Base price: $20. 2 – 4 players. Play time: ~20 minutes.BGG | Board Game AtlasBuy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)Logged plays: 1ish?. Multiple rounds, with gameplay mostly unchanged between rounds.
Full disclosure: A review copy of Kitty Paw: Valentine’s Day Edition was provided by Renegade Game Studios.
Well, it’s almost Valentine’s Day, so I might as well review some games that are thematic. We’ve already got the always-romantic dueling game of time-traveling wizards with Antinomy, and I think Bunny Kingdom sends the wrong impression about my opinion of Valentine’s Day, so I’ll probably save that one for next week. In the meantime, why not actually check out a game that’s got a special Valentine’s Day edition?
In Kitty Paw, you’re playing a hide-and-seek game of cats in boxes. Thankfully, as cats are known to be liquid, they expand to fill their containers, making them easy to move into artful and puzzley configurations. Build out the pictures you see as quickly as possible before your opponents can pounce and score. It’s a bit purr-posterous, but, I mean, most real-time puzzle games are. Will you be able to score the most points? Or will your opponents out-meow-neuver you?
Not much of a setup. There are seven different sets of cat tiles:
Place one complete set of seven per player in the center. Surround them with the box cards:
Shuffle them and put them face-down. You’ll only really need them in rounds 2 and 3. Shuffle up the Level Cards for each Level (1 / 2 / 3):
Note that there are two sets of Level 2 cards; you’ll only use one each game. Stack L1 on L2 on L3, and flip four L1 cards face-up. Give each player a cardboard box:
Something you always need with cats. Once you’ve done all that, have each player put their hand in the center of the board and you’re ready to start! Yell “Kitty Paw” (or don’t; up to you) when you’re ready!
A game is played over several rounds, challenging players to recreate the image on a card exactly in order to score points. Do it wrong, and you’ll take a penalty! The game ends once the deck runs out, and the player with the most points wins!
At the start of a round, after someone yells Kitty Paw, each player claims a level card. That’s now their goal; they have to create a configuration of tiles that matches it exactly. Note that you may only touch one tile at a time; no multi-tile grabbing. Once one player has done so, they are supposed to yell “Meow!” and make a lucky cat pose. That’s … not my scene, personally, so we just say “done”. The other player(s) then check, and if you’re right, all other level cards for that round are removed from the game and you keep that card face-up to score it. If you’re wrong, well, all the other level cards for that round are removed from the game and you turn the card face-down to score it as a penalty. Rough.
As you progress, the cards will get more challenging, requiring either more aggressive spatial configurations or the face-down box cards to be revealed. We’ve been playing that when you reveal one, it stays face-up. Either way, turn the cards face-down, shuffle, and reset them after each round.
After the deck is depleted, count your points; the player with the most points wins the game!
Player Count Differences
Not much of a meaningful one; just more people you have to compete against for speed stuff. Amusingly, it also pollutes the center a bit more (since there are more tiles of each type), which might slow some players down. That’s a funny though mild consequence. I don’t have a strong preference for player counts on this one.
- Take the lowest-value card. It has the fewest tiles, so it’s the easiest to build quickly and score. Nothing else matters but being the first to score, so always take the simplest card. Any number of points is better than 0, and you might pressure your opponent into making a mistake.
- Let your opponent(s) flip the cards for you. Later in the game you need those cat box cards, so, let your opponent do the work on those for you; you can set up the rest of your tiles and just grab the one you need once they flip it. They might eventually notice you’re doing this, but, in the meantime you might be able to get a few wins in.
- If you’re already ahead by a lot, it’s not the worst idea to play a bit faster and looser. Worst case, you take a penalty, but you’re already ahead by so much that it probably won’t cost you the game. Plus, if you take a penalty in the later rounds, you lose fewer points than your opponent would score. For a two-player game, that means taking a penalty is optimal if your opponent would otherwise beat you to scoring, which … is a weird bummer.
Other than that, just solve the puzzles as quickly as possible.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Cute theme. Cats! In boxes!
- Pretty easy to learn. I mean, it’s just “recreate the image as quickly as possible”, so, that’s not too complicated, conceptually.
- Really great art. I mean, it’s to be expected, but the game looks super bright and vibrant and colorful.
- The later-level cards have really cool puzzles. I kind of wish they made a Kitty Paw Expert Edition with L3 – L5 cards, as the L1s feel kind of basic. The L3 cards are very interesting and very challenging; I wish there were even more of those in the base game.
- Seems kid-friendly. You can grab higher-value cards to challenge yourself against a younger player, if you want, which is nice. I’m not sure it makes up for everything, but it’s nice.
- Some of the 3D spatial stuff really can mess you up. With the real-time aspect of the game, this just kind of leads to a bunch of errors, which, since they’re round-ending conditions, can kind of derail the game. This is a bummer, because the 3D spatial stuff is also the most interesting puzzle part of the game! It looks really cool; I just wish it were a bit easier to grok. (This is mostly a me problem, though, so your mileage may vary.)
- Yeah I’m not doing any poses. Again, you can; I’m just not going to. If I want to do that I’ll play In A Bind (now Yogi). Or Fireworks.
- The L1 cards aren’t terribly interesting, puzzle-wise. They’re really just whoever can lay down tiles quickest, so, again, the best thing to do is typically grab the card with the fewest tiles on it.
- It’s unclear to me what the difference is between this and the base game. I mean, there’s no rules difference and no component differences, so I guess the difference is that it comes with a valentine? I’m not trying to sound cynical, but … that seems like a minute difference for another copy of a board game. Maybe it’s just me. I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day; it’s too close to my birthday and it makes planning birthday stuff impossible.
- One unfortunate / unlucky player can really derail this game. Since the round ends when a player says they’re done, if you have a player just keep declaring that they’re done, even incorrectly, before other players, you run the game into the ground. Sure, you can do that in other games (players making impossible housing areas in Welcome To… can end the game in 6 turns, for instance), but this seems like it also ends the game quickly if a player just makes some mistakes. In a real-time game, mistakes are going to happen. If you really wanted to get cynical about the game, it’s possible for me to get decently far ahead in the early rounds such that nobody else scores any points (or very few) and then just tank my score in the last few rounds to end the game quickly and secure a victory, which is kind of an unsatisfying outcome for all players.
- The scoring system seems a bit … dodgy. Since you can only touch one tile at a time, you’re almost overwhelmingly more likely to be successful if you always take the card with the fewest tiles on it, especially in round 1. If you can do that early enough and block your opponents from scoring, as I mentioned above, it doesn’t matter what anyone else can do. It seems like the fix for this would be to adopt a more Eco-Links / Cosmic Factory system where you play on a timer instead of “first to complete gets everything”. That would keep players a bit more engaged from round to round instead of making the early round a mad grab for the easiest cards available.
- There aren’t actually solo rules. That’s … a bit frustrating. Apparently the word on the matter is that you can practice the game by yourself, but … it would be nice to have a recommended timer or something. Even Ubongo: Fun Size Edition recommends five or ten minutes.
Overall: 5.25 / 10
Overall, I think Kitty Paw: Valentine’s Day Edition isn’t quite what I’m looking for. That’s not to say it’s a bad game (I’ve played bad games), but I think there are a few places where there’s a mismatch between what I want in a real-time game and what the game actually shoots for. I maintain that having a player end the round once they’re done is a problematic paradigm, structurally, as it incentivizes players taking the easiest puzzles to solve in the early game and then in the late game they’re often too far ahead for other players to have a meaningful opportunity to catch up. At higher player counts hopefully other players can beat them to the punch, but, that’s not always going to happen. This is a shame because conceptually I think the game is pretty solid — the puzzle elements are interesting, and late-game, they’re pretty challenging; every bit as much as Eco-Links or some of my other favorite real-time puzzlers. The problems I have with the game are mostly just that scoring system; I think other real-time games present it in a way that’s more satisfying for me, and I’d be interested to see how the game changes with a global timer and players taking small penalties for every spot they are after first (and giving first a small bonus or something; I’m not a designer). I think it’s more consistent with the current real-time puzzle landscape (which isn’t always good; be original, sure) but it also makes each round less defeating when you don’t immediately get first place. That’s just my two cents, though; if you’re looking to make those tweaks I’d love to hear how it turns out for you, but either way if you love cats and cute art, you’re looking for a seasonally-a-purr-opriate gift, or you’re looking for a very family-friendly real-time game, you might enjoy Kitty Paw: Valentine’s Day Edition.