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 2 April 2020

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- The Isle of Cats

Game: The Isle of Cats

Publisher: The City of Games

Designer: Frank West

Year: 2019

The Isle of Cats joins a long list of polyomino games, but it does have the magic ingredient of cats, which immediately makes it jump up in popularity. Isle of Cats also made a fantastic marketing move, including a surprise in the box lid for all cat owners out there. Sadly our neighbours cat was not available for a photoshoot, but you can find lots of incredible cat photos here!

The Isle of Cats is a 1-4 player tile-laying game which uses drafting of polyomino tiles. Each players lures cats on board their boat with fish and different colour cats like to stick together. It's a lot bigger than most polyomino games and has super high quality production, even if you're getting hold of the retail version, so does it pack a much bigger punch than Barenpark, Cottage Garden and a couple of other favourites?

The Isle of Cats contains both a standard variant and a family variant. The family mode eliminates the card drafting and thus simplifies your choices in the game. In this review, I'll cover the standard game mode. Each round begins with a drafting phase. Each player starts with seven cards, they select two to keep and pass the rest along to the next player. Each player will end the draft with seven chosen cards and can pay fish to buy them at their stated cost. Any the player does not buy are discarded. Cards come in a number of different types which dictate when they can be played. Next, lessons are played. Lessons are blue cards and offering end game scoring. They can be public or private. Then it's time to try and lure some cats from the general supply. Green cards offer you different numbers of baskets and boots, in addition to your permanent basket. Each basket can hold one cat and the player with most boots gets first pick of the cat tiles that have been laid out in the centre with a cost of 3 or 5 fish each.

Cats come in five different colours and in many different tetromino shapes. On your ship, you are typically hoping to make large groups (families) of cats in the same colour, as well as fillinf up rooms, covering up rats and trying to place the right coloured cats on each printed scroll to get a bonus. Of course, these general strategies might be affected by your lesson cards, which could force you to towards very different objectives. At the end of 5 rounds, cat families will score, lessons will score and points will be deducted for rats still showing and rooms on your ship that haven't been completely filled with cats.

The Isle of Cats is definitely one of the more complex tetris-style tile laying games out there, but that's not to state that it's a complex game. For a gamer audience it's very simple and for two players it's a 20-30 minute game. Sure, there's quite a few different ways to score points, and as you gather more lesson cards, you're looking for the synergies and trying to optimise the cats you select and their placement on board. However, I never feel that overwhelming brain crunching feeling that some tile laying games can give you when trying to pick an optimal path, or a path forward at all! With younger families, I can see that the family variant migh ease the burden of reading and thinking about many things at once, but I'd still call the standard version a family weight game. I could probably get any of my non-gaming friends or family to play.

The theme, of course helps with enticing others to play. The colourful cat artwork is full of character (my favourite cat is the one toying with a crab!). Every card has an amusing and thematic name. The quality of the game is just incredible, especially at this price point. Te box is made of the thickest card I've ever seen, all the card stock is thick, there are unique cat meeples and overall it's just a delight to look at. Tessellating cats, as you might imagine, is a very relaxing experience and that's exactly how I'd like to play this game. It's so quick to setup and get playing, that it really has a super high accessibility level to it.

Whilst it's simple, I've so far not found it to be lacking in replayability either. The deck of cards is large and there's a very high number of lesson cards in there. After a few plays, there are a few lesson cards that I might consider as my favourite cards to go for, but there's always been a  new strategy to shoot for. Some of the cards are tough to achieve and really alter how you play the game, but that adds a 'shoot the moon' feeling to the game, where it's perhaps obvious to others at the table what you're trying to do, but it's just a fun way to challenge yourself in each game. Spotting what someone else is trying to do can certainly be part of the interactivity of the game, which is added to by the two drafting phases of the game. I definitely ate draft cards in this game, taking lesson cards that are simply too good for someone else to pass over - even if I don't want to buy them. I've also found that you need to prioritise when drafting cats, based on what you think others might want or ignore. It's great to find that what could be a quite solo puzzle has other aspects that keep you engaged with others at the table.

The Isle of Cats is one of my favourite games in this category. I love puzzly tile-laying, so there's quite a number in our collection, and The Isle of Cats will make the top 3 for sure. The biggest drawback for me is that it's quite a small, quick experience in a giant box. When shelf space is at a premium, the super high production here might just mean there's no space of The Isle of Cats on the shelf. That said, I cant wait to introduce it to others in the future, because I know for sure that it's a game that people will fall in love with. For the Yellow Meeple, The Isle of Cats is an 8/10.

The Isle of Cats was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £45.00 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk

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