Isle of Cats

Cover Art - Isle of Cats
You are citizens of Squall’s End on a rescue mission to The Isle of Cats and must rescue as many cats as possible before the evil Lord Vesh arrives.
BGG Link
Designer(s) Frank West
Publisher The City of Kings
Player Count 1 - 4 (Up to 6 with Late Arrivals Expansion)
Estimated Playtime 60 - 90 minutes

Game Review

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Journal Entries

June 27th, 2022

Alpal and I have been eyeing off the Isle of Cats for quite some time. A gorgeous game with great reviews, what caught my eye was the ‘setup’ for the cat on the inside of the lid. If there is a new box in the house, Enzo claims it. It’s a common cat thing. That demonstration of humour alone put it on my radar. Now that Isle of Cats is on Board Game Arena, we finally got to have a game.

One of the things that have been an obstacle to playing has been the rules. Each rule isn’t too complicated, but some terminology throws me. Quick example – end-of-game scoring goals are ‘Lessons’. Why do I need a lesson for scoring? There is also the round setup incorporated as gameplay ‘stages’.

All that out of the way, Isle of Cats was a lot of fun once we got playing. Watching Rodney’s how-to-play video on Watch it Played a couple of times helped, and Board Game Arena does a lot to help.

20220627 - Isle of Cats - Physical Board Game
It looks like a lot going on, but can be broken down pretty easily *Source –

So what is Isle of Cats? Well, the narrative is in my opinion a little weak. Players are rescuing cats from the titular island before a nefarious pirate arrives. There are worse narrative reasons to do things in a game, but the ‘story’ was quickly lost on me during the game.

The short version of Isle of Cats is you rescue cats by luring them into baskets with fish. Then you try and fill up your ship with the cats and treasure, and go for area placement scores. So there is some card drafting, auctioning, resource management (fish and baskets) and finally tile placement. It sounds like Isle of Cats is a complex mess, and there is a learning curve. If you get past that though, the final game works quite well.

20220627 - Isle of Cats - Vertical Board Layout takes a while to get used to
The vertical board layout takes a while to get used to

If you play the physical version of Isle of Cats, everything is laid out quite well. There is a bit of table space required, but each player is quite self-contained with a shared small central area. Replicating this on Board Game Arena though was apparently quite the challenge.

Their workaround was a very vertical ‘board’, with the shared area on top, then your board, then your opponents. There is a quick summary section in the scoring area which was quite handy. The only downside is it took a couple of rounds to learn how to read it. Tile placement on Board Game Arena also works, but we had to get used to its quirks.

What I did appreciate is while other players are taking their turn, you can ‘try tiles’ in BGA. This lets you try different tiles on your ship without impacting others. You can maximise your planning while minimising player wait time instead of twiddling your thumbs. This was very much appreciated.

20220627 - Isle of Cats - Once you find your area everything is laid out nicely
Once you find your area everything is laid out nicely

We only played one game, which took us the better part of two hours. Maybe 40 minutes per player? Almost half of this time though was learning not only the game but how BGA let you play Isle of Cats. Rabbit and I were pretty tired going in, but we will have a game next time and I am pretty sure we can get it under an hour.

If Isle of Cats is on your radar, give it a try. If you can find someone that knows the game and knows how to play on Board Game Arena, that will be the best way to learn and try. I haven’t tried yet, but you can select the solo rules on Board Game Arena – something I haven’t seen very often. I might try a solo game during the week and see how that goes, but that is another option for you!

July 4th, 2022

We tried The Isle of Cats last week, and we basically agreed to try again this week and see how we went with it. Alpal, Rabbit and I all agree we enjoy Isle of Cats, but it looks like we all enjoy it for very different reasons.

Alpal has been enjoying the variable goal mechanics. In the same vein as Race for the Galaxy, Isle of Cats lets you build from an almost random starting point. There is no optimal strategy for Isle of Cats because no one will have the same goals and scoring bonuses game between games.

Rabbit is having a great time rescuing cats. She isn’t concerned with optimising strategies or looking for patterns. A good game to Rabbit is collecting heaps of cats, pure and simple.

20220704 - Isle of Cats - Second game I am managing fish and cards better
Second game I am managing fish and cards better

For myself, I am firmly in the middle. Alpal has been getting back into Race for the Galaxy, but my preference has been for Roll for the Galaxy. Both games are very similar, the only real difference being Roll is the dice game. Same concepts, but streamlined.

Isle of Cats feels like Roll for the Galaxy to me. There is a lot going on, but not too much. Even though I was tired and had a lot on my mind, I could still follow what was happening during the game.

That said, if you wanted to play Isle of Cats as a solitaire multiplayer and not look for patterns and scoring paths, you absolutely can. That is how Rabbit is having such a fun time!

20220704 - Isle of Cats - Started being comfortable enough to watch everyones board while playing
Started being comfortable enough to watch everyone’s board while playing

I am looking forward to playing Isle of Cats again, but I don’t know when that will be. It’s long enough that I haven’t felt the urge to play two games in a row.

Now we know we have a handle on it there are other games we have been putting off. The Crew for example is something I want to get back to finishing. But I am glad we got the chance to give Isle of Cats a good try on Board Game Arena. I won’t be rushing to add a copy to my collection, but I know where to play it when the urge hits me.

July 18th, 2022

Isle of Cats was pulled out (digitally speaking) this week. After playing a new(ish) game in Via Magica, we decided to end up on a new favourite. What better way to finish a gaming day than rescuing cats?

Now that Rabbit, Alpal and I have a few games under our belts, Isle of Cats has become a fun competition. Unless you are Rabbit, who only plays to put the most cats in their boat. Scores are starting to climb, and strategies are coming out. Getting familiar with the lessons (end game scoring) has let some scores grow quite a bit.

I can happily keep playing Isle of Cats for some time. It’s a lot of fun, and we enjoy ourselves. That said, I have been eyeing off some of the expansions in the physical version.

20220718 - Isle of Cats - Placing Cats is still a little annoying
Getting the hang of tile placement, but it is still sometimes quirky

On Board Game Arena, only the base game is available. I don’t think Rabbit would be overly interested in the expanded content, so there is that. And I couldn’t play with Alpal over the internet anymore. At the very least that saves my wallet a bit!

But this is another reason why I love Board Game Arena so much. You can play a game, know that you enjoy it (or don’t), and then decide if you want to invest in it. With all the expansions to Isle of Cats, it’s an investment. And if I still had regular big gaming days, one I would probably make.

The only catch with getting to know Isle of Cats now is games are back to taking a while. We played two games in about two hours – quite an extended session compared to our normal games!

20220718 - Isle of Cats - Keeping an eye on opponents boats
Keeping an eye on everyone’s boat is pretty easy

The bottom line though is once again we had fun, and I can’t wait to add another player or two to the mix.