Calico (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designer: Kevin Russ
  • Artists: Beth Sobel
  • Publisher: AEG and Flatout Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Time: 30 – 45 minutes
  • Times Played: 4
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We’re dog people, or rather, we used to be dog people. But back in September, something shifted in the Kempf family household, a cat joined the family, then in December another one. So I guess we’re cat people now(even though our youngest keeps asking for a St. Bernard). Being new cat people, we’re supposed to like things that have to do with cats right? Even tangentially with cats. We played Isle of Cats a couple times, we’ve been buying cat things, and now we’re playing a game sort of about quilts. Or rather a game where you are making a quilt and trying to attract cats. If there is one thing I have learned in our short time as cat people, it’s that cats love to sleep in comfy places, so this makes complete sense that if you make a quilt, they will sleep on it. 

In Calico, players are going to compete to create the coziest quilt. You’ll do that through drafting patches to place in your quilt. At the start of the game, each player will choose three design goal tiles to place on their quilt. This gives you the guidance to know what you want your quilt to look like. You will score points at the end of the game based on how well you complete these three goal tiles. You will also score points for attracting cats to your quilt and for buttons on your quilt. 

The design goal tiles are pretty self explanatory once you see everything. They tell you the pattern and the colors that need to be surrounding it to score points. If you only manage to do one of the things, you get the lower value, if you complete both, you get the higher value. So in the example above, the AA-BB-C-D wants two pairs and two singles surrounding it. That could be in colors, patterns or both, but not a combination. Some design goal tiles are going to be more difficult than others to complete, so the points will vary, my example just happens to only have two different values. 

When setting up the game, you are going to choose three of the five double sided cat scoring tiles and then randomly place two of the black and white pattern tiles below each of the cats. This is going to tell you which patterns attract which cats and which group or shape you need these patterns in. The tile also lets you know how much that cat is going to be worth in victory points at the end of the game for each of that cat on your quilt. 

There are 108 patch tiles in the game, 6 sets of 18. These are shuffled and placed facedown in piles near the play area or in the bag that comes with the game. All of the buttons are also placed out on the table, along with the button scoring tile. The button scoring tile simply tells you that you need a set of at least three tiles of the same pattern adjacent to each other to take the button that corresponds with that pattern. These groupings need to be separate from each other, you cannot simply keep adding to the original group to gain more buttons. Each button on your quilt at the end of the game is worth three points. Players start the game with two pattern tiles in hand, and will always end their turn with two. 

Once you are set up and understand scoring, game play flows really smoothly and is simple as can be. At the beginning of each player’s turn, they are going to choose one of the two pattern tiles from their hand, and place it out on any open space on their board. After doing that, the player will draw from one of the three face up pattern tiles that are on display and then refill that display. 

Calico ends when each player has filed their quilt board. At that point, all of the victory points are tallied, points are simply for completed design tile goals, cats on your quilt and buttons on your quilt. The player with the most points is the winner. 

As you can see, the intricacies of Calico do not come from a heavy rule set, the intricacies come from the puzzle that you are putting together each time you play. This is exactly the type of game that I love to play. That being said, those design tiles have proven to be a difficult thing for some players to completely understand and they are really key in doing well here, so you have to get folks to understand them correctly. It’s a bit weird, you can score points for completing the tile one way, or both. The difficult thing I’ve seen for folks is understanding how to complete one both ways, so I started showing an example before putting all the tiles in the bag for drawing. Maybe it’s a me thing as well, maybe I’m not teaching it as clearly as I could be, but after seeing it folks usually have that light bulb go off and we’re off to the races. 

Components wise, AEG and Flatout Games have a wonderful game. The art by Beth Sobel is both warm and inviting and the components are solid. I love the recessed quilt boards. No more bumping tiles off the edge here, although you can inadvertently bump them around within the quilt. Some of the cats are a bit hard to tell apart, but as long as you have different cats for each scoring patterns, you’ll be fine. 

Calico is a game that is going to really appeal to players who love a good puzzle, not those puzzles that just require you to search out the correct pieces, but that mental puzzle of figuring out what you can place in one spot to best score points, while not hindering your ability to score points in other spots. There is some fun, lightweight mental gymnastics going on here. Saying that though, those same things can cause some excruciating analysis paralysis among some players. It’s just one of those things that happens. Good thing is, you don’t really have to wait for your opponents to place their tile once they have selected it, you can move forward with the next player’s turn and hope that the active player catches up, they usually do. 

The puzzle can start to feel a bit same-y. All of the design tiles have a familiar feel, they want you to put specific sets of tiles around them, so while you will be puzzling out a new quilt each time, you are essentially doing the same thing each game.Some find that off-putting, I don’t, I like the familiarity, it reminds me a bit of playing Azul. You know what you are trying to do each game, but the journey is just going to look and feel a bit different each time. 

Calico firmly falls into the Top 5 of 2020 for me. Yes, it was a year that didn’t really have a lot of standout games, but I think the Top 5 this year is pretty solid and stacks up with most years, it’s what comes after the 5 that is worrisome. 

Also, Calico refers to the type of quilt, not the cat on the box. The artist thought that an orange tabby cat would look better on the box against a Calico background. Also, I can’t believe that people really worried about that

Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber (1 play): In many ways, Calico plays a lot like Take It Easy.  While the colorful tiles aren’t as easy to distinguish as the simple numbers on that game, they work acceptably.  But the game falls short for me because unlike Take It Easy, where everyone is trying to make the most out of the same set of choices, here the choices are not only different, but – chosen.  Because drafting is used, it’s very good to be early to draft in late rounds, and it matters quite a bit.  The scores seem likely to be close enough that a big score late – or denying another player a large score – can make all of the difference.  On the whole Calico is a game I could play again without a problem, but not one I intend to seek out.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it. Brandon Kempf

I like it. 

Neutral. Joe H.

Not for me…  

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3 Responses to Calico (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  1. Jacob says:

    Top 5 for me!

  2. Raven says:

    I totally love this and Isle of cats. Yea, the theme got me tho, lol.

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