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.
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.
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.
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!