[Review] Top Dogs
- I first got to play Top Dog (Playroom Entertainment, 2005 - Maureen
Hiron) at Origins and was immediately charmed by the simple gameplay.
One of the things that caught my attention was the artwork, by Randy
Martinez, is so well done that it raises the game's enjoyability by a
notch. It was a great filler, and I played it several times, both
during and immediately after the convention.
After several more plays, however, I started to tire just slightly
with the game. It's a cheerful, quick "filler" - one defined such by
people who normally don't use such terms. Most people I've introduced
the game to have enjoyed it, but very few have requested repeat
playings. I think Top Dogs is an attractive game, useful for drawing
in interested people who are fascinated by the artwork and/or theme.
Used as a "lure" in this regard, Top Dogs is an excellent choice.
It's an interesting filler, but other games such as Pick Picknic do
the same thing, but with better replayability.
A deck of "trophy" cards, each with a value between "7" and "16", are
shuffled into a deck and placed face-down in the middle of the table.
Each player takes a deck of dog cards in their color and shuffles
them, placing them in front of themselves in a face down deck. Each
player takes one of five Musher cards and places it face up in front
of them, while drawing the top seven cards from the deck into their
hand. The first round is ready to begin.
The top card of the trophy deck is turned over, and the players all
"race" to see who wins the card. Each player then selects three dogs
from their hand and places them face down next to their Musher.
Players simultaneously reveal their cards, and the player with the
highest valued dog team wins the trophy card. Each player's deck has
four cards each of dogs valued "2", "3", "4", "5", "6". If all three
dogs in a player's team are different numbers, they are simply added
together to get the player's total. (Ex: A "5", "4", and "2" dog
gives one a total of "11".) If two dogs are the same, those two dogs
are multiplied by each other rather than added. (Ex: A "4", "3", and
"4" dog give a total of "19"). If all three dogs are the same, all
three are multiplied by each other.
The player whose total is the highest wins the trophy. However, if
two or more players are tied for the highest score, then the player
with the second highest total gets the trophy! All players discard
their cards that they've played, and then discard one more card from
their hand, leaving them with only three cards. Players draw from
their draw deck back up to seven cards, and start another round.
After four rounds, a player can only draw the one remaining card from
their deck - meaning that they only have a choice of four cards for
the fifth round. After that round, all player decks are shuffled for
the remaining five rounds. After the tenth round, the player whose
trophy cards show the highest sum is the winner!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: I've already mentioned how much I enjoy the artwork
on the cards, as it is a major selling point of the game. The Musher
and dog cards have a crisp, clean, cartoon-type look about them, and
really add to the attractiveness of the game as a whole. The dog
cards each have a rope on them, and they line up with the Musher card
to create a complete picture (similar to Heave Ho!). The cards
themselves are of top quality and handle really well. Each player's
deck is differentiated by a different color back, while all numbers on
both the trophy and dog cards are clear and easy to read. Everything
fits well into a cardboard insert inside a small box - but one that is
considerably larger than the deck of cards.
2.) Rules: The rulebook, which comes in several languages, is only
four pages long - and that includes examples and full-color
illustrations. It's a very simplistic game, one that anyone can pick
up the rulebook and learn. At my church group, I normally explain all
the games to those who are interested in learning them. One group
picked up Top Dog and learned the game in about five minutes; it was
that simple for them. Anyone who understands multiplication can easily
grasp the concepts of this game.
3.) Math: As a math teacher, I'm always interested when games overtly
teach math, and this one certainly does. While the math is only basic
addition and multiplication, it still works on a rudimentary level,
which gives Top Dogs a certain "educational" value. I haven't seen
anyone turned off by this math, although a couple of kids I taught the
game to complained about it. (Then again, they complain pretty much
4.) Simultaneous Selection: If you've read many of my reviews, you'll
know that simultaneous selection is one of my favorite mechanics -
thus my enjoyment of Pick Picknic, and Nobody But Us Chickens. Both
of those games, however, are actually more fun than Top Dogs. Part of
this has to do with the random nature of Top Dogs. If you get a hand
of low cards, you can bluff all you want, but the chances of you
winning a trophy that round are slim. Yes, you can hope that everyone
else cancels each other out, but there are many combinations (6,6,6;
6,6,5; 6,6,4; 6,6,3; 6,6,2; 6,6,1; 5,5,6; etc.) so that the odds of
people picking the same group of cards is slim. It happens - more
than not in a five player game - just not as much as one might think.
Because of the higher frequency of the rate of people picking the same
thing in a five player game, that's pretty much all I'll play the game
with. A three player game may be okay, but I'd rather play something
5.) Strategy: I'm sure that there are some generic strategies in the
game - save your cards for the big trophies, spread your numbers out
when playing them, etc. - but it's mostly just some guesswork when
putting down the dogs. The mechanic of discarding an extra card each
turn baffles me, as I really don't understand the necessity of it.
Everyone just discards their lowest card - with rare exceptions. Why
was the rule added?
6.) Fun Factor: Despite some misgivings I have mentioned above, Top
Dogs does provide a good time, and the players I've introduced it to
have all enjoyed it. I think the only problem was that everyone
agreed that it was a "good" game, but not one single person raved
about it or expressed a desire to play it immediately again.
And perhaps that's the true value of Top Dogs - as a "warm-up" game,
to prepare players to play the next, meatier game. Top Dogs doesn't
pretend to be a strategic tactics-fest, it's just a simple card game.
And with a neat dogsled theme and stunning artwork, it will attract
many casual players. But that's the extent of its usefulness - I'll
use it to "hook" new players, and then show them games that give
slightly more choices and strategy.
"Real men play board games."