DIRT DOG

As a parent, one of my great daily tortures is Paw Patrol – a team of brightly coloured dogs with jobs. Skye has a natural talent for flying, Zuma seems to be at home under water, and Rubble loves smashing, digging and building. Their natural skills are boosted by training from Ryder, and together they act as a variety of community services to Adventure Bay. As they say … “Whenever you’re in trouble, just yelp for help!”

In the real world, you might be surprised to learn that dogs do not in fact have an affinity for flying or deep sea diving. Many do, however, have naturally bred digging skills like Rubble! Those burrowing skills are further encouraged by the sport of Earth Dog, in which Dachshunds and Terriers are challenged to navigate through burrows on their way to finding quarry, usually in the form of critters such as foxes and rats. For the purposes of the sport, the American Kennel Club notes that animals are not harmed in its challenges.

Earth Dog is the basis for Dirt Dog, an upcoming game from Hit ‘Em With a Shoe, designed by Matt & Tamara Showmaker, with artwork from Nathanael Mortensen. The game plays with either 2 or 4 players, typically plays in 30 minutes or less, and is suggested for ages 8 and older. Click here to visit the game’s campaign page on Kickstarter!

Before we go too deep into this review, it’s important to note that throughout this article, all photographs are featuring pre-production artwork and components. A successful Kickstarter campaign can often result in higher quality, unique components, so if this game interests you, be sure to keep an eye out for the campaign page!

THE BOX : WHAT IS INCLUDED?

Four types of cards are included in the box – Dog Cards, Obedience Cards, Quarry Cards, and Burrow Cards. Three varieties of tokens are included – Round Winners, Skill Ups, and Moxie Tokens. The exact component count is highly likely to change based on Kickstarter stretch goals, specific pledge levels, and the game’s final development process.

Now that we have the basic details laid out, let’s jump into the nitty gritty of Dirt Dog!

IN A NUTSHELL : HOW TO PLAY

In Dirt Dog, players are going to alternate turns crafting a challenging burrow for their opponent to navigate. Before burrows are built, however, players need to choose their pup! Each dog card includes information on the selected breed, as well as their in-game stats, which include Scent, Flexibility, Sight, Bark, Dig, and Moxie. The latter acts as hit points, and whoever has the most Moxie at the end of a round earns a Round Winner token.

The Burrow Builder in each turn will create a challenge stack of cards, with the entrance on top, and the target critter on the bottom. Each burrow card is tackled in order, and will test one or two of the dog’s skill stats. If the Runner can make it all the way through the challenge stack, that pup will receive a stat bump as dictated on the quarry card. Permanent stat bumps are noted with super cute Skill Up tokens, which are placed next to the appropriate stats on the dog card.

The real twist of the game comes with the use of obedience cards. Before the game begins, players will draft obedience cards, which can be used by the running dog’s player to temporarily boost a stat. As some burrow cards will challenge a dog’s skills with a number higher than their base stats, these obedience cards will be critical to making it through the entire challenge deck. However, the cards can also be used by the burrow building player to intensify a challenge even further! If a burrow card is challenging a stat beyond what the running player can overcome, they can bypass that burrow card by spending Moxie as dictated on the card. Unfortunately, if a dog exhausts all of their Moxie before finishing the challenge deck, they have failed the burrow and do not earn the quarry card at the end. The dog does, however, gain a single, permanent stat bump to one skill of their choice, again noted with a Skill Up token.

Once both players have had the opportunity to run through a burrow challenge deck, players compare their remaining Moxie, and whichever dog has the most remaining will earn the Round Winner token. Players then switch the order of Runner / Burrow Builder for the following round, and repeat the process with a new set of burrow cards dealt.

The 4 player team game is much the same, with the added benefit that teammates can play obedience cards to assist each other during a run.

BIG THUMBS – HOW IS IT FOR ADULTS?

During my time with Dirt Dog, I had the chance to introduce it to four different players, including my 5 year old daughter (which we’ll get to in our Little Thumbs section in a moment). Everyone enjoyed the tennis-like gameplay, with the roles changing between Runner and Burrow Builder every turn. Turns flow quickly, with the only downtime being when the Runner is waiting for the Burrow Builder to create the challenge deck. The game encourages a pleasant atmosphere, and the quick gameplay and small footprint makes it an ideal game to bring along for a coffee date.

The light strategy gameplay is further accented by positively stunning artwork, which will certainly be the initial appeal for anyone checking out Dirt Dog. Nathanael Mortensen is one of the many artists who contributed to Dwellings of Eldervale, and brings the same quality of illustration to this game. Every dog has personality jumping out from the cards, and we absolutely loved how scents are depicted as something of a blue mist. Capturing the spirit of a game in its artwork is so important to making sure it keeps returning to the table, and for Dirt Dog, it’s positively delightful.

Our one hope for improvement through the crowdfunding process is the card anatomy – how and where the information is placed on the cards. In its current state, a lot of critical information is hidden when managing a full hand of cards. For my own tastes, I’d like to see more information available in the upper corners, where players might intuitively seek out details. The intent of the icons are largely clear, but their placement could further support the game’s core mechanics.

LITTLE THUMBS – HOW IS IT FOR CHILDREN?

Currently, the game is recommended for ages 8 and up, and I would say that is an accurate target. My oldest daughter, Big Bean, is 5 years old as of this writing, and although as a young gamer she often punches above her weight, she did find the information juggling in this game a bit overwhelming.

As we often do, we attempted to make some rules adjustments to accommodate her joining in. Our first attempt involved removing the obedience cards altogether, which made for a more accessible experience for Big Bean. Of course doing so also removes much of the drama for the player acting as Runner. Still, we did end up finding some fun moments, with lots of conversation about which puppy is cutest, and working through the basic math that the game offers. We’ll return to the game again soon, and I expect being able to add some complexity back into the game as it becomes more familiar.

For now, though, we’re saying that Dirt Dog is a game best suited to older children and adults.

CONCLUSION

The last few years of board game releases have been rather cat-heavy. Dog lovers have reason to rejoice with the arrival of Dirt Dog, even more so if they are invested in high level pup training. The game moves at a lively and comfortable pace, offers competition without any overtly dirty tactics, with a length that can be easily adjusted for short or longer plays. 

Here at our home, we’re just a few months away from becoming a dog family, with a puppy expected to arrive in the new year. If we’re lucky, that might even mean fewer mornings dominated by the Paw Patrol. We’ll be cheering for Dirt Dog’s success on Kickstarter, not just because of the incoming pup, but also because it’s a cute and fun game!

VERDICT:
Two Big Thumbs Up!

Today’s review is made possible in part by Hit ‘Em With a Shoe, who provided Little Thumbs, Big Thumbs with a pre-production copy of Dirt Dog. Thank you!

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