People that know me, know I’m a dog person. I grew up with dogs, mainly shih-tzus, and when I was out on my own, I got my own rescue with a partner. I love the loyal companionship they provide. Dogs really are man’s best friend. So, I was pretty excited to see that A Dog’s Life was a coming out. A family game where players can take on the role of dogs, doing all the things they do best, what’s not to love?
In A Dog’s Life, players take one of the dog minis, (Romeo, the Boxer; Charlie, the Fox Terrier, Bella, the French Poodle; Daisy, the Whippet, Buddy, the Labrador, or Max, the German Shepherd) and spend action points to run around the city drinking from fountains, delivering newspapers, digging through the trash, finding bones, and avoiding the dogcatcher.
Each pup has their own personal dashboard to keep track of what’s in their mouth, how full their bladder is, and how much food they’ve eaten. The goal of the game is to bury three bones back in your den.
Each turn is broken up into different steps. In the Food step, your food counter will drop by one, giving your dog the strength and energy it needs to get through the day. Then it’s time to do some Dog Stuff! During this step, players will spend their action points to complete various tasks. They can move around the city, search trash cans for food, beg for food at restaurants, drink from fountains, deliver newspapers, pee on lampposts (yes, that’s an option) fight other dogs, and return bones back to their den.
Most of the actions like restaurant begging, trash digging, delivering a newspaper, fighting etc. will require you to flip one of your action cards. There are six different results shown on each card for the different actions related to them. Depending on the card you might have gotten a lot of food had you used it to beg at a restaurant, but as a result for searching a trashcan you might come up empty handed. It all depends on the luck of the draw. It’s actually a pretty neat way to introduce the element of chance to the game.
When you pick up a newspaper from the stand at the centre of the city, you take one of the newspaper tokens and secretly look at the number on the back before putting it in your dog’s mouth. That number indicates where in the city you have to drop the paper of for a reward!
These are some friendly pooches, but they’re not above a little dog aggression if they see you with a mouth full of stuff they’d like to get their teeth on. Dogs can start a fight with adjacent dogs. They will both flip action cards and the one with the most paws in the fight section of their card will win the battle. The loser drops anything they had in their mouth and moves one space away from the attacker, obviously submitting to the superior pup. If the active player loses, their turn ends immediately.
As you move through the city, you may feel the need to relieve yourself and mark your territory in the process. You can drop a ‘piddle’ token on a lamppost. Aside from giving you a sense of pride that you own that post, it will also stop other dogs in their tracks when they come across it. They will be so intrigued they’ll have to stop there for the rest of their turn, losing any other action points they had.
At the end of each turn, you move the Dogcatcher’s truck by rolling a dice and advancing it. If he lands on any dogs, they go right to the shelter, and dogs on an adjacent space must flip an action card to see if they escape his clutches. The wrong result will land them in the shelter too.
When your pooch is sent to the shelter, you go to the first spot on the top floor. At the start of your next turn, you flip over an action card and see what it says in the exit shelter section of the card. If you successfully make an escape you’ll go to the space outside the shelter on the city board with a piddle token and full food. If you had bad luck with the card, you’ll move to the second level of the shelter. On your next turn you’ll flip two cards, increasing your chances of getting out ok. If you still can’t escape, by your third turn in the shelter you’ll automatically be released, making a break for it.
The game ends once a player buries a third bone in their den. There are variations on how to play A Dog’s Life, including extended games or experienced versions. When playing with two players, each person controls a pack of three dogs You still need to get one of your dogs to bury three bones, but you can use your pack to work together around the city.
There are a lot of things to like about A Dog’s Life. Right off the bat, the art and components are adorable and will suck you right in, especially if you’re a dog lover. Each dog is represented by their own painted miniature, and each dog has their own specific personality and strengths. For example, Max is a trained police dog and is really tough to beat in a fight, while Bella, doesn’t do so well searching trashcans, but can rely on her array of learned tricks to earn her a big reward when she begs at restaurants. The city map is cute and easy to read, and it’s fun to watch it fill up with piddle tokens, buried bones, and overturned trashcans.
When I was first flipping through the rulebook, it felt like A Dog’s Life may be a bit too complicated for the obvious family audience designer, Christophe Boelinger was going for. Not that any of the rules were that difficult, just that there was a lot of them. But after playing it through a few times (with kids), I can safely say that this is a game the whole family can enjoy.
I had a lot of fun playing A Dog’s Life. It’s probably not going to satisfy the gamer who wants to delve in to a crazy heavy Euro, but it is a really delightful romp, that captures the life of a dog surprisingly well. A Dog’s Life is a perfect building block game for young gamers to learn how to use action points and to think strategically outside of the box, or for some grownups who just want to control some darn cute dogs for 40 minutes. If either of those are you, definitely give it a shot!
A Dog’s Life is on Kickstarter right now. The DWP was generously provided with a review copy. Check out their campaign here.