, players will be
trying to enhance their own animals’ survivability while simultaneously trying to hinder that of their opponents’ -- hopefully collecting 
valuable victory points (or "VP"s) along
the way. The various cards will aid in these efforts, giving players useful one-time abilities or an opportunity for recurring VP 
gains. Throughout the game, species cubes will
be added to, moved about in, and removed from the tiles in play (the "earth"). Element disks will be added to and removed 
from both animals and earth.  When the game ends,
players will conduct a final scoring of each tile -- after which the player controlling the animal with the highest VP total wi
ns the game.


Dominant Species, the card game uses the basic idea of survival but is a quick paced fun game that can be played quickly because the rules are so well written and it can also be
easily explained to younger players. Players have a hand of cards - there is no hand size limit once the game has started - most of which have a picture of one of the six species
involved and a food value; actually make that 2 food values for the cards can be turned around (not over) so that the species can be shown as suppressed (endangered) in which
case the food value is devalued.

There are 10 rounds per game; the 10 Biome cards that determine the round are randomly selected from a small deck so that each game isn't exactly the same. The Biome card
shows one of more element types with possibly a different number of element icons per element (eg. 3 Suns 1 Water). Players play cards towards the Biome card until they cannot
or do not want to play any more or they can pass at any time. They may play any cards, one at a time, whether or not the card being played has any match with the Biome card.
At the end of the round (when all players have passed) they add up the total food value - this may be enhanced or depleted by Event cards - and the player who has the highest
food value total wins this part of the round and scores points accordingly - they also get to move their token on the Survival Track (this will determine the number of extra cards they
get for the last round). The points scored depend on which round is being played - so Round 1 scores 1 VP while Round 4 will score 4 points etc.

Now the elements on the Biome card come into play - the player with the most of each element icon on their played cards win points to the number of element icons (per type) on  the
Biome card.  For example: If there are 2 Sun element icons on the BIome card, the player with the most Sun elements gets 2 points (not 2 per card or per icon).

The event cards can be game winners if held back until the best time to play them. Players can only play one card (event or species) at a time. Once a player passes they can no longer
take part in the round but any cards already played still count - other players can continue to play cards.

This is a very nice game, it plays well, the cards are mostly well conceived - the only part of them that could have been better in my mind is the suppression icon on some of the cards.
This is rather small, with the species under the red suppression circle (with a diagonal line), and very difficult to make out in regular home light. That is the only flaw I have found and this
isn't enough to upset the want to play - the game is great fun to play.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015