Full disclosure: A review copy of Catchy! was provided by Big Cat Games.
I always love reviewing games from Big Cat Games; Ayako does such a cool job of aggregating and making titles available to a wider audience, and I think that efforts such as hers are really helping indie Japanese games find a wider audience in the states. It’s also helping turn folks onto the idea that there’s a wider audience out there, and publishers are starting to take notice. Board Game Tables, for instance, brought Ghosts of Christmas and 9 Lives over from Japan, and I believe that Portland Game Collective is bringing 535 over soon, as well! I love it, even if I’m a bit saddened that Hiktorune got licensed to a French company that doesn’t seem interested in bringing it to the States. Alas. Anyways, we’ve got Catchy! to check out, so let’s get to it.
In Catchy!, just like real life, you only want the cat to love you. It doesn’t. But it could! But it won’t. A reasonable approximation can be met, however, if you can just get this incredibly-fickle cat into your arms. Your opponent wants the same thing, so a duel for love it is. Love neither of you are going to really get, but that’s just cats, for you. Who will be the first player to earn the cat’s affection?
To kick off the game, set out the scoreboard, with both player pawns set at 0.
Each round sets up pretty similarly. Start off by shuffling the cards, without the Start Card:
Deal three cards face-down, with a bit more than a card’s width of space between them (effectively making five columns). Place the cat tile red-side up below the middle card:
Deal the cards out evenly. The player with the Start Player Card starts the first round, and chooses a face-down card to swap the Start Player Card for. You should be ready to go!
As mentioned, you just want the cat to love you (or at least hop into your arms), so let’s see how that’s done. Over a series of rounds, players play tricks to try and convince the cat to take a step towards either player, with a round ending once all cards are played or as soon as the cat hops into another player’s arms. Some more trick-taking, so let’s go!
To start, there’s always a player leading the trick. If it’s the first trick of the round, it’s the Start Player, otherwise it’s whoever won the previous trick. The lead player chooses any card in their hand and plays it. The other player must play a card with the same color / symbol (yarn ball, fish, or mouse) on it, if they can, with one exception: the Joker can always be played.
Once both cards are played, two different things happen:
- Flip the cat? The cat is, as I mentioned, fickle. If two odd numbers were played, the cat flips to the opposite side (and its movement rules change; more on that later).
- Who wins the trick? The larger number of the led suit wins, unless the Joker was played, in which case, the larger number played by either player wins.
Once a winner is determined, check the cat! If it’s on its red side, it moves one space towards the winner. If it’s on its blue side, it moves one space closer to the loser of the trick. Either way, the winner plays the first card to kick off the next trick.
If the cat ever moves past the outer card on either side, the round immediately ends! That player has the cat in their arms. Either way, the round still ends once players are out of cards, and then players score:
- If the cat moved into one player’s arms: That player gains 3 points.
- If the cat is not in the center: The player the cat is closer to gains 2 points.
- If the cat is in the center: Both players gain one point.
Take all the cards, reshuffle them, and reset the round with the cat on its red side. The game ends as soon as any player gets 7 or more points. The player with the most points wins! If the players are somehow completely balanced and they always play perfectly, then, well, they both win. If that happens, please tell me about it in the comments; I’d love to congratulate you for a perfectly-balanced game.
Player Count Differences
None! Two-player only game.
- I find it a bit easier to play defense than offense. By defense, I mean consistently trying to lose tricks seems a bit easier than winning them, since there’s only two players. This means that you can play reactively, rather than proactively. Your opponent has to lead every time, so you can just respond to their plays, assuming you have the cards to make that work. Generally, playing proactively is okay, provided you have the cards in your hand that you’re afraid your opponent will play, but you need to keep much better track of your hand (and get the right cards dealt to you) for that to be easy.
- You don’t necessarily need to get the cat into your arms; you just need the cat to be on your side of the center by the end of the round. This isn’t a game of always winning absolutely; you just need to occasionally win an ongoing war of attrition. Honestly, this is the thing that makes the game feel most like owning a cat. It’s not going to love you every round (or, honestly, any round, possibly); you just need to get the cat to like you a bit more than your opponent more frequently if you want to win.
- Keep in mind that if you don’t have a card in your starting hand, it’s likely that your opponent has it. The most important thing to remember is that while it’s likely, it’s not guaranteed. There are two cards left out of the round, so you can’t always bank on your opponent having a card (and being forced to play it, for instance). There’s always a bit of risk inherent to this game, which is part of what makes it exciting.
- Sometimes, flipping the cat is your best move just because it might throw off your opponent’s plans. If your opponent isn’t expecting you to flip the cat, this might just be the best time to flip it. Take control of the trick and flip the cat back so it moves toward you when you win, and then play a 4 so that your opponent can’t take it back from you! That … might be enough? Hard to say. It’s a tough balance to strike.
- Keep track of your 4s and 2s; you’ll need them if you want to stop the cat being flipped on you. Keeping track of your even-numbered cards and playing them strategically is often the only way to keep the cat moving in the direction you want. Drop the 2 to guarantee a loss and keep the cat moving towards you on the blue side (provided they don’t play a 1) and do the same with the 4 on the red side (provided they don’t play a 5) to try and keep the cat moving your way. It’s often going to come down to trying to guess which cards your opponent still has or might play (or keeping track of what you’ve already seen).
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- This is a great theme. Just, one of my absolute favorites. Who hasn’t wanted the local cat to love them, and who hasn’t been spurned by the antics of same local cat? I really like games about trying to impress a cat and failing spectacularly.
- I also really like the art? A lot. The cat just looks … goofy? The cards are a pleasant color and have nice depictions of cat toys on them. I wouldn’t say I really feel much about the Joker card or the Scoring card, but that’s okay. The cat tile is really the lynchpin of the game, and it’s well done.
- Using the face-down cards to form negative space for the cat to move through is a pretty smart use of the table space and a couple cards. It’s a nice way to make a pretty simple play area without needing a board or extra components or anything. Plus, it’s nice to have a way to represent the movement that the cat has to take to get into your arms. It’s doing a lot with a little, which is pretty much the overarching principle of this game.
- The flip-on-odds is an interesting concept. I like it, specifically because that means the highest and lowest cards are vulnerable to getting flipped, which is fun. I worry that it provides a lot of cards to flip things around with, but hey, that’s the strategy.
- Keeping a couple cards out of play in a two-player trick-taking game is a must. I think it’s pretty smart to not have every card in play at once, and thankfully, there’s always two cards out of play each round. This creates a nice tension where I’m never quite sure whether or not my opponent has the cards that they need to pull off an upset. Half of that is because I forget about the cards I’ve seen previously, but also, it’s unknowable, so I feel a bit better.
- The joker is an interesting concept. Again, it adds a bit of unpredictability, which is always nice. I’m not a hundred percent sure I like it, but I think the game is better for it being in there, for the most part.
- Very portable little game. I think in terms of two-player portable trick-taking games, An Otter Won has this game beat, but this could pretty easily be made into a wallet game, as well, given the card count.
- There’s not much to the scoring card / pawns; they’re fairly generic. I would have appreciated something a bit more on-theme than some generic pawns, but, it’s not that big of a deal.
- There’s not really much that you can do if you’re just dealt a bad hand. At some level, it feels like there are almost too few cards in the game, but if you start taking tricks early, it’s not always difficult, depending on the cards you have, to essentially flip the cat and then start losing tricks so that you are always leading. Essentially, if you have the 4 and 5 of each color, you’re in a bad spot. You don’t really have the ability to control when the cat flips (the other player does), and then you’re constantly being forced to play first. There’s a chance you might be able to force them to play an odd number when you play your 5, forcing a flip back to red, but it seems just as likely that they’ll play a 2 and keep the cat on blue and moving towards them. Thankfully, multiple rounds make any particular round being a wash a bit less bad, but it still doesn’t feel great during the round that it happens.
- The initial shuffling for each round (including the player randomization) is a little annoying, especially when it could just be done randomly. It’s a bit overwrought. You have to shuffle the deck once, deal three cards out of play, then shuffle in the Start Player card (a second shuffle each round), and then deal out and have the Start Player choose a face-down card. It’s functionally the same thing as choosing a Start Player randomly and then leaving two cards out of the game. I think it’s a cute idea, but it ends up feeling a bit unnecessary since it adds an extra shuffle to the round.
Overall: 7.25 / 10
Overall, I think Catchy! is a pleasant game, and I enjoyed playing it. The game is a bit harder to pin down than some of the other two-player trick-taking games I’ve played in the past, but I think there’s a lot to like for the game, thematically, so that helps balance it out, to some degree. I’m a cat guy, and, well, my housemate’s cat isn’t very affectionate, so it’s nice to have a game that simulates my vague desire to get the cat to like me. Though if I pick her up, she scratches me, so it’s an ongoing negotiation. Regardless, I think the game reflects that pretty well, though it comes at the cost of some strategic play. If you’re able to play well, you can usually end up with the cat on your side of the board (or in your arms, if you’ve got a great hand), but I think that Catchy! does a nice job of properly aligning the gameplay with the stress of holding a mildly-irritated cat in your arms. It’s stressful and hard to predict how it’s going to end up, but sometimes things work out in your favor. It’s entertaining, in that regard. Plus, the game does a nice job of making sure the bright colors and cartoony visuals convey that it’s not exactly shooting for the highest echelons of strategic play, anyways. Catchy! knows what it’s about, and I respect that. If you’re looking for a game that properly communicates its intensions upfront, you’re a big fan of cats, or you just want some silly two-player trick-taking action, I’d recommend checking Catchy! out! It’s silly, but I like it.
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