Design: Christophe Boelinger
Artwork: Marek Píza
Duration: Approx. 30-60 mins
A Dog’s Life is a family game about being a dog about town. And y’know what? I think it’s rather good.
This was a bit different for me to review. I play tricky card games, heavy strategy games and thinky brain burners. Sometimes I play fun fillers and sometimes I even play party games. I just really love games and I like all sorts. A Dog’s Life is branded as a family game, so when playing I had to adjust my mindset somewhat. I thought about the kind of games I played as a child, what appeals to my inner child, and what games I would like to play in the future with my daughter.
In A Dog’s Life you play as one of the awesome dog characters. (Daisy the Whippet was my pup of choice!) Your goal is to hunt for bones and bury them at your home turf before the other players. Each turn you navigate around the board with your allotted action allowance and search the local restaurant’s and trash cans for bones. You can pick up newspapers and deliver to various numbered locations, and this will earn you rewards in the form of bones or food. You need to maintain your pet’s health by keeping them fed, drinking from water fountains to fill your bladder, and then empty it on lampposts to mark (and block) a spot. You can hinder other player’s progress by fighting, and also by navigating the dog catcher van in their direction. So it’s pretty simple- move, take actions and draw from your deck to determine the outcome of your chosen action.
Strategy may be light but there’s some to it. You choose personal objectives when delivering newspapers, choose how to spend your actions, use your character’s ability and navigate the dreaded van in your chosen direction. Players also have the opportunity to block another from a space or to use the ‘fight’ action (I would have preferred the term ‘scrap’ but that’s just me!) So we have a fair bit going on here- light strategy, pickup-and-deliver, action point allowance and minor conflict. On paper this sounds like a lot of things to be, but the good news is that it’s wrapped up in a neat and extremely cute bundle.
I like the way in which A Dog’s Life will introduce modern board gaming to those who don’t play often. For many I’m sure a ‘family game’ is still something that only surfaces during the holidays, and the game of choice will possibly be something familiar or traditional. The good thing with this game is that the theme is friendly enough to generate interest for those outside of the hobby, and is also familiar territory to those who play games often. But it still manages to retain the feel of a ‘traditional’ game in some respects. It works to guide younger players into gaming and is designed in a way that children will understand.
The bad news for an experienced gamer is the roll-and-move aspect may grate a little when navigating the dog catching van- and going to the pound and (possibly) missing up to two turns in the process is also a slight downfall. When hunting for food or popping into the local eateries there’s an element of luck when drawing cards to determine outcome.
But this is all from my perspective, as someone who has played a lot of games over several years. For those who are new to the hobby and especially for younger players I can’t see the aforementioned points being an issue. I understand why those elements are there, as this is familiar territory to people who haven’t played many modern board games, and younger players will find it the straightforward game play (and minimal text) easier to grasp.
I really like the feel of the game as a whole, not just because of the cute dogs, but you actually want to look after your character. The artist did such a wonderful job of capturing the various doglike expressions- both in the art and in the figurines- that it makes it impossible not to care about your character. I love how the board is super vibrant and filled with oversized fast food images, reminiscent of how a dog would probably view the local pizza joint or taco stand. A Dog’s Life really has that childlike quality about it, and actually gives you an insight into ‘the doglife’.
As a child I loved games with adorable themes and I have nice memories are of gaming with my family, sometimes over the festive season, sometimes post-Sunday dinner. If A Dog’s Life had existed back I would have been thrilled, especially as an animal lover who never got to own a dog. I imagine my daughter playing this with her friends in a few years time and my heart feels joyous. It achieves what I believe is intended and it does a good job at that.
A Dog’s Life was funded on Kickstarter in August, complete with ultra shiny box, round dice ‘ball’ and even more cute pups unlocked. It is due to fulfill in December ’17, so keep your paws crossed for a retail release early next year!