The Bark Side Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 7 and up
  • For 3 to 5 players
  • Approximately 30 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Being a naughty puppy is all fun and games until you get caught!


  • Child Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Gamer Geek rejected!


French army officer and statesman who led the Free French Forces against Nazi Germany in World War II and chaired the Provisional Government of the French Republic from 1944 to 1946 to restore democracy in France, Charles de Gaulle, said, “The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.” This is to say that dogs are perhaps more pleasant to be around. Which is found to be the case for many. I’m a cat person, and I find dogs to be a bit neurotic and energetic (keep in mind I have five kids and more than enough energy available to me without the need for a dog). In this game, regardless of how you feel about feline or canine companions, you’ll be treated to an opportunity to be an unruly pup. Just be sure not to get caught by your owner!

The Bark Side, designed by Kotaro Kanda and published by Korea Boardgames, consists of 50 cards. The cards are as thick and durable as your standard playing card. The illustrator, Serene Wyatt, created colorful and comical, showing various dogs in humorous situations. Oddly enough, a few cards had no illustrations, which we consider a printing defect rather than a purposeful choice.

Starting Trouble

To set up the game, complete the following steps:

  1. Shuffle all the cards together and deal 10 cards to each player. Players should look at their cards but keep them hidden from their opponents. This is referred to as the “player’s hand.”
  2. Place the remaining cards face-down and to the side. This is the draw deck for the duration of the game.
  3. Each player now looks at their cards and selects two to pass to the player to their right (or “next” in the turn order sequence). Cards should be passed face-down to keep them secret. Any cards an opponent receives are immediately added to the player’s hand. Players should NEVER add cards to their hand until they have passed two cards!

That completes the game setup. Determine who will go first and begin!

Dogging Around

The Bark Side is played in turns and rounds with no set number of rounds per game. A player’s turn is summarized here.

Step One: Play a Card

If the player is the starting player, they select any one card from their hand and play it face-up in front of them in their player area, which is the only choice if this is the first card to be played in the game. Otherwise, the starting player and all players in the game have two options: play a single card or play to a set of cards. When playing cards, they place them in their player area, also called the “dog house.”

Play a Single Card

The player places a single card in front of them. All players must now play a single card of equal or greater numerical value (also referred to as “strength” in the game rules). For example, if the starting player played a card with a numerical value of “5”, the next player must play a card from their hand with a numerical value of “5” or greater. Card numerical values range from “1” to “10.”

However, if a player cannot play a card of equal or greater numerical value, they must play a card from their hand of the least value. This is referred to as “tail-tucking” in the game rules.

Play to a Set of Cards

The player places two or more cards of the same value in front of them, but the following conditions must be met before a set can be played.

  • At least one player must have played a “tail-tucking” card in a previous turn in the current round.
  • After playing a set, the player must still have at least one card in their hand.

Playing a set forces all other players to play the same number of cards with a numerical value higher or equal to the numerical value of the card set. For example, if a player plays two “3” numerical cards, the next player must play two “3” or higher numerical valued cards.

If a player does not want to or cannot play to the set, they must play a set of their lowest numerical valued cards.

Step Two: Determine Outcome

After all players have played their cards, it’s determined who the next player will be. This is done by evaluating the cards played. The player who played the highest numerical value of the largest number in a set is the next starting player. If several players have played the highest numerical value, the player who played last becomes the next starting player.

Step Three: Continue the Round

The starting player now asks all the players to set aside any played cards, and they play their first card. Emphasis here on “setting aside.” The cards played in the previous turns and rounds remain in play for the game but do not necessarily influence the game unless played in the current round and turns.

Play continues as noted above until all players only have one card left in their hand.

Step Four: Playing the Last Card and Next Round

From the starting player and continuing in turn order sequence, each player now plays their last card. The player with the highest numerical value loses the round. The round’s loser adds the highest numerical card value to the two lowest numerical card values to their player area.

This completes the round. If the game end condition has not yet been met, collect all the cards not placed in the player’s area, shuffle, and start a new round. If there are not enough cards to deal 10 to each player, deal out an equal number to each player instead, ignoring any remaining cards still in the deck.

Ending the Game and Determining the Winner

The game continues until one of the following two endgame conditions is met.

  • A player has seven cards of different dogs in their player area. This player loses the game automatically.
  • At the beginning of a new round, there are only four or fewer left to deal per player. The automatic loser of the game is the player with the most cards of a different strength in their player area.

The overall winner of the game, regardless of how the endgame condition was met, is the player with the least number of cards in their player area.

To learn more about this game and other games by Korea Boardgames, visit the publisher’s website.

Final Word

The Child Geeks very much enjoyed the game and the game’s narrative. Since all players are – essentially – playing as “naughty dogs,” the Child Geeks enjoyed coming up with stories of how the dogs in the pictures were being little rascals and causing minor destruction of property for their truant owners. Game-play-wise, the Child Geeks had no issues learning how the game was played and what the intent of the game was. I was a bit concerned that the Child Geeks would misinterpret the game’s trick-taking element as something they always had to win or lose when it was always about just ducking below the radar so as not to do much of anything. The Child Geeks very much understood this. So well that they associated the gameplay with their understanding of what it means to not get in trouble. According to one Child Geek, “This game is all about trying to do just enough to get away with it and not anymore. You need to get your cards out of your hand, but always in a way that makes sure you don’t get in trouble by playing them.” Another Child Geek said, “I liked the game and how I was playing as bad dogs that were causing a lot of trouble. I also really liked how the cards played were always about just playing the right card and not anymore, which made me feel like I was getting away with bad things but not being naughty, according to my mom.” When all the votes were in, the Child Geeks agreed that despite the dogs being bad, the game was perfect.

The Parent Geek set the game’s flimsy theme and narrative to the side and focused on the game as just a trick-taking exercise. A game, I must say, they very much enjoyed. One Parent Geek states, “This is a great game and a wonderfully refreshing take on trick-taking. I was unsure how I would enjoy it when you introduced it, but I quickly fell in love. The game is all about ducking and dodging, but never to a point where you are trying to be under the radar. In truth, you are trying to make the next cards played by your opponents even harder, but not too hard. A great mix.” Another Parent Geek said, “I very much enjoyed this game. Simple to learn and fast to play. Each card or card played felt meaningful, and I spent more time thinking about the next cards I would play than I thought I would. Which was a real surprise and treat. I would play this game again without hesitation.” When the last Parent Geek turned in their vote, it was clear that The Bark Side was a winner.

The Gamer Geeks appreciated the game but thought nothing more of it than a well-designed card trick-taking game that lacked much in the way of a real draw. One Gamer Geek stated, “The game is good and will be a hit with casual players. For me, I want a card game with more thought, more punishment, and more importance from hand to hand. This game has the start of that, but it never reached the finish line. It held my interest but never won my heart.” Another Gamer Geek said, “A solid game for casual and new players looking to expand their experience with card trick-taking games. It’s a real winner in that area, but not a game I would expect to see slapped down in front of a bunch of veteran and hardboiled game players. It just doesn’t have the chops or the depth.” When the last dog was in the dog house, the Gamer Geeks all agreed that the game was good enough but not so good as to warrant their full approval.

I am very much on the side of the Gamer Geeks when it comes to my thoughts on The Bark Side. It’s a fun, casual game, has many meaningful choices, and plays quickly. It’s a winner in all respects, but it lacks the depth of play to make it a game that draws in the gaming elite and keeps them engaged.

This is fine, considering The Bark Side is best played as a casual game with a casual crowd who may or may not know about card trick-taking games. Which, I believe, is the game’s real appeal. It provides the players with multiple approaches to playing each card with the same intent every time but with different roads to travel to get there. This makes each player’s turn and each round an exercise in evaluating the best approach to victory in both the short and long term.  You seldom see casual card games balance such decision-making in a way that still allows the player to feel light and breezy about their decision-making, even though they do recognize the importance of taking their time to consider their options.

The result, in my opinion and others, is that The Bark Side is a game that is very much worth playing. The Child and Parent Geeks, new and casual players, all had a wonderful time. Even the gaming elitists begrudgingly agreed they “didn’t hate the game” despite not showing it any love in their votes. This leads me to strongly suggest that you should try the game when you get your next chance. It was fast and fun, rewarding and challenging, and added just the right amount of stress to each turn to make each flip of the card meaningful. Try this fun little card game to see if it wags your tail.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

Tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner. Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....

Have an opinion? Like what you read? Thought it was rubbish? Leave a comment!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.