Full disclosure: A review copy of The Bark Side was provided by Nice Game Publishing.
Another box of games arrived from Germany, so I’ll be covering those over the upcoming weeks and months. I decided to shoot the moon to start and cover what I thought was the smallest game in the box (ironically, it’s only the third-smallest; more on those another time), and trick-taking normally catches my eye, so let’s talk more about The Bark Side, from Korea Board Games! Or, at least, I planned to start with this one and decided to push it to the start of International Dog Month, which I thought was a bit more apt. And fun!
In The Bark Side, you are playing mischievous dog cards, playing pranks around the house and so on. Unfortunately, if you’re not careful, your owner will come home and catch you in the act, and then it’s off to the pound for you! (This is kind of a sad game, when you think about it.) Can you avoid that terrible outcome?
Not much in the way of setup. If you’re playing with < 5 players, remove the 11s and 12s, but then shuffle the cards either way:
You can also add the Starting Dog (S) and Wild Dog to the deck as well, if you want:
Set out the Tail Tucked / Untucked card where all players can see it; it starts each round Untucked.
Once you’ve done that, shuffle the deck and deal each player 10 cards; you’re ready to start!
Alright, so, this purports to be a trick-taking game; I don’t really agree since it lacks suits, but that seems like a pedantic debate and I don’t think anyone wins those. Either way, your goal each round is to play cards and take tricks (or don’t; up to you) until the last one; if you take that one, you lose the round. That’s bad. Don’t do that. When you lose a round, you add the card you played and the two lowest cards in the round to your tableau (your pound). The first player to hit 7 different types of dogs in their pound loses; the player with the fewest at that point wins.
To start a round, each player gets their hand of 10 (sometimes fewer) cards and passes two to the right. Now, the player with the Starting Dog plays it and plays a random card from the hand of the player on their left. If you’re not using that, then, choose a start player randomly. We usually pick the player that lost the previous round.
On your turn, you may only play one card. It must be the same or greater than the last card played. If you cannot or do not want to, then you perform what’s called a tail-tucking move and play your lowest available card. When this happens, flip the Tail-Tucking card over to the Tail-Tucked Side. Now, a player starting a trick may play a set of cards instead. When a set of cards is played, all cards played must be the same value, and you must follow it with a higher set (the same number of cards; at least that value or greater). If you can’t, you must discard that number of your lowest cards (if it’s a four-card set, you must discard your four lowest cards). The only rule is that you cannot play a set if it would leave you with 0 cards in hand.
The Wild Dog is a special dog that can be added to a set to boost its size or played as a 0 for a Tail-Tucking move. If you keep it until the end of the round, though, it always wins. Try not to do that.
When every player has one card left, play them (starting with the start player)! The player who wins that trick loses the round, and must take their own card (and the two lowest cards in that trick) and add them to their pound (a tableau in front of them). The remaining cards get shuffled back into the deck and deal 10 to each player, again. If you ever can’t deal 6 cards to every player (the deck shrinks each round) or one player hits 7 different types of dogs in their pound, the game ends! The player with the fewest types of dogs in their pound wins!
Player Count Differences
Mostly just that at 5 and 6 you use the 11 / 12 cards. Beyond that, probability suggests it’s unlikely that you’ll have large sets of the same card as player counts increase, so you’ll probably see fewer sets getting played. At three players, the Starting Dog isn’t the most exciting play either, since it kind of just dumps Start Player at the third player’s feet (and can potentially break up sets for the second player) so I’d recommend not using that one below four+. Beyond that, no real preference for player count; I’ve had fun with it at every level.
- 6 – 8 isn’t that great. I generally pass those cards, unless I’m playing a 5- / 6-player game, at which point I generally pass 8 -10. The high-middle cards are the ones you’re most likely to get stuck with, so if you can get rid of them for low-middle or just regular high cards, you’re in great shape.
- Don’t pass your high cards. 10 / 12 should stay with you (depending on your player count). You’ll almost always have a chance to play those unless you get wildly unlucky. If that happens, well, you’re probably going to lose the round unless you get bailed out.
- Do not keep the Wild Dog until the end of the round. That’s a surefire bad choice, so, don’t make it? Throw it off if you have to. It’s a bummer (since it’s so useful), but, you really cannot justify holding on to it.
- Don’t always play your highest available card. Sometimes you will want to tail-tuck, even if you could have played. For instance, playing last in a round is good; if you let the player after you go and win, you have the potential to go first in the next round. Also, if you have a pair of 10s, it might be more useful to play those together than separate (depending on your circumstances), so breaking up the set might not be worth it.
- If you can play a three-card set, it’s usually a good idea. It’s pretty rare for multiple players to have 3+ card sets in a round (slightly more likely at lower player counts). If you do this, you can also pull out multiple players’ lowest cards, and so many of them! That’s generally a really good move if you’re trying not to take the final trick. I may avoid doing this if your triple is three 1s, though; may be better to save those to burn later.
- Keep an eye on your opponents’ pounds. If you have a 2 or a 3 in your hand, it may be worth keeping the 3 if you’ve been watching what your opponents have played (or been unable to play), especially if none of them have a 3 in their pound. Your goal should always be to help them diversify (and by doing so push them closer to losing).
- Similarly, if you’re not sure that you’re going to be able to avoid taking the last trick, keep cards that are already in your pound. You know you take your card and the other two lowest, so if you take a card that’s already in your pound, it doesn’t hurt you too much. I mean, it’s still not great (and I’ve yet to see a player play a round where they only took dogs they already had), but it’s better than nothing.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I mean, it’s dogs and rainbow cards. That’s gotta appeal to someone. I can independently think of at least 10 people who are going to like this game just on the principle of there being cute dogs without any thought for the other game mechanics and that’s totally fine. It’s a small box game; I bought Animale Tattica for the exact same reason and I still need to get around to reviewing that one. Get games for whatever reason you want.
- Easy to transport. I think it’s about the same size as a Coloretto box; somewhere in that ballpark. It’s not Button Shy, but it’s still very easy to get places, which I always appreciate.
- I quite enjoy ladder-climbing games. I think I still prefer Maskmen (it’s got a solid two-player), but it’s a mechanic I’ve been pretty enthusiastic about them lately, which has been nice.
- Mechanically, it’s pretty interesting. It definitely feels like a mix between trick-taking and ladder-climbing, which I quite like.
- Doesn’t take too long, either. It’s got a nice length to it; definitely takes at least 3 rounds, but doesn’t overstay its welcome, either, which I really appreciate. It’s a smart bit of design.
- The tail-tucking rules take a bit of time to get. You’re going to see some mistakes with this, either players throwing off incorrectly, forgetting that they can throw off even if they have a valid play, or any number of things. Just kinda let that happen for the first game. It’s fine.
- Theme’s a bit dark. Man, for such a happy-looking game, you are kinda sending bad dogs to the pound, which is kinda sad.
- It doesn’t feel like you have a lot of macro-level influence in the game. Say I’m playing with my friends, A and B. I’m in the middle, with a few points. It’s very hard for me, even at the top of my strategic game, to make sure that A takes the final trick (as opposed to B). I can likely do well to make sure I don’t take it, which is also crucial, but beyond that I don’t feel like I can influence the game’s outcome beyond “away from me”. That’s fine if you have 0 dogs taken, but if you already have some, you need other players to take some for the game to still be winnable, and I’m not sure what the best route to do that is. It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s something you can do easily. That said, I have a lot of fun playing it, so who really cares?
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I’ve been having a lot of fun with The Bark Side! It’s a cute, quick card game with fantastic, bright, and fun art, which always kinda sells me on a game (especially a small one, to be honest). My major complaint is that I don’t feel a ton of ability to direct the game beyond “away from me”, but that’s not the worst thing; I can’t lose the game if I never take the final trick, so I just try to focus on that and see where that gets me. Generally speaking, eventually everyone gets hit with a final trick, but sometimes you can end the game before your number comes up for that rotation. That’s kind of ideal, in my opinion. Beyond that, yeah, it’s a quick ladder-climbing card game that’s reminiscent of trick-taking, which are two mechanics I’m quite fond of. If you’re looking for a quick game in that vein or you just love dogs, The Bark Side is worth taking for a spin! I’ve had fun with it.