Our Game of the Day is The Isle of Cats. This game was Kickstarted in the summer of 2019, and arrived in stores in 2020. We got our hands on the Kickstarter edition, and have played it several times. The gameplay is wonderful.
The Isle of Cats is kind of a hybrid of Bunny Kingdom and Patchwork, two games that I’ve played a lot with my family. Bunny Kingdom is a game we love – and reviewed a few years ago. It’s a fun drafting game made by Richard Garfield – the mastermind behind Magic: the Gathering.
Patchwork is an abstract strategy game that has players making their own quilts. The Patchwork game was designed by Uwe Rosenberg – the mastermind behind Agricola & Caverna. In Patchwork, players are drafting Polyomino shaped pieces of fabric to make quilts. Polyominoes are very much like Tetris pieces. This a very good 2-player game.
The Isle of Cats features a little mix of card drafting like Bunny Kingdom, and Polyomino placement like Patchwork. And it pulls this hybridity off quite well. Players are racing to rescue exotic cats before an evil pirate (Vesh) arrives to pillage their lush island.
The Isle of Cats is a medium weight game for 1-4 players, with the standard play best for ages 12 & up. But there is a Family Mode version in the box as well for ages 8 & up. The game plays in 60 to 90 minutes. The Family Mode plays in 30-60 minutes.
What’s in the Box
The box has some heft to it. The box is about 12″ x 12″ x 5″.
Inside the box you get a whole lot of goodies:
- 30 cat figures (6 of each color)
- 85 Polyomino Cats
- 42 Fish Tokens (the Kickstarter Edition has wooden fish tokens. The regular version has cardboard fish tokens)
- 44 Common Treasures (Polyominoes)
- 25 Rare Treasures (Polyominoes)
- 6 Oshax Polyomino Cats
- Vesh’s Boat (Wood Token)
- 10 Basket Tokens
- 4 Player Boats (two sided)
- 1 Island Board
- 1 Discovery Bag (for drawing Cat Polyominoes at Random)
- 1 Scorepad
- 150 Discovery Cards
- 18 Family Cards
- 5 Solo Color Cards
- 23 Solo Basket Cards
- 10 Solo Lesson Cards
- 9 Solo Advanced Lesson Cards
- 4 Color Cards (for colorblind players – helps identify cats by their unique tails)
How to Play The Isle of Cats
The Isle of Cats was designed by Frank West. Frank has a fantastic “How To Play” video on YouTube that you can check out. Here is a simple overview on game play.
Players are each given their own Player Boat boards. Each player’s boat is exactly the same size. Each player is also given 1 Basket Token. You need empty baskets to catch cats on the island. A designated number of Polyomino cats are randomly drawn from the Discovery Bag before each round and placed on both sides of the island.
Players will explore the island to rescue cats and gather ancient treasures. Players will have 5 days (5 rounds) to gather as many cats and treasures as they can, and fit it all onto their boats.
Each Round is broken into 5 phases: Fishing; Exploring; Reading Lessons; Rescuing Cats; and Rare Finds.
Phase 1 – Fishing
Each player takes 20 Fishing from the Fish Supply
Phase 2 – Exploring
Each player is dealt 7 cards. Each player must keep 2 cards and pass the remaining cards to the person on left. (The direction you pass cards alternates every round). Do until all 7 cards have been drafted.
You will then look at your 7 card hand and decide ultimately which cards you want to keep. Each card has a card-cost in the upper left hand corner. You will pay this cost from your personal Fish Supply. You can keep as many cards as you like (and can pay for).
The purple-bordered cards are ‘play any time’ cards. You may play them now or in a later phase. You may also choose to not play cards that you have just bought until a later round.
Phase 3 – Reading Lessons
Blue-bordered cards are Lesson Cards. These are old scrolls you have found on the island. These are essentially individual goal cards for you to obtain bonus points at the end of the game. There are Public and Private lessons. Public lesson cards are played face-up for all players to see and use. Private lesson cards are played face-down, and only you will score those points – if you can fulfill that goal!
Phase 4 – Rescuing Cats
Now is when Players will play their green cards. These cards will give you additional baskets to allow you to capture cats. Some will also give you speed boots to make you faster. The fastest player races to the island first, and gets first choice at the cats.
Players then take turns rescuing cats from the island. You need empty Baskets in order to carry cats back to the boat. You will always be able to use your Basket Token to catch at least 1 cat every round. You can obtain additional baskets by playing green-bordered cards you may have drafted. You need fish to lure cats into the baskets. Cats on the left side of the island require 3 fish to catch. Cats on the right side need 5 fish to catch. You cannot catch cats unless you have an empty basket, and the required amount of fish.
When you rescue a cat, you immediately place it on your boat. The Polyomino Cats can be flipped and rotated into any orientation you want. Cats cannot be hanging over the side of the boat. And you must place cats immediately adjacent to another cat on the boat. This is where the Tetris/Patchwork fun comes in.
Phase 5 – Rare Finds
Now is when you can play yellow-bordered treasure cards, and brown-bordered Oshax cat cards. Treasures offer smaller pieces to fill in tricky areas. Oshax are friendly, Exotic cats that can act as any color.
Empty the Fields
At the end of each day you will:
- remove any cats that were not rescued and put them back in the box.
- Move Vesh’s boat tracker up to the next day.
After 5 days, the game will end. If you haven’t reached Day 5 yet, return to Phase 1.
Keep Cards and Fish!
Discard the cards that you have employed in the round but keep all cards you have paid for and not used yet. And if you have fish leftover from the previous round, you can keep those too.
Players are awarded points for Cat Families they have caught. Rare Treasures give you bonus points. You are also awarded points based on the private Lesson cards you drafted and Public Lesson cards that are available to all players.
Players will have points deducted for each room on their boat which isn’t filled, and any rats which haven’t been eaten!
Likes, Dislikes and Final Thoughts on The Isle of Cats
Great Components – The production quality is fantastic. The card stock is great all the way around. The little wooden cat meeples are nice too. The game normally will come with cardboard fish tokens. My Kickstarter Edition came with wooden fish. You don’t need the wooden fish to enjoy the game though. The score pads are well-laid out and easy to use (though a calculator helps as there are a lot of numbers to add up).
- The Discovery Bag is huge – The drafting bag is about 10″ wide and 11″ tall. It easily holds all the cats, and it’s easy for a full grown adult to stick their big old paws in there to draft cats.
- Fairly Easy to Teach – I would consider this a medium-weight game, because of the drafting and the lesson cards. If you are an experienced board gamer (or TCG’er), the lesson cards will be easy for you to understand. Beginner players will need a “Learning Game” to understand the power of the lesson cards. Other than the lesson cards though, I think this is a very simple game to teach players.
- Drafting – I love drafting games. You’ll find this in games like Bunny Kingdom and Medieval Academy. One of my first experiences with this concept was with Magic the Gathering Sealed Deck drafts. Inevitably, you are forced to make tough choices when you have more cards you want to keep than the rules allow.
- Polyominoes – I loved playing Tetris on my Nintendo Game Boy. There is something challenging and satisfying to me about getting all these cats and treasures on your boat, and making them all fit just right.
- A Good Amount of Strategy – There is more to this game than simply grabbing cats and filling up your boat. There is a ton of strategy in the draft portion of the game. And then there is the strategy of how to fill your boat up properly to give you the most points.
- Looks great on the table – This game is colorful and eye-catching.
My dislikes are fairly minor, but I’m going to toss them out there anyway for readers.
- Table Hog – The game takes up a lot of space on the table. If you have a smaller gaming table, then you might have a hard time fitting everything on the table.
- Drafting from only 7 cards – During the drafting phase you are dealt 7 cards for all player counts. In a 2 and 3 player game, some cards from your opening hand will come back to you. In a 4 player game, none of the cards will come back to you. In Bunny Kingdom you are dealt 12 cards, and you draft 2. So, in Bunny Kingdom, there is some strategy in looking at the board, and trying to figure out what cards might come back to you. Isle of Cats doesn’t have this in a 4 player game.
- Analysis Paralysis – This is a game that can suffer from Player Analysis Paralysis. Some players simply cannot visualize how Polyominoes will fit together in their heads. They will sometimes physically take the pieces from the drafting area and see if they will fit before buying them. I can see this irking players that lack patience. Me? I’ll just have another sip of beer, and let them take their time. 😉
I really love this game. It is a medium-weight game that I think will appeal to a lot of players, even if those players don’t particularly like the cat theme.
There are so many strategies that you can employ to try to win. You can go heavy on Lesson Cards, and try to get victory points that way. You can skip Lesson cards altogether and try to make huge cat families. You can try to fill up your boat as much as possible and try to cover all those rats and fill up all the rooms. Or try for a balance of all of these ideas.
The speed boots can really be worth keeping. During my first couple of playthroughs I was kind of ignoring them, but they can be very useful. If you really need a red cat for your boat, and there is only one red cat available to rescue, you better strap on some fast shoes and be the first one to that island.
If you get a chance, give this game a try. Look for it on gaming store shelves in the spring of 2020.