I typically don’t like card games; War was just about the only one I was ever good at, and I never really bothered to learn blackjack, poker, or Egyptian ratscrew. Be that as it may, there finally has come a card game that I can get into (as can anyone else with an interest in paleontology) and that game is Bone Wars. Based upon the famous “Bone Wars” that occurred during the late 1800’s. You can play as E.D. Cope, O.C. Marsh, Barnum Brown, or Charles Sternberg, each with their own “special abilities” that can be used to your advantage.
The game works on a basic 3-stage system (Field Work, Museum, & Controversy) where fossils are collected, named, and then revised, players winning or losing “prestige points” along the way. For instance, during field season you might draw a card that allows you to draw an extra bone card, and in the museum phase you can use that bone (in conjunction with at least one other and a “name” card) to name a new species of dinosaur. If your cards don’t match up right (i.e. you put Apatosaurus vertebrae on a skeleton named Dilophosaurus), you can revise it yourself or your opponent can, and there are plenty of cards like “Head on the Wrong End” that can be played to make your opponent lose points while you rack them up. It seems a little complex at first, but it’s very easy to get the hang of, especially when people like me realize that the goal of the game is to gain as much prestige by naming as many dinosaurs as possible, no matter how inaccurate the skeletons may be.
What makes this game really wonderful is all the different event cards, each containing a quote from Marsh, Cope, Sternberg, or Brown. Certain “event” cards allow you to sway diggers from the other side over with whisky, carrying a bigger gun to prevent theft, blow up your opponents fossils, take priority over bones you have (but can’t name yet), and lots of other tactics that will be familiar to those who have taken an interest in this period of paleontology.
The only real trouble with the game is that there are so few “bone” and “name” cards that playing past 15 points or so (the cards are marked to 20) becomes nearly impossible; the game becomes more a matter of luck once the bones run out, being that it’s impossible to revise a skeleton if you have nothing to do it with. This can be remedied by playing shorter games, of course, but it would be nice to have a little more “fossil material” in play (and what about version with all the old, no-longer-valid names like Laelaps, eh?).
Still, Bone Wars is a wonderful game whether you just like cards are or interested in paleontology, and probably would make a great gift for kids over 10/11 years old. In fact, it could even be a great tool for educators or friends who want to introduce other people to paleontology and taxonomy, as the game relies on properly revising skeletons based on anatomy once you’ve named your dinosaur (no matter how aberrant your combination may be). Simply put, this is one of the most fun and (dare I say it) educational games out there, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a fun way to pass the time this summer.