Holotype Mesozoic North America Review, A paleontology themed board game

Collect dinosaur fossils, conduct research, work with museums, and publish your findings in Holotype Mesozoic North America, a fast-paced worker placement, paleontology game from Brexwerx Games.

My entire family has really enjoyed this quick paced, fast flowing and semi educational board game that features some of the coolest dino artwork I’ve seen.

Disclosure: Big thanks to Brexwerx Games for hooking us up with a review copy of their first Holotype game. Links below may be affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

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What is Holotype Mesozoic North America?

The box cover for Holotype Mesozoic North America a fast flowing worker placement game about dinosaur researach

Holotype Mesozoic North America (which I will just call Holotype for the majority of this review) is a worker placement, set collection board game from the design team of Brett Harrison and Lex Terenchin and is the first game published by their company Brexwerx Games. It was originally published through Kickstarter, funding back in 2022, and getting to backers in 2023. You should be able to find the game at your FLGS and at most online stores. 

Holotype plays two to five players, with games taking an hour or two which is very dependent on the player count. While Brexwerx has this one listed as ages 14 plus we think a younger audience will also dig it, especially with the dinosaur theme. While it has some meat, the game is on the lighter side of worker placement Euros, and there are optional rules to make the game even more kid and family friendly.

In Holotype players control a team of researchers, which start off as a paleontologist and their assistant. Players use these workers to collect fossils, search for specimens, do research, work with museums, and eventually publisher papers.

Playing the dinosaur research game Holotype from Brexwerx games.

These papers you publish include holotypes on various Mesozoic era dinosaurs and marine reptiles. After publishing three papers, you attract a grad student. Players also score additional points for completing personal and global objectives.

For a look at the very striking dino artwork and very functional components in this educational game, check out our Holotype Unboxing Video on YouTube

The artwork in this game really is great, as is the card design, board layout and iconography. The custom fossil dice are very well made and everything is in colourblind friendly colours.

While the overall look may not be as shiny and polished as some modern games, the game components are very functional.

The game also includes a practical plastic box insert, that works best if you keep the game flat. The instructions are very clear and I don’t remember having to reference them very often.

How Holotype Mesozoic North America is Played

All set up for a three player game of Holotype Mesozoic North America

Start Holotype by finding the main board and Field Advancement boards that match your player count. Shuffle up all of the different decks of cards and place each deck beside the main board. Place the Triceratops marker at the start of the Field Advancement track. Draw and lay out global objectives equal to the player count plus one.

Each player gets a player board and upgrade chips in their chosen colour. They draw an initial hand of three species cards and two personal objectives. They then choose one objective card to keep and the rest are returned to the box.

Players start the game with two workers, a Paleontologist and an Assistant. Once a player publishes their third paper they unlock a Grad Student. Each turn players will either place a single worker out on the board and complete the action for that spot or they can choose collect all of their workers off of the board, which also earns them one research cube.

There are a limited number of spots on the main board, and less of these spots the lower your player count. A worker can bump a worker of the same level or lower, with the levels being Paleontologist, then Grad Student and finally Assistant.

Two paleontologists going hunting for fossils in a game of Holotype Mesozoic North America.

In addition to being the lowest ranked piece, Assistants aren’t as powerful as the other workers. They provide less options and resources than the other workers, and they cannot even use the publish papers space.

There are only five actions in Holotype and they are all pretty simple to resolve. You go to the specimen lab to get new specimen cards, either from the deck or the top of the discard pile. 

You go on field expeditions to get fossils by drawing cards, picking one site to visit and then rolling the custom dice to see what fossils you find. These could include trace fossils (which are played along with specimen cards for bonus points)

You go to the university library to earn research cubes, needed to publish Holotypes.

At the museum you can trade fossils for other fossils or for research cubes. You can only trade based on what the museum currently has on hand and at multiple points throughout the game the museums “market” refreshes.

When publishing a journal in Holotype you can add one trace fossil to each paper.

The final action you can take is to publish a journal. There are two types and you can only do one or the other each time you use this spot.

The first option lets you publish a Holotype. You play a specimen card in your hand to your personal tableau by paying the cost of the card in fossils and research. Also, you can add a trace fossil to any non-marine specimen for the cost of one additional fossil of the appropriate type. This advances the Field Advancement Track. 

The Field Advancement Track is the timer for the game, once a set number of papers are published the game immediately ends. Make sure everyone playing is aware of this, as some people we have played with were shocked by how abrupt the ending of Holotype is.

The game can also end before this if a set number of global objectives are claimed. Whenever the Advancement Track is advanced, you also need to check for two special symbols. One indicates that the museum needs to refreshed with a new set of six fossils. The other indicates that you have hit a milestone and every player gets to choose an upgrade.

Nearing the end of a game of Holotype. Each player has already published a number of papers and has three of their four upgrades.

Each player gets the same set of six upgrades at the start of the game, represented by tiles which fit on your personal player board. The advancement track has four milestone spots on it (regardless of player count) so each player will earn four of their six advancements by the end of the game.

Advancements do things like letting you hold more fossils, getting you additional research cubes from the library, letting you look at and keep more specimen cards, letting you take specimen cards from anywhere in the discard pile (not just the top), etc. 

The second way players can use the publishing journals space is to claim one of the global objectives. Each global objective lists a different requirement, which are referenced to all of the cards in all of the players tableaus. If a player can fulfill an objective using only their own cards, this action is free. If they have to use even one card held by another player this action instead costs five research to “cite the other players’ work”.  

Note you don’t have to have any of the cards yourself, you can claim a global objective even if you personally did not contribute to it at all. When you do claim an objective, you move a scoring disc from the leftmost spot on your board and place it on the claimed objective. If all of the objectives on a number of cards equal to the player count are full, the game ends immediately.

Adding up our points at the end of a game of Holotype Mesozoic North America

At the end of the game players score points for all of their published holotypes, their trace fossils played, the number of global objectives they have claimed and their personal objectives. The player with the most points wins. 

If you are interested in playing with younger kids or just want a more family friendly experience, the rules include a “Basal Variant” where you remove the personal objectives, global objectives, and milestones. There are also rules for a shorter or longer game, which just involves using the Field Advancement Boards for a higher or lower player count.

Holotype Mesozoic North America is going to appeal to a wide range of gamers.

Which holotype should I try complete first. I'm leaning towards the Camptosaurs

There’s something about Holotype Mesozoic North America that just feels right. The game feels good when playing it. It feels balanced, it’s tight, and it flows really well. The mechanics are nothing new, but they work really well together and also manage to tie in well to the theme. The actions you are taking with your workers make sense in regards to researching dinos and publishing papers.

If anything is off it’s the graphic design and look of the game. There’s something indie and unpolished about it. Now my wife loves it, it’s bare bones and functional, but my podcast co-host Sean was taken aback by it and it made him less willing to try the game as he felt the game has an ‘educational game’ look to it.

I guess that fits though as this is a semi-educational game. While it’s not at the level of some of Genius Games’ games, this game gives you a feel for the work that goes into dinosaur research and I dig the cute thematic nods like being able to cite other people’s work to publish papers.

There is one part of Holotype that may be just a bit too thematic and that’s the fight to publish and claim those global objectives. Claiming global objectives can get you a lot of points, especially if you manage to place all five of your discs.

Part way through a three player game of Holotype. My family loves this worker placement board game.

Competition for claiming these can be a big part of the game which leads to what seems to me to be unintended or at least unusual gameplay. I’ve often seen players fully able to publish a Holotype holding off because they are worried they will just be giving another player points by allowing a global objective to be completed. I’ve also seen players stock up on knowledge cubes just so that they can snipe any global objective that opens up.

Some of the people I’ve played Holotype with actually love this aspect of this game. The aspect of playing chicken and the fact that you really need to watch every card every player puts on the table. They like having to keep a running total in their head and constantly checking the globals to see if anyone may have missed something.

After multiple plays of Holotype, the thing we’ve learned is that this issue didn’t matter as much as it seemed like it did when it first came up. I’ve seen two players win the game without claiming a global objective at all. While other players were busying collecting research cubes they were publishing papers and focusing on their personal objectives.

The custom dice from Holotype Mesozoic North America. Image from the game designer.

Another thematic tie in that I really enjoy is the way you choose sites and roll dice to generate fossils. Normally I don’t like randomness in euro-style worker placement games, but I think here it’s a great thematic tie in to real life fossil hunting. Plus, even if you don’t get what you want, there’s always the option to trade with the museum.

The artwork in Holotype is fantastic. The dinos (and aquatic reptiles) on the cards are some of the best I’ve seen. One of my kids is also obsessed with the data on the cards like, where the creature was found, what it’s scientific name is as well as the name most people use for each one. Whenever we play with her when you want to publish a paper you also have to explain what paper you published and read off stats like if it’s a carnivore and how long it is.

What I think could use a bit of improvement is the iconography on the cards and that’s mainly due to the global objectives. In Holotype you need to be able to look around the table and see what other people have published at a glance. The icons are pretty good for this but could be better. How players organise their cards can also help with this and I wish the rulebook included a sample tableau showing how to best sort things.

Playing Holotype with my family. All four of us really enjoy this dinosaur research themed board game.

We’re obviously not the only ones who have had a problem with this as someone has created a Global Objective Tracker and put it up for free on Board Game Geek. Now personally I find this removes that element of really watching everyone’s cards and hoping another player misses something, but I fully understand not everyone wanting that to be part of this part of the game.

Another suggestion I’ve seen is putting dice on each objective and counting them down as new Holotypes are played.

Overall, Holotype Mesozoic North America has been a hit for us. My family really enjoys this game, with my youngest claiming it’s one of the best games we’ve played. It has also been a hit at local public play events, with gamers of various experience levels. It even managed to win over a local gamer who usually sticks to cooperative games. They really liked how yes you were competing to have the most points but the game felt like they were all working together to spread the knowledge and love of dinosaurs.

If you, or possibly more importantly your kids, are into dinosaurs, you should pick up Holotype. If your kids are younger, stick to the Basal Variant until they are ready for more complexity.

Then you can add in the other parts one at a time. If my kids were younger I would have started with the milestones first, then personal objectives, and leave the global objectives for last. 

I could also see using Holotype in a classroom setting, though the game plays five players at the most. Maybe you could break the kids into teams for it to work with a bigger group. Sadly the game doesn’t include a solo mode or I would recommend that for science class.

Worker placement game fans should also check out Holotype. While it’s not really doing anything new, there’s a flow here you don’t usually get with these kinds of games. Turns are lightning quick, and the publishing of multiple papers gives you a feeling that you are accomplishing something during play.

For everyone else, see if you can give Holotype Mesozoic North America a shot. There’s a lot here to like and not a lot that I think will turn people off. Most importantly, don’t dismiss this one as a kids’ game just because it’s about dinosaurs and marine reptiles. 

That brings us to the end of my research paper on Holotype Mesozoic North America. I hope I’ve covered everything you want to know about this new to me game discovery. What did you learn today? Let me know in the comments below, or better yet cite my work by sharing this review with your fellow gamers!

Holotype: Mesozoic North America
  • Paleontology Dinosaur Board Game for 2-5 players
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