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Review – Cat Lady

Review – Cat Lady

This is a review of Cat Lady designed by Josh Wood. It plays 2 – 4 players. Realistcally, I’d estimate the playtime at 20 minutes or so.

Mechanics
Cat Lady is as simple a game as you’d expect, but deceptively engaging. Players endeavor to feed cats, collect toys, and do other weirdo cat things to score points.

From the main draw deck, a 3×3 grid is laid in front of the players. These cards contain (most prominently and importantly) a variety of cats and three types of food. Each cat also has a food requirement, for example, Keaton, a sweet cat worth a cool four points, needs to be fed two milk by the end of the game. The food cards are mostly singles (but there are a few double value cards) of chicken, tuna, milk, and a handful of wild cards.

On your turn, move the adorable cat pawn to the top, bottom, or side of the grid and take all three cards in that row or column. The row or column is refreshed and the cat pawn stays as a reminder to the next player that they may not take cards from this same row or column on this turn? This may sound familiar to those that have played the recent hit Quadropolis – this idea of taking from an area and blocking it off from the next player.

Players collect any food, place the newly acquired cats in front of them, and then place any additional cards into their hand. These additional cards bear their own interesting rules and conditions. The spray bottle, for example, lets a player move the cat pawn and free up a row or column (or block one, as the case may be). The various cat toys gain the player points if they collect a variety of sets. Players can also cash in “Lost Cat” posters for a 2VP reward, or by taking a stray cat from the lineup randomly chosen at the beginning of the game. Points are awarded for the most costumes, etc.

Most cats are worth straight, no-frills victory points at game’s end (granted they’ve been fully fed), but some provide unique conditions such as “2 points for every white cat you feed.” Of course, not feeding your cats is a loss of 2 VP per cat, leaving your leftover food to spoil, not having any costumes, and so on.

Mechanically, there are very few novelties in Cat Lady, but the polished simplicity is both easy to bring to the table and gratifying to seasoned gamers.

Theme
Every angle of this game embodies the glamorous world of being a cat lady. Try as one might, taking in strays and hoarding new and different toys is borderline unavoidable – even if you lack the fundamentals for care! Every card has a delightful purpose, such as shooing the “blocker” cat with the spray bottle or trashing a “lost cat” sign to adopt the stray.

The mechanics and the theme in Cat Lady are a match, but truthfully, these mechanics could be applied to just about any theme – but this one is absolutely endearing and enthrallingly whimsical. Themes like this one are often reserved for titles without substance, games meant to make a quick buck on a Kickstarter here, or a clearance rack there, and that’s unfortunate really.

It’s rare that a game this good doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s something we could really stand to see more of in this hobby of ours.

Art
Designer/cartoonist, Josh Wood, brings Cat Lady alive with colorful and comical artwork. The art is minimal, yet unique and fits so well here.

I admittedly don’t know much about color blindness (by the way, have you seen this great blog), but the cat cards are each marked with a tiny O, W, or B to indicate what color cat is on the card – helpful to people who struggle with this.

There is little need for iconography or helpful aids on the cards in Cat Lady, as they’re all self-explanatory.

Pacing
Cat Lady moves much quicker than you’d expect. At setup, the draw stack is intimidatingly tall, but you burn through it at a surprising clip.

This game induces minimal brain-burn so there’s basically no downtime. Cat Lady never hangs or becomes tedious. Players may initially feel as though the game has gotten away from them when they are overrun with cats, or have stacks of food that they can do nothing with (also loses you some points), but this is really the fun of the game – the constant urge to take in new cats mitigated by your ability to actually feed the things.

Value
Cat Lady hasn’t hit shelves just yet, but looks as if it will retail in the $20 range. The game is tight, amusing, and accessible. The cards are heavy and art is wonderful. Plus this little cat pawn is amazing.

One thing I will say is that the food cubes seem wholly unnecessary. Unless I’ve missed something, players trade in food cards for cubes to put on their cat cards – but players could just tuck the food cards under the cat cards and the game could be just a deck and pawn.

(EDIT: A BGG user made the excellent point that some food cards are worth double, which can be split up, so the cubes are necessary for that).

Accessibility
Cat Lady can be taught in about three minutes – possibly shorter if your new players are even midly seasoned gamers. There are a lot of tried and true concepts packaged neatly into Cat Lady.

Personally, I’m always on the lookout for good “bar games” – games I can throw in my bag for our weekly meetup and that I know will be a hit. Cat Lady is just that type of game. It would ease into a night of gaming perfectly, or round out a long one without any trouble.

Due to the accesibility of both learning and playing, and the delighful theme and art, Cat Lady would hit the table regularly enough to get your money’s worth, without a doubt.

Longevity
The stray cat lineup of cats with special victory conditions are dealt randomly from a stack of about a dozen or so cats. This adds elegant variability to setup and play – certainly enough to keep you interested over several plays.

Final Thoughts
Cat Lady was a blast. Light-hearted, approachable, and beautiful, Cat Lady is a modest game with substance and whimsy.