One of the better quick-filler games that can be played with almost anybody is Cat Lady, a quick card drafting game that can be explained in a couple of minutes and even your non-gamer cat lady grandma can pick up (as long as Fluffy doesn’t jump up on the table and keep distracting her).
But what about the other popular animal companion, man’s best friend and all of that?
Don’t worry. Designer David Short and Alderac Entertainment Group have you covered.
Yes, Dog Lover is the latest game in this card-drafting genre, but is a step up in the complexity department.
The game has artwork by Kali Fitzgerald and was published in 2021.
The game feels a lot like Cat Lady, but ramped up with some new mechanisms and card types.
Boardgame Geek says that it “reimplements” Cat Lady, but I would almost call it a progression than a reimplementation.
How does it compare, and does it succeed on its own merits?
Let’s take a look.
In Dog Lover, there is another 3×3 grid of cards from which players will be choosing cards, but the mechanism is different.
Instead of taking a row or column of cards, though, players will be taking cards based on one of the “trick” cards they have.
Each player will start with one trick. You can either play the basic version where everybody has the same trick, or you can play a bit more advanced where each player has a different trick.
On your turn, you will take cards from the grid based on the boxes on your trick. The only rule is that you can’t take two or three cards from the row/column where the black guard dog is.
You can take one (unlike Cat Lady) but not more. You can rotate the card (but not mirror it) to make sure you get the cards you want though sometimes the cards just won’t be in the right places to get everything.
After you take the cards, you place the guard dog where the asterisk is on the trick, restricting that row or column for the next player.
What cards can you get from the grid?
First, each player starts with a dog, which will give them something to aim for as far as starting food goes.
The dogs come in small, medium, and big varieties, and this can become important in the future. More dogs will come out in the grid.
The dogs also indicate what kind of food they need, which you will also be getting from the grid when you draft cards.
Much like Cat Lady, there is also a bit of set collection with “favorite things” (not toys).
This is the same set collection as Cat Lady but some of these cards might have other uses as well.
You can also collect Adoption cards. For two of these cards, you can get a Rescue Shelter dog, which usually have more powerful abilities or are worth more points.
Mario Andrei Eddie will let you tuck a ball underneath him for 4 points. Whether you want to do that or not may depend on how you are doing with your set collection, as the ball may be worth more points in a set. But you could take both balls!
This brings up one of the new and interesting things: tucking cards.
First, unlike Cat Lady, you actually will keep things like favorite things, bones, etc in your hand rather than in front of you. Thus, you can choose at a later point in the game whether to, for instance, tuck the ball or not.
Some cards you do have to make a choice immediately, though.
For example, you can’t keep Walks in your hand. You have to tuck it under a dog immediately or discard it.
The problem with that being that a dog can only have one Walk, so you have to have an unwalked dog ready for it when you take it.
The most interesting additions to the game, however, are the traits.
When you draft a trait, you have to attach it to the right kind of dog and each dog can only have one trait.
Thus, you have to have a dog ready to receive the trait.
If you don’t, each trait has a penalty that you have to pay in addition to discarding the trait.
For example, Land Lord forces you to discard it and any other card if you can’t place it.
Teacher’s Pet forces you to discard two training cards.
Traits make the dogs worth extra points as well as giving a special ability to the dog.
Rule Breaker lets you tuck unlimited cards underneath it and gives you 2 VP for each card type that’s tucked.
Training cards can either be tucked under a dog (again, only one per dog unless the dog has a trait adjusting that rule) or you can keep them and then spend them to buy new tricks.
Once you buy a new trick, you can decide which trick you want to use when gaining cards.
Unlike Cat Lady, which just ends as soon as you can’t replenish the grid, Dog Lover has an end of game card that’s near the bottom of the deck (where depends on the number of players).
Once it comes out, you finish the round and then that’s the game!
If the last player is the one who draws it, then the game just ends.
Thus you have to be aware of how empty the deck is getting and play Training or other cards before you don’t get the chance to.
Then all that’s left to do is distribute the food you gained to feed your dogs. You lose 2 VP for each unfed dog (who runs away…we’re not monsters).
Unlike Cat Lady, there’s no penalty for unused food.
Whoever has the most VP wins!
Is Dog Lover a game that cuddles with you when you’re feeling bad? Or does it destroy your house when you’re not at home?
I have to say that I really loved Dog Lover, much more than Cat Lady (though I greatly enjoy both games).
Dog Lover is, for lack of a better term, more of a “gamer’s game” though really both of them can be taught to family members and friends who don’t really understand our hobby. It would just take a bit more thought for Dog Lover.
I really appreciate how Dog Lover gives you a few more decisions and also a few more complications. When you only have one dog that you can put a trait on, and the trick that you want to use will end up giving you two traits, that’s difficult! Sometimes you have to decide what the best way to turn your trick is.
Sometimes it will give you excess food that you have no use for, which is why I appreciate that Dog Lover doesn’t give you negative points for unused food.
The ability to get new tricks really helps this game shine as well. Training cards are multi-use cards in the sense that you can save them to get new tricks or you can tuck them (one per dog) for 1 VP each.
But the new tricks can be so helpful! They give you more options when you’re choosing cards and thus more decisions. These are decisions that aren’t AP-inducing or anything, but they just give the game a bit more of a kick.
Options are always good.
I think the trait cards are great too.
The trait above that lets you tuck unlimited unused food cards for 3 VP each? Is that game-breaking?
Probably not, but it is quite powerful! It gives you an additional reason to get food cards that you wouldn’t have before, though at least you don’t have to avoid food cards that give you excess food like you do in Cat Lady.
Jamba’s trait above doesn’t let him tuck any more cards (though ideally you would tuck a few before you put that trait on him). However, it’s worth 7 additional points.
The artwork is done by Kali Fitzgerald and not Josh Wood, but the style is similar enough that there’s a bit of continuity between the two games.
And it is damned cute, too.
The game scales well between 2-4 players (the small number in the top right indicates how many players you need to include that card).
Basically, this game is just a lot of fun.
No meaty decisions like in the more complex games, but still some decisions to make.
It’s a card game, so it will be random. If you hate randomness, then you probably aren’t playing too many card games anyway.
This is a perfect lunchtime game because it takes 20-30 minutes (if that) so you can play it twice!
There’s really nothing objectively bad that I can say about Dog Lover. Yes, it’s feather-light and will blow away with a stiff breeze (literally!!!! The cards are pretty thin so don’t play this outside on a windy day, which I guess could be considered a “bad” thing) but it does exactly what it wants to do and doesn’t outstay its welcome.
If it were a longer game, it would not be a good thing.
If given the choice, I would play Dog Lover over Cat Lady, but I really enjoy both and am proud to have both in my collection.
Now if I could only teach them to fetch my slippers (Cat Lady just ignores me disdainfully while Dog Lover looks at me with soulful eyes that say “I don’t have any legs or I would do that for you.”)
This review was written after 4 plays
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