Los Angeles, Nov 2018
Not only is It’s a Doggy Dog World named for my all time favourite misheard proverb, it has a distinctive and irresistibly cute theme: you are dogs, and your job is to get back your favourite red ball from the mailman before your owner returns. Doing so involves puzzles carefully chosen to be suitable for canines, with no keys and locks, no maths or reading.
Los Angeles has some ultra slick escape rooms with sets built to Hollywood movie standards, sometimes by Hollywood movie professionals. That’s not what this is. Doggy Dog is very homemade in feel, simultaneously unpolished and lovingly quirky. My initial impression was of a space surprisingly bare, where wiring was imperfectly covered with simple canvas sheeting and where we spent a while ignoring something important because we weren’t certain whether it was part of the game or not. At the same time, the concept of a dog’s eye view of the world was delightful, and there turned out to be a lot more to it than the first impression suggested.
I find that the puzzles seem stronger in retrospect than they did while we were playing. At the time we felt as if we were resorting to a bit of guesswork to get us through – not all the time, or even a majority of the time, but enough to damage our faith in the design. The benefit of hindsight, and knowledge of the intended solutions, casts the game in a better light. One element that appeared to need some outside knowledge turned out to be unnecessary to complete the puzzle; another where it felt like we needed to read the designer’s mind actually had a reasonable underlying logic that we’d simply failed to work out.
But even if we misunderstood parts of the game in a way that left its puzzles seeming weaker than they were, their presentation was also a factor in that and I’d expect most teams to be led astray at some points. The most blatant problem for us was a step that relied on a bit of outside knowledge, and that brought us to a complete halt mid-game until our gamemaster gave us enough help to continue.
While it has some undeniable problems with flow and a couple of more serious weaknesses, in other ways Doggy Dog sparks with genius. I’m confident in saying one puzzle at least is completely unique, and many of the others use the theme in cute and inventive ways. Rather than simply slapping a dog theme onto a set of generic puzzles, they’ve really used the concept imaginatively and thoroughly.
The room is so delightfully cute, and the host so friendly and enthusiastic, I feel bad not giving a more wholehearted recommendation. Rough around the edges in both puzzle design and presentation, it’s a mixture of homespun brilliance and things where I really wanted them to do better. There are better games in LA and most certainly more polished ones, though I do wonder if slicker execution might also take away from its appeal. It’s flawed, but it’s also as impossible to dislike as a three legged puppy.