Full disclosure: A review copy of Catlantis was provided by Ravensburger.
Honestly, I’m not even sure where this one came from. I was in a mood the other night and felt like writing, so I just pumped out this review in about an hour or so. It was great! Really powered through it. Anyways, this is another one of the many, many Gen Con titles I got, the adorable Catlantis, from Ravensburger! They’ve been putting out a lot of titles this year, and have been especially busy with Villainous and their Universal series of games. Let’s dive right into Catlantis and see how it compares to the other games we’re covering this week.
In Catlantis, you represent one of the many mercat houses vying to be the leader of this (now sunken) empire. In order to win the favor of the other houses, you must make offerings of your treasure and influence to impress them with your generosity, but be careful; they’re doing the same to your house as well. Who among you will be able to unite the mercats and rule Catlantis?
Pretty much none. You’re going to shuffle the big deck of cards:
There are a few different types; more on that later. Give each player a Fur Order card:
Keep those secret. Also give each player a Fin Type card:
Keep those secret also. Assign each player a mercat meeple:
And give each player one Offering Stone in every other player’s color:
Once you’ve done that, flip four cards face-up into the center of the play area and choose a player to start!
In Catlantis, you want to collect furs and fins matching your secret cards. Naturally, along the way, if you can get some Treasures and such, that would also be nice. Coins, too (I hear they’re using drachma, though ducats are still accepted), would be nice. Anyways, you can’t just take for yourself; that would be greedy! It’s a conundrum.
On your turn, you may flip over one of your Offering Stones to make an offer to another player. Choose any two face-up cards in the center and offer them to your opponent. They must choose one to keep, and you keep the other one! A purrfect compromise. This is pretty much the entire game. Once every player has turned over all of their Offering Stones, flip them all face-up.
Continue until the deck is out of cards, and that’s the end of the game. You then score as follows:
- Fins: Your cards matching your Fin Type card are worth points. Count them as a set and then check to see how many points that set earns.
- Furs: Your cards matching your Fur Order card are also worth points. Count them as a distinct set (don’t add them to your Fins; count them separately) and see how many points that set earns.
- Treasures: For each Treasure, if you have the most, you earn 4 points. Tied for the most? All tied players earn 3 points (and second place isn’t awarded). Second place normally earns 3 points, but if there’s a tie all tied players earn 1 point instead.
- Coins: Coins earn you points equal to their value.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I think, for me, this game becomes the most interesting at lower player counts. At low player counts, you have a lot of control over the game’s outcome, since you get to take more turns. At higher player counts, I can’t necessarily stop another player from giving all my necessary cards to my opponent or taking all the cards I need, since I can only influence the game’s outcome on my turn or when I’m offered something. This makes the game feel a bit less deterministic, since any card that isn’t yours isn’t great for you to take. The difference between taking something of mine and something that isn’t mine and isn’t yours is pretty much trivial, as far as your score is concerned. Plus, once your opponent offers you something, there’s not much you can do beyond taking it or not. This means that more cards will be circulated out. Best case, they’re all cards you don’t want and so you have multiple opponents all offering you useful cards. Worst case, it’s possible for you to have very little ability to even get the cards you need, because your opponents offer them to each other or take them when you offer them. It’s not the most satisfying outcome, and that’s part of why I tend to prefer the game at two players. I just prefer more control.
- If you can, try to offer your opponent something they want if something you want is also on the line. If you’re offering me the choice between garbage and something good for you, I’m happy to give you garbage and take the thing you want. It’s a cruel world. To that end, you need to make sure you incentivize your opponent to help you back. They may still not, but you can at least try to boost them up.
- I’m not convinced being obvious about what you want is the best idea. This means that if I know what you want, I can offer all those cards to another player, thereby making sure you have no access to either. If I do that consistently enough, it will likely severely hurt your chances of winning. Or I’ll have bad drawing luck and your cards will never come up. Who knows? Either way, being a bit sneaky means you might be able to trick your opponents into making you mistakenly extremely good offers.
- Giving your opponent bad choices is fun too. If you’re already leading by two in a Treasure, it’s satisfying to offer your opponent a choice between that Treasure and another copy of that Treasure. They’re not going to catch up to you, so why not just annoy them a bit? It’s mean, but, again, it’s a pretty good move since it removes two of the cards from circulation and you’re guaranteed to add another one of them to your set.
- You can also give them choices which will hurt other players. You might be able to force them to take a card that ties them for Treasures with another opponent, reducing the score either of them would get for being first or second place in that area. Or you can do what I mentioned earlier and exclusively feed them cards the other player needs.
- Remember that there are only 7 of each Treasure Card in the game. Once you see six or seven out, it’s time to stop looking for more. You’ll be able to figure out who’s going to win big on it. Hopefully, that’s going to be you! If not, try to force another player to tie and split the points.
- Try to figure out what your opponent wants. If you know what they want, you can give them things they want so you can get stuff you want, and you can strategically deny them high-value cards for no reason, just to be a jerk. Both things are useful strategies.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The cats are truly adorable. It’s a very cute game, especially if you like cats. I imagine it’s even more so if you’re into mermaids? Honestly, not sure; I’m very neutral on mermaids, but very pro-cat. Also pro-Greek Mythology themes, and it’s vaguely adjacent to that. Big into vague adjacencies, also, if it’s possible to be into that.
- I’m actually the biggest fan of the mercat meeples. They’re truly some of the most delightful pieces I’ve ever seen in a board game. It makes me wonder whether or not I should just harvest these from the game. I probably won’t, but I’ll regret not having done so.
- The cards are all holographic, which is going to make photography a pain in my ass but the game looks really cool. I’m actually decently convinced I won’t be able to take good pictures of the cards and I’ll end up scrapping this review that I wrote because of it. Or I’ll have to break out my Actual Lighting Equipment. Either way, if you’re reading this, then it means it worked? Or I posted it without pictures. One of those.
- Pretty easy to learn. It’s essentially a multiplayer Tussie Mussie but instead of card effects, you’re doing set collection. Present two options; your opponent keeps one and you keep the other.
- Almost no setup required. That’s also a boon, honestly. You can almost play it straight out of the box.
- I mean, it could pretty much be themed anything. It’s a meh because it doesn’t really matter that it’s not themed something else; there aren’t obviously better themes, it’s just that the theme and the gameplay don’t really match up in any particular way. It’s disappointing when that happens, but also, Dominion exists and thrives, so it’s not like I (or anyone else) hate games for that. It’s mostly just me nitpicking.
- It’s sort of odd that the tokens are cardboard and the meeples are wood. It doesn’t matter that much; it just feels weirdly inconsistent. Again, this is me nitpicking, as I am wont to do in the Mehs.
- The icons on the cards are a bit small, and they’re hard to read against the holographic backdrop. This can make it hard to tell what opponents have / make it hard to count them, which can slow the game down for players that tend to do that sort of thing before making decisions. I even saw a player once grab the wrong card because of glare. It happens, but it can definitely lead to frustrating outcomes for some players.
- At higher player counts, there’s really not a lot you can do to control your ultimate outcome. At two players, every choice cuts you in. At three players, you’re in four out of every six choices. At four players, you’re down to five out of every eight. That means you’re getting more deals happening without you, which means you’re losing control of the choices being made. That’s less good. It makes me wish an offer had to be made to all other players simultaneously, but that’s just a different, pizza-themed game. Huh, I never published my review of that one; I should at some point.
- There are a lot of cards for a game with such a straightforward conceit. Since there are a bunch of cards, the game tends to take a while. For me, it feels like it overstays its welcome a bit. I’d probably prefer to have maybe half as many cards, a more aggressive scoring margin, and then a “best of three rounds” mechanic or something, especially at higher player counts. There, all you can do is watch other people take cards you want, which is a bummer.
Overall: 6.25 / 10
Overall, Catlantis is fine, I think. Where it earns major points from me is that it’s reasonably easy to play and the art and theme are particularly excellent. It’s a super weird theme, yes, especially with the almost-terrifyingly realistic art, but hey, someone’s gotta get themselves out there and get a bit strange. I kind of wish more games just … went for it, thematically, to be honest. It’s much more refreshing to see a collectible mercat game than another fantasy game where Everyone’s White For Some Reason. Anyways, I’m getting off track. That’s what I think it does well; it packages the I-cut-you-choose genre with a delightful theme and a friendly-enough conceit that it truly is a game almost anyone could play. Very little language requirement, I presume different enough cats and tails that it’s decently accessible, and a cat-chy theme that will draw people in. And that’s good! Where it kind of lets me down is that it doesn’t feel like I can particularly influence the game’s outcome at any time, which would be fine if the game were short (I occasionally feel this way about Tussie Mussie), but it tends to last a surprisingly long time due to just the sheer number of cards. To that end, I’d usually just prefer to play Tussie Mussie, or if I want a long I-cut-you-choose game I’d probably turn to Trial of the Temples, if I’m just limiting myself to games that came out this year. That said, huge cat fans will almost certainly want to check out this game if for no other reason than the cards; they’re literally adorable. For other folks, it may be hit or miss, unless you’re a huge fan of the theme (and I am, to be clear).