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June 13, 2003

Favorite Games VIII

Today, we build our castles in a dangerous land full of dragons and trolls, then we turn into stray dogs and try to beg for bones. And who says there's no variety in life these days?

Kingdoms is another Knizia game that shows his mathematical background. In this came, players go around the table slowly filling in a 6 by 5 grid with tokens (ranging from -6 to +6 in value with no zeroes), special tokens (a gold mine, two mountains and a dragon), or castles (ranging from 1 to 4 in value). When the grid is filled, each player scores the total of the tile values of non-castles in each row or column times the total value of their castles there, except that gold mines double any row or column they are in; dragons negate any tiles valued +1 on better, leaving only the -1 to -6 tiles and other specials; and mountains split the row and column they are in into parts, each scored individually. The object of the game is to put your best castles in the most positive row and column in each of 3 rounds of play (the board is cleared and tiles re-shuffled between rounds, except that castles valued over 1 are removed from play once used, so they must be placed with care). Of course, by the time you know it's the best row or column, someone else will be putting their castle there, so you have to take a gamble now and then. Is it really a game about building kingdoms while avoiding dragons and trolls (the -6 value tile)? No... it's a game of claiming positions on a grid to try to maximize your positional value. But, at heart, it's a good game, though one with a small degree of luck based on the order in which tiles are drawn (an optional rule suggests playing with all tokens face up, removing all sign of luck and making for a more intensely strategic game). Play is quick (unless someone tries too hard to optimize each move, which may slightly help him win but reduces everyone's fun and so should be discouraged with either an egg timer or a mallet, depending on how much force you feel is needed) and results sometimes wildly unexpected (mainly because it's very easy to disrupt other people's strategy through placement of powerful tiles like the troll or the dragon), making for a fun time at the game table.

A Dog's Life is a more thematically sound game, since it takes its odd premise in pretty much every direction one could hope for (and a couple I would never have expected in a game). The premise is simple... stray dogs wander the city, begging for scraps, rummaging through garbage, delivering newspapers, and trying to find bones that can carry home and bury, all the while avoiding the dogcatcher. Yes, it sounds very silly, but it actually makes for a fun little game, even if (like me) you're more of a cat person than a dog person. There are six different dogs in the game, represented by attractive little plastic minis (full color!) and by a unique deck of action cards for each. Each dog's deck is different because each dog is good at some things but poor at others... Belle the poodle can beg most anything out of a restaurant staff, but if she gets into a fight against Grouchy the boxer, he'll take whatever he wants and put her in the pound, licking her wounds. And that is both the strength and the flaw of this game... You need to learn and master the strengths of each dog to win. But some dogs (the fighters) are much weaker in games with less than the full 6 players (because the other dogs just stay away). We have made a house rule that you can draw again if you don't want to play your first pick to try to avoid this problem. Additional rules in the game cover a wildly-moving dog catcher (each player moves it at the end of their turn, so it tends to swerve around a lot) and critically important rules for what the rules call "piddling on a lamppost". This is important because you can use this to block off streets against other players' dogs, who have to stop and sniff away all their remaining action points if they encounter a marked lamp. Control of the map (particularly if the dogcatcher is nearby) is a critical strategy in this game, the one significant part that isn't luck-based at all.

Yes, it's silly. But it's also fun. And there's nothing wrong with that. It isn't strategically deep (in fact, it's very luck-driven, as even the best begging dog can draw a "nothing" when begging, just as the best run-and-dodge dog can get snatched by the dogcatcher), and dogs need to eat a LOT more than really makes the game fun (close to half your actions will be spent seeking food rather than trying to win... which, by the way, is done by burying bones in your home territory). Still, it's a nice light game to play, particularly if you aren't too shy to make silly bark and growl sounds to "get into character".

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A Dog's Life

Posted by ghoul at June 13, 2003 06:05 AM

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I've played Kingdoms once -- fun game. A Dog's Life sounds very enjoyable.

Ever play DOG EAT DOG by QED? My friend, Evan, is a mad scientist, and this one is hysterical. You play a huge multinational corporation trying to strip mine the planet to ruin. There are three layers of tiles for the wilderness, which start out with pretty artwork. As you strip away a layer, it gets uglier and uglier...

There's corruption, theft, the government, even an enviromentally sound company who gets money by cleaning up messes.

Worth checking out. I playtested this one ad nauseum several years back.

Posted by: Scott at June 13, 2003 08:08 AM

Oh, and Evan is the designer (d'oh!).

Posted by: Scott at June 13, 2003 08:09 AM

I bumped into DED doing a web surf not too long ago, and was tempted (enough that I believe I bookmarked the site at home)... Now it joins the short list. Thanks.

Posted by: Ghoul at June 13, 2003 08:42 AM

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