In Cat Lady, players collect cats. Cat Lady is a very nice game, but has a rather big negative to it: there are no dogs in the game. Everyone knows that dogs are a thousand times better than cats. Fortunately, publisher AEG has released a spiritual sequel, Dog Lover. Just like in Cat Lady, players collect cards, but raising dogs is more complex than raising cats and as a result Dog Lover is a tad more complex than its predecessor. Will you be able to put your best paw forward or will you go rabid rage after your defeat?
In Dog Lover, all players take turns collecting a number of cards with the aim of making the best combinations to collect the most points. On the table a grid is made consisting of 3 x 3 face-up cards. For Cat Lady fans: in that game, players choose a row or column from the grid and take all the cards. In Dog Lover, you may take cards depending on the tricks you know. Tricks are cards that you collect during the game. Each player starts the game with a single trick, but can learn new tricks as the game progresses. The trick cards contain patterns. Based on the chosen pattern, you may take cards from the grid. You can rotate or shift patterns, but you cannot mirror them, and you must be able to take all the cards in said pattern. Be careful not to wake sleeping dogs, because barking Bello the watchdog keeps watch (represented by a cute wooden Bulldog). If this bully of a bulldog is in front of a row or column, you may not take more than 1 card from that particular row or column. After you have taken cards, the row or column is filled with new cards and Bello moves as indicated on the pattern of the trick used.
There are different types of cards that players can collect. Dogs are placed directly in front of you and these cards score points (if fed) or minus points (if hungry) at the end of the game. Food cards are exchanged for scraps, dry kibble or canned food to feed your doggies. Each doggo is marked with the food it likes to eat. Kibble is rarer than scraps and canned food is only a very sporadic treat. Some dogs are more demanding and difficult to feed than others, but also earn more points at the end of the game. You have to be well prepared to take care of man’s best friend.
In addition to dogs and dog food, players can also collect items for their furry friends. The more unique items (such as toys, dog houses and other things) a player has in his hand at the end of the game, the more points he gets. You can also train dogs with training cards. Put these cards under a dog for some quick bonus points or exchange these to learn new tricks and the corresponding patterns. Pairing trait cards with dogs can earn you a lot of bonus points, but if you pick such a card and can’t play it right away, you can might be punished. Shame on you, bad dog! Bones can be used to earn bonus points for all dogs fed, but you need to have enough bones so that no dog will have a bone to pick.
Next to the grid, the shelter is filled with sweet puppies and old dogs. Players can collect adoption papers and exchange them for dogs from the shelter.
Like Cat Lady, Dog Lover remains fundamentally a simple and fast paced card game where players can act as playful young dogs, but also bark and bite at each other. By claiming the right cards you can score a lot of points, but don’t be too greedy: if you collect too many dogs and too little food, you might get more minus points than you would like. You can frustrate each other by claiming cards that other players need or play patterns to block other players with the dog standing watch. This makes it a nice short game with a high amount of interaction. The short playing time can sometimes be slightly frustrating when you feel like you’ve just started collecting, but that’s just part of the game… The tricks and patterns make sure that players have to think carefully and puzzle to collect the best cards from the grid. Some cards may have a negative effect (such as the trait cards) and that element of the game brings nice dilemmas. Just like Cat Lady, this game is highly recommended for those who like smooth card games with a cute theme!