TABLETOP PREVIEW: A Dog’s Life – Walk a Mile in their Paws

Board

Full Disclosure: This review is unpaid and 100% unbiased though we were sent a preview copy of this game in advance of the kickstarter for the purposes of this review.

 

Some blogs don’t bother stepping into the wonderful world of reviewing but through the means of Kickstarter and also being aware that it might be ideal if I contribute back to the community, I’ve taken my first foray into the world of Tabletop reviewing. So what crazily complex euro game did you decide to review first Chris? Is it a strategy heavy, abstract and randomless tactically minded behemoth that will shatter our preconceptions about the meaning of tabletop gaming and all that it stands for!?

Well, no is the blunt answer to that.  It’s a game about dogs, where you get to be a dog (+10 woofs), ‘piddle’ on things (+10 woofs) and fight other dogs (+ another 10 woofs). And as the rest of my reviews will continue to be scored after this first review, I’m awarding thematically relevant points (woofs, obviously) based on an incoherent and abstract system where things I like get awarded points, and things that aren’t so great get minus points. SO with that in mind, review ho!

 

(it’s a link so you can click on it if you’d really like)

 

The game itself as you can see is a fairly family orientated affair, the friendly dog on the cover makes that fairly clear. If you take a quick look to his right you can see a lovely street ruffian ignoring the rules and laws of our advanced western society by taking a leak on a nearby source of light for pedestrians  (+20 woofs for canine disregard of the law).  From the box you can also see that this takes around 40 minutes and caters for between 2-6 players of 6 years plus.

Now, because I’m super nice and also have a fairly short attention span, I’m gunna give you my final thoughts up front. So if you really want to know if this is worth you buying or not, you can just read the next paragraph, close the tab and be done with it. For those who want a bit more of a detailed rundown I’ll go into a bit more detail afterwards.

Final Thoughts up Front…

This game is good for:

This game is good for families who are all about that dog life. If you live the dog life and love all things canine, and want a game for you and your kids to whittle away the hours to on a rainy Sunday afternoon, this is the game for you. The theme is great, the artwork is lovely and the production values are spot on  (+50 woofs for coloured dog miniatures).

This game is not good for:

If you are looking for a simple game for younger kids to explore themselves (-20 woofs for the rules being confusing enough to potentially give 6 year olds issue on their own), or you are looking for a strategically heavy dog themed game. Also if you are a super heavy euro-gamer or meta gamer, not the game for you. But then that is not the target demographic here anyway, so that’s kind of ok.

Things of note:

Overall we had a fun time playing this game, though it is not without it’s flaws. My main takeaway from this game was that though there is a lot of potential here (+10 woofs), and the illustrations and production is impeccable, the game falls down somewhat because of the large number of options and actions that each player gets to take on any given turn (-10 woofs). Plus some of the key mechanics are not all immediately obvious up front (-40 woofs).  It also felt like the game board was potentially too big, and that there was too many actions per player turn to either feel like you had a good chance of trying to slow down the player in the lead, or be affected much by what other players on the board were doing. We played with 4 players and felt almost like playing 4 seperate games with limited player interaction (-10 woofs).

That said, if you are after something that is fairly random, is quite straightforward and has a great theme (and you are fully up to the task of guiding younger players through their first 1 or 2 play throughs), then this is not a problem. It’s a light game, but with a little added strategic depth based on the individual dogs abilities (something I will go into more detail about in the next sections). I just wish that extra depth had been more obvious and up front than it is.

The Bit Where I Talk About the Actual Game

Board

The game board represents a little town (+10 woofs for beautiful illustration) that the dogs (players) will be roaming around. The aim of the game is to be the first dog to successfully bury 3 bones in their yard, because as everyone knows, dogs love bones. Bones are like currency for street dogs. Street dogs live that bone life 24/7 yo (+10 woofs for bone life).

Bones can be found through begging at restaurants, searching trash cans, delivering newspapers or fighting other dogs.

Everyone starts the game by choosing a dog and then choosing a yard card at random, and placing their dog outside the corresponding yard. Now, the difference between the individual dogs is where the strategy comes in. Some dogs are better at searching trash cans, and some dogs are better at fighting, delivering newspapers, begging, etc.

As you make your way round the board you spend your action points on the above actions, and though the concept is solid, this is where some cracks start to show in the design…

Mechanics and Gameplay

Firstly, I love the fact that the dogs are all individually better at certain things (+50 woofs), but this is not obvious up front (-40 woofs), and you have to read the ‘game tips’ section before realising which dog is better at what task. What would have been better would be to have those strengths and weaknesses up front on the player cards. Key mechanics like this should not be hidden.

Dog

Secondly, though the variety of actions is interesting because you can cater your moves depending on what dog you are playing, the dogs potentially have too many action points to use up (-30 woofs), and the amount of actions available for those action points was at times overwhelming for us (slightly tipsy adults).

I’ll be honest, we even forgot which number action we were on as we counted through our own action points on more than one occasion (any action which needs a card to be drawn takes you away from playing through your turn). This breaks up the flow of the game unnecessarily (-10 woofs), and I don’t see that there would be any negative impact of lowering the amount of action points per dog to keep the game moving at a faster pace.

As you make your way around the board trying to find bones there is also a dog catcher that drives around, attempting to catch dogs and send them to the shelter. The shelter behaves somewhat like the jail in monopoly (-20 woofs) although you are always guaranteed to get out of it in max 3 turns (+10 woofs for incompetent dog shelter staff), although if you are playing with 6 players and get unlucky I can imagine getting quite bored quite quickly (-10 woofs).

The dog catcher also moves in a fairly random way, which actually adds to the excitement a little, as you are never sure if the dog catcher is actually going to catch you. Players who dislike randomness will find this annoying, but for a family it’s most likely a positive. The fact that everyone gets to move it after their turn also means that any negative effects of the dog catcher don’t feel particularly malicious or aggressive (+20 woofs), because it is almost entirely down to chance.

Hungry Dogs…

Another part of the game that is a great concept but doesn’t translate overly well into the gameplay, is the hunger mechanic. Before you take your turn you move your hunger track down 1 point. If you reach 0 hunger you then collapse (fall asleep if you are less dramatic than me) and get sent to the shelter. This falls down on 2 accounts, 1. being the fact that the more ‘hunger’ you have, the less you need to eat, which seems illogical (-10 woofs), and 2. being the fact that the mechanic felt almost entirely redundant throughout the game as only 1 player ever got down to 0 hunger, and that was through extremely bad luck (-20 woofs). We felt this could definitely be reworked so that the hunger track is potentially shorter, and it feels like something you have to always balance or manage against other aspects of the game.

Also, we absolutely had fun ‘piddling’ on various lampposts (who wouldn’t…) scattered across the board (+20 woofs for public indecency of the canine variety), but felt that the mechanic was let down slightly, as each dog had more than enough action points to often move through any piddle almost unhindered (-20 woofs, although you could house rules this so that ‘sniffing the piss’ so to speak, negated your whole turn).

Some Other Things

One of the really nice things about this game is the fact that they have included variations of rules in the back of the book to cater for different groups and different family play styles (+10 woofs for being nice and inclusive). You can easily adapt this game to suit different ability levels and add different elements of strategy, although as mentioned before there may be instances where you need to introduce house rules to counteract some of the more unbalanced elements.

Verdict

For the most part we found the game to be enjoyable, as a light, frequently random board game designed primarily for families and children.

The theme and production values really are where the game shines, and if you have a family dog or kids that love animals then this will be a win from the get go (+50 woofs). The mechanics and gameplay plays very well into the theme, just make sure you thoroughly read the rules up front as they aren’t as clear about a lot of the key information as they could be (-10 woofs).

Really all this game needs to go from decent to great is that extra bit of mechanical polish, some consolidation of a few gameplay elements, and making the rules and flow more concise, clear and snappy.

That said, although I wouldn’t play this game with our regular gaming group (alcoholic adults), and I do think there are a few better tabletop games for children out there, as a well themed and more traditionally playing board game with some added strategic depth you could definitely do a lot worse than this (+20 woofs).

So, for the bit you’ve all been waiting for! The score! We’ve tallied the points and (drum roll please)…

Score: 60 Woofs

And I’m really certain that will help you with your purchasing decision…

Yours doggily,

Chris

 

You can back this game on Kickstarter from August 8th 2017

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