Dog Eat Dog

Designed by Evan Jones
Published by QED Games
Reviewed by Mike Siggins

3 to 6 players
90-120 minutes

Evan Jones might well rest on his laurels. With a game of the quality of Blue vs Gray already under their belt, many game designers would have stopped right there. But Evan is definitely a couple of pips short on his die, and is a full time designer with an impressive support team to work with. So, design he does, with flair, and enthusiasm bordering on the psychotic. I can't wait for his WWII game, and I'm even keener on Gods vs Goddesses - a card game of Greek myths - which I hope replaces Yaquinto's Mythology. But first we have Dog Eat Dog, a title that brings to mind Adam and the Antz, so I have docked QED a point immediately.

The game is one of production and profit - gained at whatever cost to the environment, rivals and the taxman. Players take the role of corporates, extracting raw materials from the area and making finished products. Workers are hired, fired and maintained, toiling away to keep your profit margins high. The more money the better, because there is always that dodgy politician or corrupt official to bribe. The neatest part of the game is the central grid of sixteen squares. These start the game as unsullied wilderness, abundant with rare flora and fauna. As the game progresses, players buy up the plots, extract the goodies, chop down the trees, and gradually pollute them. As this happens, more and more grimey tiles are laid onto the board, eventually depicting run down industrial areas, sometimes with museums dedicated to the now long extinct animals.

My favourite option, only recommended for the fifth or sixth player sadly, is to play as Waste Mismanagement Inc. These are actually an interesting slant on the exploitation trend, as they recycle raw materials from the other players, so must wait for their production to commence. Neither does their production pollute, so you get to sleep at night. The only drawback with this otherwise challenging role is that the game can slow down with five, and almost always does with six. Whatever route you take to victory, the winner is the player who can cream off the most dollars into his Swiss bank account. There are of course a whole load of event cards and board driven disasters - this is a 'roll the dice, move dobber round the board' game - that make the ride a little more choppy.

Where the game scores, and I suspect falls short for the design team, is in the interaction suggested by the title. I don't think it achieves quite the level of cynical animosity that Evan was hoping for, and which fits the corporate meanies depicted, but the situational drivers are sound, the cards can be quite fiendish, and the game encourages selfishness, stuffing of rivals and open hostility whenever possible. I am reminded of John Harrington's Office Politics - occasionally nasty, but tolerable and always fun. And there is of course that Junta feel of creaming off those dollars into Switzerland. For me, it also rates highly in the graphics and component departments - there is considerable heft here, and the bits are very nice indeed. Okay, so I am a sucker for layered tiles, especially with an environmental theme. QED have cut no corners, and this is a package that looks the part (and almost looks the price). And because I moaned so much about the Blue vs Gray rules, I can only say Dog Eat Dog's are a huge improvement and pretty much 100% clear and 'all there'.

While it makes not an iota of difference to the play, pitching the game as a 'round the board' design is always going to raise some irrational concerns in gamers. In reality, it is quite an effective chaotic mechanism. But those Monopoly parallels loom large and I guess some buyers will switch off. Which is a shame, because many of us sat through Fast Food Franchise and found a good game hiding inside. And fittingly, it is with that game that Dog Eat Dog can be most closely compared. They are similar in weight and scope, likely to appeal to the same groups, and (I would guess) will stick around on shelves for the occasional outing. The key factor is that there is very little new here, so acceptance will come down to those fringe areas: designer and publisher familiarity, graphics, theme, price, tolerance of downtime and so on. I know there are some in the 'glass half empty' camp, but I liked Dog Eat Dog. I am thinking, ohh, around six and a half, perhaps a weak seven with four quickish players.

QED's decision to create an ironic game on this subject, and then to try to sell it to green-tinged Germans at Essen, was a brave one - because I am sure some will miss the point completely. But if you look beyond the surface, Dog Eat Dog is a decent multi-player game and I am sure it will meet with good secondary response from Germany, and initial response elsewhere. There is nothing much wrong with the game, but in fairness neither is there much to get excited about. It uses tried and trusted mechanics, adds in a theme that has been done before, and has been made to work within a reasonable time scale. So while Dog Eat Dog won't set the world alight, it works well enough, it looks great and is worth a couple of hours of your time.

Why wait? Buy it now from FunAgain Games!

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell