Publisher: Birdwood Games
Player Count: 1-4 Players
Dedicated Solo mode: Yes
Game Length: 40-80 Minutes
In this family friendly game, players will take on the role of dog walkers itching to take local pets for a stroll around the park. Featuring a deck of 163 unique and beautifully illustrated dog breeds, you’ll compete with your fellow walkers to choose the right dogs for your kennel. Collect toys and treats to keep your dogs happy and in-line. Earn points by walking different types of dogs, pursue goals and plan your walking path in order to become the most accomplished walker around.
Dog Park is a light-hearted game of card drafting, set collection, point-to-point movement and a little bit of bidding all wrapped together in an attractively produced package. You’ll work to navigate the local dog park, dodging other walkers and collecting the right tokens to pair with your current and prospective dog clients. Players will score points in a variety of ways through objectives, tableau building and end game powers. Let’s dive in deeper and see if Dog Park is right for you.
ON YOUR TURN
Dog Park plays over 4 rounds, each with 4 distinct phases: Recruitment, Selection, Walking and Home Time.
To begin each round, players will secretly bid on dogs available to recruit into your kennel. Bidding requires reputation as collateral which serves as victory points in the game. So you’re weighing victory points in order to invest in dogs that will hopefully earn you more throughout the game. Each player will gain 2 dogs each round.
The dog deck is a pretty prominent feature in the game and deserves some exploration. This deck is composed of 163 unique dogs in 9 different breeds. Each dog features their own “needs” as well as a special ability. The needs are a basic cost to take that dog for a walk. This might mean you need a stick, bouncy ball and bone to keep this dog happy during its walk. The dog’s special ability is a benefit you receive while walking that dog in the park or at the end of the game.
From there players will simultaneously select up to 3 dogs to put on a leash (or activate) by paying that dog’s needs.
Once each player is ready, you’ll take turns moving through the park. As you land on different spots you’ll collect different toys and treats you can use on future turns. You can move 1-3 spaces so you basically move at your own pace. Faster walkers receive points bonuses for finishing first while slower walkers earn more resources. Walkers can’t share spaces unless they’re willing to part with reputation points, so you must carefully plan your path.
After returning from the park, players place their dogs back in the kennel and prepare for the next round. You never lose any recruited dog, so as the game progresses, you can walk dogs multiple times if it suits your strategy.
Walkers score points for end game bonuses on certain dog cards as well as points for collecting the most of a particular breed of dog. The player with the most points in the end is the winner.
ARTWORK & COMPONENTS
Dog Park’s crowning achievement is in its beautiful artwork. Like me, you might be happy just shuffling through the dog deck. Each dog is charmingly presented and there are so many of them that you can play many games without seeing the same ones! The individual and main boards are all illustrated in water colors and look amazing. Overall the artwork is an A+.
The components have a lot of personality. Each toy and treat token is shaped as its type and adds a lot of personality to the game. The game also features a really great storage solution that keeps everything organized that also provides super easy setup.
Overall, this is a very charming production that won’t disappoint.
PROS & CONS
➕ Beautifully illustrated theme
➕ Easy to teach, setup and play
➕ Great for non-gamers and younger kids as well as dog lovers
➕ Components add personality to a great production
➕ Different game modes for solo, 2 player and a group
➕ Larger player counts lead to more challenging decisions
➖ Might be too light for some tastes
➖ Walking your dog can feel a little cutthroat at times
WHY WOULD YOU LIKE THIS GAME?
This is the ultimate ode to dog lovers. The amazing deck of 163 dogs paired with the toy and treat tokens are big time crowd pleasers. Even the bone-shaped token holders caters to the audience. If you have an interest in dogs, you may bypass learning the gameplay all together and buy this just for the theme alone.
WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS GAME?
This should be no surprise if you’ve been reading the review up to this point: The dog deck is a home run. This is something the publisher could easily sell apart from the game. All 163 dogs are unique and they feature interesting notes about each one. This creates strong replayability since you’re likely to play multiple games without seeing the exact same dog pop up.
Dog Park has a lot going for it including instant appeal. Dog-themed games have been done before, but this is certainly the strongest theme and most attractive canine game to date. The wonderful presentation and artwork is certainly going to attract dog lovers and appeal to a wide audience.
The gameplay feels a bit like Wingspan and Parks came together and had a happier, friendlier child. The giant dog deck is very reminiscent of the bird deck from Wingspan. Each card is beautifully illustrated and features a fun fact about the animal. You even use the dog cards to form a mini tableau. It’s never terribly powerful, but you can create some interesting combos when you’re lucky enough to combine the right canines. The trek through the dog park has a similar feel to the path you take during Parks. Even blocking spots brings some strategic opportunities to put your opponents in difficult situations. Of course, any conflict created in the game is light and soon passes. These certainly aren’t negatives since the games I referenced are hugely popular with crowd pleasing mechanics.
I did find playing with large player counts created more tension in the game. Spots in the park became more challenging to grab and bidding for the dogs was a little more engaging. The 2-player game is looser, but it does bring in an AI “character” to force higher bidding. Overall, I did enjoy it more at higher player counts, but I appreciated the quicker pace of the solo and 2-player modes.
In the end, this is a relatively light-weight, light-hearted game. The rules aren’t heavy and the turns are easy to figure out. There are a few variant rules to adjust the game’s difficulty, but they never push things too far. The theme combined with the simple mechanics really make this a great game for families and kids. The appeal of the theme and production make this a great gateway game that could really work to draw casual gamers more into the hobby. The choices are a little more involved and should delight players who may be only familiar with dice rolling and point-to-point movement games.
If you approach Dog Park with the right expectations, you’ll really appreciate what it does and how it does it so well. I can certainly see Dog Park gaining traction and ending up on the shelves of my local Walmart or Target—it seems like the accessibility would be hit with that audience while the artwork and production would seal the deal. Dog Park was obviously constructed with a lot of care and detail and does a lot of things right. I hope that something that works this well is able to find the audience to appreciate it.