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Actual Play: Dog Eat Dog (Asaali and the Dynasts)

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Last month, Liam Burke launched a Kickstarter for his new game, Dog Eat Dog. I think it’s best to let Liam explain what the game is about:

Dog Eat Dog is a game of colonialism and its consequences. As a group, you work together to describe one of the hundreds of small islands in the Pacific Ocean, defining the customs of the natives and the mores of the outsiders arriving to claim it. One player then assumes the role of the Occupation force, playing their capable military, their quisling government, and whatever jaded tourists and shrewd businessmen are interested in a not quite pacified territory. All the others play individual Natives, each trying in their own ways to come to terms with the new regime. The game begins when the war ends.

As anyone who knows me can attest, I’m a vocal advocate for inclusiveness in games, and as a Mexican-American game designer, I have found few systems or settings that actively deal with topics of race or privilege. Liam had me hooked right away. So much, in fact, that I’ve agreed to write a Dog Eat Dog scenario/hack dealing with immigration.

Liam sent over an early draft of the game for us try it out, and the results surprised me. Even though I was prepared for the concepts the game explored, I was still dumbfounded by the way Dog Eat Dog made me rethink the roles that both the colonizer and the colonized play in the process of assimilation.

The game starts with the creation of the Native people. Our group created The Asaali, a nomadic, matriarchal society with no permanent leadership roles that primarily survived on fish. They had early gunpowder, but were opposed to most forms of commerce and contracts. My group wanted a sci-fi themed game, so we made the Asaali an entire planet of people who live on islands.

Next we created the Dynasts, the people who had come to occupy the Asaali’s planet. They had vastly superior technology, a totalitarian government fueled by religious fervor, and a strong desire to assimilate the Asaali people. Because I was the wealthiest player (No really. It’s a rule.), I got tasked with playing the Occupation. The other players created Natives. The mechanics of the system meant that I, as the Occupation, would basically win all rolls.

Dog Eat Dog Playtest with Magpie Tokens

The game starts with only one rule: “The Asaali are inferior to The Dynasts.” One of our Natives fought hard against that rule, and led off the game with an assault on the Dynasts’ forces. Given the power that the Occupiers had, the attack went poorly, and she was captured and led off in chains. The Natives learned that “The Asaali will not initiate physical conflict.”

One of the other players attempted to rally his people to confront the Dynasts, but found that at least one of the Asaali had already joined the Occupation. An old man, Nuven, preached against the Asaali ways and demanded that the entire culture give in to the Occupation. I played Nuven, and it was an interesting experience. The Asaali restrained him (breaking the “no contact” rule), but only because I let them do so! The Occupation has all the power.

Attempts to rescue the captured warrior went poorly. The leader of the Occupation, the Hivelord, dismissed the players’ attempts to negotiate a deal, saying that he would only settle for the deaths of 10 other Asaali to make up for the loss of one of his men. The Native people, unable to deal with the Occupation directly, agreed.

The rebelling player, freed by the deaths of her people, led a violent attack on the Dynasts at a vulnerable time, driving them off the planet, but losing her life in the process. Other players were left to deal with how much the Occupation had changed their culture, and one of them, Talimar, had been so impressed with the Dynasts’ technology that he started collecting what was left over for study. In the future, he thought, he would be the one with the power…

All in all, it was an amazing game. The mechanics never got in the way of the story but instead drove us to fulfill our roles in really interesting ways. Dog Eat Dog is thought-provoking while still being fun, and I’m looking forward to playing it again. Perhaps next time I won’t have to be the Occupation.

Here’s some further reading on Dog Eat Dog and the link you can use to find it on Kickstarter:

Review of Dog Eat Dog on Border House

Interview with Liam Burke

Dog Eat Dog on Kickstarter

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