Designer: Ta-Te Wu
Publisher: Sunrise Tornado Game Studio
Time: 15-30 minutes
Times Played: 6 times with review copy
I must admit, when small box cat themed games started to appear a few years ago, I lumped them in a pile of “not for me” in my mind. When I triage Eric’s preview lists for conventions, I tag them “not interested” without a second thought.
For Cat Rescue, I would have been mistaken. After my first play, at a recent convention, I immediately went to my car to get some expansions and play again. I think I would categorize this more as a puzzle-activity of sorts than a game, but I am finding it quite enjoyable.
The rules and setup are fairly simple. You have a deck of 4 colors of cats. On your turn, you’ll be “pushing” a new cat into the shelter, and if there are 3 (or 4) of a color in a row, the middle one(s) are flipped over to show they are ready to be adopted. If a facedown cat is ever pushed out of the shelter, it is considered adopted and that cat, as well as any adjacent “ready” cats, are adopted. At the end of the game, facedown cats which have been adopted are worth 2 points each, and “ready” cats are 1 point each.
There are, of course, some other wrinkles to that. So let’s take a step back and look at what we’ve got.
To set up the shelter area, place the 4 purple cubes so that they demarcate a 4×4 area to hold up to 16 cats. Deal 4 cats face up to the center locations, and place the incoming cat card on the bottom right cat pointing to the left, with the cat-in-a-box side up.
This incoming cat card is where much of the rub of the game occurs. This card is placed on the most recent cat to enter the shelter and imposes several limitations. The next cat to come in cannot come in the same direction. The next cat to come in cannot push the cat with the incoming card. The cat with the incoming card cannot be flipped over.
The incoming card has two sides – one depicting a cat in a box, and one showing a cat which has a home. Each player will start the game with 2 cats in front of them. These are cats which currently have a home. On your turn, you may be able to add a cat to the shelter from the deck or from the cats in front of you; the “may” is determined by the incoming cat card. Specifically, the bottom of the card shows your options: if you last added a card from a home, then the next cat must be from the deck; if the last card is from the deck, the next cat can be from either location.
When you add a cat, you must place it adjacent to another card and you must push in the direction of an adjacent card. If there are 3 of a type in a row afterwards, flip the middle one; if there are 4, flip the middle two. If you have pushed a flipped cat outside of the 16 spaces, move this cat and any other adjacent flipped cats, to your score pile.
At the end of the game (when the deck of cats runs out), your score will be 2 points for each face down cat which was adopted, and 1 point for each face down cat in the shelter. The game is cooperative, so the rules for 1, 2, 3, or 4 players are the same – though in higher player counts you have more homes in front of players for the cats. One thing I haven’t touched on is that there is an alternate ending condition: if a player has three cats in front of them, the game will also end. You can push un-flipped cats out of the shelter, and when this happens, the player takes it in front of them.
The game is a really cute puzzle – I don’t say that because of the cats, though most of them are adorable [and I say that as a person who has never had a pet] – I say that because that’s how the puzzle feels. The game feels as if it would be more at home as a “number card game” – 6 nimmt!, etc. – though maybe colors more than numbers here. So if this game would’ve drawn you in as a number card game, maybe take a look.
The copy of the game I have also came with a few expansions – one which gives each player their own scoring condition, one which added a fifth color, and one which introduces events of a sort when a cat is adopted out of the shelter.
I must admit that I did not enjoy the private scoring conditions one, as the game took an odd turn with the competitive element it added, and you often did not want to flip any cats, which felt unnatural.
The events I could take or leave, as I found them mostly harmless, but the fifth color (purple) of cats I have been enjoying. As it stands, the game provides a scoring rubric, and I’ve found it fairly easy to score near the top of the spectrum – not always the top-top, but close. The fifth color, however, has been the only time I’ve encountered the alternate game ending condition, and adds a bit to the difficulty.
I’m writing this at a local coffee shop this morning (well, yesterday when you read it. Nope, maybe not, anyway…), but I think I’m going to go home and play again with the purple cards. Maybe twice.
[And can I also just say, that as part of the Kickstarter for this game earlier this year, one of the possible things you could get was a print-and-play copy of Ta-Te Wu’s Die Zauberflöte prototype, and I’m sad to have missed that. It’s one of my favorite IP’s, and I’ve been following him on Twitter for years to keep tabs on that game only to have missed a chance to learn more about it.]