Cat & Chocolate
Review by Patrick Korner
Designer: Ryo Kawakami
Publisher: Qvinta Essentia / Japon Brand
Age: 8 and up
Time: 20 minutes
Visiting old Greystone Manor sounded like fun at the time, didn’t it? Wander through the musty old halls, peek at the somewhat creepy paintings, have lunch in the dusty but still imposing dining room and then head home for a well-deserved beer with your buddies – what could be finer on a nice sunny Saturday?
Of course, things start going wrong as soon as your feet cross the door sill. Your skin feels prickly, the weather turns, the front door jams, and… hey, what’s that odd shambling noise coming up the basement stairs? Oh my God! It’s, it’s a…
Cat & Chocolate, designed by Ryo Kawakami and published in 2010 by Qvinta Essentia (and distributed by Japon Brand), is all about getting yourself out of sticky situations like the one above. In the game, you’ll find yourself in all sorts of rooms, being accosted by all sorts of nasties. Unfortunately, you must have left your double-barrelled shotgun in your other pants, because all you have to defend yourself with are a variety of odd items, including (of course) the cat and chocolate the game is named after. The trick? Convincing the other members of your party that your MacGyvered solution was actually effective.
Cat & Chocolate is a card game, and as such comes with cards and instructions – and that’s it. Many of the cards are the rooms / locations, and these have descriptive graphics and text that tell you what it is that you’re facing. A river of blood in the hallway, for example, or a storm of knives in the kitchen. The reverse side of each card has a number – that’s the number of items in your inventory you’ll need to use to get away alive. The bulk of the remaining cards are those inventory items, and include such oddities as pants, a silver platter, etc. Finally, there is a voting card for each player, used to determine whether a player’s escape was successful or not, along with faction cards to let players know which ‘team’ they are on.
The cards are of good quality and look like they’ll hold up reasonably well. The artwork is pretty good too, especially for the rooms, which I find to be nicely evocative of the theme. The wording, on the other hand, could be a little better – some “Engrish” has snuck in here and there – but I find this only adds to the game’s charm and doesn’t really bother me. Your mileage may vary, of course.
The rules are reasonably short and well-written, although the end-game and tie-break rules are a little spotty. We could work our way through it fine, but it wasn’t as straightforward as it should be.
By now I’ve already mentioned the core aspect of gameplay – players have to make up stories about how they use their items to get them out of various situations. Here’s a short rundown on how the rest of the game is structured:
Players are split into two (secret) factions with the faction cards. This adds a nominal ‘scoring’ element to the game, since one faction has to win. However, since the factions are secret and there is no way in the game to realistically figure out who else is on your team, they don’t really seem to work all that well. In the end, we just ignore the factions and play on.
Each player get a hand of three items and then the start player begins. The room cards get shuffled and placed in a pile – there is a ‘game end’ card that gets randomly inserted into the deck a certain way down to add a variable timer to the game’s end. The top card gets flipped and the player reads out what is facing him. The back of the card that’s now the top card in the draw pile defines how many of the player’s items must be used – either 1, 2 or 3. The player thinks for a bit and must then spin a convincing yarn about how they pulled it off: “I used my flashlight to attract the succubus, drawing her in close enough so that I could whack her upside the head with my handy-dandy silver platter”, for example.
Once the story is told, each player secretly votes on whether they thought it passes or fails. Votes are then revealed and the player’s fate determined. If they fail, they don’t get the room card (which is worth end game points). If they pass, they get the card. In either case, they refill their hand of items and it is then the next player’s turn.
When the ‘game end’ card turns out, all players reveal their factions. The faction with the most cards wins (modified according to the rules to account for varying numbers of players on both sides, etc.).
Cat & Chocolate is a simple little game whose charm lies largely in the dynamic of the group you’re playing it with. If your fellow players are outgoing, avid party game players who are willing to take the game with a grain of salt (and certainly not concentrate on playing to win), then you will have a fantastic time with this game. Guaranteed.
If, on the other hand, you have people in your group who don’t quite ‘get’ this style of game – maybe they have trouble thinking on their feet, say, or they’re a little too logical to accept that their fellow players’ solutions might actually work – well, then you’re in for a long night. Might be better to just play something else, as this silly little game just won’t work for you. Guaranteed.
Another possible failing of the game is the ‘cult of personality’ issue. That is, more forceful or ‘popular’ people will tend to have their stories voted on positively more often than those who don’t project as much confidence or what have you. Because you know who you’re voting for (unlike, say, Apples to Apples), there is a chance for subconscious thought to sway your voting decision. Of course, you have to actually care about the final score for this to really be a problem, and I’ve already said that keeping score is about as important in this game as screen doors on a submarine, so maybe I’m making this a bigger issue than it is.
The final ‘gotcha’? Replay value. There just aren’t that many items, and even in the few games we’ve played we’ve seen similar solutions crop up. I’m hopeful that some kind of expansion will be released (which should be seamless enough, given how the game is structured) to extend the game’s life; otherwise you can count on about a dozen plays before your group will get tired of it. Note that there is already a sequel of sorts out there: Cat & Chocolate / Business is Business takes the game’s core gameplay and transports it to the boardroom, where the players (as CEOs) must explain how they get our of their sticky (presumably corporate malfeasance-related) situations.
I suppose there’s nothing to keep people from making their own expansions, either – in fact, that might just be the way to go, since it lets you personalize the game and add even more fun. Just how would you fend off a ghost with a copy of Puerto Rico? (Yes, I suppose some would say to have it play the game and get bored to death, but a) I don’t feel that way and b) ghosts are already dead, smartypants.)
Cat & Chocolate is a welcome addition to my party game collection. It’s small and portable and thus easy to take along when headed to party. It’s also very non-gamer accessible – especially for those who like horror movies or are familiar with the genre’s clichés, most of which make an appearance.
Comments from other Opinionated Gamers
Jonathan Franklin: I think Cat & Chocolate is a great activity. I like the scenarios and the items. I don’t think that any of the story-telling games (Once Upon a Time, Fabula, Baron Munchausen, etc.) are great games because it is hard to say that answer A is better than answer B, but Cat &Chocolate is compact and is also slated to appear in two new guises, Business is Business and Texas Zombies. Like it.
I love it……..
I like it……… Patrick Korner, Jonathan Franklin
Not for me…
This sounds great and I really want to play it. Unfortunately, I can’t find it available anywhere–anybody know of a place to pick it up?
Also, it appears that for future distribution of the game they re-theming it as “Texas Zombies”–which seems to make it a totally different game.