When Nixie and I do laundry, we always bring a board game with us to help pass the time. And we’ll be honest, we have a lot of games that claim to be for “between 2 and x players”, but when played with only two people, either the game drags or the mechanics prevent the game from being truly playable without a lot of luck. Finding new games for our laundromat outings can be pretty challenging, but, we’ve hit the jackpot with Alderac Entertainment Group’s 2017 offering: Cat Lady, a game of “Feline Fun for 2-4 players”. And, given that we are crazy cat ladies, this game is right up our alley.
Premise: Cat Lady’s premise is simple: You are a cat lady trying to collect and feed the most cats. You earn points for collecting and feeding cats, collecting toys and/or catnip to entertain yourself (and your cats), and by not over-collecting food. It’s like being a cat lady, but without the shed fur covering everything. Players accomplish this by collecting cards as they enter play. In some ways, it’s similar to Sushi Go, but it’s distinct enough (and it has really cute cat artwork) to be different.
Setup: The game begins by shuffling the two decks – the main deck and the stray cat deck – separately. Three stray cats are placed in a row from the stray cat deck, and those are all the stray cats that appear. Nine cards are drawn from the main deck and arranged in a 3×3 grid. These cards are replaced as they are drawn. The grey cat token is placed on the board, but that will move around each turn. The player with the most cats goes first.
Mechanics: The mechanics are simple enough to master easily but gameplay becomes challenging the more people one adds to the game. Each turn, the player takes a row of 3 cards (one move is always blocked by the cat token’s placement) and takes control of them. Cats are placed on the table in front of the player; food cards are exchanged for tokens of the corresponding colors; and toys, cat costumes, and catnip are held until the end of the game for scoring. After playing any playable cards, the player moves the cat token and replaces the drawn cards with three from the main deck. Play continues until the main deck contains no more cards.
The mechanics are simple, but there are a few things that complicate strategy. Catnip acquisition is a gamble – you stand to score a lot of points if you collect the most, but if you only have one, you lose points. Food cards (some of which grant 2, 3, and 4 items of food) are needed for cats, but the player with the most excess food loses points as well. So, while this seems like a cute, whimsical, easy card collecting game, the resource management aspects add another level to the strategy.
I will say that there’s only one complaint that I have about the game mechanics – the cat token. The idea works great in theory, but it’s rendered nearly useless in practice by the rules as written. As you can see from the image on the right, the player cannot collect the cards in the row touched by the token (the red line), but the player can take the cards in the column (the blue arrow). This means that, while one player may prevent a specific move, that player cannot truly stop another from taking a chosen card in that row. If “Julie” wanted the tuna, she could still get it. I like the idea, but I do think it needs revision, such as maybe “the card” touched by the cat token cannot be taken. Thus, one could prevent the next player from getting a specific card, thus blocking a planned collection.
Scoring at Game’s End: The game ends, as stated, when the main deck has no more cards. Following that, the players then tally scores: Each cat has a number on it that tells how many points its worth if it’s properly fed. Stray cats may have special scoring powers that can multiply the points earned. The player collects points based upon the number of unique toys in hand, having 2-4 catnip cards, and/or having the most costumes. The player with the most excess food loses points. Highest score wins.
Thoughts: Cat Lady is fun and fast-paced. With two people, each round takes approximately 20-25 minutes to complete, making this perfect for doing laundry. The artwork is whimsical and adorable – filled with punny names for cats like Pablo Picatso and Chairman Meow. The components fit nicely into the box after being removed from the wrapping. And the game fits in 90% of our purses. All of these are plusses for us.
So, while Cat Lady may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a fast, fun, cute little game that we can play with friends while drinking wine and showing off pictures of our cats as well as while sitting in the laundromat cleaning our clothes. We enjoy this game.
Rating: 3.8 out of 4 Cat-Ear-Wearing Bats.