Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game.
The Bark Side had me before hello.
If you’ve played hearts, you’ll find this game super familiar. Play consists of several rounds during which you’ll attempt to collect the fewest cards. Play ends when someone has collected too many dog types. The winner is the player who has collected the least cards at the end of the game.
The Bark Side is a trick taking game for 3-5 players that takes about 20 mins to play.
To start a round, each player is dealt ten cards. From those, you’ll choose two cards to hand to the person on your left and you will receive two cards from the player on your right.
The starting player will lay down a card and subsequent players will lay down cards higher than the last card played or, lacking a higher number, the lowest card in their hand (called a tail-tuck). After everyone has played, the cards are discarded and the player who laid the highest card starts. Once a tail tuck has been played, players can lead with full sets of a number and players will have to follow with higher value sets or the same number of lowest valued cards in their hand.
Once everyone is down to their last card, they’re laid on the table and compared. The person with the highest card takes the highest card and two lowest and adds them to their scoring area. Shuffle all cards and redeal for the next round. If there aren’t enough cards to deal ten to each player, distribute the remaining cards evenly and start a new round.
Play ends when one person has collected seven different types of dogs or there are four or fewer cars to distribute to each player. The winner is the player with the least cards.
I haven’t met a dog I don’t like. In particular, I haven’t met a goofy, mischievous mutt that didn’t make me dissolve completely into a puddle of “D’aaawww”. The dog art for the Bark Side is ridiculously adorable. Our tables spent most of the first round just admiring the cards as they were played.
This is a trick taker with a twist – since the goal is to have the least cards at the last round of play each hand, the strategy may involve taking tricks early. Since there are only numbers here, there’s a certain element of social deduction, particularly when there are a lot of cards left in the deck. Do you try to dump high cards early? Do you hope other players will be stuck with high cards at the end? Is that dog cuter than mine? (Maybe the last one was just me.)
This one would go over terrific in a group of animal lovers but I think its biggest value might be as a gateway game. Your grandma may balk when you pull out the Battlestar Galactica box, but I bet she played a mean game of hearts in her day. Additionally, it’s an adorable way to start introducing your kids to more complex trick taking games. And with the variable player count, it’s not a four players or none type situation.
The Bark Side is an adorable, fast playing filler game. Quick to learn, this would be a great intro to gaming for kids and OG card players. If you like trick takers (and dogs!) this quick gateway game will hit the spot.
As always, we don’t post ratings for preview copies as the components and rules may change from the final game. Check back with us after the game is produced for a full review.