Full disclosure: A preview copy of Cat Rescue was provided by Sunrise Tornado Game Studio. Some art assets, gameplay, and rules may change between now and when / if the Kickstarter is fulfilled, as this is a preview of an unreleased game.
Like I said, it’s Kickstarter month. Cat Rescue, Fire in the Library, and Unbroken all launch this month, with even more coming next week. Flip & Find’s Diner was at the start of the month, and Dream Catchers is relaunching on Kickstarter soon. What a whirlwind! Well, the only way out is through, so let’s talk about some of these games.
In Cat Rescue, you play as a team of cat shelter workers who are trying to get these kitties to their paws-ible future homes. You’ll be working with groups fostering cats and trying to get cats in off the streets so you can feed and shelter and love them, all the while shuttling cats that are ready for adoption off and out of the shelter so that they can move on to their forever homes. Will you be able to find purr-fect places for all these cats?
Setup is pretty straightforward. Take the four cubes:
Set them up in a grid that’s roughly four cards by four cards. Don’t bother measuring; you’re gonna just have to be flexible about it. Now, shuffle up the cat cards:
Flip four face-up in the center in a 2×2 square. Take the delivery card:
Put it street-side up on the bottom-right cat. Give each player a two-card “hand” (representing foster homes) and you’re ready to get started!
So, Cat Rescue is a game of cat adoption where you play local shelter managers trying to get cats into a good home. Each turn, you will add a cat to the grid and then move some part of the grid around (sort of like Dingo’s Dreams). How’s it work?
To start, there are five kinds of cats (six / seven, depending on how you feel about them in the expansion):
The cat in the center is a Wild Cat, which can count as any of the other color cats. The expansion adds Purple Cats and a Wild Cat that can also leverage Purple. However, this cat can also lose points at the end of the game.
On your turn you must place a cat orthogonally adjacent to another cat already in the grid and then push the cat in that card’s direction. Once you have, put the Delivery Card on the cat (either Foster side up if it came from your hand or Street side up if it came from the deck) pointing in the direction you just pushed. There are only a few rules to placement:
- If the Delivery Card is already Foster-side up at the start of your turn, you must play from the Street.
- You may not push cats in the direction of the arrow on the Delivery Card.
- You may not push the cat with the Delivery card on it. This also means that this cat cannot be moved by other cats, so you can’t push its row or column. What a cat-astrophe.
- Pushing cards outside of the 4 x 4 grid has consequences. If it’s a face-up card, add it to your foster home / hand. If it’s face-down, add it to your team’s scoring pile. That cat is adopted and now lives happily in its forever home. Aw. If you adopt a cat, also adopt every adoptable cat connected to it. It really is a purr-fect play.
That said, how do you flip cards face-down?
Well, once you’ve moved a row or column, check the grid. If there is an unbroken line (vertical or horizontal) of three or four cats of the same color, flip all the cats in the center of that line (either 1 or 2 cats) face-down. They’re now “adoptable”! It’s a bit unclear, but we’ve always played that you can choose the order, if that makes a difference. There’s just one cat-ch: You cannot flip the cat with the Delivery Card on it. It says in place. If it’s still there next turn, sure, you can flip it.
Play continues until the Street Deck is depleted or until one player has three cats in their foster home. At that point, tally up your scores:
- 2 points for each non-Wild cat in your score pile;
- 1 point for each Wild cat in your score pile;
- 1 point for each face-down cat on the board;
- -3 points (ouch) if you flipped the Purple Wild Cat face-down. Don’t do that.
Now, see how you did!
- Cat Got Your Tongue?: 0 – 9 points
- Cat Burglar: 10 – 19 points
- Cat Lady: 20 – 29 points
- Cat Nap: 30+ points
Player Count Differences
At higher player counts you need to play a bit more carefully, as there’s a lot fewer cards in the Street Deck. Remember, every player gets two cards in their hand to start, so you cannot let a player take a card into their hand on their first turn unless they’re playing from their hand, otherwise they’ll end the game.
With these larger-player games, it’s crucial that you do a good job alternating playing from the Street and from Foster Homes; thankfully, since you can see more of the cards, it’s easier to plan out how best to do that, so it balances it somewhat. I haven’t tried it at 5 (with the expansion), but I have no real preference on player count.
- We keep building something we call “the conveyor belt”. There’s different ways to do it, but basically making a spot with two wilds means you can consistently push cats through it every other turn (especially if they’re on the edge of the board). They’ll flip on the off turns (since they can’t be moved off the board due to Delivery card rules), which is totally fine. We’ve consistently gotten ~25+ points doing this, so we’re pretty fine with how it works.
- Don’t flip Wild Cats (usually). They’re super useful in every context, and they’re only worth 1 point if you put them in your score pile anyways, so you don’t gain a ton by putting in all the effort to flip them and push them off the board. You’d much rather flip normal cats.
- That said, make sure you don’t accidentally flip Wild Cats, either. This especially applies to the Wild Cat+ (the one with the purple as well), since it’s worth a bunch of negative points. But, since Wild Cats can be any color, they can get flipped really easily, especially on accident. I find confining them to a corner or edge usually helps alleviate that risk, somewhat.
- Flipping Wild Cats on the last few turns is okay, though. You’re not going to be flipping too many more cards, so getting face-down cards on the board might be more useful. Plus, they’re worth 1 point either way, in that context.
- Don’t be afraid to take cards into your Foster Home / hand. In certain circumstances it’s actually beneficial; it can open up new routes, let you reorganize the board, let you push adoptable face-down cats into your scoring pile, and most importantly lets you avoid drawing cards from the Street Deck, which potentially can help you extend the game with an extra turn or two, here and there. That said, due to game limitations, I think the maximum number of turns is only, like, 42? That seems right but I’ll let someone else check my math.
- Don’t take three cards into your hand. Honestly, we treat that as a “loss”, for our gameplay purposes, since you can score so much higher by not doing that. You should really try to run out the Street Deck instead, as that gives you more turns and lets you score far more points than taking a third cat. If you manage to break 30 points while still taking three cats into your hand (without emptying the Street Deck, mind you, please let me know. You might be a Cat Rescue prodigy and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is really great. I’ve mistyped the name of the game as Cat Rescute about 50 times since I’ve gotten the game in, which is frustrating, but endearing. It’s up there with Cake Duel, Sushi Go!, Wolf & Hound, and others for fantastically cute art. If you know any cat fans, they’ll probably appreciate that this game exists. I look forward to seeing if they’re adding any cool art things as goals / stretch goals for the Kickstarter.
- The theme is really nice as well. You’re a bunch of cat shelter workers trying to cycle cats between foster homes and different parts of the shelter in order to prepare them for adoption! That’s really great.
- Easy to learn. It’s too short of a game for it to be difficult to learn, so I’m glad it’s pretty straightforward. You basically want to shift rows and columns to make lines of three or four and then push face-down cards out of the play area. Not too difficult to figure out.
- Plays quickly. It’s a very nice game when you want to think a little bit but not like, burn your brain, especially if you’re at lunch. I think The Shipwreck Arcana‘s a bit more heady, but this is a bit faster.
- Highly portable. Fits in a Love Letter / Lost Legacy-sized bag. Pretty easy to take just about anywhere with you, and I appreciate that. Portable games have a lot going for them. If you’ve got a Quiver, this is also a super-easy thing to take with you.
- The expansion is a nice touch. It’s small but adds some to the complexity of the game and makes it more difficult. It seems like a pretty interesting game to have like, multiple “modules” for. You could imagine a variety of expansions making this more challenging (or simpler), like cards that don’t move or two-color cards to change a bit of the calculus.
- Seems like you could build variants on top of this pretty easily. The nice thing about a ~30-card microgame is that there’s a lot of potential to do other fun stuff with it in addition to the game. It’s kind of a great mini deck if you want to prototype a microgame, as well. It’ll be interesting to see how the Kickstarter unfolds and if they do more backgrounds or unique art. I like games with the possibility for variant play.
- The symbols on the corners of the cards could be a bit larger. They’re a bit small and difficult to see, but I do appreciate that the designers are being conscious of visual accessibility.
- The grid measurement part of setup is a bit wonky. I would absolutely love to see a playmat for this game, to be honest. It would make lifting the cards easier, would make sliding them around a bit easier, and most importantly it would help the grid stay roughly defined, which would be a nice touch.
- I’d love to see extra difficulty levels. It could almost be a puzzle game with “levels”, where you set the board up certain ways and have to try and score the highest given the initial board setup.
- Perfect information cooperative games are highly vulnerable to quarterbacking. It’s a general con (albeit a light one) for these kinds of games. If you have a group with some quarterbacking issues, this is another game that will exacerbate those. That said, it’s very much a thing that happens a lot in cooperative games where all players have perfect information, so, just putting it here as a warning rather than a specific complaint about this specific game. Be mindful of your group dynamics.
- Generally I have a slight antipreference for games that are just “you earned points now check your rank”. It’s not that I specifically want a losing condition (and honestly, a lose condition in this game would be very sad), but it would be nice to feel like there was some sort of goal I was competing against beyond just “score points”. That’s why I kind of like the idea of making puzzle-y levels out of it and seeing if you can beat the like, “complete” score for each level. Maybe I’ll do something with that.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, Cat Rescue is pretty solid! It’s a super-cute microgame that a few friends and I have been playing over lunch all week, and it’s definitely suited to a lunch game. The nice thing is that it’s also pretty eye-cat-ching, which might convince people who don’t normally lunch game with you to sit down and play a brief round. It’s not difficult to get into, it’s portable, and it’s a fun little co-op, making it a thoroughly enjoyable filler-type game. That said, you might be the type of person to ignore everything I just read and go straight for the art (and I wouldn’t blame you). It’s a super cute style and I would love to see more from the artist in the future. Either way, Cat Rescue is a bunch of fun and I’d recommend checking it out!