Ryan reviews City of Games, The Isle of Cats. A polyomino puzzle game, for 1-4 Players and ages 8+.

Set in a fantasy world, the game, The Isle of Cats, has players trying to save as many mythical cats from ‘The Isle’ as they can before the evil Vesh Darkhand reaches the island and destroys them (player have 5 rounds). Each round players will gain 20 fish, which is the in-game currency, to spend on cards they want to buy and cats that are currently on the market this round. After collecting fish, each player receives 7 cards which players will draft (take) two and pass the rest to the next player, repeating the drafting until all cards have been drafted. Looking at the drafted hand of cards, each player then decides which cards to keep. To keep them you have to pay a price (prices are in the corner of a card) in fish and then discard any they do not want to keep. Cards have various actions, like lessons, which are either personal or public goals used in end game scoring, green cards which allow you to change turn order and gain baskets to put cats in (you must have a basket to transport a cat), purple cards can be played anytime. Finally there are cards that gain players treasure or a wild tile cat. Each round, there are different set times in which you play each type of card (with the exception of the anytime cards, which can be played at any time). After all cats that can be captured (during the Rescue Cat phase) and safely put on the boat have been rescued, and cards used, the next round begins. The way rounds play may first seem daunting, with it being broken into five phases, but actually it all works together extremely smoothly. If you would like to learn more about how to play check out this great how to play video that will give you an in-depth look here by Watched It Played.

As a quick aside, there is a family version of the game that comes with easier to grasp rules and its own deck of cards if you want to play with kids the recommended age of 8. The normal game is probably for ages 10+. There are also solo rules and a solo deck for those that like to play solo games. 

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With a basic grasp of gameplay, let’s move onto the positive and negatives of the game. 

Starting with any negative – , I would have liked a symbol on rounds 2 and 4 on the round tracker board to remind of the reverse drafting rule that is supposed to take place (used in the 3 & 4-Player games). Also both public and private lessons are the same shade of blue and if players are not playing observantly may accidentally mix a public (goals for all players) lesson into their private stash. I wish Public lessons were either a different shade of blue or even another color like red, so they are easily identified when drafting and also when revealing or stashing lessons in a round. 

As to positives, well there are way too many positives to list, you just have to read my final thoughts below. I do want to point out the game comes with cards that work as player aids to help any color blind players, it helps them know what cats are what colors and what treasure maps on ships are what colors. It is a great little extra the game added. 

Player aid for color-blind players

 

Gameschooling Aspect: What Skills Does It Teach or Reinforce? 

Spatial Reasoning is a big concept used in The Isle of Cats, as players are playing with polyomino shapes and trying to figure out how to best fill out their own boat for the highest possible score and to fulfill private goals they may have. Also it has a nice tension in the market, teaching buying and saving. What is the best way to use my fish (in-game currency) each round? Do I buy all the cards I want, or do I pass on expensive cards and buy more cats? Do I try to save some fish this round to have more to work with next round?

 

While on the subject of gameschooling, here is Gavin’s, my gameschooling 5th grader, take on The Isle of Cats.

Gavin’s Take: This game is awesome. I like all the cool designs for the cats. The cards are really helpful, they even helped me win in a situation where my boat wasn’t as full as the other players. I would recommend this game. 

As to my take: Isle of Cats is an amazing board game, both in its play and in its visual design. The first time I played the game – it blew my mind. The second time I played it, it was just as great as the first time. The third time I played it… well, I think you get the point. Even though a round is made up of 5 or 6 steps, it flows so smoothly and logically that you hardly realize you’ve completed a series of steps. It becomes second nature after a few rounds. I love the decisions the game makes me choose from such as which cards to keep when drafting as well as how the lesson cards can completely change up your strategy as the game progresses. Maybe with some of the lessons I now want to NOT cover rats or treasure maps on the boat, or I want to go for a different color cat all of a sudden. Drafting, even in a two-player game works really well, because you still have to pay for the cards that you want to keep.  The currency in the game, fish, that you use both to purchase cards and to rescue cats onto your boat, creating a nice tension between how to use them. Often in The Isle of Cats drafting I find the decisions hard because there are so many good cards, I want to pick more than just the two allowable cards, and if I pass the cards to the next player there is no guarantee they will still be available when the hand returns to me. 

The cats/polyomino shapes chosen goes great with the grid layout boat. I also like the common treasure are basic shapes for filling up small holes, while the rare treasures are more traditionally Tetris shapes. It works extremely well, especially with the boat not being a perfect rectangle and how the different rooms work (you want to cover all of one type of room on a ship or you get -5 points for each room that isn’t completely covered). The Isle of Cats never overstays its welcome and you wish that it lasted another round longer sometimes. Though in the end, I think not having it play longer is what makes part of the tension of this game, having so much you want to do and buy but not having enough time to do it all.  In the end, the game is a well thought out masterpiece (yes, I said masterpiece), perfect for those that like spatial reasoning puzzle board games. 

I look forward to expansions (hopefully) to game. I love to see a special black cat, the scores points for each different color cat (or treasure shape) touching it. Maybe some lesson cards that let you score points for leftover fish or use the single fish token to cover up a rat, things like that. Only time will tell what designer Frank West has up his sleeves. 

The Isle of Cats is HIGHLY recommended. As of right now, The Isle of Cats is the standard any other 2020 releases have to beat, for my top spot of 2020 Releases.

Thanks to The City of Games for providing a review copy for an honest opinion.