Bruno Cathala has had one of the most consistent and impactful careers as a board game designer. For years he has been pumping out hit after hit and now he’s been nominated for a Spiel des Jahres for his new title Kingdomino. One of the elements that has marked his design process, is his tendency to combine his creative forces with other designers. In the past, Cathala has worked with Antoine Bauze, Bruno Faidutti, Charles Chevallier, Marc Paquien, and many more. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Cathala many times, but one moment sticks out in my mind. It was Gen Con a few years ago, when he had no less than five titles being released, including Abyss and Five Tribes. I remember watching him as he went from signings, to meet and greets, to VIP events. Cathala walked through the sea of Gen Con attendees with the presence of a rock star on the top of his game. He was the man in the board game world at that moment, and it was a pretty cool site to see. The following is not a list of his ‘best’ games, that’s far too subjective for us to presume to name. Instead, it’s a sampling of five of our favourite games by one of the rock stars of the board game world.
In this sword and sandal, Greek mythology game, Cathala teamed with Ludovic Maublanc. It’s a combination of auction and area control, as players bid on the favour of certain gods that will allow them to perform certain actions on the board. The goal is to be the first to control two Metropolis’. You can earn the by building the four different types of buildings in the game, collecting four Aristocrat cards, or by conquering a Metropolis owned by another player. Throw in mythological monsters and some incredible minis, and you have one heck of a great game. One of the best part of Cyclades is how well it scales. The board is modular and double-sided allowing for a satisfying experience, no matter your player count. It even plays quite well at two, which is a rarity for both an area control game and an auction game. I haven’t yet been able to try any of the expansions, but the base game alone is well worth it if you get a chance to try it out.
Despite its beauty and ease of play, Abyss has gone a bit under the radar in the gaming world. You don’t hear a ton of discussion on it. It is a time of political upheaval in the undersea world and players move to secure Allies, control Locations, and Recruit Lords to their side. Abyss has elements of set collection and tableau building that are implemented in interesting ways. It even includes a bit of push-your-luck. Allies of five different sea creature races are collected and used as an economy to get powerful Lords. The Lords have different abilities, depending on their Guild. For example Ambassadors allow you to gain Locations, Soldiers allow you to attack other players, and Farmers are simply worth a lot of points. The game ends when one player has gained a seventh Lord, but it’s the person who has garnered the most influence points. Abyss is a unique, simple title, possibly lost in the shuffle of a lot of other games. At any rate, it you can track down a copy you should definitely give this one a shot.
Raptor is an interesting two-player game, similar to an older classic by Cathala, Mr. Jack. In Raptor, one player takes control of a team of scientists that have made an incredible discovery on a tropical island: a family of Raptors have survived, somehow undetected by the rest of the world. The other player controls the Raptors, a mother and her babies, trying to escape the clutches of the scientists. Players chose cards at the same time from their hands and reveal. The card with the lower value goes first, executing the action on the card. Then the other player gets to execute their action. The scientists are trying to either capture three of the baby Raptors, or to neutralize the mother. The Raptors win if three of the babies are able to escape, or all of the scientists have been killed off. The scientists have a lot of nasty tricks up their sleeves, like shooting tranquilizers at the Raptors or setting the jungle on fire to coral them. But mama’s got some tricks of her own, allowing her to instill fear into the human interlopers, or disappearing from the board, only to reappear somewhere else. Like Mr. Jack, Raptor is an excellent asymmetrical game for two. Players have to anticipate their opponent and attempt to stay one step ahead of them. Just try and play it, without feeling some sympathy for the Raptor babies, regardless of which side you’re on.
Kana Gawa is a great example to me that brilliant game design does not have to be overly complicated. In Kana Gawa, you play students of Japanese art, learning from a master that has a lot of wisdom to impart. Players acquire painting cards that can either be added to their growing landscape painting, or used to develop their knowledge. The start players flips over cards creating different lots and then in turn player can decide to take a lot or pass. The longer they wait, the better the lot can become, but they risk someone else snatching it up before them. The bigger your landscape, the more potential points it’s worth at the end of the game, but the more you develop your knowledge, the better you’re able to paint. As the game progresses, players can grab Diplomas worth points for certain accomplishments, or hold off in hopes off even higher rewards. Painting sets of portraits, or animals, or buildings can earn you diplomas. At the end of the game you’ll also be rewarded for the longest stretch of weather that is connected in your painting. I find that even when I’m doing poorly in a game of Kana Gawa, I find myself enjoying it. This was one of my favourite games from last year and one I love getting to the table every time I have the chance!
Mission: Red Planet
Ohh, this is a good one. It’s certainly my favourite of the collaborations between the two Brunos. In Mission: Red Planet, players are trying to populate Mars in a steampunk alternate reality. Everyone has a set of the same character cards that are secretly selected and then revealed. These characters like the Explorer, the pilot, or the Travel Agent allow players to fill rockets headed for the Red Planet with their astronauts and perform a special ability. Each rocket has a destination on the planet, and controlling those destinations earn players crystals worth point at the end of the game. Despite recently being reprinted, I still feel that Mission: Red Planet is a bit under appreciated. It is a sneaky, back stabby sort of affair, but so much fun. If you’ve played Faidutti’s Citadels, you’ll see his influence in this game. The beautiful thing, is that it flies by so quickly despite all the trickery and machinations. Definitely one of my favourites from Cathala.