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. Through a series of scenes, you play out the inevitably conflicted relationship between the two parties, deciding what the colonizers do to maintain control, which natives assimilate and which run amok, and who ends up owning the island in the end.
Dog Eat Dog’s system is light and easy to learn, designed for play with people who may not have seen or heard of roleplaying games — but with a token economy that eventually reverberates through every action your character takes, charging every choice with the possibility of death or assimilation. At the end of each scene, the Occupation judges the Natives according to a set of Rules that describe the relationship between the two parties, fining them or paying out tokens; the Natives, in turn, determine how the Rules change according to the events that happen in play. The setting is defined during play, and the starting conditions can easily be hacked to make Dog Eat Dog a game about any sort of unequal power dynamic or colonial situation, from occupied WWII Italy to first contact on an alien planet to the Justice League conquering Earth.
I originally began working on this game in 2005, thinking about my own history as a second-generation half-Filipino growing up in Hawai’i. I playtested it with a few of my friends and tried it out at a couple of local conventions, and got great reviews as well as great feedback for future drafts. It lay fallow for a while as I ran short of time to work on it, but in 2012 I finally had time to Kickstart it and get it published.
Dog Eat Dog comes in the form of a book, with the full rules, author’s notes that explain the design process, and a brief historical overview of colonization in the Pacific. All you need to play is some pens and paper, some kind of tokens such as poker chips or coins, and a couple of dice.
Here are some comments from people who’ve played the game:
“It’s games like this that make you realize anew the paucity and vapidity of conventional videogaming violence and bombast…games can be powerful, and you just need to know where to look to find ones of artistic merit. Here, for instance.” — Greg Costikyan, Play This Thing
“I have a strong feeling that the emotional, personal side of the game cannot be described afterwards. There is a strong ephemeric component to the experience, which I really don’t know how to communicate – and a chronicle of the events seems to be a poor substitute, much like reading a list of events in a war and trying to imagine how people lived that specific situation.” — Giulia Barbano, Janus Design
“Dog Eat Dog isn’t a game about how colonialism steals resources; it’s a game about how colonialism steals identities. Who you were, who you are, and who you can be? That’s what gets stolen, and Dog Eat Dog is about how much of that you can hold on to.” — Chris Chinn, Deeper In The Game
“Dog Eat Dog is an extraordinary breakout game….It presents colonialism stripped bare of any fantasy, without apologies or excuses. Playing it is an emotional roller coaster of power and suffering, presenting both the unconscionable consequences of a dysfunctional society and the violent consequences of breakdown.” — Ben Lehman, Polaris
“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.”