We don’t need to worry about the how or why on this, but there is a small island in the Pacific Ocean that contains a living, full-grown Velociraptor and her five babies. Scientists need those babies for study (those idiots) but getting them won’t be easy. Their protective mother is cunning and dangerous. On the other hand, she is also outnumbered and outgunned.
This is the central premise of Matagot’s engrossing two-player game Raptor. Players can choose between invading the island as humans or defending it as a mother dinosaur. If the humans capture three babies or successfully put the mother to sleep, they win. If three babies escape or the mom kills all the humans, she wins.
Physically, the game is simultaneously modest and busy. The board itself - a collection of ten assembled titles - doesn’t take up much room, but it can be filled with mountain barriers and fire tokens. Humans and dinosaurs are represented with detailed plastic figurines rather than bland wooden or cardboard pieces. These go along way toward enhancing the game’s fun story, particularly when playing as the ferocious mother Raptor.
As such, you’re always gambling what you need to accomplish against what you think your opponent will attempt. Sometimes you want big action points, sometimes you don’t. Both have uses, of course, and so players are encouraged to plan for two different outcomes with the start of each new round. A good card duel can turn the game around quickly, which leads to some pretty intense showdowns as the game progresses.
Raptor is a fairly easy game to learn once you push yourself through a few rounds. Each player gets a “cheat sheet” containing all pertinent information about what their cards mean, what their action points can do, and how they are progressing in the game. Before long, you won’t need this, as the game is far simpler than it appears at first, but it is very nice to have as you’re learning.
The game is also very different depending on which side you choose. Humans can shoot the mother across the board, and at first it seems too easy for them to gang up on each baby. Meanwhile, Raptor babies have no defense of their own, and moving them toward their exits is laborious and time-consuming.
Because of this, early games will likely favor the humans. Overall, the game is not hard to learn, but successfully playing as the Raptor requires a bit more nuance. For instance, it may seem obvious to put your babies as close to the exits as possible when the game begins. After a while, however, players learn that the babies are safer when closer to their mother. While you can win by getting them off the board, that path is not at all likely until the humans have been thinned out a bit.
Movement in Raptor is a very limited currency. Per card duel, you might only come away with three our four action points to use across a host of characters, so you need to be very deliberate with your strategy. Just moving toward your exits as dinos or moving on babies as humans simply won’t work out well for you. That mother Velociraptor moves similar to the Queen in Chess and can wipe out a whole board in one round if you’re not careful. The dual measures of success, paired with the unique card-dueling mechanism keeps both players on their toes throughout the game.
Raptor’s box estimates a game takes thirty minutes to play. I’ve played a couple that took about that long, but most are over much quicker. The game seems designed for players to actually play twice in a row, switching roles for the second game. As I said before, the experience varies a great deal depending on which side you play, so one needs to try them both for the full experience Raptor has to offer.
This won’t be a big hit at a board gaming night since only two can play at the same time. On the other hand, there are plenty of situations that call for two-player games. Raptor won’t take you deep into the evening, but it is an enjoyable quick game that only gets more tense and fun the more opposing players get accustomed to how it all works.