We all know the type: living alone, doesn’t go out much, friendly but socially somewhat maladroit, and absolutely mad about their pets. The kind that, when they die, their apartment is discovered to be overrun with hungry and whimpering little fur-balls, stacked-up piles of newspapers and cans of pet food, and a distinct…aroma, which the British delightfully call ‘pong’.
Great subject for a game, right?
Well, Josh Wood has managed to make a game out of it, and a darned cute and fun little game it is, too. Unsurprisingly, it’s called Cat Lady, and it’s a recent release from AEG, which has a good track record for small-box games (Sail to India, Say Bye to the Villains, Valley of the Kings). Let’s get our tin-opener and see what’s inside, shall we?
At its heart Cat Lady is a drafting set-collection game, with clear antecedents such as Zooloretto and Archaeology. The drafting mechanism emerges from the central layout, a 3 x 3 grid of cards. On your turn you must take three cards, but they must all be taken from a single row or column, which you then refill and mark with the Cat token, so that the next player cannot (usually) immediately copy you. This reminds me of Pillars of the Earth: Builders Duel, and I have no idea whether Wood was aware of the connection.
Which cards do you want to take? Well, cats obviously, duh, since they are worth points at the end of the game. However, each cat has a different dietary requirement of some amounts of chicken, milk, and tuna pictured at the bottom of the card. Any cat you can’t feed at the end of the game loses you two points instead of gaining you the points on the card. The higher-VP cats, as you would predict, need more food, so it’s “high-risk, high-reward”.
How do you feed puss-puss? There are other cards with food on them, so you’ll want to draft enough of the right kinds of cards to give your darlings their numnums. So the obvious strategy is to hoover up as much food as possible, right? Nope, because the player with the most unused food at game’s end loses two VP and gets publicly shamed for wasting so much food. So the balancing act is to collect just the right amount of food to feed the felines you draft.
Other cards in the mix are:
Three Stray Cats start every game off to the side (selected randomly from a pile of thirteen, ensuring each game will be different) and are worth big points. The only way to pick one off the streets is to trade in two Lost Cat cards.
The game ends when the central draw pile is empty, and then players tote up their VP. Scores are usually close, so losing VP’s can make a big difference. Cat ladies must be meticulous!
Wood also did the art for the game, and his choice of style and font fit the theme very well. Compared to the anime style of Kittens in a Blender, there is zero variety in the cat pictures (except for colour differences, which are important for gameplay and well-implemented for the colourblind), but the cat names are equally pun-filled and whimsical.
Cat Lady breaks no new ground but is an appealing gateway game for ailurophiles and others.