- Designer: Charlie Bink
- Publisher: Bink Ink LLC
- Players: 2-5
- Ages: 8 and up
- Time: 30 minutes
- Times Played: 5
- Game provided by the publisher for review purposes.
Pups is competitive trick-taking card game in which players are dog trainers using their packs of loveable pups to complete in a series of legendary canine showdowns to become the top dog. During each of seven rounds, trainers will receive a pack of seven Pups, bid on how many showdowns can be won during the round, complete in a series of showdowns by playing Pups with the highest valued one winning, and then collect Reward Treats for successful bids or Penalty Poos for failures. The trainer that has earned the most overall treats wins and is declared Top Dog!
Pups is the second game successfully crowdfunded by Charlie Bink and Bink Ink LLC using Kickstarter. The campaign ended on August 15, 2016 and was supported by 586 backers. The game shipped to backers in December 2016 and is currently available for purchase directly from the publisher.
The game includes the following components:
- 45 Pup cards (values 1-9 in 4 different suits and 9 Mutts cards)
- 44 Bid cards:
- 8 Exactly 0 Bid cards
- 16 At Least or Exactly 1 Bid cards
- 12 At Least or Exactly 2 Bid cards
- 18 At Least or Exactly 3 Bid cards
- 7 Top Dog cards
- 5 Score Pile cards
- 1 Alpha Dog card
- Pup token
Playing the Game
Separate the four types of Bid cards into individual stacks and place them in a line near the center of the table along with the seven Top Dog cards in a stack and the Alpha Dog card. Give each player a Score Pile card. Select one player to be the first leader and give that person the deck of Pups cards. There are five Pups suits represented by five different colors/icons: Green/Ball = Family Dogs, Red/Collar = Guard Dogs, Yellow/Bowtie = Lap Dogs, Blue/Whistle = Working Dogs, White/Pawprint = Mutts. The Mutts suit has three cards each of values +1, +2, and +3. The remaining “regular” suits each have nine cards with values 1 through 9.
A full game of Pups will generally last seven rounds or at the end of a round in which one of the Bid card stacks is empty. Each round is comprised of the three phases summarized below:
- Bid Phase – The current leader shuffles the deck of Pups cards and deals seven cards to each player and one card faceup onto the Alpha Dog card to represent the Alpha Suit (i.e., trump) for the round. The players look at their cards to determine their bid for the round. A bid represents the number of face-offs/showowns (i.e., tricks) that the player thinks can be won using the Pups cards in their hand. Starting with the leader and then going around the table in a clockwise order, players place their bids by choosing a Bid card from one of the available stacks and then placing it in front of them. A player may also choose to re-bid a failed Bid card from their own Score Pile. Bid cards are two-sided and depict the number of Reward Treats (RT) – positive points – that will be earned at the end of a round by the player for a successful bid or the number of Penalty Poos (PP) – negative points – for an unsuccessful bid. The following bidding options are available: At Least 1 (1RT/1PP), Exactly 1 (2RT/1PP), At Least 2 (2RT/2PP), Exactly 2 (4RT/2PP), At Least 3 (3RT/3PP), Exactly 3 (6RT/3PP), and Exactly 0 (0RT/0PP). The “Exactly 0” isn’t worth any Rewards Treats or Penalty Poos, but if the player is successful, the card is worth a bonus trick that can be used during a future round to achieve the bid requirement, if necessary. The player who selected the Bid card worth the most Reward Treats last becomes the new leader for the Showdown Phase.
- Showdown Phase – The leader begins a showdown by playing a Pups card to the table. This establishes the suit for the showdown. Proceeding clockwise around the table, each player must play a card that matches the suit of the card played by the leader, if possible. If a player doesn’t have a card that matches the suit lead, then the player may play any card from their hand. Rather than playing a single regular Pups card (i.e., one of the colored cards) during a turn, a player (or even the leader) may play one Mutt card along with a regular Pups card. In doing so, the Mutt card conforms to the suit of the other card played and increases the total value of the play by the additional amount shown on the Mutt card. Mutts can also be played on their own during a showdown since they are a unique suit. After all players have gone, the cards are then compared to determine the winner of the showdown. If Alpha Suit was played, then the player that played the highest valued card matching the Alpha Suit is the winner. Otherwise, the player that played the highest valued card matching the leading suit (i.e., the suit of the card initially played by the leader) is the winner. The winner scoops the cards from the showdown into a pile called a “trick” and places it near their Score Pile. That player also becomes the new leader for the next showdown. If there is a tie for a particular showdown, then the trick is discarded, nobody wins it, and the player who caused the tie to occur becomes the leader for the next showdown. Showdowns continue in this manner until a player runs out of cards and then the game transitions to the Results Phase.
- Results Phase – Players now count the tricks that they won during the round and determine if they completed their Bid. If successful, the Bid card is turned so that the end with Reward Treat icons is at the top and then added to that player’s Score Pile. Otherwise, the Bid card is added to the player’s Score Piles turned so that the end with the Penalty Poo icons is on top. The Top Dog card is then given to the player that won the most tricks during the round and the card is added to that player’s Score Pile. If there was a tie for the most tricks won during the round, then nobody gets the Top Dog card and it is removed from the game. The player with the most points (# of Reward Treat icons – # of Penalty Poo icons) in their Score Pile is the new leader for the next round. If there is a tie for the most points, flip the Pup token to determine a new leader. The game will end immediately when the seventh Top Dog card is awarded or removed at the end of a round or at the end of the round if one of the 1, 2, or 3 Bid card stacks is empty. If the game has not ended, play another round starting with the Bid Phase. Otherwise, players total the treats (i.e., points) on the Bid cards in their Score Piles (# of Reward Treat icons – # of Penalty Poo icons) and the player with the most is the winner. Ties are broken by the tied player with the most Top Dog cards in their Score Pile.
My Thoughts on the Game
Craig V: This game is so delightful! The wonderful theme (I love dogs!), the adorable artwork, and the modern twists made to the classic trick-taking mechanism really caught my interest. I grew up playing traditional card games such as Hearts, Spades, and Euchre with my family. As a result, trick-taking games have always been near and dear to me. There are a lot of great modern trick-taking options available, but finding games to play with family and friends that aren’t really into games, and that are also attractive and not too complicated can be… well, it can be tricky! Finding Pups has been really exciting because it is a thematic, fun, and approachable trick-taking game that’s familiar, yet different, and everybody seems to enjoy playing it.
The bidding system and Mutts are the two features that make Pups standout from other similar games. First, the various bidding options and associated points/penalties provide players with a simple and easily understood risk/reward matrix. Players can be as conservative or as aggressive as desired when bidding, so some of the pressure usually associated with bidding – especially for newer players – is eliminated. This helps relax the overall mood and atmosphere of the game. Also, all players get to bid and potentially score points during a round even if they don’t win the most tricks. Every trick counts potentially counts for something and having the best hand doesn’t necessarily guarantee the most points. I’m not great at bidding for tricks, but I really feel that the bidding/scoring system in Pups is a really elegant solution to help level the playing field and provide everybody with an opportunity to play their own game and have fun doing so.
The other feature that I really like is the inclusion of the Mutts suit. When I initially read the rules for Pups, I didn’t think that the Mutts would really add that much or would just be too random. I quickly discovered that neither are the case and there are definitely several strategies associated with them. Not only can a Mutt card be played with another card to strengthen its value, but Mutts can also be the Alpha Suit, led on their own, and be used to control the length of the round. Since there’s an option to play up to two cards per round, there’s a possibility that a round may only consist of four showdowns (i.e., tricks). It’s hard to know how many Mutts are in play in players’ hands, so betting “At Least 3” or “Exactly 3” can be a bit risky. When Mutts is Alpha suit, the card play is quite different than with other suits since there are fewer values associated with the Mutts and ties become more likely. This is also true when a Mutt is lead for a showdown. The Mutts are a great addition and really provide an improvement to the traditional trick-taking rules.
The game rules are laid out well, include useful diagrams and examples, and are generally pretty good overall. However, several questions did come up for items that weren’t explicitly addressed in the rules, but seemed to be implied as being okay when considering the other written rules. We made a group judgement call and played on with no issues. However, I did contact the designer to confirm the following items:
- The leader can add a Mutt card to their first play.
- A Mutt can be the Alpha suit for the round.
- Mutts always conform to the suit they are played with, so if Mutt is the Alpha suit and a Mutt + Family Dog (green) is played, then the overall suit for the pair of cards is still Family Dog.
- The Top Dog card goes to the player that won the most tricks regardless, so a player can get Top Dog for a round even if they didn’t successfully complete their bid.
- Several “Exactly 0” bid cards can be used to claim a bid, regardless of any tricks being taken.
I’m impressed with the charming production of Pups as whole. I love the playful artwork and integrated theme. The suits are divided into families of dogs and every card has a different breed, illustration, and name. The cards are 320gsm black core, so they are sturdy, shuffle well, and feel good. The box is constructed of thicker cardboard and is just the right size, although the lid fits really tight and is hard to take off. I have no worries about the lid accidentally sliding off during storage or transit, but it’s so tight that little half circle finger cutouts on either side of the lid would have been really awesome additions! Inside is a custom plastic card tray that holds everything perfectly and while not really needed, it is appreciated. The surprise is the double-sided Pup Token hiding underneath one of the decks. It’s like a weighted poker chip and although it isn’t really necessary for gameplay, it’s super cute and quite nice. The MSRP of the game is only about $17.95, so it’s a really good value.
Pups is a fantastic trick-taking game that’s fun for all types of gamers, especially family and friends that are just casual players. The rules are easy to teach and understand, the bidding is friendly, and the atmosphere is cute and relaxed. I also like that it support two to five players. I really enjoy the Pups and reach for it when I want to play a fun, easy-going trick-taking game. Overall, the gameplay feels classic, but the twists are fresh.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Dale Y: Well, I’ve only played the game once, and it was an interesting take on the trick-taking genre. I liked the fact that this wasn’t just a 52-card analog. The betting system offers an interesting risk-reward aspect to the game, and the way in which the mutt cards come out can make the end of any hand (i.e. number of tricks can be quite variable). There is a fair amount of skill in getting an exact number of tricks.
The zero bid card is an interesting way to neutralize a bad random deal, but I felt like the reward for a null bid was almost too good. Being able to add a trick to a later hand (in order to make a bid) is a huge reward. The payoff for an exactly 3 bid is 6 pts, and having the flexibility to make it with either exactly 2 or exactly 3 tricks taken is pretty big. Not to mention, getting 6 pts for two hands is still actually a pretty darn good score rate.
The production is well done, and the quality of the components is pleasing. I remember us having a few rules questions that weren’t exactly answered by the printed rules – they were later resolved with emails to the designer – but this is probably more effort that a typical buyer is going to go to. However, I find that rules issues with first games / Kickstarter games is the norm these days.
Karen M: This game is super cute. The artwork is really fun. I’m impressed with the different breeds and the differentiation among the breeds as well. It’s a perfectly fine trick-taker with a couple of twists that make it worth checking out. The introduction of the mutts makes it challenging to predict when the round will end which consequently makes it challenging to fulfill your bet on the number of tricks. So, do you predict an exact number of tricks and go for all the treats and “top dog” or do you hedge your bets and predict at least a number of tricks? This game will definitely appeal to dog lovers and casual gamers who enjoy trick taking.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Craig V
- I like it. Dale Y, Karen M
- Not for me…