Beton Games sent Small Dog Place a copy of A Dog’s Life for the purposes of this review.
Put yourself in the shoes (I mean paws) of a dog. Next, imagine what you would do if you suddenly found yourself away from your family free to roam and fend for yourself. How would you react? Would you…
Check out each trash can along your path?
Find the nearest restaurant and beg at the back door?
Piddle on lamp posts?
This is exactly what happens in the new family friendly board game, A Dog’s Life, created by Christopher Boelinger and the Czech-based ADC Backfire Entertainment.
What comes next is a review of this game after having played it several times.
This updated version of another ADC game with the same name, is flashier and more colorful, with beautiful artwork by Marek Piza that gives the game board, a distinctively 3D appearance. The general strategy and layout are the basically same as the first game released in 2001.
The game is well thought through down to the smallest detail. The playing board is skillfully illustrated to resemble a small village. But this village has a twist. For example, a pizza serves as the roof on the restaurant, and a sombrero serves as the roof of another building. At first glance, you might think this game is like Candyland, but it is far from the simple board games played in early childhood.
The designers of the game have created a fictional village that requires the dogs (game pieces) to move around the board, gathering food, collecting newspapers, burying bones, avoiding dog catchers and yes, peeing on lamp posts.
The object of the game is to collect dog bones, stash them in their den and when the third bone is safely in the den, win the game.
It might sound simple, but this game requires strategy, memory, and planning.
To play the game, you choose a dog, either a Labrador, Poodle, Boxer, Whippet, German Shepherd or Fox Terrier. Character pieces are hand-painted and true to the dog breed’s appearance making them very appealing. Each dog character comes with their own character card, which produces a different experience for each dog player.
Players also get a den card, a set of 12 action cards and a set of tokens to track food, piddle and what’s in their mouth. The creators have established personality traits for the dogs giving each a distinct advantage over the others.
As the game progresses, the dogs proceed around the board, obtaining bones by begging at restaurants, picking up and delivering newspapers, stopping for water and digging through trash cans.
You may want to walk around with a bone in your mouth, but be prepared for a fight from the other dogs in the village. While all of this is going on, the neighborhood dog catcher is lurking, waiting to capture you.
Max the German Shepherd can beat any dog in a fight. He’s received police training so he’s likely to be released quickly if he finds himself in the dog shelter. He can easily get food from people so he rarely searches trash cans.
Bella the Poodle, trimmed and clean, never touches trashcans. She doesn’t like to fight or run fast so other players are likely to attack and get her bones. Not to worry though, the extent of her trick repertoire will earn her admiration and food at the restaurants.
Charlie the Fox Terrier is a great sniffer and can find any trashcan in his path. Restaurants hate him because he is always stinky and dirty. At the shelter, he gets a bath and the people there work very hard so he won’t run away. In a fight, the big strong dogs will beat Charlie, but the smaller dogs always lose.
Buddy, the Labrador is the ace at carrying newspapers. He uses this skill to his advantage and is rewarded with food. He will find food too, but he is not likely to beg. Even though he is strong, he hates fighting.
Daisy the Whippet, is the fastest dog in town and capable of doing most actions on each turn. She doesn’t like to fight and will run away or hide if someone is after her.
Romeo the Boxer is the strongest dog in town and has mastered the skill of taking bones away from other dogs. He may seem to be the best dog to play, but the downside to this character is the dogcatcher is always after him.
All plays are explained in the 11-page instruction booklet which is an easy read for a typical 8-year-old. Understanding the actions is another matter.
Just remembering the order of actions can be a challenge to some as on every turn, the dogs perform several actions. At least it was a challenge to get the actions down.
Maybe it was just old brain. On the plus side, the game cards are mostly pictures with minimal text. This is a plus for children who don’t want to spend time reading explanations.
In my opinion, the game has some excellent points, but there are also negatives that take away from the pleasure of playing the game
As a family friendly board game, it excels. I first played it with two other adults, but then later played with a 10-year-old. While the adults were constantly trying to strategize, the experience with a child was different – it was just plain fun.
Another thing to love about this game is the subtlety in which it teaches children important skills in my opinion. I am not sure if the developers had all these skills in mind.
I picked up on five skills including patience, planning, memory, sustained attention span, and empathy. Patience is required because each player’s turns last longer than the average game requiring many actions at a time.
Planning and strategizing come later after one has played the game several times. Memory is important because there are many directions to memorize to avoid missing something required during your turn. A sustained attention span is necessary as each game can last 40 minutes or longer and can be challenging for a child that is distractible.
Empathy is the skill of putting oneself in the shoes of another person, in this case, a dog. For young children, actions such as piddling on lamp posts, burying bones, or picking up newspapers are doggie actions. This may need some explanations. Parents can turn that into a teachable moment to help the child understand real dogs.
Even though this is a fun, family game, beautifully created, and challenging to play, there are some negatives to this game that I need to point out. The game itself is fine, but the instructions are hard to understand. Most of the problems are typos that need to be fixed.
For starters, the instruction book is difficult and confusing to understand. There are a few typos making it more difficult to read. On page 3, it says, Players turn a cards from the drawing deck in front of them.
Secondly, some of the directions seem to contradict each other.
For example, the instruction book states that the game is intended for six years and up. The box, on the other hand says 8+ years old. In my opinion, a six-year-old would have to be very bright to master the game.
In another passage describing a fight between Bella and Romeo, the writer describes the sequence of actions. The last sentence switches Bella’s name to Daisy’s name. Little things like this can add confusion to the game.
In another section, the directions ask you to “see picture 1.” The picture numbering was very confusing. There were pictures on the first page that were numbered 1-12.
Then on page 4, numbering starts again with one and continues to 3. There were numbered pictures on page 6, 1-4 and again on page 7, numbered pictures 1-10 were presumably meant to accompany directions on the “Dog Stuff” Phase.
All the numbers were in red and circled. If numbering was necessary, at least each section should have been different to tell each apart from the next. Creating more confusion, many of the pictures had additional numbers on them. The reader is left wondering where and to whom these numbers apply.
We finally figured out what all the numbering was, but it took a while and delayed the start of the game.
In another instance of numbering problems, the newspaper tokens are numbered from one to twelve, but the 6 and 9 are undisguisable. If you play the game you will want to add an underline or period so you can tell them apart. ( 6 9)
There is a bit of a learning curve to understand the directions and discover all that the game entails. Don’t expect to open the box and begin playing almost immediately like other board games for young children.
Even with these issues, the game is an excellent choice to play during a family game night especially a dog lover family. Older children may delve into the strategy where younger children will just find it humorous (piddle on lamp posts) and fun to play.