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An adorable, family friendly game, A Dog’s Life is perfect for family game night. Experience a day in the life of man’s best friend, A Dog’s Life is a fun board game about being a dog. If you are a dog lover, or have been looking for a great game to get your kid(s) hooked on the wonderful hobby of board gaming, A Dog’s Life will certainly fit the bill.
If you were lucky enough to have played board games as a family in the 80s and 90s, you’ll find that playing A Dog’s Life has a certain nostalgic charm. While it isn’t really comparable to the classic games we had access to back then, it does have a retro feel to it, and this isn’t a bad thing. A Dog’s Life is a modern game for families that delivers on all aspects of what a family friendly game should be: it is appealing, humorous (from player interactions), easy to learn/teach, and fosters family bonding.
In A Dog’s Life, you’ll take on the role of one of six dog breeds, either the German Shepherd, Poodle, Fox Terrier, Labrador, Whippet, or the Boxer. Each dog has their own set of action cards, as well as their own player board. The player board shows your total action points, has a hunger meter, spaces for bladder tokens, and two spots for items your dog can carry in their mouth.
In addition to unique sculpts for the playing pieces, each dog also has slightly different stats. Some dogs, such as the Boxer or German Shepherd, are better at fighting other dogs, while the Poodle might be better at delivering news papers. It helps to play to your particular breed’s strengths.
The goal of A Dog’s Life, is, of course, to be the first dog to bury three bones. There are a number of ways that a dog can find bones, from rummaging through trash cans, to begging for scraps, to delivering newspapers. While everyone knows that dogs bury things, what’s something else that everyone knows dogs do? If you guessed “pee on things” then you are right! In A Dog’s Life, you can have your dog pee on lamp posts, which will slow down other dogs as they stop to sniff around. Peeing, specifically when and where to pee, is actually quite a powerful tactic in A Dog’s Life. You might find yourself saying things you never thought you’d say, much less say at the gaming table, like, “Is that my pee?” or, “Don’t pee there!”
Each dog has a set number of Action Points they get to use on their turn, ranging from 7 to 9 points depending on the breed. Action Points are used for every single action in the game. Moving from one space on the board to another costs 1 Action Point. Moving again will cost another. Peeing, drinking, digging through trash, picking up a paper, etc takes an action point. Keeping track of how many Action Points you’ve spent or how many Action Points you have left isn’t altogether too difficult, but sometimes you might have to retrace your steps in order to keep track.
When you need to know the outcome of an action, you’ll draw one of your Action Cards. These determine things like if you found food in the trashcan, if you won the fight, or if you got caught by the dog catcher. The distribution of success for each action is different for each dog. Unless you take the time to go through all of your cards, you really won’t know what your strengths are. It would have been nice to include two strengths of each breed (or perhaps one strength and one weakness) on their individual player boards since not all players will have the forethought or take the time to go over their cards and realize that Bella, the Poodle, only has a 5/12 chance of getting something good from trashcans, while Romeo, the Boxer, has a 10/12 chance when he goes dumpster diving. Clearly, not all dogs are created equal. If you pick, or get dealt, a dog that doesn’t fit your playing style, luck simply won’t be on your side and it will be more difficult for you to win. An example is if you get a dog that is really good at fighting, but you aren’t an aggressive player. Begging for scraps, searching trashcans, and even delivering papers, won’t yield you as many bones as it might another dog breed.
At the end of your turn, you’ll roll the dice and move the dog catcher that many spaces around the board. The most random element of the game, the dog catcher can wreck havoc on well laid plans. When you are caught by the dog catcher, you drop all of the items in your mouth and get put into the dog pound. Here, you can lose as many as two complete turns, but you might get lucky and escape early. Another way to end up in the pound is by essentially starving your dog. If your hunger meter is ever zero on the start of your turn, you fell asleep and allowed the dog catcher to catch you.
What I Liked
A Dog’s Life does a great job of capturing the essence of what a family game should be. It feels like a family game should; it isn’t too kiddy, but it isn’t too thinky either. It falls nicely in the middle and should prove to be a game that sees a lot of table action.
The component quality is very high. Each dog has a unique, pre-painted miniature to use as a player piece. There are plenty of tokens for knocked over trash cans, pee puddles, bones, and news papers and these are all top quality. The board is colorfully attractive and stands out.
We laughed a lot, as a family, each time we played. Whether this was from the outcome of dog fights, sending the dog catcher after others, or simple bad luck with trashcans, the game lends itself to humorous moments, which leads to family bonding moments.
While the game board definitely looks nice, the streets aren’t set up like real streets, with corners and T-intersections. Sometimes, due to the rules for the dog catcher truck only being allowed to move forward, it can be a little difficult to know exactly where/how the dog catcher can move.
A Dog’s Life is definitely geared towards families. If you are a hardcore hobbyist board gamer this might not be the game for you. It probably won’t have the depth you are looking for. However, if you want a cute game about dogs, and/or a break from heavy euros, then A Dog’s Life is certainly worth checking out.
After playing a couple times it is easy to develop a strong strategy that might take some of the fun out of the game for others. For example, Bella has a 5/12 chance of getting a bone from begging, and a 5/12 chance of getting food. If you know this, you might head directly to the restaurant that is only 3 spaces away from your starting Den and beg. You only have a 2/12 chance of getting nothing, so chances are really good that you’ll gain something beneficial. If it is a bone, bonus for you, head back home and bury it. At the very least, you are likely to get food which you also need. There is nothing stopping you from going back to the same, very close, restaurant over and over until you have three bones, which could happen extremely fast. This could make for a short game with little to no player interaction. If you account for this, and/or players that might do something like this, and play for fun instead of simply to win, then you should be fine.
A Dog’s Life can play up to six players, but even with four players the downtime between turns can seem to take a while. Obviously, thinking out your turn ahead of time can help your turn go quicker, but the dog catcher and/or a well placed pee might throw a wrench in your plans.
A Dog’s Life gets high marks in the “family games” category. It is nice to look at on the table, which usually garners interest, and it is lighthearted and easy to learn, which means it is suitable for almost anyone. A great way to introduce younger children to board gaming, A Dog’s Life strikes a nice balance between luck and strategy. It is sure to be a welcomed addition to your board game collection.
A Dog’s Life is currently on Kickstarter. Head over there now to check out the campaign.