Dogs hold a special place in the heart of humanity. And in the hearts of consumers. A fact that has been and will be exploited by the entertainment industry as long as the affection for the animal’s remains. That is to say, forever. I’m not opposed to the fact that creative types use our four legged companions as bait to lure our wallets into a temporary state of obedience, I just wish there was more Pug representation. Today we’re going to take a look at a board game that lets you become a dog, living out the escapism fantasy of scrounging for food, living in constant fear and acceptable public urination you’ve always dreamed of!
A Dog’s Life is a re-print of the 2001 game by the same name. The art has been updated and the rules have been slimmed down. In this game, players choose one of a number of dogs to personify and are randomly given a starting location that becomes, essentially, their home base for the game. The dogs goal is to be the first to find and bury three bones in their base. When that’s accomplished the game ends and a winner is declared.
Players turns are split into three phases.
1.Food: which is essentially just moving your hunger meter space down by one. If you ever start your turn with the hunger meter at 0 you go straight to the pound, where you’re given plenty of food, but can’t do much else.
- Dog stuff: Phase two is where the meat of the game happens. Each dog has a certain amount of action points that it can allot to various tasks. A number of these actions will have players flip the top card of their personal dog deck. Depending on what action they’re taking, they resolve the effect accordingly. Actions that don’t require flipping a card are Moving at a speed of one space per action point, drinking from a fountain to fill your bladder, marking your territory on a light pole or picking up a newspaper for delivery (an action that can eventually earn you food or bones) or burying a bone. Actions that require flipping a card are dropping off a newspaper, begging at restaurants, digging in trash cans, fighting other dogs, attempting to flee from the dog catcher or attempting to escape the pound. When one of these actions is done, you flip the top card in your deck and consult the icon for the effect. Each dog can only hold two items in it’s mouth, so this can either be newspaper or bones. Food is directly filled up with the token on the player board and fights are resolved between two dogs in adjacent spaces comparing the paw prints on their cards.
- Dog Catcher Phase: The last phase of the turn is rolling a die for the dog catcher. This vehicle can only move forward, thus making dogs far more agile. However, if the dog catcher ever lands next to a dog, they must flip a card and see if they are captured or escape. If it ever lands ON TOP of a dog, they go immediately to the pound where they’ll stay for a maximum of three turns, flipping cards each turn to potentially escape early.
If I’m being totally honest, the theme of A Dog’s Life was a bit of a turnoff for me. I like dogs alright, but as far as things that happen in my everyday life, seeing dogs do dog stuff is pretty high on the ol ordinary things to see list. I was, pleasantly relieved and surprised, however, at how involved I found myself getting in this game. It’s going to appeal far, far more to “dog people” than anyone else, which is great, because this game radiates that vibe. But it’s just as inviting, if not quite as enticing, to the general player. The weight is absolutely family level, and the strategic depth I would put, perhaps, just below that of a game like Ticket To Ride. But there’s plenty in this game to really like, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
If you’re jumping into this game looking for a heavy strategic game, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. There’s a not unsubstantial amount of randomness in this game that, while not overly problematic to me, might be too much to overlook for some players. The actions you take are often determined by the flip of a card, and while the dogs description gives an idea as to which dogs are better at which actions, without going through each deck it ends up just being a crap chute. You may be slowly starving and get three bad draws in a row so that you’re going to be spending time in the pound. The fact that the most important actions in the game are all determined by your small deck of cards means that for all your strategy and planning, you’re left to the will of chance. The biggest strategic component to the game, oddly enough, is peeing on lamp posts. When a player enters a spot that’s been marked by another player, they instantly lose the rest of their action points. With this in mind, you can corral your opponents and section off pieces of the board. I can also see how the theme would be a bit of a no-go for some people. Honestly, I thought I was going to be one of those people, but setting it up, I found myself having a pretty great experience for a number of reasons. Though the dogs wearing hats threw me off a bit.
First and foremost, the production value of this game is through the roof. I absolutely love the way this game looks. The box art looks like a movie poster, the board is vibrant and popping, albeit a little busy at times. Then the components themselves. Painted miniatures of the dog characters are better and more detailed than the vast majority of my game collection. Even the dog catcher truck is painted and every bit of component and artwork fits together seamlessly. I’m a big visual guy and have not bought games that I really enjoyed the gameplay to simply because the look wasn’t up to snuff. Despite luck being a factor, I felt like I was in control the whole time. Personally, I’m alright with a bit of luck, and being able to spend the action points however I wanted gave me a smorgasbord of options when my turn rolled around. The end goal of burying three bones was just enough to keep the game interesting without allowing too much time to go by. 40-50 minutes is about accurate, and with the element of luck playing so large a part, player turns never felt over long due to analytical thinking gone wild. The rulebook is vibrant and clear, further adding to my enjoyment of this game.
Obviously if the theme is a turnoff for you or the luck factor scares you, steer clear. This is marketed as a family weight game, and I think the theme and the mechanisms compliment that perfectly. It’s silly enough fun and a good enough looking game that I was thoroughly impressed and can honestly recommend A Dog’s Life.
- Lighter game play than I’d like for a game with this runtime.
- The theme is going to appeal far more to some people than to others.
- Luck does play a strong role.
- Beautiful production value.
- Simple rules with a lot of choices to make on your turn.
- A great introduction for more complicated mechanisms.