Full disclosure: A review copy of Cat Rescue was provided by Chronicle Books.
Look at me, up to writing one review every two weeks, now. That’s … not sustainable, in the slightest, but it’s something. It’s mostly solo games and games I can instrument by playing by myself, but we won’t talk about that right now. What we will talk about is the second edition of a game I really enjoyed almost 500 reviews ago, Cat Rescue. One of the many titles from Sunrise Tornado, Cat Rescue featured quick, puzzley gameplay and great art for an overall great experience. Chronicle Books has since picked it up and repackaged it to publish, so let’s see what’s new!
In Cat Rescue, you play as shelter employees working to get as many cats as possible off the streets and into their forever homes with families that will love and care for them. Delightful. However, your shelter is smaller than you’d like, so you can’t always take every cat. You don’t want to overwhelm the Foster Homes either, so you’ll have to think on your feet if you want to prevent a disaster in this cooperative game. Will you be able to avoid a cat-aclysm?
Pretty much none; always a fan of that. Set out the playmat:
Shuffle the cards. Deal each player two, and then reveal four face-up in the center of the playmat:
Place the Delivery Token on the bottom-right card, pointing towards the left, Street side face-up:
Finally, if you’re playing with the advanced variant, set aside the Power Tokens:
Finish up by converting the box into the cats’ Forever Home:
Either way, you’re ready to start!
The core game hasn’t changed much since my preview, a while back, but it bears repeating because it’s a second edition!
In Cat Rescue, your goal is to push cats from the Shelter into their Forever Homes, while occasionally fostering them along the way. It’s a beautiful concept. There are six types of cats:
Red / Yellow / Green / Blue / Purple / Wild
On your turn, you’re going to add a cat to the grid by placing it adjacent to any cat on the grid (even if it’s outside the grid; it’ll work) and then shifting the row or column in the direction of your choice. Once you do that, place the Delivery Token on the cat you just added pointing in the direction you just pushed. As with most placement, there are a few caveats:
- You cannot push cats in the direction that the arrow on the Delivery Token points. Why? It’s a rule. Why is it a rule? Sometimes things are just rules.
- You cannot push the cat with the Delivery Token on it. That row and column are essentially locked in place for the next turn, until the Delivery Token is moved to the next cat.
- The Delivery Token determines which cards you’re allowed to play. If it’s Street-side up, you may play from your hand or from the deck. If not, you must play from the deck (by revealing the top card and playing it).
Once you push the cards, leave them in place until you’ve resolved the push, even if you’ve pushed cards off of the playmat. If you’ve created a line of 3 or 4 Cat Cards of the same color (including Wild Cards), you must flip the 1 or 2 cards in the center face-down. Those cards are now considered adoptable. In the event of a weird T-or-L shape, you can choose which cat you want to flip face-down.
After resolving adoption stuff, check if any cards are currently off the playmat. If they are, they’ll go one of two places:
- Face-up cards go into your hand; you’re placing those cats in a Foster Home in the hopes that they’ll be more ready for adoption when they come back to the Shelter.
- Face-down cards are placed into the box; they’ve made it to their Forever Home. When you place a face-down card into the box, also remove all adjacent face-down cards (and all face-down cards adjacent to that one, and so on). You can chain adopt cats, and that works out pretty well.
You get to place one cat, and then play passes to the next player.
The game ends in one of two ways:
- Any player gets 3 cats in their Foster Home
- The deck runs out of cards.
Once that happens, the game’s over! Count your points:
- 2 points per adopted cat in its Forever Home
- 1 point per adoptable (face-down) cat in the Shelter
If you’re ready to add some complexity to the game, you can add new abilities! There are five additional tokens that you can use, on your turn, to add an ability to the cat you just placed. The abilities vary, from swapping cats to ignoring the Delivery Token to pulling cats instead of pushing them; try to figure out how you can best use them to increase your score!
Tokens played on cats stay with them for the rest of the game, even if they get Fostered or Adopted. Tokens in the Forever Home are worth 1 additional point at the end of the game!
Player Count Differences
This one in particular has not really changed since the preview. As I said then, as player count increases, you’re going to start with more cards out of play (and you can’t play them easily, since you have to alternate Street / Foster / Street, and so on). This makes it challenging to get cards out of your hand. And even when you do, then you’re in a different bad way: if you draw the final card, the game ends. If you can avoid that by playing cards from your Foster Home (if you’re allowed to do so) then you can more efficiently use the cards that you have. That’s a tough needle to thread, but lower player counts have their own challenges, as well. At lower player counts, you can’t see most of the cards. You’re gonna need a wild or two to really get those points to increase, so, if you can’t find them quickly, you’re going to be in a world of hurt. I don’t really have a strong player count preference, but I will say that I gently prefer it at lower player counts. It’s a bit more random, but it makes for a particularly great solo game (and the theme is so delightful).
- If you can get enough of the wild cards early enough in the game, you can place two one space apart and turn that section into a pretty effective conveyor belt. I did this in the preview and I’m very pleased that it still works now. It’s even a bit better since you can occasionally push multiple cards off at once. Just make sure you don’t clear that row, otherwise you can’t add more cats to it! Then you have to spend a few turns figuring it out, which is annoying. I’ve broken 40 every time I’ve played, so, I’m going to say this tends to work pretty well for me. It just requires getting the wilds, which is trickier.
- Make sure you don’t accidentally flip the wild cards! That’s a cat-astrophe if it happens. They’re beautiful cats and they deserve to be loved, yes, but they’re also extremely useful because they will help make other cats ready for adoption into their forever homes. We all gotta make sacrifices. If you’re nearing the end of the game, you might be able to make it work by flipping a few Wild cards. They’ve earned it.
- It’s not the worst thing to put cards into your hand, but make sure that you don’t end up with three cards in hand. You don’t want the game to end prematurely. You’d rather end the game by running completely out of cards, so make sure you get that working for you.
- Keep in mind that all connected and flipped cats get adopted when one is pushed off the board. You can use this to clear the board pretty effectively and pretty quickly. Don’t take it for granted, and be sure to note that this may make it difficult for you to add new cats to a spot (if you happen to adopt a major chunk of a row or column at once).
- Watch for moves that will accidentally block your co-players. Keep an eye on how many cats they have in hand and communicate what you’re thinking about doing; that way you can avoid putting them in a spot where they have to take a third card or make a disadvantaneous play.
- Getting a line of four is pretty difficult; it’s often easier and more expedient to go for the threes. If you can make it work for you, I mean, it rules, but it’s definitely a challenge.
- For the mini-expansion, you’ll want to use the Pull power pretty early in the game. You’d rather not use it later, when you’re going to pull it right back off the board; that’s a so-so use of a turn. If you play it earlier, you can get that token on the board, flipped, and then off the board with a lot less work.
- Similarly, dropping a Wild into the exact spot on the board you want can be pretty useful for getting certain combinations set up. It is extremely handy to not have to mess around with getting a Wild in the right spot and then just start flipping cats.
- That said, you often don’t want to place tokens on the Wild cards, since they’re unlikely (depending on your strategy) to be flipped and subsequently adopted. Just my general take. If you can make it work before the end of the game, more power to you, but I try to avoid that setup because I’d rather have the wild benefits.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
A fair chunk of this is me going back to my previous Pros / Mehs / Cons and seeing what changed between that preview and this new edition. A lot did!
- They added a playmat! That’s really what this game needed, given how often you’re pushing and picking up and putting down cards. Now it’s so easy to get cards from the playmat and move them. It really makes the game better, in my opinion. And simpler. And the playmat also looks great!
- I love the way the game box becomes the “Forever Home” where you can place adopted cats. That’s also an excellent touch. Honestly, really sold me on the game, and I already liked it! It’s a simple thing to do that really elevates the desired outcome. And it’s very cute.
- Still really love the art and theme. It’s especially better now as a lot of people I know have been fostering / adopting pets to keep them company while they work from home. I can’t have pets due to my lease, but if I could, then I’d probably consider a cat.
- I normally don’t like square cards, but they work really well in this one. I think it works really well with the playmat. Plus, I don’t spin the cards that much (and there aren’t that many), so it’s generally okay.
- Still very easy to learn. It’s mostly sliding cards, like a block puzzle. Not too much to put together. I think last time I played it I missed the “all connected cards are also adopted” rule, but that’s not a huge difference, gameplay-wise. Just ended up lowering my score, but I’m back now!
- Very portable, as well. Yeah they kept the box pretty small, which I appreciate, and the playmat lets you play most places without worry too much about the cards sliding.
- I like the simplicity of the mini-expansion. It adds a few fun things to the game without significantly ramping up the complexity of the game, which I think is about the right cadence for a mini-expansion.
- The notches in the box are cat-shaped! It’s a relatively small touch, but I really like it.
- Flipping the cards with tokens on them is kind of a weird motion to have to go through. It’s just sort of the nature of cards having tokens on them; what can you do. It’s ever-so-slightly annoying.
- It might be nice if the foster home cards were hidden information to prevent one player telling everyone what to do, maybe? Generally this is a metagame problem rather than a problem with the game, I suppose, but a little bit of hidden information goes a long way.
- If all three of the wild cards are far down in the deck, you’re likely going to have a harder time. This is the same problem as Hanabi, right? If your random shuffle puts all your 1s on the bottom of the deck, you’re screwed. Thankfully, this isn’t as bad, since you can still get cats adopted even without the wild cards; it’s just going to make the game more challenging for you.
- Feels a bit easier than the base game, and doesn’t really have any way to scale up the difficulty. Easy isn’t always bad, especially for a family game! It would just be nice to have more challenging modes available for the game. I mentioned this back during the preview, but I’d still really like to see some sort of advanced solo puzzle mode with certain starting configurations or something. I think that would be a lot of fun.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I think that the newest incarnation of Cat Rescue is a really nice production! Generally when you’ve got something like a second edition, you want it to be some kind of upgrade over the original (like Dominion getting rid of a lot of, uh, how to put this gently, uh, “under-used cards”). This does a nice job of streamlining the many different versions and expansions from the original Kickstarter and repackaging it all into a great (and still portable!) version. It even has me feeling positively about square cards, which is a rarity in the board game scene. I think that the major win for this version is the playmat. It makes the cards easy to pick up, it locks the structure of the board down so that it’s easy to see what goes where, and it just looks great. It’s a nice bit of color contrast to the cards, so the whole thing pops. I’d say if I had one problem with the game it’s that I wish it had more of a scalable difficulty level; it seems a bit easy at the moment. But for puzzle games that’s generally fine? I mean, you don’t worry about whether or not you’re going to be able to solve the Sudoku; you just kind of solve the Sudoku. It might take longer. Who knows. Maybe we’ll see some bonus content some day; I certainly don’t know. Either way, if you’re looking for a delightful puzzle title for the whole family, you’re a big cat person, or you just like games with great art, I think the latest edition of Cat Rescue is a delight, and I’d definitely recommend it!