A game for 2-5 players by Ralf Lehmkuhl, published by Gecko Games (Germany)
These comments copyright 2002 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated November 30, 2002

The Triassic

Trias means Triassic in German, and it's a game of the breakup of Pangaea, the ur-continent that once comprised all the continental crust of the earth. During the Triassic, Pangaea split into Laurasia and Gondwanaland, which further fragmented into the current continents. (I have a button that says "Reunite Gondwanaland!" that I sometimes wear to game conventions, but that's not at all germane to this review, sorry.)

The game consists of 39 hexagonal tiles, 39 cards, at least 16 wooden cubes in each of five different colors, a scoring track, five rules summary cards in both English and German, and the rules, also in English and German. (Other language versions of the rules can be found on the publisher's website.)

The components, while not spiffy, are attractive and sturdy enough. There are really only three types of tiles in play, and they're mostly just color with a small amount of decoration, so the board looks a bit bland compared to most German games. But it's not garish or unpleasant - it's quite serviceable.

The Setup and the Theme

Each player takes 15 cubes of the same color, and places the 16th on the scoring track. (There should be a zero space, but it seems to be missing.) The one "South Pole" tile and the two water tiles are removed from the hexagons, and the remaining 36 are shuffled. Count out 16 of those, and then shuffle in the two water tiles. These eighteen tiles are then placed in two concentric rings around the South Pole. Create one more outer ring with the remaining 20 tiles, leaving two tiles unplayed - return them to the box. At this point, remove the two water tiles - they were just there to create some large inland seas. From now on, everything that's not land is water.

The cards should be sorted into two decks: those with a "1" on the back, and those with a "2" on the back. Shuffle each deck separately, then stack the 1s on top of the 2s to create a whole deck of 39 cards. Each player is dealt one card.

Players then take turns placing their cubes - now called "herds" - on the board. Each player places two cubes in one hex, but not in the same hex another player has chosen. This is repeated, so each player starts with four herds on the board and 11 in stock.

There are three types of tiles: green forests, yellow steppes, and gray mountains. Forests can hold up to four herds, steppes up to three, and mountains up to two.

The object of the game is to disperse your herds onto as many landmasses as possible. While there is some scoring during the game, and it's not to be taken lightly, most of the scoring is at the end of the game, so you need to be playing with an eye for that.

Each turn a piece of Pangaea breaks off and is reattached elsewhere. Sometimes a piece is removed that creates separate land masses - you want herds on as many landmasses as possible! Sometimes a tile your herds were on disappears. The rules drily inform you that your herds are now called "swimmers" ...

A Typical Turn

So let's say it's my turn. My handy player aid card tells me I have four phases, some of which are optional. But the first one is mandatory: I must "drift" a tile. A tile is drifted by removing it from the board and reattaching it elsewhere. There are some key rules to remember when drifting, and they're all good rules. (I know, because we played wrong once, and it wasn't very good ...)

Drift rules include:

  • You can only take a tile from a landmass on which you have at least one herd.
  • You can only reattach a tile further away from the South Pole than where it was before you removed it.
  • You can only reattach a tile to the land mass from which it came. It's possible that removing a tile can create two or even three landmasses, any one of which meets this criterion. In this case, you may choose which land mass to add the tile to. It's also possible to place a tile so as to join two or even three separate landmasses together - that's also legal.
  • You can never drift the South Pole.
  • You can never drift a one-hex island.
So I start by drifting a tile. I'll talk later about some drifting choices, right now I'll just mention the mechanic. Everyone has a one-card "hand." A card simply shows a green, yellow, or gray hexagon - if I play the card in my hand, I must drift a hexagon of that color. If I want to try for a different color, I may keep my hand and take the top card from the draw pile. I must play this card, however, if I take this route.

So let's say I draw a yellow card - I must drift a yellow tile. (If there are no yellow tiles on any landmass where I have a presence, I may choose any other color.) So I pick up a yellow tile and place it somewhere further from the South Pole than where I picked it up, but still connected, through as many tiles as I wish, to the landmass I got the tile from in the first place. Oh, the chosen tile must touch the ocean - not just an inner sea, but the actual surrounding ocean, which can come quite a ways inland and eventually split Pangaea apart.

Scoring may occur after drifting - more on that later. After scoring, if any, I now may spend up to four action points as the second phase of my turn. The player aid tells me I have some choices:

  • For one action point I can move one herd one space.
  • For one action point I can reproduce: place a herd in the same space as one of my existing herds.
  • For a third of an action point I can rescue one swimmer: move it to an adjacent land tile.
  • For three action points I can drift another tile without play of a card - pick any color tile on any landmass where I have a presence and drift it.
I can do these actions in any order I want, simply counting out my action points as I use them. There are some restrictions: I can't move into a space that already has its herd capacity met, for example. But once the game starts, I can move into another player's space if there's room for me. It's often a good idea, in fact.

My next phase is mandatory if applicable: any of my "swimmers" still in the water are now "drowners" - they are returned to my stock. Likewise, if I have more herds on a hex than it can support, the excess are returned to my stock.

The final phase of my turn, before the next player takes his turn, is to draw a card if I played my one-card hand. If I held my card and took a random card, I don't draw - no one may have more than one card in their hand.

Pretty simple, and usually it goes pretty quickly. Sometimes a player will have to think pretty hard about drifting or how to spend his four action points, but usually the game moves along at a fairly good clip.

Scoring and Winning

There may or may not be scoring rounds during the game. Oh, probably some, but they're not a given. There will be scoring when the game ends, though - that's guaranteed. Scoring is different during the game than at game end.

In order to score during the game, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You can only score after a drift - either your mandatory drift, and/or a drift you buy for three action points. It's possible to score twice on your turn, in fact.
  • The drift must create a separate land mass. This can be the first big chunk breaking off from the South Pole land mass, or it can be a two-hex island created from a three-hex island. Or anything in between. If you join two land masses together, you will not score.
  • Only the land mass to which you add the drifted tile will score.
  • The land mass containing the South Pole will never score.
If you meet all these requirements, and have made a legal drift by the drift rules above, there will be a score. Whoever has the most herds on the scoring landmass scores two points, and whoever has the second-most herds scores one point. Ties benefit all tied players - there are clear examples in the rule book.

At the end of the game, each land mass is scored separately. In this case, the size of the landmass is important: the bigger the landmass, the more points it's worth. The player with the most herds on a landmass receives one point for each hex in the land mass. The second player gets one half that score, round up. In this case, the tie rules are different, but again are clearly spelled out.

When does the game end? Remember some cards in the deck have a "1" card on the back, and some have a "2"? There are nine "2" cards, which are the bottom nine cards of the deck if you've assembled it correctly. One of them shows a meteorite striking the earth. When that card is drawn, it signals the final round of the game. (If I draw it in my Phase 1, I get my final turn right then. If I draw it in Phase 4 of my turn, the next player begins the final round and I'll have last turn of the game.) The last round of a game is a bit anti-climactic: you only get two action points and there is no more drifting, so there's not much you can do beyond reproducing or saving some swimmers to try to get your numbers up.

Some Tactics

The game has some very interesting depth to it - more than you realize in your first playing. Some things you can do to help yourself and hurt others include:

  • Drifting a tile with someone else's herds on it. This removes them from the calculation if a scoring occurs before their next turn. It also forces them to spend an action point rescuing them or lose them.
  • Conversely, drifting a tile with your own herds can also be a good idea sometimes! This is true if you're too far inland, for example, and have three herds you want to move, all on the same tile in the wrong place. By making them swimmers yourself, you can move them all one space (and not necessarily in the same direction!) for only one action point instead of having to pay three action points to move them individually. In fact, sometimes (especially in the two-player game where you have fewer herds) you want to drown your own herds to return them to stock so you can reproduce them elsewhere...
  • Placing a drifted tile in the same space as your swimmers. This is perfectly legal, and is a way to rescue swimmers without having to spend action points to do so: the land rises up from under them.
  • Blocking: filling a tile on a peninsula to capacity with your herds so that others cannot get by you. Unfortunately, this is usually begging for a drift, but it can be a temporary plug ...
  • Joining and then redrifting. Sometimes you can score the same land mass over and over by joining it to another landmass, then paying three action points to drift it apart again. It's only two points per shot, though, and using three action points like that means three herds that don't move or reproduce ...
  • Catching a landmass you're not on: if there's a big landmass you're not on, your only chance to get in on the scoring is to bridge to it and then run across the bridge far enough that the others can't sink you out again. Takes a lot of points and is risky, but is often worth it.
  • Cutting others out of your land mass: drift a tile they're on, move the drifted tile so they can't reach it, and make sure that the only tile on your landmass they're adjacent to is full of your critters so they can't climb up.
  • Gang up on the leader: don't be afraid to propose a one-two punch to another player if it's obvious you're both far behind another player. Sometimes that's the only way to catch the leader. "I'll sink this tile and move here. If you then sink that tile and move there, we'll cut him off of this landmass and we'll share the points, okay?"
It's a surprisingly good two-player game, by the way. There are separate rules - no in-game scoring, one less concentric ring of tiles, fewer cards, fewer herds, and only three action points per turn. Nonetheless, it's a pretty deep and engrossing game played this way.

By the way, the publisher's website has a rule change for the three-player version you should know about: remove one card of each type from the "1" deck when playing with three players.

Why Wouldn't You Like This Game?

Hmmm - well, it's a bowbing game, and some people don't care for those.

Some people may be turned off by the luck of a one-card hand, but I like that part of it. With only three types of tiles, you shouldn't have a larger hand - there'd be no point to it.

Too bad they couldn't use the little ichthos from Urland - the cubes are a bit dull in this particular game. Oddly enough, I like cubes representing caballeros or aristocrats, but herds of prehistoric creatures should look more like animals somehow.

[Note added May 24, 2004: the second edition DOES come with little wooden dinosaurs! You can order them separately from the publisher's website, listed above, if you have the first edition.]

It's not quite as good with five players as it is with four or fewer: it goes a bit too quickly and you lose some control over your destiny. Four is probably optimum, though it works well with three and two.

It's possible to gang up on the leader - this is actually a plus to me, but some people hate those types of games.

Not much else wrong with the game at all.

Summing Up

An excellent game requiring thinking but not overly cerebral. Lots of choices each turn, and opportunities to work with others against a common foe. Interesting theme, plays in an hour, leaves you wanting more. A good game we'll pull out fairly regularly over the years, I'm quite sure.

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