Today I’m going to review an unusual little RPG called Dog Bear, by the folks at Invincible Ink. It’s designed to be one-shot, with no character sheets or dice. You need a deck of playing cards with the jokers taken out and at least three people willing to cooperatively tell a story using the game’s simple rules.
The entire game is grown from the principle of games like the Metal Gear franchise; the characters are super-soldiers who get dispatched on impossible missions against incredible odds. They also have absolutely silly code names, as determined by the cards you get dealt, such as Equinox Nudist or Threefold Chameleon. The game master is the Big Boss, and the one who sets up the challenges as determined by the cards drawn for that purpose.
The game itself is the after-action debriefing in the form of the Big Boss talking to the soldiers in the aftermath of the action. Half the challenges are known at the beginning of the game; half of them are hidden until the known portions are complete. In this way, you have an acknowledgement of the saying that no plan survives contact with the enemy; the hidden half are the things that went wrong during the mission, and the players have to overcome them in addition to the planned-for challenges.
The different suits of cards represent different skills in the game; clubs are fighting, spades are sneaking, diamonds are tech, and hearts are feels. There’s no losing, really, as players who miss a target prompt the Big Boss to add a complication or twist the story up a bit more to make thing more interesting for everyone. The ultimate goal is to spin an exciting and fun tale of how this band of super-soldiers overcame the dangers facing them and made it back to play a round of poker before evacuating the area.
There are some nicely inclusive nods here and there; the character art portrays multiple ethnicities, and an example complication mentions a character discovering that one of her ex-girlfriends is a guard in the installation. As such, Dog Bear hits better marks than many larger game products. This isn’t a surprise to me, given what I know of the people at Invincible Ink; one of their other products specifically references agender individuals as a part of the game rules.
Built entirely for one-shot sessions with new characters every time you sit down to play, Dog Bear provides a fair amount of replay potential, and it should make a fantastic stand-in for game days when people have to cancel. It’s also just about tailor-made for con games that showcase alternate methods of tabletop RPG play that don’t involve slinging dice to decide the outcome.
All in all, considering that it’s presently just five dollars, it’s just about a steal for anyone looking for a quick-and-easy game to play. You can grab it here.