A Dog's Life

Game Overview: Living alone and in the streets, you control one of six dog breeds (German Shepherd, Poodle, Fox Terrier, Yellow Labrador, Whippet, and Boxer) as they make their away around the city.  Playing as a dog, you must find food, drink water, avoid the dog catcher, deliver newspapers, fight other dogs, and mark your territory.  All the while, you are looking for three bones to be returned to your den to be buried.  Be the first dog to do this and you win the game.

Box Contents: Found within the box are six pre painted dogs along with a deck of 12 unique cards that go along with each breed.  A player board for each breed is also available, which allows you to track the current status of your dog and includes its action points.

The main game board measures 22 inches x 22 inches, which represents the city that your dogs reside in.  The art on the board is outstanding, with the different buildings found throughout the city that you may end up visiting.  Multiple cardboard tokes are also provided which are used to track garbage cans that have been explored on the board along with newspapers and bones that the dogs may carry around in their mouths.

You will also have a single dog catcher vehicle that is used to move around the board trying to send the dogs in play back to the shelter.

The box itself is probably bigger than it needs to be based on the components that are used.  However, the board size requires the box to be as big as it is.

With the review copy that was provided to us, not all of the cardboard tokens were thoroughly punched and approximately 10 of them would not come out cleanly and the dreaded cardboard tearing occurred with them.

The hand painted dogs are very well made and are similar to the durable plastic animals found in toy stores.  The one issue we had was with the poodle and we had to bend the legs a little to get it to stand up on its own.  Even after doing that, it tends to fall over as the feet are more rounded to replicate the classic poodle hair cut.

Clarity of Rules: Despite a few typos in the 16 page rules manual, it is extremely well done as it provides detailed directions on all options available to the players and provides multiple examples using pictures.  This is much appreciated as it especially helps people that may not be hobby gamers.

In addition, it provides a background on each dog which explains the strategy that you may want to take when using that particular breed.  It also provides some game play tips, which gives players additional strategies that they may wish to take with the overall game play.

Game Play:  Each player randomly selects one of the dog cards, which will tell you the breed you will be playing with for the current game.  The board will show the number of action points that are allowed.  They range anywhere from seven to nine.  On this board, two spots are available for things that you can carry in your mouth and your current hunger and bladder levels.  You start with a full stomach and a single bladder token.

In addition, you are given a unique set of 12 cards that are specific to your dog.  These cards will determine what happens for any of the six situations that your dog may encounter.  You also randomly draw a single den card.  This determines your starting spot on the board and where you need to return when you find bones so they can be buried.

On your turn, you first must move your hunger level down one spot on your board.  If you ever get to zero, on the next turn you move into the animal shelter as you passed out from exhaustion.  You then take any of the different actions that are available to you which are resolved by turning over the top card of your 12 card deck.  Along with moving from one street space to another, these actions will take up additional action points.

  • Search A Trash Can- When a trash can is searched, a cardboard token is placed on the board.  Other dogs are not able to search those trash cans unless all tokens have been used, then the city cleans up the mess and trash cans can be searched again. 

  • Drink From A Fountain- This allows you to add a bladder token to your personal board.

  • Mark Your Territory- If you have a bladder token to use, you can pee on a lamp post.  When you do this if another dog enters this spot, the dog must stop and loses any additional action points as he investigates.

  • Beg At A Restaurant- You are able to move inside a restaurant to beg for food.

  • Newsstand- You can pick up a random newspaper token and place into your mouth.  The token will have a number on the back of it that is kept secret so that it can be delivered to the correct location on the board.

When you search the trash can, beg at a restaurant, or deliver a newspaper as one of your actions you then flip over the top card of your deck.  You will find one of three categories.

1.    A sad dog face, which means you were given nothing.

2.  Food in levels of one, two, or three items.  You then move up your hunger level that many spaces.  You are not able to go above the maximum hunger level.

3.  A bone, which is then placed into your mouth if you have any open spaces on your player board.

Another action that can be taken is fighting another dog.  This is done to try and steal something that they are carrying in their mouth.  Certain dogs are better at fighting, so you have to be cautious about doing this.  When two dogs battle, each flips over the top card of their deck.  You will see a single paw print, two paw prints, or three paw prints.  Whoever has the higher number of paw prints wins the fight.  If there is a tie, nothing is done and the action was wasted.

At the end of your turn, you roll a single six sided die.  You then move the dog catcher’s vehicle that many spaces in the direction it is already going.  If the vehicle stops within one spot of any dog, they flip over the top card of their deck to see if they escaped or were caught and sent to the animal shelter.  If the vehicle lands in the same space of a dog, they immediately go to the animal shelter.  Any time you go to the animal shelter, you must drop anything that was in your mouth.

When in the shelter, you flip over the top card of your deck.  You will either escape and continue moving around the board or you will go to the next level in the shelter where you will turn over two cards to see if you escaped.  If you haven’t escaped by your third turn in the shelter, then you get to leave.

Whenever you leave, you reset your dog to the original starting point with one bladder and the hunger level being maxed out since you were being feed and given water.

Replay Ability: There are six different breeds that you can play and that adds to the replay ability.  However, those breeds are never different from game to game as they always use the same twelve cards, so that does limit the replay ability from that aspect.

In addition, the player boards across all breeds are the same with the exception of their action points.  Some replay ability could have been added if those differed with the amount of hunger, bladder, and the number of items they could carry in their mouth.

Appropriate Audience: The game suggest 6+ years of age.  A little bit of reading is needed to understand the results that will be on the card when they turn it over.  Because of this, we think the age is appropriate here.

Be aware that you can choose to fight another dog and if do, you may end up stealing things from other players.  Some younger kids may not be able to handle this.

This is clearly a game geared towards kids.  Our teenager (15) and pre teen (12) quickly caught onto the fact that you don’t need to wander too far from your den to win the game and they realized it is not hard at all to figure out what each dog is best at before playing that breed.  At their age, the game is definitely playable and they clearly enjoy it, but they may be pushing the age limit already to truly enjoy the game over the long run.

What We Liked/Didn't Like: The theme alone is something that drew us to the game and being able to live the life of a dog.  Kids of all ages, especially dog lovers, will like the ability to go around the town as a dog and especially peeing on the lampposts.  We really think that the younger the player, the more of a hit that his game will be for families.

It is enjoyable trying out the different breeds that are available to you and then trying to understand where their strengths are to give you a chance to win by finding the bones.  However, you simply have to look through your 12 card deck once to know where you need to go to give yourself the best chance at winning.

One thing in the rules manual that hit home for us was a section that went over an actual dog’s life and it touched on the fact that dogs are in shelters and encourages people to adopt dogs from shelters.  Our family is now on our fourth Black Labrador and we have always adopted them from shelters for various reasons.  One thing that was curious to me is that it says most countries do not charge to adopt a dog from a shelter.  In the United States, that is clearly not the case at all and it can get quite expensive as the money goes towards shots that were given to the dog and if the dog was needed to be spayed or neutered.

We are not entirely sure how balanced the dogs are.  For example, the Whippet has nine action points and has the ability to find a bone on all 12 of the cards in its deck.  Meanwhile, the Fox Terrier only has seven action points but also can find a bone on all 12 of the cards in its deck.  The main differences are the ability to fight other dogs.  However, if you do not want confrontation in the game, you may not even go down that path making the Whippet the preferred dog to have. 

There is a limit on the garbage cans that you search, as they can only be searched by a single player once until all of the garbage can tiles have been used and they then become available again.  However, with restaurants the only limitation is that you can only go into a restaurant once per turn to beg.  You can go back in and continue to beg each turn.  If your dog is rewarded bones consistently for begging at restaurants and if their den is right next to a restaurant, it doesn’t take long for the game to end.  We felt this made the game a little too easy and perhaps limiting a single time to beg in any given restaurant for each dog may resolve this issue.  Granted all other players can head towards that small area of the board to attempt to fight them for the bones or to pee on lamp posts to slow them down a little.

The movement spaces on the board have a gray border, which is appropriate to go along with a street.  However, the fold lines on the board make it appear that there is actually an extra space in those locations, causing confusion at times.

The most difficult part of the game is simply tracking your movements, especially if you stop in the middle of them to take a non movement action.  Then you have to remember where you left off to continue with the remaining number of movements.

The game is really the best at four players and above.  If you are playing with less then you must control multiple dogs.  Otherwise, there would likely be very little interaction between the players.  This may work for some people but younger players may have a harder time tracking their multiple dogs that they are playing with.

Add-ons/Other Releases:  This is an updated version of the same game which was originally released in 2001.

          **A preview copy was provided to us.