Now you may think that I’ve inadvertently drifted away from this blog in the last 6 weeks. Or that maybe I’ve been busy working night shifts, holidaying in Portugal, or celebrating my son’s third birthday.
My prolonged absence from the interweb is in fact part of what I will christen a “meta-review”. I have carefully pre-prepared your emotional state for the upcoming game review (Spotty Dogs by Orchard Toys) by remaining unexpectedly distant for a while…
So what emotion did my absence provoke in you? Joy? Excitement? Resigned ambivalence? Or perhaps a crippling sense of emptiness?
Well, I was aiming for a specific emotion, so shall we get a wriggle on and find out if I managed it…
What is Spotty Dogs?
Spotty Dogs is a game for 2-4 players that’s box-recommended for ages 3-6 and published by UK behemoth Orchard Toys.
To play the game, you simply put out all 24 tiles dog-side-up on the table and the starting player spins the spinner. That player finds a dog with the equivalent number of spots on and adds it to their collection, turning it over to see how many biscuit bones they have won.
Play progresses clockwise and players take turns until all the tiles are claimed. If there are no dogs with a number of spots matching the number you spin, play passes to the next player.
Then at the end, players add up all their bone biscuits and the winner is the player with the most!
What’s in the box?
There are 24 dog tiles, one spinner and a rules sheet.
On one side of the tiles, there is a picture of a dog with between one and six spots and there are 4 tiles of each dog type. On the other side is a dog basket with between zero and three ‘biscuit bones’. There are six different dogs pictured and each has a set number of spots between one and six.
The spinner is split in to 6 areas, numbered (somewhat predictably) 1 to 6.
What’s Ezra’s chat?
He loves it!
I think there’s something magical for him about the ‘lottery effect’ of grabbing a tile and then dramatically unveiling how many bones he’s got. Whether it’s a zero or a three, he seems equally exhilarated just to have found out.
To quote Einstein:
“There is an innate exhilaration in the discovery of the unknown.” *
This sense of excitement at the revelation of his tiles is heightened by the feeling that by counting correctly, he’s earned his reward.
It’s like that emotion of finally crossing the finish line of the London Marathon and collecting your medal after months of training. Or when you take to the stage to collect your degree certificate at your graduation ceremony. Putting in all that work makes it way more satisfying.
The rules are really simple and it’s easy for to pick it up pretty quickly, so it’s a great game for him to play with other children his age.
Whilst it’s fun for Ezra, I’m not sure it has quite the depth needed for a six-year-old, but I’d certainly recommend it for children aged 3 and 4.
Ezra’s score – 20/25
What say you old man?
Well, as my dad used to say, “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed…” Somehow that cuts deeper. “Why are you disappointed?” I hear you bellow… Well,
There are no decisions in this game.
Let me just repeat that:
There are no decisions in this game.
Who wants to play a game that is completely random? Does it even count as a game? Aristotle wouldn’t be a fan:
“Fortune is a friend best entertained amongst a larger party.” **
The only enjoyment I derive from this game comes from seeing my son get excited and seeing him grapple with counting. There is no other level of engagement for me here.
Not only that, but you have those infuriating last few minutes when you’re longing for someone to finally spin a two so they can take the last dog and we can all count up and get on with living our lives…
And it’s all-the-more upsetting because it would have been so easy to make this game so much more engaging for parents!
Here’s how they should have made it…
Imagine 25 tiles representing 5 different species of dog. There are 5 dogs of each species, each of which is a different colour (white, yellow, light brown, dark brown and black). Each dog also has between one and 5 spots on them. Every tile has between zero and four bones on the back.
The spinner still has six areas but one of them is a question mark and the other areas have a number and a dog species, but are coloured according to the 5 dog colours.
Suddenly we have a game with 3 different independent variants (and a 4th where you can choose whether to pick by colour, spot number or species), each of which has the capacity to be played by a thinking player who can use their memory to gain an advantage.
And the kids would still love it! If they’d made it like this, I have a feeling it would be threatening the top of the leaderboard.
As it is, though, it feels like watching someone spin a spinner… And then roll a 4-sided dice… And honestly, that is exactly what it is.
To quote Abraham Lincoln:
“That does not sound remotely enjoyable” ***
Well, I think I’d have to agree, Abe.
Daddy’s score – 3/25
Overarching principles of gaming
In spite of my anger at the oversights in the game’s design, it does bring something new to the table here that we haven’t yet seen in a game we’ve reviewed – counting.
Now it’s worth pointing out that we’re not just talking about the ability to count but also the skill of ensuring all spots are counted once and once only. An important skill, I’ll grant you.
But should this register towards its score for teaching the principles of gaming?
Do you need to be able to count to play adult board games? Well, yes. But you also need to be able to read, write and speak for most games…
I’d argue that this game teaches an educational or developmental milestone rather than a gaming-related skill.
Now that’s fine, if that’s what you want, but it won’t do anything to equip Ezra for his first epic Agricola showdown with me and his mum on his 18th birthday. He’s going to get battered by the way.
Yes, it teaches you to take turns, but once your little one can count spots consistently, they will learn no more from this game than from playing a game of hide and seek – which, I’m sure you’d find much more enjoyable.
OPG – 4/25
The other stuff
Cost – 5/5
At £6 new off Amazon UK, this is a cheap way to make your child smile.
Art and design – 3/5
The dogs all look exactly the same, with the same background & the art style is very simple. Having the dogs all look the same actually means that Ezra starts to recognise the dog representing a number and stops practising his counting, taking away from the game’s apparent purpose.
Theme – 1/5
Answers on a postcard here. So far, this is my best guess…
You are a big, scary, hungry dog in an educationally-aware canine crime syndicate. To intellectually challenge yourself, you and your friends decide to steal the breakfast of smaller dogs based on the result of a spinner for their number of spots…
Rulebook – 3/5
Nice simple rules. Although I’m pretty sure Ezra could make this look better by spending 5 minutes working on it in MS Word…
Components – 5/5
Nice chunky tiles that will age really well and a spinner that’s really good at spinning (when placed on a flat surface).
The other stuff – 17/25
Total score – 44/100
If you want a game for 2 or more preschoolers to play together, or if you’re desperate for your child to learn to count whilst having fun, this game is perfect.
Just do all you can to avoid actually playing the game yourself…
Next time – 10 green bottles (Orchard Toys)
I was going for “disappointment” in case you care… What was the last game that disappointed you…?
*, **, *** – All quotes entirely fabricated