Kit, Austin, and I sat down to play Dog Eat Dog last night on a whim. I wanted to do something but we didn’t have formal plans, so Kit listed off all the games we’d been meaning to play, and I picked the smallest one. I think all of us were just slightly lower energy than we usually are, which led to a quiet, casual atmosphere. It turns out that’s perfect for Dog Eat Dog.
I expected the game to be more serious. This is a game about colonial oppression, about how the occupation has all the power, and the natives have none. It was more mellow than that. You start out by naming some facts about both sides: the Natives share a proud desert culture, The occupation is technologically superior. Then you start a list of Rules that the occupation has conveyed to the natives, and the first rule must always be the [Native Culture] are inferior to the [Occupation Name]. The game plays in a few hours, and it seems like it’s more or less a one-shot style game.
Sounds intense, yeah? Of course, our first reaction as people when involved with something that intense is to buffer ourselves with humor, distance, and irony. I ended up being the occupation, and the Varangians, as we were known, were out to “fix” the natives. As Kit put it, the things that are true about the natives become traits which the occupation ends up attacking. The natives in our game, known as the Raj, had no discernible gender roles. Our first scene was one in which the scholar Pasho was burning dresses in the marketplace.
One thing the game stresses that I find super important is to push as far ahead into the action as you can. We found that a lot of the game is about what you’re willing to dispute. “I’m burning the occupation’s dresses in the marketplace,” Austin says. “Yeah? Okay.” say I. “I’m going to preach to the people of the marketplace about the evils of the occupation’s treatment of women.” “Then you’re going to get arrested.” Cool. Dice time.
After you roll dice, whoever rolls better gets to say how it all goes down. If anyone has any problems with it, they can have the occupation say how it goes down. Which means, when you’re a native in conflict with the occupation, you have this pressure to come up with something you think will be acceptable to the occupation. I found, though, that as the occupation, you also have pressure to accommodate the conclusions that the native players provide, if you want any sort of legitimacy to your occupation. I found myself negotiating more than proclaiming.
After each scene, the natives confer and make new rules about what they see as the occupation’s stance on things. For instance, in the first scene of the game, the natives decided that the occupation must really not be okay with speaking loudly in public places. This is the one spot of the game where the natives have any real authority and it inspires just the sort of helplessness in the occupation player you’d want. To whit: I was continually frustrated that I couldn’t “make them love me”. Here I was, bringing in roads and they come up with “Varangians have tender feet.”
All in all, the game was exactly the game we wanted that evening. Just enough space and low energy requirements that we could dive in without any real preparation or thought, and enough dramatic moments that the game actually produced a narrative we cared about. If you haven’t picked it up yet, I recommend you give it a try.