In A Dog's Life, you take the place of a boxer, a poodle, a whippet, a fox terrier, a German shepherd or a Labrador and your goal is to be the first to bury three bones in your own kennel. Your first task is, of course, to collect these bones at different locations in the city. You can go and beg for food in the restaurants, rummage through garbage and bins, deliver newspapers and get rewards or take bones from other dogs by fighting them. But be wary, because while you are having fun in the city, the dog catcher is driving around to catch all stray dogs, and this can cost you a lot of valuable turns.
The game is being played on a shared game board that represents the village in which the dogs are running around. The city is divided into tiles through which the dogs can move throughout the game. At some positions, it is hard to differentiate the difference between these lines and the folds of the board. The board has great art on it and all buildings are different to create a lively image of a city. Special tiles have a paw on them to indicate special actions can be taken here. Each color of paw represents another action: yellow paws are the entrances to a dog's kennel their starting place and the place where they bury bones, red paws are restaurants where dogs can beg for food, blue paws are the entrances to the news kiosk where dogs can get a newspaper to deliver, green paws are delivery addresses for newspapers and the black paw shows the exit of the dog shelter.
To distinguish players on the game board, everyone gets a beautiful miniature that corresponds to the chosen dog breed. These miniatures are completely unique and hand painted out of the box. These make the experience as a dog in the city even more real. A small disadvantage with these miniatures is that they don't have a base and the legs of the dogs are very small and sometimes uneven, so they don't always manage to stand up right.
Every player also has a deck of cards that is unique for all dogs. These cards show all possible actions that can be taken in the city and the result for them. The actions on the card are being shown with as few text as possible so they are really easy to understand. The name of the actions in English, but after playing a few times you know the correct icon for each action by heart.
You also get your own sturdy player board that has a nice picture of your dog on it. This board keeps track of what your dog has in its mouth, this can be bones or newspapers, how much your bladder is filled and how hungry the dog is. To display these stats, the game comes with cardboard tokens that have nice icons on them. These boards and tokens are of superior quality, it's probably the first time I have seen such thick cardboard in a board game.
A game round is played in three phases. The first phase is very simple, each dog is getting hungry. The hunger token on the playboard of the dog is moved to the position to the left. If this token ever reaches zero, the dog falls asleep and the dog is moved to the dog shelter. The players turn ends immediately and the turn goes to the next player. In the games we have already played, no player ever had this problem, there are plenty of food sources in the city. But still, this is something you have to keep an eye on.
The second phase is the action phase. Now players can start using the action points that the dogs have, these points vary from dog to dog and are depicted on the player board that matches the dog. The player now has to choose how he is going to use these actions. Actions can be used to move a dog (one point per tile moved), rummage through trash cans, beg for food or bones at restaurants, get a newspaper at the kiosk, deliver a newspaper to a building, drink at a fountain or attack another dog. To get a result for any of these actions, players take the top card of their own deck of cards and turn it face up, the result of the action is the icon that is shown at the type of action the player has done, this can be pieces of food that replenish the dogs hunger, a bone that can be taken to the dogs kennel, or a sad dog that means that nothing has happened.
It is also possible to use an action to attack a dog on an adjacent tile. When you attack, both players turn a card and the player that has the most paws on their card is the winner, if the number of paws is equal, nothing happens. The player that has lost the battle loses all items in their mouth and drops them at the location they are standing. Another dog that passes through this tile can pick up these items by using an action point.
Another action the player can take is peeing against a lantern post. When another player reaches a tile that has been marked by another dog like this, their action phase ends immediately, the next turn they can move again from this space. This is an action that can be used to block other players from moving to a certain position or slow someone down.
In the third phase of your turn, you move the dog catcher. You throw a six sided dice and move the dog catcher car that many spaces. If you end in the same square as a dog, that dog is immediately moved to the dog shelter. If the dog catcher ends on a tile adjacent to a dog, that dog has to turn over his top card and that card determines if the dog is caught and goes to the dog shelter.
Our opinion and conclusion
To be honest, at first I did not really have high expectations for this game and the first game with three players had some fun moments but was missing some interaction and all actions were luck based with the cards. But when we played the game with four or more players, the game was quite fun and there were a lot of laughs. With more players, there is a lot of interaction and you can easily catch another player with the dog catcher.
This game will probably make the table some more times in the future, especially with groups that don't play that many board games because it is really easy to teach and has some fun elements. The game is also a recommendation to play with kids, the great components and miniatures, the ease of the gameplay and the possibility to block other players by peeing on a lantern post is something kids really like about this game!
Do you really like family games of do you like playing games with kids? Then I would highly recommend this game. Do you rather like more strategic games? In that case, I don't think this is something for you. The game is currently available on Kickstarter and will be available this December, just in time for a nice Christmass present!