You are living the life of a dog on the streets. While you’re delivering newspapers and searching through garbage cans for bones to bury back in your den, be sure to stay clear of the dog catcher and dogs looking to start fights. It’s tough out there, but by begging, scrounging, and marking lamp posts you just may end up top dog and winning the game.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this game in exchange for my honest review. The game I reviewed is pre-production and there may be slight changes during the Kickstarter.
Designer: Christophe Boelinger
Artist: Marek Piza
Publisher: BETON GAMES
Type: Children’s game
2-6 players, 40 minutes, ages 6+
2-6 players, 45-90 minutes, ages 8+
The children I played with loved this game. More random than strategic. May be too long or too frustrating for some children, especially at higher play counts.
In the Box
- 1 game board
- 6 pre-painted dog figures (the base Kickstarter version will have 7)
- 1 pre-painted dog catcher’s car
- 1 die
- 6 dog cards
- 72 action cards (one set of 12 for each dog, Kickstarter version will have one set more)
- 6 den cards
- 6 hunger counters
- 15 trash counters
- 24 bones
- 12 newspaper tokens
- 48 piddle tokens
The production quality is incredible. The is art is well done, the painted figures are adorable, and the game simply feels like a good quality game. The version I reviewed had 6 different dogs and each one was infused with their own little personality. This really helped us feel like we were actually dogs wandering about the town doing our dog business. They did a really great job setting up the scene of the theme for this game.
This game may be the only place where you see “piddle” tokens. These tokens mark the only strategic part of the game, and will be the cause of many, many pee puns. No matter how any one of us felt about the game, we all spent a large amount of time laughing about pee. When else will you hear someone say, “there is pee all over the board!”
Each player gets a deck of 12 cards. When a dog performs certain actions such as search a trashcan or deliver a newspaper, you flip over the top card of your deck to see what the outcome is. Each dog has little differences between their decks, reflecting their individual strengths and weaknesses. For example, the lab is better at scrounging for food in garbage cans than begging at restaurants, so the outcomes for him will be better for ‘trashcan’ than ‘restaurant’ overall.
The player board tracks what you have in your mouth (bones or newspapers), how full your bladder is, and how much food you have.
The object of the game is to bury bones in your den (starting area). The first to bury three bones wins.
On your turn you:
- move your hunger token down one space
- use your action points doing dog stuff
- roll the die to move the dog catcher
“Dog stuff” is the meat of the game. Each dog has a certain number of action points to do these with and consists of:
- moving (one action point per space, if you enter a space with a piddle token you can do no more actions because you must spend the time sniffing the pee)
- drinking water at a fountain to gain a piddle token
- peeing on a lamppost, marking the space with a piddle token
- getting a newspaper from the newsstand (the newspaper will have a number on it that corresponds to the building you must take it to)
- delivering the newspaper to the appointed building to potentially get bones or food
- begging at a restaurant for potential food or bones
- searching garbage cans for potential food or bones
- attacking another dog (the loser drops any items in their mouth)
- picking up a dropped item
After you’ve used up your action points you roll the die and move the dog catcher’s vehicle. If it lands on a dog, that dog immediately goes to the pound. If it lands on a space adjacent to a dog, the dog is given a chance to hide. Going to the pound basically equates to losing turns. You can try to escape on the first two turns you’re in the pound, but if you fail both times you automatically escape the third time. If you run out of food, you also will end up the pound. The good news is, when you escape the pound you’re full up on food and have a piddle token.
This game drips with theme. It is so well formed that it truly captures the imagination and you see these dogs doing the things you’re having them do. Everything you do reflects the hardships dogs would face living on the streets. Even the game mechanics fit the theme. Almost everything is left to luck, which is pretty much what it would be like in reality. Not all garbage cans are going to have food in them, and not all dogs are going to be pretty enough to warrant a handout every time. The only strategic part of the game is the piddle tokens, which again makes complete sense when looking at the theme.
Depending on your luck, and especially with player counts of 4 or more, you may find yourself spending a great deal of time in the pound, or simply feeling trapped. We had one 4-player game where one of my kids was in the pound so often, the frustration reduced him to tears. Because everything is luck-based, in A Dog’s Life there is potential for frustration with higher player counts where it feels like everywhere you turn there is pee to sniff, a dog attacking you, or a dog catcher taking you off to the pound. Adding some house rules can alleviate some of these problems.
It was also difficult sometimes to keep track of how action points were spent. If you are moving, getting a drink, moving again, peeing on a lamppost, moving again, searching a garbage can so having to flip a card, then getting the bone token received to put in your mouth slot… if you’re anything like me you’ll be realizing you’ve lost track of how many action points you’ve spent and will have to retrace your steps. We all had this problem several times during game play, and I found myself wishing for a way to track it.
There is some downtime between turns. Although he loved the game, my youngest (8) had a hard time focusing on the game once about 40 minutes in, and we’d often have to call him back to the table for his turn. Games lasted from 15 minutes (one 3-player game where one dog got incredibly lucky) to 90 minutes (a 4-player game), with most games running about 60 minutes long despite player count. I played the game at 3, 4, and 5 players.
All this being said, even despite tears and the occasional proclamation of, “I hate pee!”, the kids all wanted to play the game again. There is just something enticing about getting to play a dog. My 8-year-old especially loves this game, and really gets into having his dog figure act out each action he does.
For dog lovers, this is a perfect addition to the shelf. The Kickstarter Collector’s Edition has 25 different breeds of dogs, and they are so cute! It is an autoback for dog lover and collector.
If randomness turns you off, however, this is not the game for you.
Where this game truly shines is with the kids. The immersive theme just pulls kids in and really makes for a fun children’s game. It is more complex than simple roll-and-move games, so it will also stretch their game play abilities. After playing this game many times, my own kids are asking for the Kickstarter version because it comes with Bailey, the Golden Retriever. You might be able to see why from the picture below.
If you are buying for a child that has a low frustration threshold, or who cannot keep focused on an hour long game, this might not be a good match. If your family is really into dogs, however, I do think that it is worth getting this game for the theme alone and adding in some house rules to lower the potential of frustration. This is what I plan to do with my family.
I normally think that game publishers underestimate the abilities of children, but that is not the case in this game. Because of the downtime between turns, long play time, and the need to be able to track action points, I would say this game is more appropriate for those 8 and up. Of course, every child will be different in their abilities, and you’ll know your child best.
Overall, this is a game that really appeals to kids, is simple enough for them to play independently, and could be a fun family game for those who don’t have strong feelings against luck-based mechanics. It is also quite unique in its theme, making it a nice addition to your family board game collection.