Dino Dig

Release Date: 
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
PDF icon dinodigpieces.pdf124.37 KB
Setup Time: 
Play Duration (new players): 
Play Duration (experienced): 
Minimum number of players: 
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Minimum Age: 

by Jonathan Leistiko


You’re a world-famous paleontologist. You’ve been commissioned by a prestigious museum to unearth and assemble a dinosaur. There’s a new dig site rich in fossils. Find the biggest dino!


Gather specific sets of cards while placing useless cards where your opponents will find them.

You Need

  • A standard poker deck
  • A home base and a set of six pawns (three matched pairs of paleontologists and backpacks) for each player. You can print the Dino Dig pieces.

Setting Up

Lay out the dig site:

Leave the jokers in the deck and shuffle it.

Deal out the cards face-down in a 4×5 grid as shown below, with the number on the grid being the number of cards in that space.

2 2 2\* 2 2
3 4 3 4 3
3 4 3 4 3
2 2 2\* 2 2

Home bases are outside the grid, next to a card, not on one.

If playing with two players, place your home base marker next to a starred square that does not have a home base yet. If playing with three or four players, do the same but place your base next to a corner square.

Put your three paleontologists on your home base. Keep their backpacks in front of you.

Get your contract:

Two players: Pick Hearts or Diamonds. The suit represents the dinosaur you’ve been contracted to find. Your opponent is tasked with finding the one you didn’t select.

Three or four players: Each player picks a unique suit to try to find.

Choose a player to go first:

Starting with the youngest player, each player gets 5 seconds to name a dinosaur. No player may name a dinosaur that has already been named. Any player who repeats a dinosaur or fails to name one is “out.” The last player standing starts the game.

Alternatively, the youngest player can go first.


On your turn, each of your pieces may move or dig.

Move: Enter an adjacent space that is not occupied by more than one piece controlled by an opponent.

Diagonal squares are not adjacent. In the layout diagram in Setting Up, each corner space is adjacent to one space with two cards and one space with three cards, but is not adjacent to a space with 4 cards.

Dig: Look at the top card of the space that you’re in. Put that card in your hand. You may:

  • Place the card face-up on an adjacent square. If your home base is adjacent you can place it there. If you do, it immediately goes into your museum, face-down.
  • Place the card face-down on your current square.
  • Place the card face-down under that paleontologist’s backpack. Any card that was in the backpack must be placed face-down in the paleontologist’s current square or face-up in an adjacent square, because a backpack can hold only one item.
  • Express Ship: Pass a card from a paleontologist’s backpack to an adjacent paleontologist. That paleontologist may pass the card to another adjacent paleontologist or treat it as if it has just been dug up (see the options above). If passed to another paleontologist, that paleontologist has the same options.


The game ends when one player has all three paleontologists on his or her home base and has at least 5 cards in his or her museum.


When the game is over, turn all of the cards in your museum face-up. The player with the longest run (ex: 9-10-J-Q) of cards wins. Ties go to the run with the highest card in it. (Ace is high card and does not wrap to the 2.)

You can use cards that are not in your suit to make your run. If another player has a card in his or her backpack or museum that’s adjacent to the out-of-suit card you’re using, your entire skeleton is invalidated. You must give the out-of-suit card to that player.

Jokers can count as any card, but if another player has a card in his or her backpack or museum that’s identical or adjacent to the card that the joker is mimicking, your entire skeleton is invalidated.

Cards in backpacks do not go to a museum unless a player who does not control that backpack could use that card to extend an in-suit run. In that case, transfer the card to that player’s museum.


No Fakes: If your jokers are missing, deal 4 cards to the two center spaces and three cards to the spaces that would normally have 4 cards.

Freelance: Write down a suit at the start of the game. That’s your “in-suit” suit for this game. Players may have the same chosen suit.

Free-For-All: You may make dinosaurs of any suit. You may not use cards of multiple suits to make dinosaurs. Jokers are only invalidated if the card that they’re mimicking is in another player’s backpack or museum.

De-regulation: Home base sites are not pre-selected. Place your home base marker next to a card in the Dig Site that does not already have a home base next to it. Keep in mind that home bases are outside the grid of cards: your home base may only be adjacent to one card in the Dig Site.

New Horizons: Lay out a face-down 3×3 grid of cards two cards deep on the table. This is the Dig Site. Deal out the remaining cards, but do not look at them. Players take turns adding one card to the Dig Site by placing a card face-down next to a card or on top of a card.

Home base selection proceeds according to De-regulation, above, starting with the last player to lay a card and proceeding backward until all players have a home base.

Origin and Credits

According to my files, I transferred Dino Dig from my notepad to my iBook on January 25th, 2002. It’s hard for me to remember what my motives were for making the game, since it was so long ago. I think I was trying for a puzzle-type game, with elements of a race game and a memory (a la Deluxe Memory) game. I was also trying to create a game that played well with two players, which is why so many resources are concealed at the start of and during the game.

Thanks to the Monday Night Games group for playtesting. The scoring and express shipping rules were created thanks to their input.

It’s worth nothing that this is the first game to feature art that I drew.