Pavlov's Dogs

There aren't many scientific experiments that have wide popular recognition but Professor Pavlov's experiment on conditioning is one of the few. Pavlov rang a bell every time he fed his dogs. He discovered that after time they became conditioned to salivate for food whenever they heard the bell, regardless of whether or not they were fed. Inspired by this scientific work on conditioning, Pavlov's Dogs is a light, fun, fully cooperative party game from 9th Level where players have to respond to the conditions imposed on them for each round of play...

There are several decks of rules cards: two each for the various levels of difficulty (easy/medium/hard/very hard) and one marked 'silly', which mostly demands mime actions. To set up a game, you'll draw a card face down from eight of these decks (five for a less challenging version of the game). These cards all introduce special rules that have to be followed; for example, 'bark when a blue card is played' or 'BEG is 10'. In drawing the rule cards for the game, you have to be careful not to take more than one card from each deck so as to avoid the risk of having rule conditions that contradict each other.

Players take turns as the 'dogtor', who invigilates the round. The other players are each dealt a facedown pile of five 'test cards'. Test cards all bear a number (0-5), a colour and a canine command word. At the start of each round, the 'dogtor' reveals the rule(s) that apply for the round, then conceals them behind the 'test folder'. Players then take turns to flip a test card from their deck and play it onto a central pile while saying out loud the numerical total of all the cards in the pile. If, however, a rule card condition applies to a card that's played, then the player who flips that card has to follow the rule before they give the number. In our previous examples, then, if they played a blue card they'd have to bark before saying the total value of the pile and/or if the test card showed the command 'BEG' it would count as value 10 regardless of the number shown. The 'dogtor' says 'good dog' after each correct play but admonishes with a 'bad dog' whenever a player miscalculates the numerical total or forgets to follow the applicable special rules. Players all start out with three bones but a 'bad dog' error will lose you a bone. Players collectively lose if any player runs out of bones but you can donate bones to other players: it is, after all, a cooperative game.

It's pretty easy to follow the single rule condition that's applied in the first round but the rules are cumulative. That means that in the second round, you won't be replacing the first round's rule, you'll be adding another condition that players all have to apply. By the time you get to the final round in the game's toughest setting, players will have eight different rules to take into account. This makes Pavlov's Dogs an increasingly challenging memory game. If you collectively succeed in getting through all the rounds without any player running out of bones then you tot up the number of bones you have left and compare it to the number for your player count in a grid in the rulebook. That will give you a grade from A+ to C, so when you play again you can try to beat your collective best. Watch out tho' if you're tempted to go for an immediate replay: there's a real risk that players will still be responding to the conditioning from their previous game!

Heather O'Neill's game is ostensibly for 2-8 players but there's not so much fun to be had as a two- or even three-player game. Pavlov's Dogs is a game you'll want to break out ideally for five or more players. For children, it reinforces basic arithmetical skills and for young and old alike it provides a fun workout in mental agility. And if you give all the players a delicious chocolate to eat at the start of each game, you'll find them salivating at the mere sight of the box when you bring it out for another play.

(Review by Selwyn Ward)

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