The Isle of Cats Board Game - A Review
The Isle of Cats was a ridiculously successful Kickstarter campaign last year, driven by the internet’s core feature of distributing pictures of cats. Of course I bought a copy. The plot involves the imminent doom of the feline inhabitants of Squall’s End. Your job is to rescue the cats before Vesh Darkhand arrives to destroy the island, five days from now. You do this by catching the cats and putting them on your boat.
The mechanism is simpler to play than it is to explain…
There’s an island, where you watch Vesh’s ship advance over five rounds and keep track of player order. To either side of the island are fields of cats - four to a field. In one field the cats cost three fish, while on the other they cost five fish. There’s also treasure available to pick up and add to your haul. Each player has a boat, divided into a grid that forms seven rooms and contains many rats for the cats to eat. The cats and treasures are made up of different shapes and sizes that will fit into your boat like a slow game of Tetris.
For each round you receive 20 fish and the fields of cats are refreshed.
Each player is dealt seven cards and there is a quick bit of card drafting - keep two, and pass to the next player. Repeat until you are handed a final single card and that’s your hand. From here decide which cards you’ll keep, and pay for them in fish.
‘Lesson’ cards are badly named - they’re targets for you or all the players to earn more points by meeting certain conditions. A good combination of Lesson cards can make a massive difference to the final score.
Players then reveal the cat cards they will play. The new order of play is now decided based on who has the most boot points.
To catch a cat, you must entice it with three or five fish (the 20-fish budget per hand is not as much as it sounds, having already bought some cards). The fish then goes into a basket - either a token or a basket shown on your card. If you can meet those conditions you get a cat piece.
The cat piece then goes into your boat and must touch a previously played piece (the first piece can go anywhere). Covering rats is good, as is filling rooms. If you put a cat piece on the square with a map of the same colour, you can take a treasure piece and put that on your boat.
Players take turns until no more cats can be captured, whereupon you play remaining cards to gain bonaus cats - Oshaks or pick up more treasure, and that marks the end of a round/day. During all this there also random ability cards which can played whenever you like to add confusion.
After five days, you score the board based on how many families of cats (three or more cats of one colour touching each other) and the Lesson tasks, before subtracting penalties for the number of rats uneaten and rooms unfilled.
There are untold random elements at play - 150 cards in the deck means you only use half the deck in a 2-player game, while each boat is laid out differently and the cats are kept in a bag (which is a tad cruel) so you don’t know which will be drawn for each field. This gives the game a lot of re-playability.
This is a really lovely game. Having unboxed in the early evening, we were still playing at one in the morning. This never happens. I won two games while Janet won the third (and will probably never lose again. This always happens). While there is a lot of random influence on the outcome, we quickly saw that each round needs slightly different tactics due to the limited fish stocks and the cards you receive. In one game I almost filled my boat with cats and treasure, while in the last game I got my first cat in the third round.
The artwork is fantastic as you’ve seen from the photos and the aattention to detail is excellent. The rule book is very clear, apart from a couple of points and the quality is high - thick cardboard all around. The Kickstarter included wooden fish, rather than printed tokens, but we decided to stay with the tokens, as the wooden versions were hard to distinguish between the 1-fish and 5-fish values. The large printed cat figures were also in the Kickstarter as were additional cards.
The game played perfectly well with two people and I can’t see a lot of difference with more players. The solo game is utterly different by the look of the rules and a whole extra set of cards.
I would recommend this game to new gamers and experienced gamers alike, and for families, everyone stays in until the end, so no sulking in the corner for the first person out.
CAT SETUP: If you have a pet cat, you should place it here while playing The Isle of Cats
Humphrey refused to think inside the box.