Full disclosure: A review copy of Here Comes the Dog was provided by itten.
I’ve really been excited about getting the opportunity to review all of itten’s games ahead of Gen Con; it’s cool for me because I get to check out a bunch of games that I’ve always wanted to try their set of titles, and for the most part writing up the reviews has been a blast (except for Yeti in the House, which I’m still not totally sure how to play / review; maybe I can work on that). We’ve still got a few left to check out, so let’s hit up Hatsuden after this but spend some time with Here Comes the Dog.
In Here Comes the Dog, you play as humans at the dawn of the Age of Domestication, where you first come in contact with your imminent friends. However, they’re not currently friendly, so you have a massive fire roaring to keep them at bay while you work to give enough of these dogs meat so that you can eventually domesticate and breed them into poodles. As one does. You feel pretty secure in your decision to do so, but the fire has definitely seen better days, which is worrisome. Will you be able to amass some dogs for your own purposes, or will you find out what happens when the fire goes out?
As with the other itten titles I’ve covered already, there are two modes: Basic, and Dancing Villager; I’ll cover both.
To set this up, first add the bonfire to the center of the play area:
You’ll also want to lay the sticks on the center, so that they’ve all got one end touching the base of the bonfire. This is important: the order does not matter, so do whatever you want:
The sticks are Meat, Fire, and Charcoal. Useful to remember. You can set the color dice nearby, as well:
Now, give each player 3 villagers, standing up:
Arrange the dogs around / near the bonfire. You’ll definitely do “around” the first time, and then just, in a pile near the bonfire every other time:
Place the Round Counter with 1 on top:
And you’re all ready to start!
Dancing Villager Setup
Similar to the base game, set up the bonfire, but only put 3 Charcoal and 5 Meat on it. Each player then takes Villagers:
- 2 players: 6 Villagers
- 3 players: 4 Villagers
- 4 players: 3 Villagers
Place one of the dogs between the Bonfire and the player who is “going first”. It’s a real-time game, so, that’s an odd concept. Just use Cwazi or randomly choose a player or pick the youngest player.
The remaining dogs can be set aside as “the pack”.
You’re ready to start!
Unsurprisingly, two different setups give us two different gameplay notes, as well. Here’s both!
The game is played over five rounds as you, villagers at the dawn of time, attempt to domesticate dogs. However, they’re … still kind of wild, so if the fire burns out, you might have more trouble than you bargained for.
On your turn, you may roll or exchange. If you choose to roll, chuck the dice and take two sticks of your choice that match the dice colors. There are some special configurations:
- Two of the same color: This isn’t that special; you can either take 1 of that color and 1 of something else, or 2 of the same color.
- One of each color: Instead of taking any sticks, you steal a stick from any other player.
- Three of the same color: This one depends on which color you roll, so I’ll go through each. You get to take another turn, if this happens to you:
- Three fire: Fire! All players return all fire sticks to the bonfire, and then the game continues.
- Three meat: Domesticate! All players experience a Feed Event (see End of Round), and then the game continues. Return used Meat sticks to the bonfire.
- Three charcoal: The dogs attack! All players experience an Assault Event (see End of Round), and then the game continues. Return used sticks to the bonfire.
Instead of rolling, you may choose to exchange a stick for one or more sticks, following these rules:
- Charcoal -> Meat
- Fire -> 2 Meat
- Fire -> 2 Charcoal
You cannot exchange Meat for Charcoal or reverse any of the other transactions. You also cannot exchange such that you take the last of any stick.
End of Round
A round ends when all of the Charcoal and / or Meat sticks have been taken. When that happens, an Event occurs:
- Feed Event: If all Meat sticks are taken, a Feed Event occurs. For every 2 Meat sticks a player has, they tame one dog. Add that dog to your play area.
- Assault Event: If all Charcoal sticks are taken, the fire burns out and the dogs attack! For every Meat stick you have, a dog attempts to attack you! For every 2 Meat sticks you have, you defend against one dog, and for every Fire and Charcoal set you have, you defend against one dog. If you have more dogs attacking you than you can defend against, villagers faint equal to the dogs you couldn’t defend against.
- No Event: If both Meat and Charcoal run out simultaneously, the round ends with no event.
As for villagers fainting, if all your villagers faint, remove one of them from the game and stand the remaining villagers upright again. Do this until you only have one Villager left; if it faints, you’re eliminated from the game.
End of Game
The game ends after five rounds or when all other players are eliminated. Whoever has tamed the most dogs wins!
Dancing Villager Gameplay
If you thought the last game was weird, just wait. Everyone simultaneously says “Here Comes the Dog!” and then rolls the villagers, like dice. Depending on how you roll, you do certain actions:
- Villager lands hand-up: Remove a Meat stick.
- Villager lands hand-down: Remove a Charcoal stick.
- Villager lands flat: Do nothing.
You’re going to be doing this pretty quickly, so now remove sticks from the bonfire equivalent to your roll. There’s one catch: Hand-up and Hand-down villagers cancel each other out.
If a villager lands on top of another one perfectly (as in, it’s not touching the table), the total number of sticks you remove doubles.
If a villager lands standing up, awesome! You get to tame a dog immediately.
If all the villagers were rolled flat (there can be no standing, hand-up, or hand-down villagers), you add one more dog to the village, behind the dog that’s already there.
Now the tough part. If you figure that some number of sticks are going to run out before they’re all removed, you have to move fast:
- Meat sticks will run out: Take as many of the dogs from the bonfire area as you can! You tame all the dogs you take.
- Charcoal sticks will run out: Take the Bonfire token! Anyone who doesn’t have it loses one Villager for the rest of the game.
If you take something when you shouldn’t have, you lose one Villager. If you run out of Villagers, return all your dogs to the pack and start back up to the regular number of Villagers.
If one of the events occurs, reset the bonfire. If a player tamed the lead dog from the previous round, set a new dog between them and the bonfire.
End of Game
Once any player has tamed 7 dogs, they win! If there’s a tie, break it in favor of the player with the most Villagers.
Player Count Differences
Not all that many, for either game. I suppose in the Basic Game, it’s worth playing more conservatively at higher player counts, since you get fewer turns and it’s more likely that your opponents will be able to team up on you. You don’t want to take so much meat that every other player takes charcoal to try and mess you up real bad. In Dancing Villager, it’s pretty much the same game no matter the player count, you just have fewer of your own villagers that you can watch at any given juncture, so you have to play a bit quicker. I enjoy the lower player count end of the Basic Game and pretty much any player count for Dancing Villager, basically.
- Basic Game: Roll well. A lot of this game is going to come down to whether or not you can roll what you need to roll when you need to do it. Naturally, this isn’t particularly good strategy advice, but, hey, it’s probably the most important thing to remember.
- Basic Game: Don’t get greedy. As I mentioned in Player Count Differences, you shouldn’t make a big spectacle of going hard on taking meat, otherwise the other players might team up to take as much charcoal as they can so that you get dragged off by a pack of wild dogs. As you do in a board game. Similarly, if you take too much charcoal too quickly, you’ll spook your opponents and you won’t be able to really mess them up.
- Basic Game: Taking Fire is usually helpful. If you roll it, you might as well take it. You can essentially store it as 2 Meat or 2 Charcoal until you need it. Just be careful and make sure you do that swap before you run out of opportunities! Or, you can keep the fire sticks as defense if one of your opponents seems to be leaning into the Assault Lifestyle.
- Basic Game: Stealing is usually useful, unless you roll it too early. Naturally, rolling it on the first turn is kind of silly, but you can usually go after players who are in the lead or steal defensive items from players so that they risk a more heinous assault. Either way, it’s not the most useful thing you can do with a turn (since you end up with one stick instead of two), but it can be usually turned to your advantage.
- Dancing Villager: Scan quickly. You really want to know as fast as possible if this is the turn in which you’re going to drain the bonfire of sticks. If not, don’t do anything. You just don’t want to be the last person to notice, since that usually means you won’t get any dogs domesticated.
- Dancing Villager: You can try to fake out your opponents, if you think that’s useful to do. I wouldn’t recommend it as a lifestyle choice, since it’s kind of shady, but if you attempt to grab something quickly you might be able to convince your opponents that they miscounted and the round is about to end, so they’ll go after the dogs or the bonfire and you can force them into a mistake. This will work maybe one time before they get wise to it, though. It might work more! Judge based on your group.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Pretty novel theme. I mean, you’re domesticating dogs at the dawn of man. That’s kinda cool.
- Love the pieces. Itten has never once let me down, and they’re not starting now. The bonfire token in particular is beautiful; I kind of wonder if there are other games I can use it for. Plus, having a ton of tiny dog pieces is never the worst thing in a game.
- Dancing Villager is an incredibly ridiculous game idea and I kind of love it? You’re just rolling things that so clearly are not supposed to be rolled, and it’s extremely silly. The whole box is kind of a couple extremely silly games, I agree, but this mode certainly takes the cake, in my opinion. It is super satisfying when you roll one and it stands up, though.
- Solid family game. I mean, insofar as a game about being attacked by while dogs can be?
- The box is a very pleasant color. You don’t see a lot of bold red boxes in games; only ones I can think of offhand are Museum, Insider, and PitchCar. Istanbul: The Dice Game does at least have the outline in a nice red, but I’m going to argue that doesn’t count.
- Setup can be a pain. If you actually lay out all the dogs in a row around the fire, like I did for these photos, then yes, it’s a huge pain. If you make a doggo pile instead, then it’s less so, but it does negatively impact the aesthetics of the game. Itten does a wonderful job with components, color, and general tactile experiences in gaming, so it feels like a shame to ignore that for the sake of convenience. But it is much more convenient.
- Some of the Dancing Villager rules are a bit unclear. The thing we’re struggling with is how far apart should the extra dogs be, relative to the initial dog. If they’re too close together, you can do what I did one game and just clamp down on all of them, effectively ending that discussion. It also incentivizes minor fighting / possibly reckless behavior if a lot of players’ hands are converging on the same location simultaneously.
- Extremely random. You’re rolling a lot. If you don’t enjoy that kind of lifestyle, this will definitely not be the game for you. Some turns you don’t do anything, some turns you do okay, and some turns, well …
- Sometimes you’ll just … lose. Yeah, this can happen. It’s not … the best. Naturally, it’s kind of your fault if it does, since you got too greedy, but this usually happens to one new player every time the game is played. Player elimination isn’t that much fun, honestly, so I kind of wish it weren’t totally necessary, especially since it doesn’t speed up the end of the game; once you’re eliminated, you might just be out for a while.
- Can also just … take a while. Speaking of whiles, yeah, it says 30 minutes on the box, but if the dice aren’t in anyone’s favor (you roll steal a lot or Fire Festival when the only sticks that have been taken are Fire, for instance), you may find that some rounds are taking much longer than you anticipated. In order for the game to hit its playtime, each round has to take 6 minutes. It usually takes at least 10 minutes per round, sometimes as high as 15, depending on how the play is going. That’s substantially longer.
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, I think Here Comes the Dog is interesting and fun! I think it shakes out favorably that there are more things I like than things I don’t, but I’ll freely admit that this is a game I don’t really see myself playing all the time. It’s a bit long for a filler, but a bit too random to be a meaty game that I want to play when I’m feeling something that’s a bit closer to standard weight. That’s an unfortunate spot to occupy, but, I think it’s doing its best, so I’ll still likely play it from time to time. It’s got a lot going for it! Great pieces, incredibly silly gameplay, and some very bright and bold colors make it another attractive game in itten’s line (which, again, they generally always make attractive games, so this isn’t a huge surprise). I think it’s the right spot for wanting to play something silly and not really caring how long it takes; you can very easily grab a snack or a drink and just kinda let the game happen for a bit and that’s fine. If you’re playing with hardcore strategics, this isn’t going to be the game for them, as it’s incredibly random and mostly revolves around rolling stuff that should or should not be rolled and whatever happens, happens. If you’re looking for some silly way to pass some time between games, though, Here Comes the Dog may be just what you need! I think it’s pretty entertaining.