Go Fetch yourself a copy of this canine-themed board game!
Note: GamesQuest sent us a copy of Dog Park so that we could write this unbiased review
Dog Park got a lot of hype when it first came out, with many people calling it “Wingspan with Dogs” (I keep saying “Wingspan for dogs” which makes it sound like a board game designed for our canine friends to play, and as intelligent as our Spaniel Toby is, he does not have the dexterity to pick up playing cards and his deduction skills are rubbish). We were promised interesting card combinations, resource management and a large deck of unique dogs to get our teeth stuck into (not literally, Toby, put that down), so did Dog Park live up to its comparisons?
In Dog Park, players take on the role of dog walkers, trying to increase their reputation and attract the finest pooches to their troupe as they take a stroll through the park. Over the course of four rounds, players will add a total of 8 dogs to their kennel, gaining points for walking them, as well as a host of bonuses.
How the game works
Each round begins with a bidding war for the dogs on offer. There are as many dogs in the market as there are players in the game, and starting with the first player and moving around, each player secretly bids between 1 and 5 “reputation” on the dog they wish to add to their kennel. The amount bid is secret, but the choice of dog is not, so subsequent players will already know which dogs have been bid on before they select.
Once everyone has bid, the winners takes their dog home and the losers end up with the leftovers, costing them 1 reputation instead of their bid amount. The market is refilled and the bidding process is repeated once more. After this each player will have gained two new dogs to their kennel. But apart from the cuteness, what would make someone bid on a specific dog?
There are 7 different classes (I guess the game calls them breeds but I would see a Spaniel as a breed, rather than a working dog being a breed), and each dog has certain resource requirements in order to be walked. Ssome like tennis balls, others like sticks, some like a combination of resources. They each have an ability that can be activated and give special benefits (typically resources or game end points). The dogs with higher resources requirements tend to give bigger benefits, but if you don’t have the resources available you won’t be able to walk them!
You can walk up to three dogs each round, as long as you can pay the resources to do so. Any dogs that have never been walked will cost you points at the end of the round so make sure as soon as you have gained a dog you’re taking it out!
Its time for walkies! Starting with the first player, each walker decides how fast to walk through the Park, moving between 1 and 4 spaces as they go. Most spaces offer resources, but others give reputation points or the chance to swap your dogs for others on display (not sure the owner of the swapped dog would be too pleased you traded it mid-walk). You can go as slowly as you like through the Park (therefore gaining more resources/points), however there are reputation point rewards when you finish your walk that get smaller the later you are. Most importantly, when all the other players have finished their walks, the remaining player still walking finishes immediately and pays a 1 reputation point penalty.
The walk will be slightly different each round as there is a deck of location bonus cards which scatter additional resources/powers across the Park each round, so some spaces may become more highly sought after.
Once the walks are complete, you put a lead token on each dog that you walked, gaining 2 reputation points for each dog walked that round, losing 1 reputation for each you didn’t walk. You then return all dogs to your kennel and start the next round.
After four rounds you tally up points and the winner is the player with the most reputation points. Yes, you read right, the reputation points you’re spending to lure dogs in the first stage of each round are actual points! So spending 4 to get the best dog is costing you 4 actual points, think carefully about how much you bid!
Points are earned from walking dogs, from landing on the point reward Park spaces, from leaving bonuses, and also from five other ways…
- Private objectives that you gain at the start of the game which might reward you points for having specific classes of dog
- Breed Expert award which rewards the owner of the most dogs in each class a bonus at the end (e.g. whoever has the most Utility dogs might get 8 points at the end)
- Each round there is a Forecast card which might offer additional points if specific conditions are met (e.g. 2 extra reputation per Hound walked this round)
- Some dogs offer end game scoring bonuses too
- Leftover resources will also earn you points!
Phew what a lot to take in, time to curl up in front of the fire…
We love dogs, and we love Wingspan, so naturally we were excited when we heard that this was a similar game. Lets say this right off the top of the review section, it really isn’t like Wingspan. Sure it has a huge deck of unique cards, with abilities that activate and can combine in useful ways, there are four rounds, involves resource management and it even has public and private objectives. But apart from that I think the game is more similar to Parks. The dog walking section is very similar as players decide how many spaces to move along, gaining resources on their way.
We had a lot of fun playing Dog Park, it was easy to learn, the components are top quality and the artwork is lovely. I liked how the season cards meant each round there was a slightly different bonus or benefit that you could aim for, whether that be specific breeds to try and walk for bonus points or specific resources to be used, it added a nice edge.
I also enjoyed the expert breeders section which rewards points for the players with the most dogs in each class. This changes every game so the class worth the most points will vary each time.
The other element I love (and love this mechanism in gaming more generally) is the secret bidding. This adds a psychological edge the game, trying to second guess whether the player before you has low-balled a 1 bid and therefore vulnerable to being outbid, or trying to force your opponent into spending 5 points to get the dog of their choice, it’s a really fun part of the game. The thing to remember is that even if you are outbid, you still get a dog for really cheap, so its not the end of the world, it might just not be the dog you wanted (you’ll still love them and look after them properly though, right?). The best bit about the bidding in Dog Park though, is that you are spending your points! In most games with secret bidding, the commodity you are bidding are resources/coins etc. but to be spending actual points brings an extra element of intrigue to it.
There’s a fair amount of player interaction in Dog Park which I like. The bidding as I mentioned, but also competing to get the most of a particular class of dogs, or for certain spots in the Dog Park (landing on the same spot as an opponent gives them a bonus). It’s not too cut throat, but it’s just enough that you need to keep an eye on what they’re doing.
Now to the less good bits. For me (and each player I’ve played it with), there simply wasn’t enough variety to the abilities of the dogs in the game. They either give you bonus resources when you put them on a lead, bonus resources/points when you walk them or bonus points at the end of the game (which again only had three varieties – points per class of dog, points per dog of that class, and points per left over resource).
One of the main ways it fails to compare to Wingspan is there is far more variety in the bird abilities in Wingspan, than there are in the dog abilities here. In the games we’ve played so far only once has a card ability triggered another card ability.
Equally the private objectives were all a bit bland and didn’t vary enough to make them interesting. Most of them are very easy to do (e.g. walk 11 dogs over the course of the game), leading to a bit of imbalance if one player (me) gets one of the harder objectives.
For us this takes away some of the replayability of the game. You unpack the game and see this enormous stack of dog cards and you think “Wow, I can’t wait to see what cool abilities these dogs have”, then after two or three plays you think “I haven’t seen that many different abilities really” and that was a shame. That said the first few times we played were really fun but after that we did feel it got a bit samey, even with the changing Breed Experts and the Forecast cards.
Overall though I did really like Dog Park but feel there are elements that could’ve been improved. It didn’t make me desperately want to play it again and again, however I would happily play it if others in my gaming group wanted to.
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