Full disclosure: A preview copy of Calico was provided by Flatout Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Alright, another Kickstarter! This was originally going to be a whole week of only cat-themed games, but then I got caught up with other Kickstarters, like The Search for Planet X, and wanted to make sure that was launching on time, so I ended up moving things around. There are still a lot of cats this week, but now there’s the joy of cats other weeks, too. It’s … purrfect. Anyways, let’s get to Calico and talk about what’s happening, there.
In Calico, players are extraordinary quilters with a lot of cats in their home. Out of deference to them, players will sew quilts to try and give their cats a comfy place to sleep and sprawl out. But these cats are particular; only certain types of quilts will impress them. In the meantime, players will amuse themselves by collecting buttons and attempting to complete their own personal quilting goals (as though their goals weren’t just Please The Cat). Will you be able to make a pawsitively excellent quilt? Or will you just end up playing cat-ch up?
To set up, give everyone a Quilt Board:
Shuffle and deal each player 4 Goal Tiles; they can choose three of them to place in one of the three marked spaces on the board:
For your first game, generally recommend the Not Equals on top, the AA-BB-CC on the right, and the AAA-BBB on the left. Choose three Cat Tiles to have out:
For your first game, we generally recommend Thimble, Mittens, and Queenie. But do whatever! Also set aside the corresponding Cat Tokens:
Shuffle the six Pattern Tiles and put two each in the slots on the Cat Tiles:
Set the Buttons and Button Tile somewhere:
Finally, shuffle the Patch Tiles:
Give each player two, and create a market of three face-up tiles. You should be ready to start!
There’s actually not a lot to the game, practically. Your goal, as mentioned, is to make quilts to attract cats so that you can convince them to sleep on your quilt because that makes you happy. You can also collect cool buttons because, you contain multitudes, and one of those multitudes is that you like buttons. Anyways.
On your turn, you’ll do a few things.
First up, you’ll place one of the two Patch Tiles in your hand on any open space on your Quilt Board. There’s no weird adjacency requirements or contiguous play requirements; just slap one of those tiles wherever your heart desires.
Now, check to see if you’ve gained a Cat or a Button to your Quilt. Generally, Buttons are awarded for three connected tiles of the same color. If you happen to connect two groups of the same color, they’re considered one big group of the same color. You can’t lose buttons or Cats once you’ve gained them, but you won’t get an additional button by connecting to an existing group. Cats, they’re attracted to groups of the same Pattern, but it can be one of the two patterns on their tiles. That said, the group you earn a Cat for must be all one Pattern.
Now, select one of the 3 face-up Patch Tiles from the market and add it to your hand. You cannot pull from a face-down stack; you must take one of the visible ones. Finally, reveal a new Patch Tile from a stack and add it to the market to complete your turn.
Play continues until everyone has filled their Quilt Boards; at that point, you move on to scoring.
Generally, Goal Tiles can score one of two ways; they have what I call OR scoring and AND scoring. If you fulfill the requirement with tiles based on their color OR their Pattern, you score the blue number. If you fulfill the requirement with tiles based on their color AND their Pattern, you score the gold number. Generally, these requirements are based on the six tiles surrounding the Goal Tile. If you fail to complete either requirement, you score nothing. Bummer.
Cats score their printed values, and Buttons score 3. If you manage to collect a set of every Button, you can earn the coveted Rainbow Button, which is worth another 3 points. Note that partial tiles on your Quilt Board count as tiles for the purposes of Cats and Buttons; imagine that this is the last spot on your quilt to fill in.
The player with the most points wins!
To play a slightly less complex variant, just turn the Goal Tiles goal-side-down and play normally.
Player Count Differences
Generally speaking, I kind of prefer this at higher player counts, even though it runs a bit slower, since you have a higher chance of seeing the tiles you need. At two or three, since so many tiles will never be flipped up, there’s a legitimate chance that you may just never seen the color or Pattern that you want pop up, which you have no real way to prepare for. Now, the obvious counterpoint to that is that with more players, there’s a much higher likelihood that someone will take the tile you need, and that’s fair; there’s not much you can do about that. But I think it’s better to have had the opportunity to take a tile than to have never seen the tile at all. My one complaint is, yeah, this does slow the game down a lot, especially for your first game, so maybe my sweet spot is 3 players? Not sure.
- Stay somewhat flexible. This is perhaps one of the tougher parts of the game, I think. You want to make sure that you have what you need, but you can’t guarantee you’ll get what you need in a timely fashion or ever. If you do get it, great, points! If you don’t, though, you risk getting totally screwed over.
- Don’t overplay your strategy. This is pretty key. If you make it clear to your opponents that you need a very specific tile or set of tiles, you run a very nonzero risk that they’ll avail themselves of those tiles just to spite you (or, because, well, everyone needs some tiles from time to time). This is why I try to make sure I don’t put down a fifth tile on a goal until I also have the sixth tile I need, if possible; then, you can’t be blocked, and anyone trying to block you may just end up taking garbage, themselves. To be fair, if someone’s playing that kind of strategy, it serves them right.
- You have 7 “free” spaces on your board. Use them wisely. These are the spots you shouldn’t waste. They’re also useful for getting certain cats that require large collections of Patterns, and for stringing together groups of tiles of the same color to complete Button sets. A lot of people just see them as dumping grounds for unwanted tiles, and I think that doing so really undersells their utility. They’re just great ways to score points.
- You’re never going to be able to get all the points. This is what I try to tell friends who are overanalyzing the game. A lot of players will struggle with the trade-offs here, since their option space is fairly large and fairly dependent on previous moves. If they just focus on doing a few things very well, I think long-term they’ll be much happier. Also, they’ll take a lot less time on their turns, and I feel like everyone else will be happier as a result.
- Overindexing on one thing is also very bad. You can’t ignore other features of the game and expect to come out ahead. You need to earn Cats and you need to earn Buttons. If you don’t, you’ll just end up getting a lot of points on the Goal Tiles and still losing.
- There are worse things than getting partial credit on the Goal Tiles. This is another technique designed to soothe the stressed-out gamer. It doesn’t usually work, but it’s important to remember that getting full credit on all three Goal Tiles is very hard, even moreso since two of the Goal Tiles share two tiles between them, so if you’re not being careful you might mess yourself up before you even get a shot at earning full points.
- Don’t forget about your border tiles. Remember that your entire board is surrounded by tiles. Make the most of those if you want to earn enough Cats and Buttons to win the game.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I mean, the theme is delightful. It’s nice to see that there’s a lot of enthusiasm in the gaming / crafting overlap space; I think Arch Ravels also launched on Kickstarter a week or so ago and it’s looking like a lot of fun as well. I’m very pro-knitting games, quilting games, and other forms of crafting. It’s all fairly novel in this space.
- I like that the player boards are all different, so there are different starting benefits. It also gives them a really nice aesthetic; they’re all similar in style, but the particulars are different. It’s very good.
- Having a bunch of cat options makes for some pretty variable games. I always appreciate a game with variable scoring conditions, since it changes up the strategies you can use so you don’t always play the same way. It’s nice to see they took that under consideration as a core part of the game, and it works very well, here.
- I always appreciate a double-layered board. It looks nice and the tiles lock in, which I really appreciate. It’s a generally classy game component, and I’m really impressed that it made it into the preview copies. That’s not something you generally see.
- It’s pretty fantastic from an art standpoint, as well. Beth Sobel’s art is fantastic, and the combination of art, color, and graphic design on the pattern choice makes the whole game look absolutely fantastic on the table. The colors really pop, and that really catches the eye. It’s just a great-looking game, all-around. Huge fan of that.
- Your first game is going to run a fair bit longer. It usually takes us an hour at minimum with new players. I think there’s a lot to figure out and a lot to take in, and players often struggle with the differences between Cat and Button earning, as well as the Goal Tiles. Once they get it, the games go a lot faster, but budget a bit of extra time for your first game.
- The AP in this game can be overwhelming. Players can really struggle, even with a fairly “small” decision space. Generally what ails them is that Goal Tiles require them to plan pretty far ahead, even when they don’t think it’s possible to do so in a meaningful way. Personally, I think they’re right; it’s not possible to plan ahead, no matter how much they want to. I just try to tell players to stay flexible so that there are more potential outcomes that lead to success for them. That said, some players just take forever. Not much you can do.
- It’s a bit frustrating when you have two tiles you don’t want and don’t want to play and there’s nothing you can do with them. This can be exacerbated by an unfriendly market, as well, but it can often feel like the game can come down to one lucky tile flip that causes you to win or lose the game, which doesn’t always feel great. I wish there were a bit more of a mechanic around market manipulation and control, but that doesn’t seem to be the focus on the game, so, there’s not one! Oh well.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think Calico is really solid! For me, I generally gravitate towards games with art and themes that I like, and how would I not be enthusiastic about a game where you make quilts to attract cat best friends? The answer is I wouldn’t. I’d always be enthusiastic about that. But theme alone isn’t generally enough to sell me on a game (it’s a lot of it, granted), so I’m glad that there’s a solid tile-laying game backing it up! My main complaints about this game are really that I get a bit frustrated that I don’t always feel like I have control over the tiles I want to play, so sometimes the game comes down to whether or not the house of cards I’ve built for myself collapses when I miss out on one of the few tiles I desperately need. Thankfully, I don’t see many players working actively to screw each other over, since usually they’re heads-down enough on their boards that they’re not paying too much attention to anyone else. The problem with them being so heads-down is that that usually leads down a rabbit hole to analysis paralysis, where they can’t get through the complex decision that they need to make. That happens with tile-laying games, sometimes, since the decision space kind of expands with every move, but in Calico you don’t have to play adjacent to an already-played tile, so it can occasionally balloon as decisions you made much earlier in the game come back to haunt you. That doesn’t happen every game, though, so I’m generally fine with it. If you’re looking for a thinky game of tiles or you really like quilting / crafting / cats in your game themes, I’d definitely recommend checking out Calico! I can’t wait to see how the final version looks.