Raptor probably seems like a strange choice for a pub game. After all, it’s a game with a significant footprint, it’s only a two player game and so you can’t play it with all of your friends, and it’s got a bunch of cardboard components which are difficult to meaningfully proof against the hostile play surfaces you’ll find in your average pub (or at least, the ones I frequent). In fact, given my general lack of coordination, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that one day our copy will be destroyed by a toppled pint.
That said, in a lot of ways, Raptor is the game which is responsible for this blog.
Last summer, half a dozen brewers from Mountain Goat Brewery went head to head to see who could brew the best single keg of beer. The prizes: glory, and a truly terrible trophy. We went along and spent a balmy afternoon playing Raptor over pints of funky beer, delicious pizza, and a ludicrously generous charcuterie board.
It was the first time our copy of Raptor had been taken for an away game and over the course of that afternoon at least half a dozen people, including the waiter, waitress, bar staff and a brewer, stopped by our table to ask what we were playing and talk about games.
For me, that afternoon was exactly what beer and games are about, bringing people together and letting them pleasantly pass time in each other’s company.
The first conversation happened in the Uber home, and this blog began to take shape in our minds shortly thereafter.
So Raptor deserves a place in this blog, because even though it’s not a terribly social game, or terribly pub-proof, even though it takes a reasonable sized table to play, it is a pub game. Because more than any other game we’ve played, Raptor is a game that causes passersby to pause, take a look at the board, and eventually strike up a conversation.
And I, personally, struggle to think of better topics of conversation than science gone wrong, and dinosaurs. I’m basically still my ten-year-old self.
So what is Raptor? It’s an asymmetrical 2 player game about a frequently ill-fated scientific expedition to an isolated island in the south pacific.
One player plays a team of scientists who have discovered dinosaurs are not extinct and, naturally, when faced with this incredible discovery, have decided that the only logical course of action is to attempt to capture some baby dinosaurs for reasons best not thought too deeply about.
The other player plays a family of Raptors, five babies, and a mummy raptor who, not surprisingly, doesn’t take too kindly to the idea of her children being kidnapped for nefarious experiments.
It should come as no surprise then that before long the island starts to resemble something from the Jurassic Park franchise.
Even though each side of the conflict plays quite differently I’m constantly amazed not only by how well balanced the raptors and scientists are but also how fun it is to play both sides.
When I originally heard about the game I imagined that it’d be a great time to play the raptors, after all, what could be more fun than disappearing into the jungle only to reappear and chow down on some poor scientist’s face. The scientists? Well, I didn’t expect it to be a lot of fun to play raptor bait.
Thankfully, I was very wrong. Yes, the scientists get eaten by mummy raptor with a frequency that makes it advisable not to get too attached. However, they’re also super fun to play. Torching swathes of jungle with their firebombs, shooting off grenades of sleeping gas, and roaring about the island in their jeeps.
So how does Raptor play?
You’ll draw a hand of three cards each of which has a number from one to nine and an effect. Both players secretly select a card to play and reveal them simultaneously. The player with the lowest numbered card resolves the effect on their card, then the player with the highest card gets a number of action points equal to the difference in the numbers on the cards. If the numbers on both cards are the same then the round is a wash and both players draw cards to fill their hands and choose again.
Each side has different things they can spend those action points on. The raptors can move the mummy raptor orthogonally as far as she likes, eat adjacent scientists, wake up an adjacent baby raptor, or put out all of the contiguous fire tokens of an adjacent fire, the can also move baby raptors a single space (usually towards the edge of the board and freedom).
The team of scientists, on the other hand, can have a frightened scientist recover, move any scientist a single space, or take a single offensive action with a scientist. These offensive actions (shooting the mummy raptor, putting an adjacent baby raptor to sleep, or capturing an adjacent sleeping baby raptor) are how the scientists win the game.
However, each scientist can only perform a single offensive action each term which means the team of scientists are constantly struggling to bring multiple scientists to bear faster than the mummy raptor can devour them. This opposed goal, and the card effects that alternatively put baby raptors to sleep or wakes them up is as close to symmetry as Raptor gets.
Otherwise, your actions are different, your win conditions are different, and the moment to moment decision making is different. It’s a tightly balanced, tense, game and one of the best things I can think of to pair with Sunday afternoon sun and beers.