#864 – Way Too Many Cats [Preview]

Base price: $XX.
1 – 6 players.
Play time: 45 – 60 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter! (Will update link when Kickstarter is live.)
Logged plays: 2

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Way Too Many Cats was provided by Weird Giraffe 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. 

I think this is one of a couple remaining Kickstarter titles in my pipeline; have another in March that I need to take a look at. It’s always interesting to see how games come in before crowdfunding and what ends up happening after the crowdfunding period. Do they change a lot? Sometimes! I played one game and while I recognized the skeleton of the game, it had changed pretty significantly between when I played it and when it finished crowdfunding. Honestly, it makes me wish I revisited more games post-Kickstarter, but that’s a conversation for another time. Let’s see where we end up with Way Too Many Cats!

In Way Too Many Cats, you’re a specialist; your goal is to help show off your favorite felines so that they can get adopted to their forever homes! It’s a bit thematically like Cat Rescue, but with fewer conveyor belts. That’s a different game. You just need to keep the kittens under control so that you don’t get overrun! Will you be able to handle the strategy of helping cats stay happy? Or are you about to experience a purrfect storm?

Contents

Setup

First, set up each player’s Adoption Houses:

Give each player a random Starting Cat:

Of the remaining cats, shuffle them and make a face-down pile. Reveal four of them, making a row:

Place the tokens into the token bag and shake them up, then remove six to make three areas: one containing one token, one containing two tokens, and one containing three tokens.

Once you’ve done that, you should be good to start!

Gameplay

Surprisingly simple in concept. Way Too Many Cats is a drafting game where players try to fill their adoption center with cats and kittens of various types. Doing so, they’ll gain a variety of point bonuses based on how the cats are placed relative to each other (or in their board overall). Just be careful, as unplaced (and ungrouped) kittens are worth negative points!

On your turn, you can choose one of three options:

  • The smallest set of tokens and any two cat cards of your choice;
  • The middle-size set of tokens and any cat card of your choice;
  • The largest set of tokens and the rightmost cat card in the row.

Once you’ve picked, add the cat card(s) to any open space on your board. You may also collect cat toys as part of taking tokens; you can either keep them for now or place them on cats with the same cat toy icon for bonus points.

You may also discard three cat toys to create a Kitten Habitat on your board, adding at least one kitten token of any type to any empty space. On subsequent turns or before the end of the game, you may add up to three additional kitten tokens (four total) to that space. They do not score on their own, but their presence may allow other cats to score additional points.

To end your turn, slide all remaining cats to the right and reveal cats to fill the row back up to four. Then, add a token to each of the three token groups.

End of Game

The game ends once one player completely fills up their Adoption Center with cats and kittens. When that happens, finish the round, and then move to scoring! Scoring has a few different components to it.

Cards usually score for a couple things: their individual scoring criteria and their type. Individual criteria is usually where they’re located, whether or not they have certain cat toys, and whether or not they’re placed next to certain cat types.

For cat types, there are primarily four:

  • Black cats: Black cats score 1 point for each color of cat (or kitten) they’re adjacent to (max of 4). So for a black cat to score 4 points, they would need to be adjacent to at least one orange cat, one black cat, one brown cat, and one white cat.
  • White cats: White cats are worth 2 points each.
  • Orange cats: Orange cats score 2 points for each white cat or kitten adjacent to them. Just orthogonally adjacent, not diagonally.
  • Brown cats: These cats score 3 / 7 / 12 / 18 points for groups of 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 brown cats and kittens. Adjacent Kitten Habitats with at least one brown kitten add 1 to your group’s size.

After scoring cats, score kittens! Each kitten can belong to, max, one group:

  • Groups of 7 different kittens: 15 points per group
  • Groups of 4 identical kittens: 8 points per group
  • All remaining kittens: -2 points! That’s bad.

The player with the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

So I’ve tried the game at two and three players, and I’m not really seeing a compelling case for … six. I think the game will function at six, but at that point, you’re almost literally guaranteed to be getting an entirely new market between your turns. No real ability to plan around what you’re currently seeing. That said, if a cat is still in the rightmost position between your turns and nobody wants it? I suppose that’s a big return on tokens, if you want them, but it doesn’t feel … entirely worth the effort? At two, I saw a quick and simple drafting where players that know the game well can hate-draft (specifically drafting something your opponent obviously needs) tokens and cats underneath of each other without too many consequences. At three, the hate-drafting slowed down a bit and players focused more on what was best for them than what hurt their opponents. At four, I believe it’s much the same, but with a bit more market variations since there are more players pulling at the same market. Way Too Many Cats also just … takes longer with more players, since you’re all still playing to fill out an Adoption Center board. You don’t get more cats per turn with more players or anything. This suggests to me that five- or six-player games are going to be … long. That’s not really what I’m feeling, here. I’ll stick to the lower end of the player count spectrum, and that’s where my recommendation will tend to stay, as well.

Strategy

  • If you’re going to go hard on collecting kittens, make sure you have some cat toys collected. Having a spot or two where you can dump four kittens before the game ends can save you, well, -8 points each time you fill a Kitten Habitat. Just make sure you don’t dump kittens into a Habitat that you could have placed into a group! I usually put one in and then fill the Habitat towards the end of the game.
  • Generally, keep your corners free for high-value cats (or, more fairly, cats that are worth a bunch of negative points for not being in your corners). There are a number of cats that are a bunch of different types and score a bunch of negative points if they’re not in the corner. Naturally, you want them to be in the corner, so keep your corners free. There are a few other cats that also score a fair number of points for being in the corner, so it may be worth placing them there, too.
  • Your initial cat placement matters a bit. I may put a brown cat in the top row, for instance, so I can make a group of 5 brown cats that doesn’t get close to the other group of 5 brown cats that I want to place on the bottom row. Orange cats, I want to place towards the center (along with black cats), so that they have the most opportunities to be adjacent to cats that will earn them extra points. If your starter cat is white, it can really go anywhere.
  • Also, try to lean into what your starter cat is recommending you try. It’s worth a free point every time you get a cat of the same type, so, if you can lean into that and make it work, it might be worth considering it. Plus, if it’s a white cat, you do explicitly get more points just for having more of them on the board, so, might as well.
  • You can make multiple Feather Cat groups on your board; they’re decently lucrative if you do. Yeah, a lot of players will just make one group of five (or more, I suppose), but the real money is making two groups of five. If you can do that, that’s 36 points total, and that’s a great bonus, even if you’re not necessarily getting a ton off of the cats themselves. Ideally, these cats would be multicolor / multi-type cats, so you can get even more points, but do what you can with what you have.
  • There’s not really any reason to give cat toys to cats before the end of the game, since you can burn them to make Kitten Habitats and save yourself big points losses. Hold on to them, occasionally burning a set to make a Kitten Habitat if you start getting nervous, but you can dole them out on your last turn (or, according to the rules, in a nebulous “at the end of the game before tallying the scores” period).
  • Got a problem where your opponent is about to score big? Try hate-drafting! Do you see a set of cats or tokens that would, when collected, mean a ton of points for your opponent? It might be worth just taking them for yourself! Now, if you actually need them, that’s one thing, but if you don’t, or they’re only marginally helpful, that’s just hate-drafting! It’s the hottest way to guarantee that your opponent will be genuinely irritated. That said, in a game with three or more players, picking on one player is just a good way to make sure you both lose, so I might not recommend that, as much.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Cute theme. It’s all cats! Who wouldn’t enjoy a game about having too many cats? Other than people who I assume aren’t cat people. But, as your local cat person, it’s a very “me” theme. That said, I feel like not-cat-people are particularly vocal about that, so it should be easy to figure out.
  • Given the game’s semi-surprising layer of complexity, it’s actually got a relaxed, easy setup. All you need to do is shuffle the tokens and a stack of cards and you’re essentially good to go. It’s got one of the easier setups that I’ve seen, right up there with Cascadia.
  • Similarly, a limited range of options on your turn makes considering the implications of your actions interesting. These multi-part drafts are a mechanic that I’ve been enjoying a lot recently, especially in a lot of the Flatout titles. They keep your options wide but the choices compact enough that turns can be compact. Here, there are a lot of angles to consider (the cats have unique complexities), so your turns might take a bit longer, but I still really like the mechanic.
  • I do like how the types of cats are increasingly calico as they gain additional types. It could be a bit easier to differentiate between orange and brown, but it’s certainly a fun thematic choice.
  • Each cat having a unique name is a solid thematic move, as well. I like it! It gives me something to argue with other players over. Plus, there are a lot of board gaming folks with pet names that are featured here, not that you, the reader, probably care about that. But it’s nice to see some cat names I recognize.

Mehs

  • Augh! Square cards! Every time! They’re just one of my least-favorite card shapes.
  • I’m not totally sure the best way to organize it, but the icons in the top-right corner aren’t always best setting players up for scanning (and you’ll need to / want to scan them infrequently). There’s a particular issue where a few sets of icons are not always in a consistent order. Weirdly, in almost every case, black paws are always at the top of the icon ordering, but there are a few instances where it’s … not? And I’m not sure why that is, but it makes scanning the icons quickly to determine various cat types for scoring.
  • The risk / reward of the kittens does mean that the game can be a bit swingy, but mostly if players set themselves up to win or lose on a swing. If you’re betting on the river in poker, then you’re also vulnerable to a big loss if the river doesn’t go your way. I get that. But since you have to bet face-up here (by collecting kittens), you also can get slammed a bit by hate drafting from an opponent, which can be frustrating.
  • The logo / icons on the cover get a bit lost in the busyness of everything going on. I think that’s kind of on purpose (since it really sells the whole Way Too Many Cats, thing), but it’s also a bit that the core blue of the logo is close enough to the blue backing the box image that it kind of blends in. The same thing happens with the player count / play time / player count. The Weird Giraffe Games logo stands out a bit more since the backing color is different. Makes it a bit hard to see what the counts are for the game, from a distance.

Cons

  • Scoring is difficult, to the point of being mildly tedious. I’m hoping this will be a bit easier with the score sheet, but, frankly, I’m looking at a copy of it while I’m typing, and it doesn’t quite fix my core problem with it. See, the way you really need to score the cards is essentially going through multiple passes of your board. The first pass is scoring all the cards’ individual scoring criteria. Makes sense, easy enough. Then, you need to go through and look for the type scoring, but scoring for the type scoring often requires you to check all adjacent cats / kittens (or go through and find an adjacent block). It doesn’t strike me as particularly efficient, when I’m playing, and it often feels like it’s kind of dragging after the game ends. This is also in part by there just being a lot of ways for each card to score (even more so if the card is a multi-type card, which are generally … good? better?), and the way that cards score isn’t consistent, either. Some score individually, some score per card of the same type, and others score for being part of that adjacent block that I mentioned, so it’s hard to even just check off a card as “scored” and move on.
  • There are a lot of things going on on a lot of cards, and it may be difficult to efficiently survey your entire grid before you make a move. I’ve ended up getting a bit confused by the card icons (they’re small and I’m trying to move fast on my turn) and placing cards in the wrong spots, which can be very frustrating, but there’s also a lot to consider. Some cards want to be by certain cards, others specifically don’t, some want to be in specific locations, others don’t, and a third category costs you points if they’re in certain locations (effectively demanding to be in specific locations so you don’t lose points [rather than gaining]). This puts a lot of burden on your ability to keep ~16 unique locations in your memory on your turn while you’re scanning for the best spot to put something and the optimal cat to place there, so you can imagine that this causes some analysis paralysis for some players. I’d almost prefer a smaller grid (since that would also simplify scoring). Thankfully, your choices dwindle as the game progresses, so the decisions get a bit easier. That said, larger / bolder iconography might make it a bit easier for players? Not sure on that one.

Overall: 6.75 / 10

Overall, I think Way Too Many Cats is fun, but could use a bit of streamlining. While I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that gets cleaned up between now and the final product (icon ordering, some busyness on the box, things like that), I’m reviewing what I’ve got based on what I have. So, my main issue is kind of around scoring. There’s a lot to do, and there’s not necessarily an easy way to do it all succinctly. I think that’s kind of reflected in the score sheet, actually. It doesn’t currently have a good method for scoring complex arrangements beyond “just kind of add all of them up”, so you’re going to be seeing scores like 4 + 2 + 6 + 4 + 2 + 4 + 20 + 18 + 12 + 15 + 8 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 – 6, you get the idea. It’s a point salad, but since each ingredient is itself, sometimes complex to tabulate, the game comes off feeling a bit more complicated than its silly and engaging theme would imply. I actually had a similar issue with Calico, which is interesting; wonder if it will come up for Cat Lover. I wonder if that’s just a thing that comes with more plays of the game or if that’s just part of the challenge, but this game is more complex than it would appear, at first. If that’s your kind of thing, then you’re absolutely going to revel in Way Too Many Cats, but for me, I’d like to see it smoothed a bit more between crowdfunding and fulfillment. We’ll see what happens! But if you’re looking for a meaty, strategic game; you want to think about grid arrangements and hate-drafting; or you just really like cats, Way Too Many Cats may be worth checking out!


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