Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday 5 September 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Cat Cafe

Game: Cat Cafe

Publisher: Alley Cat Games

Designer:  Lee Ju-Hwa

Year: 2019

Cat Cafe - surely this is a board game title that is a license to print money? Add to that that Cat Cafe is a roll and write - a board game mechanism hype train that doesn't seem to be running out of fuel, and do you have a winner?

It's a theme that is a great touchpoint for people. Friends at my office asked about it when it arrived, questioning whether you're a cat cafe owner, a patron, or perhaps a cat. It turns out you're playing as a patron in I, but not the sort of patron I'd like to have in my cafe, the kind that gives Amy (who works in a board game cafe) chills. You're the kind of customer who is out to rearrange everything in the cafe to try and create the ultimate cat nip corner. If you can hoard the best toys and treats, then maybe you'll attract the cutest and fluffiest cats to pet.


Each round the first player will roll a number of dice equal to the number of players +1. They will then select one die to take for themselves, leaving the remaining pile to be selected from by the next player. This continues until there is one die left in the center of the table. Each player can then use a pair of dice: the one they claimed and the one in the center. One die is used to select which of the 6 items the player is going to add to the cafe, while the other die is used to select the height at which they add this item. Players are free to choose which die is used for which, and, can spend cat paws, if they have any, to adjust the numbers up or down.

Each of the items scores in different ways. Mice score for being in clumps, with more points for larger clumps. Pillows score for being higher in the cafe, while bowls want to be surrounded by many different items. Butterfly toys are worth 3 points, but also give you a pair of cat paws to use to manipulate your dice. Yarn balls only score at the end of the game, but for each column the player with the most gets a large bonus of 8 points. Finally houses score during the game, whenever you build one they instantly score 2 points for each instance of one of the 6 items (you get to choose, but you can only score each item once) you currently have in your cafe.

In addition to all this players can also get a point bonus for putting something into every hole in a column. The first player to finish a column with a house will get the larger point value, while a finished column with no house or a player who finishes their column second will score the smaller number. Larger columns are worth more points. The game will end when one player has finished 3 columns.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Cat Cafe is an approachable roll and write, both in gameplay and theme. It is a touch more complex than some roll and write games, but there is nothing here that a new gamer couldn't pick up. The mechanics work well and give interesting decisions, with the last player often having a big impact on what other players can do in a round (unless they are left with a double anyway). Each of the items you can draw are useful in their own right and each can have a strategy made around them, of course as with the nature of roll and writes you will often have to compromise as you don't get the rolls you want. there is certainly an element of push your luck in Cat Cafe, how long are you willing to hold out for the dice you want before giving in and either spending paws or placing a suboptimal toy? After all you don't want to miss out on the large bonus for finishing the column first!

Cat Cafe wastes no time on the charm offensive, with a theme that is sure to attract people to it and the chance to draw cute cat toys! Unlike many roll and writes you aren't simply filling in a box or writing in a number, there are 6 easy to draw symbols that match each of the items which really add to the cute factor, as do the 6 cats that you get to attract by building houses, each drawn playing with their respective toys. The art is minimalistic, but cute, although I do have to point out that the icons inside the scoring boxes make it very hard to read if you are using a pencil, a minor issue perhaps, but rather frustrating.

Player interaction is surprisingly high in Cat Cafe. Not only does the dice selection give you a chance to deny players of the dice they want, but also the race for the columns keeps players interested in what other players are doing. Don't get me wrong you'll spend 90% of your time stating at your own board and worrying about your own problems, but when the game is suddenly ended by a player doing the shorter columns you'll soon be reminded that this isn't a solo experience! Keeping an eye on how many yarn balls people have placed is also important if you want to get those high scores! Overall Cat Cafe is a great little roll and write, filling a middle ground of complexity (in a light genre) with an theme that is sure to bring in new players who perhaps haven't tried roll and writes before. After all, who doesn't like cats?

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Cat Cafe is really rather charming. With Cat Cafe and Welcome to Dino World, Alley Cat Games appear to be the go-to publisher for roll and writes where you get to draw something cute rather than just numbers or shading polyominos. In Cat Cafe I can't help but love to draw the little mice toys, balls of wool and pillows. It's a small thing but it really makes a roll and write more fun for me because it becomes a creative drawing activity too. In addition, there's no doubt that there's a bunch of friends I know who are way more likely to play a game called Cat Cafe with me than they are to want to play a game called Ganz Schon Clever.

Fortunately, in addition to being oh so cute, Cat Cafe is also a really good example of a roll and write. Like many similar games, you're trying to score with different symbols you draw on your score sheet and in cat cafe the six different symbols that correspond to 1-6 give 6 different opportunities. I like how this creates a huge variety to you spatial puzzle, which is a bit of an added extra over some games where different symbols ultimately score the same way.

The elements of Cat Cafe really gel well to create interesting decisions. The dice draft affects what you can draw and where you can place. You need to figure out if the race to complete columns is more important that getting the most points out of your mice. You need to decide if it's worth waiting to roll a cat house to get maximum points or if someone else around the table will beat you to it anyway. There's a definite competitive edge to the game and with more experience you'll be watching in particular for the ball of wool strategy and how close people are to completing columns - something that perhaps makes higher player counts a little more exciting.

Cat Cafe is definitely one of the better roll and writes out there and with the addition of the wide appeal of the theme it will likely become a staple of our roll and write collection.

You Might Like...
  • Drafting a single dice that forms part of a pair with the leftover dice brings some interesting denial and player interaction into the game as well as more choice on your turn.
  • The theme will be a draw for many people into a slightly more involved roll and write game.
  • There are many different ways to score which create an interesting puzzle.
You Might Not Like...
  • The mechanisms of Cat Cafe are much the same as many other roll and write games.
  • Whilst the score sheet is very cute, the usability of the final scoring section in particular is near to zero.

    The Verdict
    7/10 Cat Cafe is a great roll and write game. We love roll and writes that offer more theme and purpose than simple number game like Qwixx. Cat Cafe falls right in line with Welcome To as a roll and write for gamers that is super enticing to new players too. There's a fun competitive race to the game as well as lots of interesting ways you might choose to score points. There's nothing really new here, but the opportunity to draw cute symbols is a lovely bonus!

    Cat Cafe was a review copy kindly provided to us by Alley Cat Games.

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