Full disclosure: A review copy of Cat Café was provided by Alley Cat Games.
We’re really flying towards the end of the year, eh? The fourth quarter of the year is always a blur, for me; it’s a bunch of holidays, a lot of travel, and a lot of managing work and vacation and all of this at the same time. It’s also PAX Unplugged, which I’m particularly excited about, but I’ll probably have more to say about that either immediately before or after this set of reviews, since it’s Decemberish right now. Or hopefully will be! I don’t always know when I’m going to post these. But, I had brought Cat Café with me on a trip to visit a friend of mine in Virginia, we got to play it, and now I’m ready to tell y’all about it! Let’s see how it plays!
In Cat Café, players take on the arduous task of managing a whole lot of cats at the same time. You need to keep them happy, and that usually means offering them toys to play with (or the boxes that the toys came in; cats are fickle as hell). Do what you can and figure out how to draft the right items to make the cats happy. Will you be able to come up with a purrfect combination?
Not a ton! Just give each player a player sheet:
Then set out the dice in the center:
You should be ready to start!
Similarly pretty simple. Over the course of several rounds, you’ll try to spruce up your little café to make happy cats and earn yourself some points! Each round’s made up of three phases; let’s go through them!
To begin a round, the first player rolls the dice. Pretty straightforward. Then, in player order, each player takes one die, jeeping the value face-up. The remaining die will be referred to as the Central Die for the rest of the round.
Marking Items or Passing
Now, players will either mark an item onto their player sheet or pass.
If you pass, you circle three cat footprints on your player sheet.
Otherwise, you’ll draw (or write, if you don’t feel like drawing) an item on your player sheet! You’ll use a combination of the die you took and the Central Die to do so. One value determines which item you draw, and the other item determines where you draw it. The various items have different effects, as follows:
- Cat House: Draw a house on the sheet and then choose a cat that you haven’t yet “scored”. Score that cat. You earn 2 points for each of the items on your sheet matching the item shown with the cat. Write that number in the box; you cannot score that cat again.
- Ball of Yarn: This doesn’t score until the end of the game. For each cat tower, count the number of balls of yarn in that tower for each player. The player(s) with the most yarn balls in a given tower earn 8 points; all other players with at least one ball of yarn in that tower earn 3. Repeat this for each tower.
- Butterfly Toy: After drawing this, circle two footprints! At the end of the game, each Butterfly Toy is worth 3 points.
- Food Bowl: At the end of the game, each Food Bowl scores 1 point for each unique item adjacent to the Food Bowl.
- Cushion: At the end of the game, each Cushion is worth X points, where X is the floor that the cushion was drawn on.
- Mouse Toy: Mouse Toys score in groups! At the end of the game, you score 2 / 6 / 12 / 20 points for a group of 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 Mouse Toys that are connected to each other in a chain. Each Mouse can only be part of one chain, but you may have more than one chain.
Once you’ve decided what to draw, draw that item in one of the spaces that correspond to the number on the die you didn’t choose for the item. You can cross out footprint spaces to increase or decrease dice values by 1. You can’t increase dice values above 6 or below 1.
Check for Completed Cat Towers
After everyone’s drawn their item of choice, you can check to see if any player has completely filled in a column of a cat tower, they can score its points! If they’re the first player to complete that cat tower and they have a Cat House in that cat tower, they score the larger value! If either of those aren’t the case, they score the second, smaller value. If multiple players complete the same cat tower in a round, they are both eligible for the higher value points.
End of Game
The game ends as soon as any player completes the third cat tower. At that point, each player totals their points based on their various effects (and the values of each of their cat towers). The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
There aren’t a ton of game-specific player count differences, on this one; the major difference is just inherent to how drafting games work. Here, with more players, you have more dice in play. When you’re the first player, this makes it more likely that a “good” die roll will come up (good meaning whatever you, in particular, wanted). This is just a function of probability and variance, to some degree. With fewer players, there are fewer dice in play, so fewer chances for you to get the roll you want. You can still get lucky on dice rolls at higher or lower player counts, though; it’s just probability. Where the drafting element comes into play is when you’re not first player. When you’re later in the player count order, you’ll have fewer options (as there were more players ahead of you to choose dice). As the last player, this means you get the set of dice that absolutely nobody else wanted. This is true regardless of player count, but might mean you have an overall “worse” option at high player counts, as there are more players rejecting the dice you end up with. It’s not a particular good or bad thing; it’s just how probability works. I wouldn’t say I have a strong preference on player count, as a result. None of the player counts particularly distinguish themselves positively or negatively; it’s just drafting.
- A few Yarn Balls go a long way. If you place one in every cat tower, you’re looking at a minimum of three points each. The question then becomes, is it worth going for more to try and secure the 8? If you place two, then potentially yes (4 points per item is relatively high among the items in the game); if you place three or four, I’d argue no (you’re back to below 3 points per item, at which point you might as well be playing Butterfly Toys instead).
- A Cat House can earn you quite a few points later in the game, but it may be worth dropping a few early to go after the cat towers. If you wait until much later in the game, you’ll have more items out (and can consequently score more points from the Cat Houses), but you run the risk of the game ending before you can fulfill your vision (and score as many points as possible). Instead, it may be worth splitting the difference so that you can max out your score on cat towers, rather than trying to angle to only score as high as possible by placing a Cat House.
- Butterfly Toys can earn you points and footprints, which is a nice combination. I’ll usually do that if I only have one footprint left, that way I can set myself up to cover bad turns later. There’s something to just using a footprint to gain two more, as a constant net +1 cycle of getting footprints. Pretty useful, though 3 points per item isn’t exactly a stellar result. You’ll need to do more if you want to win, especially as footprints are worthless at the end of the game.
- Don’t forget that Food Bowls count other Food Bowls as a unique item. This is just handy, since you can place them adjacent and then put some items in the overlapping spaces that will effectively double-count. Naturally, try to keep your Food Bowls away from your Yarn Balls and your Mouse Toys as well; they do best in large groups and you’d prefer unique items near Food Bowls.
- It’s really challenging to get Cushions at high levels. It’s not anything in particular, it’s just that if a player sees you grab a 5, they’ll generally try to keep other high numbers away from you. You might be able to bamboozle other players if you have plenty of footprints, but getting a Cushion on the sixth level is pretty challenging.
- Mouse Toys are easy, but remember to keep your chains separate! This one’s pretty easy. The more Mouse Toys you have in a group, the more points you get! The key here is making sure you have groups of four Mouse Toys together. You also need to make sure that you don’t add more than four to a specific chain! That’s just kind of inefficient, since you don’t score any more points after that. Make sure to keep your chains as far apart as possible.
- Rushing the end of the game isn’t necessarily ideal. You might find that you actually don’t have enough points to win! You tend to score more points towards the end of the game unless you get very lucky with Cat House and cat tower placement. Stay focused on getting your points in order rather than just hurrying to end things.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Always down for a cat-themed game. Cats are fun! I’m more of a cat fan than a dog person, anyways, so I generally like trying out various cat games. This is a fun theme! Cat cafés are a very fun spot to visit! I need to try and figure out how to visit another one in the near future.
- The drawing is a very fun way to engage players. I think this and Rolling Ranch and Cartographers do a good job encouraging players to draw in their various spaces, and I think that’s fun for players. It gets them a bit more invested in the game. Naturally, if your players hate drawing or are self-conscious about it, they may enjoy it less, but I’ve typically found this to be a boon for players.
- I also like that there are standard ways to make it clear what symbol you’re choosing even if you don’t like drawing. You can just write the letters. Granted, the letters aren’t always … the most intuitive, but they mostly work. It would help if you had a bolder marker if you’re going for the letters, though; when skimming, it can be easy to miss what letters you’ve written if you’re in a hurry.
- A nice and quick introduction to roll-and-write games. This is a pretty basic dice-drafting game with some light drawing elements to it. If you’ve never played a roll-and-write game, this is a not-too-complicated way to get into the genre.
- Pretty portable, too! It’s on the smaller side, as games go. You might even be able to just eschew the dice altogether and use a dice rolling app or something and just transport the sheets.
- Having the footprints as a way to mitigate tough rolls is nice. I’m generally pro-having ways to modify your die roll values. I think it makes the game a bit easier to pick up and understand, and it makes sure that players don’t get stranded as the result of one bad roll.
- Generally pleasant art, as well. The cats and their relevant toys are pretty cute. The box is nice, too! I kind of wish there were more cats on the player sheets, but what can you do.
- I was a bit surprised that the sheets aren’t double-sided; seems like a shame to have nothing on the back of the sheets. It would have been fine to have an alternate arrangement of the board, yes, but I mean even a duplicate of the standard board would have been nice. I get that that ups printing costs, to some degree, but it feels like a bit of a waste to just not use one half of the paper.
- The Yarn Balls can feel a bit swingy if everyone’s not using them. That’s how majorities work, granted, but you can really nab a lot of points. It’s worth explaining at the start of the game (especially with folks new to the genre) how the Yarn Balls work, just to make sure everyone’s on the same page.
- I was hoping for a bit more complexity. The game’s pretty simple, which is fine, but it falls short of what I’m looking for from a roll-and-write, these days. I kind of want something with a bit more depth and modularity. I could imagine ways that this could be more modular (rotating sets of items or alternate board layouts, to start), but I think they just shot for a straightforward and simple roll-and-write game. Nothing wrong with that; it just falls a bit short of what I’m looking for.
Overall: 6 / 10
Overall, I enjoyed Cat Café! It wasn’t my absolute favorite in the roll-and-write space, granted, but for what it’s trying to be, I think it does a pretty good job! Cat Café is a fairly simple roll-and-write, at its core; you roll the dice and draft them, using the one remaining die to create a pair. The part that distinguishes itself is that you get to draw the various cat toys that occupy some feline free time. While that’s fun and all, I was hoping for a bit more depth to the game itself. Not a bad game at all! Just a bit lighter than what I’m looking for. That said, there’s definitely a place for these types of games. For me, I’d probably most likely use this to teach newer gamers about roll-and-write games, engage players who are more artistically-inclined, or gift it to friends who are as excited about cats as I am. The low complexity makes it easy to get into the game, and experimenting with different strategies is pretty fun! I think what I would have liked to have seen would have been some kind of modular or rotating set of cat toys, so that it wasn’t always the same six toys every game. I’d be interested to see what an iteration on this game could look like. But if you’re a fan of cat games, you’re looking for a quick and simple roll-and-write, or you’re new to the genre and want to learn without a steep curve, you might like Cat Café! It’s a cute game.
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