The Isle of Cats is great for the fans of board games and cats. I would classify it as an entry level strategy game because there are some factors of luck involved, however a good amount of thinking and planning is required. The main idea of the game is to lure cats from the isle with fish to your ship before the baddies that want to destroy everything arrive. There’s a storyline that includes some information about you, citizen of Squall’s End, about the enemy, Vesh Darkhand, and the cats of five different breeds. Game-wise the story is a secondhand aspect, but it is always nice to have some lore.
The game runs with cards, fish, and baskets. At the beginning you choose a ship by lot, setup the items and the island, which shows the players’ turns as well as the duration of the game and prizes – needed number of fish – of the cats.
There’s a round summary on your ship board. There are five rounds that all include the following five steps: fishing, exploring, reading lessons, rescuing cats and collecting rare finds. This is partly a card game, and the cards are coded with colors. (Don’t worry if you are colorblind, the developer has thought about that.) First you take twenty fish. Then you draft seven cards, choose 1-7 from the drafted cards and pay them with the fish you have. Remember to save some fish for the cats!
There are blue lesson cards, purple anytime cards, green rescue cards and yellow treasure cards for you to choose from. Lesson cards, public or private, are the goals you set either for yourself or for all players, and these are supposed to be played during the read lessons phase. Anytime cards can be played, well, anytime, and they contribute to your game in a variety of ways.
There are cats on both sides of the island board. They cost either three or five fish and you also need baskets to catch them. You have one permanent basket, and you’ll get more from the rescue cards. You pay the prize, discard the basket and choose a cat, which you will then place on your ship.
Scoring is presented on the ship boards as well. In addition to your goals (lessons) there are different rooms on the ship which you should try to fill up, because less cats and treasures means less happiness, thus less points. The ship also has rats that are not appreciated. Cats of the same color form cat families and are scored accordingly, meaning that, for example, three blue cats equal eight points and so on.
Confused much? The Isle of Cats is difficult to explain yet easy to learn after a couple of rounds. The thread of the game is to fill your ship with cats and to achieve goals that are explained in the cards you have drafted. Cards and cats are the mentioned factors of luck, and they can ruin the goals you have set to yourself. However, you will always get new cards and new cats, so it is just a matter of your determination and problem-solving capability to overcome those situations.
I’d like to identify as a strategy board game player although I don’t have the patience to sit down and plan my movements for hours. This game is probably the closest one to hardcore strategy games without being one, and that is the reason I really like this game. The Isle of Cats requires planning, management skills, and a tad of luck, so if those are your forte, the game is for you too.
Designer: Frank West
Publishers: The City of Games
Release date: 2019
Number of players: 1–4 players (6 with the Late Arrivals expansion)
Playing time: 60–90 minutes
Photos: The Isle of cats (Frank West 2019), taken by the author
A bouldering bookworm gamer. Puzzle and indie games are close to her heart. RPGs are her beginning and horror survivals her probable end. She's willing to participate in any board game, except Monopoly.
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