Teaching Time: 10 mins
Playing Time: 20-40 mins
Setup Time: 2 mins
Value For Money: Mid
Website: Dokojong - Oink Games
I’m a big fan of Undersea Adventure and so when Oink launched a Kickstarter for an upgraded new version, Moon Adventure it was an easy back. Along with Moon Adventure there was a level to get In A Grove and Dokojong at a reduced price and I was curious to see a little more of Oink’s output so it seemed a good deal. Oink have a very nice brand of small box highly graphically designed games that look great, and Dokojong is no exception, the components are perfect and look just right. Dokojong is a game I so want to love, sadly, I absolutely don’t.
Gameplay involves players taking the part of various courtiers trying to hide their favourite dog from the emperor who is looking for a doggy to pet and will therefore take the first, or at least all but the last, one that he finds. Physically this involves players placing their doggy behind one of five doors then the lead player suggests a door to look behind. Players then take turns either adding a door to the search list, and becoming lead player, closing the suggested doors and opening others, accusing the lead player of having their dog behind a given door or agreeing to the searching starting with the lead player. Have your dog found and you lose a life, three lives lost and you’re eliminated, have three doors checked without your dog being found and score a point. Last man standing or two points scored wins the game.
The first reason that I’m not a fan of the game might be obvious from the above paragraph, it has player elimination. You might assume that with a stated play time of 20 minutes that elimination isn’t too bad but unfortunately the game can both run a lot longer, elimination can happen very early on for some players and elimination can be both out of your hands and sort of dull and anti-climactic, so it’s kind of the worst possible sort of player elimination. It also goes hand in hand with the second reason that I really don’t like the game, and that’s due to a really bad central gameplay loop that it’s possible to get locked into. This will take a little bit of explanation, so bear with me.
Players essentially nominate a door or doors to search then offer that choice to the next player around the table. In theory there should be an interesting bluffing moment where maybe the offering player has put their own door up for searching and maybe the next player accepts their offer and calls their bluff. In practice that’s crazy rare and players pick a door that’s safe for them and the next player either accepts the search or changes the search to protect their own door until it becomes pretty obvious where certain players are hiding their dogs. The thing is that once this point of things becoming obvious is hit the player will then be offered a choice to accept a search that their dog is clearly behind or blind guess the other player’s dog position to re-set the round.
Which is where the problem shows up. A player gains a point if they are searched wrongly three times, but take a penalty if they are searched correctly, but guessing either way resets the round to start with the same lead player. Meaning that if a lead player is holding a search that everyone knows will reveal their dog they’re guessing with a 3 in 5 chance of success, and the game keeps repeating the situation over and over until they either hit that 3 in 5 chance three times and knock a player out, fail it twice and have that player win or give up and accept a penalty point. Which when it arises is boring, repetitive, totally cuts all but two players out of the game and boils the whole game down to a coin flip. It’s a really painful situation which while not truly broken is as close as you’ll find in a professionally printed game, I had to read the rules pertaining to it several times to be sure that there wasn’t a way out of the loop because its such a clear oversite in the design, but trapped you are. When it comes up, and its not that uncommon, there’s a clear moment when a player has to choose between taking a penalty to keep the game “fun” or tank it to avoid the penalty, and it comes up far too often to keep making players make that choice. Aside from this break down, the central bluffing loop of the game just isn’t that satisfying. There’s just not enough encouragement to actually bluff since the offer very rarely makes its way around the table with more than a few players anyway. More so, at lower player counts the scoring is such that draws occur with unsatisfying regularity.
Positives wise the list is pretty much limited to the components, which are absolutely lovely, chunky tokens that look great and feel nice to use, neat little player screens and thick tokens in the increasingly iconic Oink box. The thing is that it really feels like a great set of components in search of a decent game that absolutely isn’t being provided at the moment. More cynically it feels like a company more concerned with the way that a game looks than how it plays or at least a triumph of form over function.
I really wish I liked Dokojong, I love the glove box sized Oink games and always have one or two to hand when I’m out and about, and bluffing games are great for pub game nights so its pretty annoying that so many of them are in over-sized boxes. If had been even passingly acceptable it would almost certainly have entered right into my regular rotation. As it is, its headed for the back of the shelves.