DOS! card game now on Kickstarter:

I have always thought it would be great to make a word game. Who wouldn’t want to make the next Scrabble or Boggle? Yet each time I start getting designs down one thing becomes clear, word games are hard to make. Finding ways to use words in interesting and creative ways that don't just come across like a teacher trying to educate kids takes real thought. I was pleasantly surprised when I played DOS! and discovered it to be a wonderfully clever word game that is highly relatable and easy to play. DOS! is a 2-8 player card game being published by Legends Playing Cards and Co.

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The game box claims you can learn to play DOS! in 30 seconds and I would say that I believe that claim. In many respects we are all familiar with the mechanics, it’s a variation of Uno but with far more creativity and depth in play than Uno ever provided. In DOS! you get 10 cards and your goal is to be the first to clear your hand. Easy enough? Not quite. You do this by constructing group sentences. In your hand will be a mix of objects, verbs, adjectives, say anything (wild) cards, reverse cards, geese (skip turn), conjunctions, and periods. You can see the Uno influence, but this is nothing like matching colours and numbers. Each person plays a word by stacking it on the last card played and in no time a sentence forms. As each person attempts to clear their hand an eclectic variety of sentences with somewhat whacky outcomes will emerge. When a player gets down to 2 cards (DOS!) then every player may play any number of cards but they must repeat the whole sentence from memory before playing from their hand.

Some of the sentences get lengthy and not being allowed to go back through the sentence stack really pushes players to be paying attention to each word played. At any point, after you play a card you may be challenged on the meaning of the sentence. If this happens you must grab the white board marker included in the box and then open the cover of the box and draw the meaning of the sentence. The group votes and if it wins play continues and the challenger draws two cards, and if it fails then the player draws two. If you fail to resolve the conflict you are invited to post a picture of the drawing on Instagram and have the DOS! community decide for you.

Having played DOS! I would make one suggestion. For your first game or two play the game with the whole sentence revealed for the group to see. There will still be enough interaction and fun in the game to be exciting, but only stack the cards when you and the group feel ready for a real challenge. Now I am not just house ruling this game already, this is actually supported by the “how to play” videos and I am just recommending this variation.

This game is clearly a party game and like most party games is not designed to be played with AP prone tactical mindsets. DOS! is intentionally light, fun, and easy to play as a filler on a games night, or as a casual gaming experience at any party. So if party games are your thing this game comes recommended. But I do not want to leave it there. This game offers a few really interesting design ideas and does a couple of things I really like.

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Firstly this game provides a way of using words that are genuinely fun and interactive. In a standard game the cards are stacked on top of each other and checking the deck is not allowed unless challenging someone’s recollection of the sentence. This means that every player is highly engaged trying to pay attention to what is being said, what is going on the sentence stack, and what card they will need to play next.

The result is that downtime is practically non-existent in DOS!. A real win for players and a sign of good design. Secondly, as a teacher, I am always looking for great ways to get kids thinking about words creatively, the fact that they would WANT to play this game is a bonus. And I know they will want to play it because I want to play it. Thirdly the game has a Pictionary component that actually feels necessary to the game and not just tacked on.

There are many people who are put off by drawing in games as a mechanic, as it can be daunting; after all, no one wants to be that player who can’t draw and no one wants on their team. The art on the cards cleverly sets the tone for this drawing mechanic because it both illustrates the cards in a playful and enjoyable way, but also sets the tone for the sort of animation that should be expected.

The cards have stick figures with basic symbols and a bunch of crazy stuff happening, but it all provides the impetus for inviting people to relax and enjoy the silliness. The other side of this mechanic is that it is not guaranteed to even happen so its inclusion is not likely to detract from the overall experience. Finally, the inclusion of the Instagram account is clever. It opens up the players to a community of people you are playing with and actually gets you involved in other people’s games. I really want to see this part of the game work. This is a great way to start crossing boundaries and seeing your game as part of a broader experience with people from all over the world. Face it, if it wasn’t for the communities there are several games I can think of that would have died years ago. This is a great way to build that community quickly and sustainably.

Before I finish I think I should definitely give credit to the publishers, Legends Playing Cards Co., for their very clever design and packaging. They have created a set of cards that are both durable and capable of being written on by the whiteboard maker included in the box. This has that Legacy system feel of no component being sacred. The very cards you play can be altered throughout the game. Similarly, the box itself opens up to reveal a white board so you never need to find a sheet of paper to draw your pictures on. This is a nice touch that just supports the game beautifully showing that they have really taken care to consider the players when designing this game.

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Dos¡ is currently on Kickstarter and at $20AUD or $26AUD including shipping to Australia, it’s a bargain. If you like party games it is a must. If you want a filler for your games night I recommend checking this out. If you are a teacher, do your kids a favour and buy this game for your classroom.