Full disclosure: A review copy of Cat Sudoku was provided by Sunrise Tornado Game Studio.
More games from Taiwan! Honestly, always more games, which I appreciate. There’s pretty consistently awesome stuff coming from both Ta-Te Wu and the Taiwan Boardgame Design group. I think his latest game, Cleocatra, is hitting Kickstarter on the soonish side? Keeping with the cat theme, though, we’ve got Cat Sudoku, which is … available now? Yes. It’s cats, and math! Two things I like, so, let’s see what’s going on with this one.
In Cat Sudoku, you’re spending time rolling through the seasons with your favorite feline friends and, doing some math! It’s got similarities to original Sudoku, but with better art and more cats. And some really difficult diagonals. The diagonals are definitely going to be what mess you up. And that’s okay. Will you be able to spring into victory? Or will you just fall behind?
Not much to do. Choose a season and give each player a sheet from that season:
Everyone should have the same sheet. Tear the top off of one of them to make a Wild Tracker:
Set out the dice:
And you’re pretty much ready to start!
Pretty simple. To start the game, roll the 4 dice; every player writes one die value in one of the circles.
In subsequent turns, the Start Player rolls the 4 dice and then chooses on the Wild Tracker what value will be wild, this round. To indicate that, check off the box under that number, or write the number in one of the three rightmost boxes and check off one of the boxes below that. You may always check off the 1+ boxes, but the 2+ boxes can only be checked off if at least two of that number appears on the dice. (1 1 2 3 would allow you to check off the 1 1+, the 1 2+, the 2 1+, or the 3 1+, but not the 3 2+.)
Once that wild is indicated, all players write the four rolled numbers in the spaces of their choice. I would recommend keeping them relatively close together, but that’s a Strategy thing. Note that you can’t move or erase them later, so, hope you’re really married to the idea of where those numbers are placed. It’s very permanent. There’s a holdover from Sudoku, which is that you shouldn’t write identical values in the same row or column, but there’s a major difference, here (beyond using a smaller number pool). If you look at the sheets, not all the rows and columns are connected to each other; they’re row and column segments. And that’s where Cat Sudoku’s rules kick in. Values should not repeat within these segments; it’s fine if they repeat outside of the segments. It also adds a new rule, which is that two or more numbers that are diagonally adjacent shouldn’t be the same value. You may have no choice, but that’ll be a penalty. More on that later.
Speaking of penalties, you may end up in a situation where, at the end of a round, a player has more or fewer numbers than other players. It should always be a multiple of four, so, if it’s not, someone goofed. If you have fewer numbers than other players, roll enough dice and add them immediately. If you have more, you’ll take fewer numbers next round. For each number violation like this, you take a 3 point penalty. So if you have two numbers too many, that’s a -6. Try to avoid doing that.
Once the whole board is filled out, the game ends! Then you assess penalties. Pass your sheet to the player on your right and have them figure it out:
- Rows / Columns: Circle all duplicate values in each row and column segment. Each duplicate is worth -2 points.
- Diagonals: Circle all duplicate numbers in 2+ adjacent diagonal spaces. If they’re not adjacent diagonally, don’t circle them. Then, take a penalty for the set size:
- 2 numbers: -2 points
- 3 numbers: -5 points
- 4 numbers: -10 points
Count those negatives and add in your other penalties. Subtract that from 100 and you’ve got your score. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
There aren’t really that many, honestly. It kind of plays like a multiplayer solo game, especially if players are playing relatively cooperatively. There’s not really a reason not to, as far as I can tell. It’s hard enough to remember what numbers you have on your board; trying to play an adversarial game is going to both slow it down and annoy your opponents a lot. Like, a lot. I’d recommend losing the battle and winning the war on that one. But that’s a personal preference; I’m not much for take-that or anything even close to it, anyways. At that point, though, if you’re essentially playing a solo game, then I’m probably just going to recommend it as a solo game. There’s no real difference between the various player counts otherwise beyond someone occasionally choosing a wild that’s vaguely less convenient for you. When you’re playing solo, you just choose the wild every time. It’s fine. That said, it’s a very cute game, so I’m always trying to share it with more people because people deserve to see more cute games. But for playing it, I’d generally rather just play this one solo.
- Lock down the 6-square lines as soon as possible. These are immutable; you really don’t want to have repetition in these. As soon as you can get them all written up, you’re golden. Just watch out for network effects, and make sure you remember those numbers when you’re trying to write other ones later. This isn’t a game you should play with split focus; that’s why the scores on my review gameplay photos are so bad.
- It’s likely not worth it to screw other players on the wild values if you don’t have to. I think the game’s hard enough as it is; you don’t need to add Interpersonal Strife and up the drama.
- If you want to, or you just like high-chaos games, you’re allowed to use the write-in wild spots whenever you want, so you can just go for it, legally, as soon as you want. You can waste the write-in wild spots as soon as you feel like doing so. Your opponents likely won’t appreciate it.
- If you prefer to be nice, I usually recommend using the 2+ dice wilds first so that you have more flexibility in the future. If you can use all of those up, you can still mark off a 1+ wild when there are 2+ dice of a value. You can’t do that the other way around, though, so the 2+ wild is a more restrictive case (hence why I try to use it first, even if I need the number).
- You can also try to convince the lead player to make the value you need wild. Nothing says you can’t advocate. This isn’t really Strategy as much as it is Charisma, but, it never hurts to ask.
- You don’t have to write adjacent, but I’d recommend it so that you can limit the scope of your numbers’ expansion. If you don’t keep your numbers localized, you’re decently likely to just forget that you wrote something far away and then you’ll likely set yourself up for one of those scoring penalties I keep telling you all about.
- Find “safe spots”, or spots that have very few restrictions on what can be written in them, and save them for the final rounds, if you can. These are usually the least-connected spots on the board. Corners or endpoints. They’re great dumping grounds for numbers you can’t place elsewhere. And you’ll need some of those, probably.
- Routinely check your board to make sure you haven’t made any mistakes or missed writing anything. It also helps you keep in mind what numbers you need for certain locations. It may help if you can play in pencil and write in the boxes which numbers are legal to place, but that doesn’t always work out. It may just increase the visual noise of the board and make it harder to remember the overall state.
- Don’t approach the board at a macro-level; instead, I find it much easier to look at each box and figure out what can be written in that box without a penalty. It does take longer to play the game this way, so make sure you’re not taking too long on your turns (since everyone plays simultaneously).
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- One of the cutest games I’ve ever seen. I love this cat art. Loved it in Cat Rescue; love it even more now that the cats are taking seasonal vacations in Kyoto. Can’t wait to see the next cat game (it’s Cleocatra; I already have it; I’m very excited).
- Relatively simple game in principle. You roll dice and place numbers such that rows, columns, and adjacent diagonals have different values. You take a penalty every time that’s not the case. Seems easy, right? Yeah, just wait until you start playing.
- Having it come with four different pads is a really nice touch. Gives you lots of flexibility and room to make the game more challenging, which is nice. I love when games offer multiple tiers of difficulty for players. Lets you grow a bit with the game.
- Pretty portable. Relatively small box. It’s not quite a Quiver-sized game, but it can pretty easily fit in a backpack or bag.
- Mine also came with stickers! Delightful. The stickers are for the four cats on each pad, which was an absolute joy.
- Cute game with a totally unrelated theme. There’s no real rhyme or reason for it to be cat-themed (which is fine), but I do always prefer it when you have a bit more interaction between a game’s mechanics and its theme. Thankfully, when the theme is super adorable, I’m much more inclined to let the game get away with this minor transgression.
- It would be nice to have some way to make it easy for players to track how many dice they’ve used. Given that they take a penalty otherwise, it would be helpful. Maybe some cubes, or something? Not sure if that would be more trouble than it’s worth (like Power On!).
- This one can be a real brain-burner for folks. To the point of information overload. That can be a bit frustrating at times when you make a mistake just because the amount of visual information (all the numbers and how much the adjacencies matter) can be overwhelming. It does that thing where, say, if you lose a coin flip, you don’t feel bad because it was bad luck, but if you lose this game, you feel like if you were smarter you might have done better. It’s a processing task, and that might not be the most fun for everyone. It does make for an excellent solo puzzle, though, and is a great game for the most numerically-inclined of your players.
- Alright, it’s only mostly Sudoku. If you go into this game expecting it to work exactly like Sudoku, you’re going to be in for a bad time. In reality, it’s a puzzle game with some Sudoku-influences, but it’s much more similar to Qwinto in two dimensions, of the games I’ve played. This leads to some confusion, initially, especially once the parts of the game that aren’t Sudoku (specifically diagonal penalties) start kicking in.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I think Cat Sudoku is solid! As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this one really shines as a solo game, for me. The rules don’t meaningfully change, but you don’t have to deal with as many frustrated players; you just have to handle a frustrated you. And that’s not the worst thing. It is a very clever game, though a challenging one. I thought Ganz Schon Clever was tough, but that’s mostly about combo manipulation; this one is a hardcore game for planning ahead, leaving options open, and eventually compromising for some heavy scoring penalties. It’s harsh, but I like it! It’s refreshing, at times. I think that an issue might be the mismatch between the cute theme and the intense puzzle, but, honestly, who knows! Puzzle fiends deserve cute games, too. It’s 2020. I would recommend letting your group know before you play that it’s a particularly challenging game that they shouldn’t take lightly, just to avoid any potential problems, but it’ll mostly be a struggle your first game while you acclimate to it. Once you’ve got it, I think it’s a super smart puzzler. With four maps! With increasing difficulty! A cat for all seasons, really. If that sounds like something you’re into, I’d recommend giving it a whirl! Or if you’re a big solo fan; I’ve enjoyed it.