Artist: Dennis Lohausen, Renate Matthews and Markus Zuber
Publisher: Schmidt Spiele
I know DOG is a niche game loved by select few. It just so happens that the select few belong to Euro style gamers that happen to follow and share the same interests that I do in board gaming. It’s almost like….a cult classic in a way. Not everyone appreciates it, but those that do, do.
Make no mistake, DOG resembles the popular mass market game, Sorry! I say that with some trepidation since I have never played Sorry! before. This is second hand information from my partner who really had good memories playing Sorry! with her famil growing up. So, I trust her. I for one did not grow up with Sorry! There is however, a popular equivalent, or at least something close to it in the Asia-Pacific countries: Airplane Chess or “Fei Xing Qi”. In this version, players launch their planes from hangers, moving around the board via dice rolls, hoping to land in their home base after circumnavigating a cross-shaped route around the board. Depending on where planes land on the board, they can hop, skip or jump across the board, or if they land on their opponents, the pieces are ejected back to the hanger. I am assuming Sorry! has a more or less similar structure to the game play. I guess I just might have to try it.
So, why DOG? First, I have to say something about the theme. There is no sign of any canine anywhere in the game. Not a single drawing or picture or anything related to a dog. OK, there is a single paw print in the discard pile location on the board, but the theme must be an inside joke. Really. Sure, the hangars are called kennels, but at least have an illustration of a kennel or some drawing of an actual dog some place. There is none in sight. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a critique as I could care less about the theme and this is not a negative. I just couldn’t understand the title. Perhaps, that’s the whole point, to make this game memorable in an unmemorable way: by calling the game anything but. So, DOG it is. I suppose calling it POOP might be too crass.
In DOG, players are dealt a hand of cards which shrinks in successive rounds. So, first round 6 cards, next round 5 cards and so forth until each player gets 2 cards for the final hand. After that, the cycle resets and the rounds will again start from 6 cards. Honestly, I don’t know why this is. It seems complicated at best and I don’t quite see the tactical necessity for this shrinking hand size, but there might be a reason that has eluded me. More on that later. As described above, the goal is to move your pieces from the “kennel” back to the home base. This means moving the pieces in a circuit or loop that sort of rings around the board until you come back to your home base which is right beside your kennel. If you get a fixed amount of pieces back to your home, you win! Each turn, players move one of their pieces by playing cards with different numerical values ranging from 1-13. In general, playing a single card allows you to move only one piece and all pieces must move the exact value printed on the card. If your piece land on a spot that belongs to another piece, you get to “kick” that player piece back to the kennel where they belong. This can include your own piece! Sometimes, there is just no other way around it if you don’t plan properly. You are forced to play cards that may adversely impact your own position. Because each player can have multiple pieces on the board at the same time, the board can get crowded but again, the goal is to get a fixed amount of pieces on your home base.
To spice things up, there are some special red cards that bend the rules. For example, only a few red cards allow you to move your pieces from the kennel the starting spot. Once in starting spot, your piece can enter the circuit and move around. Some other red cards allow you to swap pieces on the board with an opponent while another one labeled “7” is particularly brutal: you can split the movement amongst multiple pieces, but each pieces that you pass by on the circuit gets sent back to the kennel. You are literally burning a trail of destruction as you move. There is also a red “wild card” which can mimic any card in the game.
As you can imagine, there is a pretty high degree of chaos in this game. Some of the cards are extremely brutal and can reset your position even though you are very close to the home base. For instance the swap card is pretty pivotal and when used properly and can swing the tide of the game for some one who is close to victory. The card play itself lends a small degree of control for players. Sure, there is luck of the draw, but I can also see how cards can be played in sequence to optimize a particular movement….. assuming of course your piece isn’t relocated!
I think in summarizing the game play for DOG, there is one critical aspect of DOG that I have yet to mention: DOG is actually meant to be a partnership game and in doing so, showcases the brilliance of the game. Unfortunately, it is also something I have yet to try. I know. I am writing this review as a half-hearted defense of DOG in non-partnership play because that is all I have played thus far due to player count restrictions. I picked up DOG for a 3 player family game with my daughter and haven’t actually had a chance to play this in partnership. However, I can clearly see how this game could be amazing in a 4 player partnership. I can already see how the rules are crafted to take advantage of partnership play. For example, players get to trade cards with their partner prior to the start of each round. You also do that in non-partnership format, but it loses its significance. Also in partnership play, if one player finishes the game by moving all their pieces into the home base, any cards they play subsequently must be used to move their partner’s pieces. Since there is no table talk, you can imagine there will be potential chaos when two players try to move the same piece.
As it stands, this review is more or less a neutral to positive recommendation for DOG in a non-partnership format. Possibly more so with kids. Yes, there are probably other games that are better and less chaotic, but I am looking to try this game as a partnership at some point. I have come to realize that certain games that feature more luck is probably too low brow for Euro gamers, but with the right group, and with kids, the game is actually better than at first blush. I think the best example of that is Old Maid (which you can read my review for it here).
Initial impression: Average (non-partnership format); Good (family 3-player game)
6 years, 9 months: My kid loves it. She has been asking for it in multiple gaming sessions. We play a slightly shortened version with 3 players: Get 3 out of the 4 pieces to the home base. We also play with one player piece in the starting position to prevent down time and luck of the draw. Overall, this has worked for us. The game is brutal in a way that no other Euro game can replicate. There are some rounds that forces you to draw and discard because you cannot play anything. There are plenty of times when a near victory is replaced with unexpected defeat. We have seen multiple player pieces burned by a single “7” card and I have personally torched by daughter’s entire progress on the board with a few moves. Yes. I am telling you right now that DOG, and possibly Sorry!, is one of the best ways to teach your kid to LOSE and LOSE BIG. I am talking about a bone-crushing loss like no other. A morale-swallowing, ego-bruising loss that should send your kids running in terror. So, if your kid can stand losing DOG without throwing a tantrum or bursting into tears, all the while smiling to the bedroom, then I think the game has tremendous value. Ours did (yes, I am bragging). Your mileage may vary, of course.