Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser
CAT LADY (AEG, 2 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, 15-30 minutes; $24.99)
Full confession: I am not a big cat fan. I am much more of a dog person. In my experience, cats are more aloof, more independent, more ornery and more, well, unpredictable than canines. When they do grace you with their affection and want to snuggle or cuddle, they can quickly and unexpectedly tire of the affection and swat (they have claws!) or bite you. The proliferation of cat memes on social internet displaying cats with these less-than-appealing traits are usually spot-on. No thanks … I much prefer doggies.
With that being said, I am not a cat hater. They can be amusing, but only at a distance. So, it is not surprising that a game featuring cats as its central theme was not initially appealing to me. I just don’t have much affection or affinity for those furry felines. Still, I am not opposed to cats being the theme of a game, so raised no objections when I was asked to play Cat Lady at a recent game convention. I found the game to be delightful and fun, which I am sure cat owners will erroneously claim to be true about cats themselves!
Cat Lady is designed by Josh Wood, an obvious cat lover. Now, I don’t know this for sure, but everything about the game screams an intimate knowledge of cats. The artwork, cat names, toys, costumes … all are bound to appeal to cat owners. The idea is to collect cats, feed (and possibly clothe) them, and supply them with an array of amusing toys and their favorite drug of choice, catnip. The player who assembles and cares for the best array of cats will become the hero of cat lovers everywhere.
A large deck of 102 cards depicts a variety of cats, toys, food (tuna, chicken or milk), costumes, catnip and a few other assorted items. Nine cards are displayed in a 3×3 grid on the table, and the cat marker is set beside one of the columns or rows. Three cards from the “Stray Cats” deck are set above the display.
A player’s turn is quite simple: take the three cards in one row or column. However, the row or column by which the cat marker sits is prohibited and cannot be taken. Don’t risk it, as cats have claws! When taking the cards, any cats taken are laid-out in a line in front of the player. Food cards are immediately exchanged for the appropriately-colored food cubes, with the cards being discarded. All other cards are kept in the player’s hand.
Each card depicting a cat has some important features. Each cat shows the number of victory points it earns its owner at game’s end, provided it is fully fed. Each cat requires a certain type and number of food cubes. For example, Chairman Meow (love that name!) requires three chicken cubes, while Sir Cuddleface requires two milk. These food requirements must be met by game’s end or the cat will not only be hungry and ornery, but will also not score any victory points for its owner. Each cat has a specific color or colors: orange, white and/or black. This can be important as some cards give victory points for collecting cats of a certain color. Some cats also provide additional bonuses at game’s end if those conditions are met. For example, Luna is worth one point for each black cat that the player has fed. All of this is displayed in an easy-to-understand format, complete with cute cat art.
As mentioned, there are a variety of other card types. Here are a few of the more prevalent ones:
Toys. There are five different types of toys (yarn ball, scratching post, mouse toy, etc.), with the idea being to collect as many different types as possible. The more different toys that are collected, the more points are scored. For example, collecting two different toys earns the player 3 points, while collecting a full set of five different toys earns the player 12 points. Multiple sets are allowed.
Food. Food cards can provide chicken, tuna and/or milk. The correct type and quantity of food is needed to feed the finicky cats. However, a player must not hoard, as the player who has the most leftover food loses points at the end of the game. This is a valuable lesson that should be heeded at all times, especially in today’s chaotic environment!
Costumes. Ugh. The bane of every pet everywhere. What self-respecting cat or dog wants to be dressed-up in silly costume? Alas, some pet-lovers insist on embarrassing their pooch or kitty with outlandish clothing. The player who successfully assembles the most (a virtual closet-full) tacky costumes will earn six points at game’s end, while each player who fails to collect at least one will lose two points.
Lost Cat. Collecting two of these cards allows the player to trade them in for one of the three “stray cats” cards. These special cards generally provide end game bonuses for meeting the conditions listed thereupon. Once all three stray cats have found homes, two Lost Cat cards can be surrendered for two victory points.
Catnip. Everyone knows that cats adore catnip, but there are only a handful of these cards in the deck. Collecting a supply of four catnip cards will not only keep your cats elated, but will earn you four points. Collecting two-to-three will earn one point, while collecting none will lose you two points and quite possibly cause a cat riot in your household.
After selecting a row or column of three cards, the cat token is moved to that location in the display and three new cards are placed there from the main deck. Thus, the next player cannot take cards from that same row or column … unless they are in possession of a Spray Bottle card, which allow them to move that pesky cat to a different row or column.
Play continues in this fashion until the display cannot be filled, at which point the game ends immediately. This generally takes about 30 minutes. Players will tally the value of all their fully fed cats, including endgame bonuses some may provide. They also earn points for their toy collections, costumes and catnip supply. Points can be lost for having the most leftover food, no costumes or only one catnip card. The player with the most points becomes the envy of crazy cat ladies everywhere!
Cat Lady is nothing deep, but it is entertaining and amusing. While the method of collecting cards is different, the game reminds me of the popular game Sushi Go! One is attempting to collect cards of various types in order to maximize points. Cards score differently, so one has to pay attention to what is needed in order to optimize as many categories in your possession as possible. Cats need to be fed, but hoarding food can be costly. Toys are important, but concentration should be on collecting different ones. Do you go for the most costumes, or just grab one so no points are lost? Is the catnip worth pursuing? All interesting decisions, made tougher by the fact that the pesky cat token often blocks desired columns or rows. Further, your opponents are also pursuing similar goals, so some cards are at a premium and vanish quickly.
Cat Lady makes for a nice, light diversion between heavier fare, and it also is a nice choice with non-gaming friends and family. Children should also be able to understand the game and play well, and everyone will enjoy the delightful, whimsical artwork. My only complaint would be the subject matter. Perhaps a “Dog Guy” version is in the offing? Is that too much to ask? – – – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser
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