Dog Park Board Game Review (2024)

WBG Score: 7

Player Count: 1-4

You’ll like this if you like: Parks, Wingspan

This is a review copy. See our review policy here

Finally! After so much begging, pleading and saying how I’ll feed it, walk it and clean up after it, the folks at Birdwood games have finally let us have a Dog themed game. Now I’m off to name it……I’m thinking Roger because I find the concept of dogs with human names hilarious.

Dog Park Board Game Review (1)

How to walk your dog.

I won’t go into how you set up except to say that if you're playing with two players you’ll need to set up for an “auto walker” to act as a third player. Given the bidding element of this game that’s normally pretty standard. You’ll also need to randomly set up the breed cards down the awards track.

The game is played over four rounds, each consisting of four phases. At the start of each round flip over a location card and populate the walk track with the tokens pictured.

In phase one players will secretly use their dial to set a bid for one of the face up dogs on the board, spending a maximum of five reputation. In turn order players will place their walker next to the dog they’re bidding on. All players will flip the dials over and the player with the highest bid on each dog will win that dog into their kennel, also paying the reputation they bid. The losing bidders will get to take another dog, in turn order, for the cost of one reputation. More dogs will be flipped and the bidding phase will be done again so each player will get two dogs each round. One crucial thing to note is that you’re bidding with reputation which in this game is your victory points. So spend wisely.

In phase two you’ll need to pick up to three dogs in your kennel to go for walkies. In a perfect world that’d be all of them but that doesn’t make a very competitive game and that would be a lot of poo to clean up!. Put the dogs you want to take onto your lead board, pay the cost in resources and place a lead token on them. Dogs are placed one at a time because all dogs have special abilities. So any that say “when placing on the lead” will trigger. Some abilities may get you resources which you might need to help place another dog.

Dog Park Board Game Review (2)

The next round is WALKIES! Don’t shout this out loud with your dogs in the room though otherwise this could be a long round! In this round you can move your walker up to four spaces through the park. When you land on a space you immediately take the resources, points pictured or action on it. If another walker is in that space you can still choose to take the benefit but you have to pay one reputation point to do so. This will go on until all but one walker has left the park, at which point the phase will end and the last player left will lose one point.

When you're walking your dog you’ll also be triggering any abilities on your dogs on the lead that apply to this phase. Some spaces have actions on them. The swap action lets you swap a dog in your kennel with a dog in the field (display) . This is a great way to get dogs you want without spending reputation in the bidding phase. Swap and walk does the same thing but this time the dog you take has a lead token put on them so you don’t lose points at the end of the round. Finally, scouting lets you look at the top two cards of the deck and replace one of the dogs in the field with one you’ve just drawn. In the last phase you’ll score two points for each dog you took on the lead and lose one for each dog without a lead token in your kennel.

After four rounds you’ll score points for each breed on the awards track. Whoever has the most of a certain breed will score the points next to them. Ties are friendly. You'll also score for any end of game goals on any dog cards in your kennel and for your private objectives.

Dog Park Board Game Review (3)

How do you park a dog?

One of the first things you’ll notice about Dog Park (once you’ve stopped staring at the dogs of course) is how distinct each phase of the game is, more so for the bidding and the walking phase. Games that have very distinct phases that consist of very separate mechanisms can easily be a bit worrying. It could be so easy for any one of these to not integrate well or just not be as fun as other phases and if that happens it could ruin the experience of the game. Happily all the phases of Dog Park work well and more importantly work really well together. The bidding phase offers some really good decisions especially when you throw in the fact that your spending victory points to do it. There’s a lovely amount to consider when choosing your best friend. The special ability, the breed and if you can afford to put it on the lead to avoid losing out on victory points. You may only lose one point per dog, but those points could be vital for the next bidding phase. Let’s face it no one wants to take a dog only to not be able to take it for a walk. Whether you lose points or not you’d just feel guilty. (As an aside I think there needs to be a flip side to each card where each dog has those puss in boots style sad eyes and it stays on that side until you walk it. No dog left behind) Regardless of why you’re initially picking a dog you’ll find choosing how much to bid a genuinely tough choice. Not only because you’re your spending points, but because you’ll usually find that you may not have that many to spend and with two bids each round you really need to pick your battles.

When you come to the walking phase you really get the sense that this game loves to put the players in a position of uncertainty and second guessing your opponents and both phases encompass that.

In a perfect world during this second phase you’ll want to stop at almost every space to maximise the number of resources you’re getting; but not everyone has those ideals and that’s where the race element comes into it. All this depends on how you’re faring on the resource front. Too few and you’ll want to take as long as possible, but there’s always that one player who’s managed to acquire the whole pet shop full of resources and has merely to skip down the track as fast as they can. It's tense! Other players will see this sprint towards the end and soon need to decide if they want to follow suit just in case everyone else is. You just need to decide if you risk it for a dog biscuit and try to gather as much as you can, or join the mad dash through the park.

Dog Park certainly gives you lots to take into account with every decision you make, but there’s nothing that feels overwhelming. In fact I’d say it’s a great game to introduce to newer gamers. I’d say it would work as a good family game, especially if you're a family of dog lovers.

Dog Park Board Game Review (4)

You call the dog, then I’ll call the dog…..

Ok, let’s talk about the real reason you're all here. The dogs! You get a huge stack of them (163 to be precise), each with individual and fantastic looking artwork with what feels like every dog breed imaginable. The fact that there are already expansions with more breeds kinda disproves that idea but being able to have more dogs is never a bad thing. Dog Park falls into that pantheon of games where you’ll often find yourself torn between picking a dog for its ability…..or because it’s just so darn cute. This is a big stack of cards though and much like other games that also have those big decks (Wingspan, Ark Nova) you’ll find that you won’t get though a fraction of that. It could mean that end of game breed awards could easily be won because one player just happened to get the only dog of that breed that came out. It might also hinder any end game scoring that relies on you getting multiples of a certain breed. There are a couple of actions in the walking phase that will help you cycle through the deck a little bit but it still won’t be enough to make a huge dent in the deck.

One thing Dog Park brings with it compared to the games I mentioned (I’ll include Meadow in that list as well) is the personal touch. If you’ve ever owned or known a dog in your life then it's lovely to know that you could potentially have your dog in your kennel. It potentially may not work for you strategy wise, but I’d take the personal aspect of it any day.

For a first game it’s an impressive production. The components are great and I think we all appreciate game trayz in our boxes. However I think the colours could have been better matched throughout the game. The lead boards are hard to differentiate the colours on the front. The backs are better but they don’t quite match the meeples and the offer dials. Ultimately, knowing which colour meeple you are is the only thing that matters but it’d still be nice for a little bit of cohesion between everything.

The two player game is fine, it employs a dummy player and I personally don’t find these particularly engaging (in general, not just in this game). It's easy enough to run, but It’s also easy to predict where the auto walker is going to go during the bidding phase. So unless you really want a particular card and want to take a chance, it’s easy to avoid sharing the same spot. For me it takes away the unpredictability of the other players which in turn, takes the edge off of the tension that a three plus player game gives. The unpredictability is still present for contesting bids and the walking phase since this is determined by a roll of the dice.

Dog Park is a worthy game to celebrate our most loyal furry friends and whether you want to play a game or just stare at pictures of the goodest boys and girls then Dog park is definitely worth a look.

Dog Park Board Game Review (2024)
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