Isle of Cats has to prove itself again in the test - not without reason at this point in time: In May Skellig Games will release the three long-awaited expansions for Isle of Cats with Kittens and Beasts, Extra Boats and Explore & Draw. So now is a very good time to take a closer look at the base game, which was also released by Skellig Games in 2020. This game of connoisseurs is all about rescuing unique cats from the oncoming armies of villain Vesh Gloomyhand. Drafting, puzzles and cats are the most important parts of the game.
“According to legends, there is a fantastic island inhabited by a race of ancient, wise, wild and playful cats. The latest discoveries from Squall's End have shown these stories to be true!"
However, danger looms in the form of Vesh Darkhand. He strives to conquer the whole world and is on his way to the island of cats. Players, as residents of Squall's End, are on a rescue mission to the island to save as many of the island's noble creatures as possible. Whether and how this is supposed to thwart Vesh's grand plan to subdue the world remains a question of the game and its story. But it doesn't have a bad effect on the game and its very good mechanics either.
Cats, cats and more cats
A total of 91 of the noble animal inhabitants of the island can be found in the box. Six of them are the legendary Oshax, which unlike the 85 other cats, which come in five colors, are not placed in the cloth bag provided. The list of animal components is supplemented by the fish tiles, which serve as currency in the game. Various treasures, baskets, an island board, four boat boards and over 200 cards complete the contents of the large white box.
The game is played over five days (the rounds). On each of these days, five different phases are passed through. Whoever has the most points at the end of the fifth day when Vesh arrives on the island wins the game. Players receive points for cat families (at least 3 adjacent cats of the same color), completed lessons and collected rare treasures. There are minus points for rooms that are not completely filled and visible rats on your own boat at the end of the game.
A Day on the Island - Save the Cats
In the morning of each day the fish must be caught. Everyone gets 20 fish in the fishing phase. In the exploration phase, the players explore the island. Finds are drawn in the form of seven cards drawn face down. Two of these are selected and the rest passed on. Drafting ends when all seven cards have chosen. Then you decide which of the finds you want to keep and pay the corresponding sum in fish. In the third phase, the lessons are read. All blue lesson cards that were paid for in the previous phase must now be played. The lessons are personal, which only the player knows, and open, which can be seen by everyone and earn points.
Then everyone secretly chooses at the same time which of the green rescue cards they want to play for the cat rescue phase. In addition to the baskets required for the rescue, these also show shoe symbols. Their sum indicates who may rescue a cat from one of the two island areas first and place it on their boat. When all baskets have been used or both island areas are empty, the fifth phase follows. In this phase, the yellow treasure cards and the brown Oshax cards can be played in the order of the fourth phase and corresponding tiles can be placed on your own boat.
At the end of the round at the end of the day, any cats still in the areas will flee and be put back in the box. Any cards and fish that are left are kept.
During each of these phases, the purple Anytime cards can be played, which provide a variety of effects.
The game also offers a family mode. In this, the focus is on the puzzle with the cat tiles. There is no fish and cats do not need to be rescued with baskets. Drafting doesn't matter either. The points are distributed at the end as in the standard variant. The only exception are the lessons. There are special family lesson cards, of which everyone gets 3 face down at the beginning and then chooses XNUMX of these.
Sibling Contest - The Solo Mode
In solo mode, you compete with your own sister. She has snuck on board and is trying to take the credit for the hard work for herself. The structure is adapted for this quite quickly. She has five cards showing one of the five cat suits, one of which is revealed each round. At the end of the game, she receives five points for the color revealed first, four points for the card revealed in the second round, and so on.
The sister also gets points for her solo lessons. The difficulty can also be adjusted via the number of solo lessons in the game. The more there are, the more difficult it becomes. To rescue the cats, the sister has her own deck (solo baskets). The cards show how many and which of the cats will be removed from the areas and if any more tiles will be taken.
If the solo player has more points than his sister, the game is won.
Number of players: 1-4
Age: from 8 years
Playing time: about 90 minutes
Long-term motivation: good
Category: Kenner game (with family game variant)
Core mechanisms: drafting, set collection, tile-laying
Authors: Frank West
Publisher: Skellig Games / The City of Games
Official Website: Link
Year of publication: 2020
Cost: 50 euros
The Isle of Cats is still a very popular game more than two years after it was originally released in English. It ranks in the top 100 on BoardGameGeek and is just outside the top 10 in the family category.
The theme is fresh, different and artistically wonderful. It doesn't bother that the mechanism would work just as well if, instead of rescuing cats and placing them on the boat, you bought scraps of fabric and had to sew a blanket of the required (boat) shape out of them. The rulebook also plays a large part in ensuring that the topic does not appear too superimposed. Here, with every action, the time is taken to embed the mechanics in the story in an extra box. Many other games can still learn a lot from the rules booklet. The clear structure with the five phases and the embedding of the mechanics in the story are excellently implemented. The good and clear layout with examples make the rulebook one of the best representatives of its kind.
All components of the game are of very good quality. The tiles are all made of thick cardboard and, in the case of the cats, can withstand lying in the bag and being mixed up without damage. When doing the puzzle, it's sometimes difficult to put the cats in the right place because the tiles just barely fit on and into each other. The maps are of good size and quality and all relevant symbols are clearly visible and understandable. Only the five fish tile is optically not so clear. However, since it is clearly distinguished from the only other size of the fish tiles, this is not a problem. Extra cards have even been included that differentiate the different cats based on the shape of their tails, so that it is easier to distinguish between them even if you have difficulties perceiving and distinguishing colors.
The individual phases sometimes seem somewhat bluntly staggered and the two main mechanics of puzzles and drafting depend on each other, but are not ideally connected due to the strict separation of the phases. Nevertheless, both fit very well into the game. Not least because of the love that was put into the rulebook.
Drafting the cards works surprisingly well even with two people. The total pool of possibilities is larger with more players, but there is only the possibility to speculate on returning cards with two ends of the game. The positive of more options is more evident in the cats drawn depending on the number of players. Stronger here, but of course also with the cards, but there is a factor of luck that should not be neglected. If the correct colors or shapes are not laid out, completing the lessons sometimes becomes impossible towards the end. When it comes to cards, the green rescue cards are particularly important. Without them there will not be enough baskets available and a lot of space will remain free on the boat. Since you don't have an expert game with extreme strategic demands with Insel der Katzen, but a connoisseur game on the border to a family game, the presence of a little luck is not really a negative point. Individual taste plays a greater role here.
The distribution of points at the end sometimes feels quite unsatisfactory when you lose a quarter of your points due to the many minus points that are awarded for rooms that are not completely filled. With seven rooms, this can add up to 35 points. Most of the time, however, it is between 10 and 20 points that are deducted.
The replay appeal of the game is very high. Due to the different lessons that can be played and the dependency on the drawn cards and cats, every game is different from the start. The interaction between the players is also very good. Of course, when drafting (especially in pairs), but also when choosing the cats and deciding how many and which green rescue cards to play, this is very high.
Another big plus is the solo mode. No jungle of rules or symbols through which the sister distracts from her own move. The very good balance between open and hidden information makes the sister appear very "human". The drafting has been adjusted very well and the decision about the green cards remains important. The importance of the color of the selected cats increases even further in solo play, only making the game better. The multi-level adjustment of the difficulty and the high variability in the structure of the sister round off the solo mode perfectly. Here it is worth buying the game even if you would play it alone most of the time.
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Last updated on 17.08.2022/XNUMX/XNUMX / Affiliate Links / Images from the Amazon Product Advertising API. * = Affiliate links. Images from Amazon PA API