“ Brand: Flair / Age: 4 Years+ „
I suppose every family has its own Christmas traditions and ours is no exception but our traditions have changed and evolved over the years. My Mum introduced table presents years ago - these were all small enough to be wrapped and piled in the centre of the table at Christmas dinner. Each had a ribbon attached at the end of which a name would be attached. These would act as place settings and at the end of the meal when the nuts and port came out everybody would pull their own ribbon to retrieve their present. It was a lovely idea and I continued it for some years but it was a bit fiddly and difficult to find suitably small parcels so I introduced my own variation - a lucky dip with lots of parcels, each one numbered and placed in a box. After the Christmas pud everybody picks out numbers from a hat in turn and claim their prizes. The prizes are all frivolous ones designed to entertain the assembled company - such as oddball books (collections of jokes, myths, strange facts etc), small musical instruments, magic tricks and games. This year one of the prizes which caused great hilarity was the "Beware of the Dog" game. It was one of the two STAR prize and to my embarrassment I won it but donated it to my daughter as her brother had acquired the other - a stylophone.
This game is an offering from Flair Leisure Products, the British company probably best known for Sylvanian Families, Sticklebricks, Plasticine and Etch a Sketch. It's similar to Buckeroo but it features a dog instead of a mule and players must remove items as opposed to adding them. Come to think of it's not at all like Buckaroo, in fact I think it's more fun!
The dog is of indeterminate breed but is certainly no poodle; maybe the closest match would be a bull dog but I don't think bulldogs come in this deep chocolate brown shade. Whatever it is, it's a clever design because when it's sitting asleep it looks as if it is smiling but when it attacks, rearing up on its back legs and showing all its awesome knashers it becomes chillingly fierce! It's a sturdy looking creature and stands some eight inches tall at its most gruesome. It is designed to sit "cuddling" a yellow stand and its two front paws slot into plastic posts at each side of the stand. This platform holds all the 'workings' including the three AA batteries required and a speaker. At the front, adjacent to the dog's nose when it's in sleeping mode, is its bowl. It's all very simple to assemble but a cross head screw driver is needed to open the battery department.
When the brute is ready for feeding but still asleep there are twenty-four (yes I counted them!) small plastic bones in assorted colours (white, red, blue and yellow) to place in the bowl and the object of the game is for players to remove the bone using a small pair of plastic tongs without waking sleeping beauty. But you can't just pick any old bone. There is a pack of cards each of which gives an illustration of the number (between one and three) and colour of bones which must be retrieved and as all the bones sit in a jumbled mess it's not always as easy as it first appears. There are three blank cards indicating free goes.
What really makes the game for me is that when switched on the dog snores! Sometimes if the player is a little ham-fisted he stops snoring making everybody think he will pounce but often he will just resume snorting contentedly. Eventually some clumsy soul will wake him and he will instantly spring up to his full height with a formidable growl. Everybody knows it's coming but everybody jumps nevertheless. The guilty player is then out of the game and the winner is the one who lasts longest! But even when you are out it's fun watching the tentative attempts of those remaining even trying to distract them if you are really playing dirty!
We didn't realise it at first but disappointingly our Buster was injured when we first had him. We couldn't get him to sit on a flat surface but thought maybe the surfeit of booze had caused us to get something in the instructions wrong. My ever resourceful daughter solved the problem temporarily by placing his front end and the platform on a book so that his rear overhung and for a while he performed well in that position. Sadly Buster (mark 1) died after a few games. Well he didn't actually die, he just decided he would not sit and sleep any longer. Resetting him after a pounce is usually a simple matter of pushing him down and twisting his head to the right to lock but he just refused to co-operate.
I was really annoyed with myself because I had ordered it online but couldn't remember which company I had used. I thought it was Firebox but couldn't find the relevant Despatch Note or any e-mail confirming my order. Nothing daunted, I emailed Flair explaining my predicament and got a reply almost immediately offering to send a replacement which is what they did. I have to give full marks to Flair for their customer service. They didn't even ask me to return the broken model.
At Christmas we all enjoyed playing - there is no limit on the number of players and we ranged in age from 26 to 83 so it's not just a kids' game but maybe adults enjoy it most after a few bevvies! I am sure it would be a hit with children not least because my friend's eight year old granddaughter was really taken with it when she visited and happily entertained herself for a good hour or so. As her Dad remarked, "That's a Result!" However it's not recommended for children under five presumably because the "bones" are quite small.
On the down side, I think that, although the whole thing is quite sturdy, it would not take a lot of rough treatment especially the spring mechanism. Also it may be a bit costly in terms of batteries but I can't assess this accurately at present. The instructions do confirm that rechargeables can be used so that would be more economical. Nevertheless I would thoroughly recommend it!
Beware of the Dog seems to be quite widely available in stores and online. The rrp is £14.99. Toys R Us are currently offering it at that price which is cheaper than Amazon (£15.95) and Hamleys (£16.00). It seems to be a little cheaper in the States if you fancy a trip. There it's distributed by University Games who describe it as " a suspenseful skill and action game that will keep the children giggling and the parents shrieking": a little OTT perhaps but not a bad summation. It may not be cheap but I reckon it's a reasonable price to pay to keep the kids entertained and happy - whether they are eight years old or eighty!
Beware of the Dog! You'd have to be barking mad to wake this beast! Can you get your paws into his bowl and take the bones with the sneaky cat tweezers without waking him up? Keep your hand steady or the guard dog will jump up to protect his bowl.