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Isle of Cats Two Player Review

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All board game reviews and ratings from “A Pair of Meeples” are entirely based on the game at two players. You can learn more about our rating system by clicking below.


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Isle of Cats looks excellent and like it has everything you’d ever want in a game, but maybe you really didn’t want “everything” after all? 

Isle of Cats Review

6 out of 10
Isle of Cats Two Player Review A Pair of Meeples

Is it Good For Two Players? : Works well for two

Isle of Cats is a game that many love and for good reason, but one that fell flat for us instead of on its feet.  It just tries to be too many things at once and while a lot of recent games have succeeded at that, in this case, it just is a little too messy, fiddly, and chaotic.

The tile-laying puzzle component, the drafting, and everything else in the game seem perfectly well-designed and thought out but in a way, they almost detract from each other making nothing shine to its full potential.

Theme: 7/10
Replayability: 6/10
Components: 8/10
Conflict: 3/10
Fun: 3/10

His Rating
6 out of 10
Her Rating
6 out of 10

Pros

An excellent puzzle in all regards

Lessons add various objectives that make the game and your strategies feel a little different every time

Extremely tight resource system that makes your decisions matter

The included family version is great for quicker games or new or young players

Excellent components, theme, and artwork that all tie into the game extremely well

Cons

The full game is a little long for what it is

A little messy and fiddly, especially the card drafting aspect

Too luck-dependent on occasion

Might not have enough player interaction for some

Gameplay Experience:

Isle of Cats Two Player Board Game Review

Isle of Cats is another game that took a while to get played in our house.  The moment I could get my hands on it, I did though.  It looked like the perfect game for us with a lot of board game mechanics combined with a tile laying (polyomino) puzzle.  

With my wife’s love of puzzles, our affinity for similar albeit simpler games like Patchwork, and of course… the cats, it seemed like this game would fit right in with our tastes.

We finally got around to playing it and we couldn’t have been more wrong.  Don’t get us wrong, it had well-implemented card drafting, resource management, and unique player objectives of a true modern board game, while also having what should have been an extremely satisfying puzzle to figure out.

All that sounds awesome on paper, but it just didn’t feel great during that first real play.  Normally we like to set right up for a second game after the first but I don’t think you could have paid us to do so.  It wasn’t that it was that bad of a game, it was just a lot, and I think we both just wanted a break from it (already).

We left the game setup, looked over the rules again to make sure we weren’t playing wrong and came back a few days later.  We switched our player boards and pushed ourselves to give Isle of Cats another try.

Well, it wasn’t as terrible of an experience as the first game, but man the spark just still wasn’t there.  Drafting cards, trying to calculate all these changing variables as you create mini piles and pass them back and forth, and then calculate some more on how many fish you’ll have and which cards you should keep… and then and only then do you get to take some actions.

After all that work and planning you might only get to rescue a cat or two or maybe if you are really lucky three or four.  It just feels like a lot of chaos and clutter to get to the puzzle component of the game, which is quite thinky too but ends up feeling very minimal.

Who knows though, maybe all this “clutter” is actually quite thematic, as anyone with cats knows, they can sometimes be quite the mess makers.  We can attest to this as we once fostered some kittens who liked to play in the toilets and unroll the toilet paper across the entire length of the room.

Anyway, the tile-laying puzzle component, the drafting, and everything else in the game seem perfectly well-designed and thought out but in a way they almost detract from each other making nothing shine to its full potential.

Eventually, we rescued as many cats as we could and sailed away at the end of our second game.  All we can say is it was nowhere near as interesting, fun, exciting, or “a-mew-sing” as the last time we rescued some cats in real life, but at least we didn’t run out of toilet paper this time.  

After another pretty lackluster experience, we shelved the game again and I decided to do some research as I always do when our feelings about a game don’t typically match the overall public opinion.

I quickly saw that many prefer the simple family version rules for the game as opposed to the full version.  So, back out Isle of Cats came for another attempt, except this time with the simpler ruleset.

The amount of setup was shockingly different, and we were ready to play faster than your cat could knock over that water glass on the edge of the table.  Sure 70% of the game is removed but hey, maybe it’ll be that much better. 

The card drafting, resource management, and many other things are not used at all in this family version of the game.  Instead, you just focus on picking the best cat tiles to fit on your ship and maybe try to accomplish a few simple goals along the way.  

Isle of Cats Cat Tiles Polyomino

This version of the game was dead simple, but you know what, I think like many others online, my wife and I enjoyed it quite a bit better than the full rules.  It isn’t nearly as much of a game this way but I think it’s evidence that the other aspects might just be too much for some, ourselves included.

How to Play Isle of Cats Rules Summary:

Isle of Cats isn’t a complicated game, but it combines many different mechanics, so if you are unfamiliar with any of them it can be a little overwhelming at first.

Your main goal is to rescue cats to accomplish various objectives and score more than your opponents.  In the full game, you will need to have the resources to rescue cats which include enough fish to lure the cats and baskets to put them in.

Isle of Cats Double Sided Player Boards

Before the game starts players will each take their own ship board, each is slightly different.  Then the island is set up in between players with the round marker on the starting space and each player will pick a cat token to represent their player and place it on the track.

Each player also starts with one permanent basket token which is needed to rescue a cat.  Once used it is flipped to its other side for that round.  A player will need a basket for each cat they wish to rescue.

The Oshax cat tiles are then arranged under the island and some common treasure tiles (dependent on player count) are also laid out.  Then 4 cat tiles per player are drawn at random and placed into each of the two fields, one to the left and one to the right of the island board.

Isle of Cats Island Tiles with fields

Players are now ready to start playing.  This is how a typical round of Isle of Cats plays out:

1. Go Fishing

Go Fishing: Players collect 20 fish, these will be used to purchase cards and rescue cats.

2. Explore

This is the card drafting phase of the game.  7 Cards are dealt to each player, they will pick two and then pass the remaining to another player, and do this until all cards have been selected. 

Players will then have to decide which of these cards they wish to keep and spend the appropriate number of fish to do so.  This is where a lot of math and precise planning is required, as players will need to make sure they don’t waste fish on cards they don’t need, as they will also need to have some fish to lure the cats from the fields.

The type of cards players may get include the following:

  • Rescue Cards (green):  These cards often give players additional baskets.  Some are complete but there are cheaper cards that are broken baskets, if a player combines two of these they count as 1 fully functioning one.  These cards also have boots on them that will be used to determine which player goes first.
  • Anytime Cards (purple):  These grant players additional actions they can take at any time.  They may let a player draw more cards, gain additional fish, rescue more cats, and much more.
  • Lesson Cards (blue): These cards give players new and unique ways to score points at the end of the game.  Private lessons are objectives that apply to only the player who has that card and public lessons apply to all players.
  • Oshax Cards (brown): These cards allow players to rescue an Oshax cat at the appropriate time.
  • Treasure Cards (yellow): These let players collect various treasure tiles when played.
Isle of Cats Rare Treasures

3. Read Lessons

During this stage of the game, public lessons are laid out for all players to read.  As we said before this is a new game objective that applies to all players not just the person who laid it.

4. Rescue Cats

Now it’s finally time to rescue the cats, all players decide how many rescue cards they are going to play this round and everyone reveals them at the same time.  The player order is decided by how many boots are revealed by each player.

Isle of Cats Rescue Cards

Players then pay the appropriate number of fish to rescue a cat (3 for the left field, 5 for the right field) in turn order until all players have passed.  Players must have as many permanent baskets and or rescue card baskets as cats they want to rescue.  

When a cat is rescued it is placed on their ship any way they wish, but must be contained within the main border and has to be connected to a previously played tile.

5. Rare Finds:

After all players have finished rescuing cats, players take turns playing any Oshax or treasure cards.  Any tiles collected this way are immediately placed on their ship. Oshax are laid just like regular cat tiles but can group up with whichever type of cat a player chooses.

Isle of Cats Oshax Cards

The game is played over 5 rounds with players going through these steps each time.  At the end of the game players will add up their scores from the following and whoever scores the most is the winner.

Below are the ways players can score and lose points in the Isle of Cats:

  • Cat Families: Each family of cats (3 or more of a single type) on a player’s boat scores points depending on how large that family is.  These cats must be connected.
  • Rooms: For each room (marked on board) not filled, players will lose 5 points per room.
  • Rats: For each visible rat not covered on their ship players will lose 1 point.
  • Rare Treasures: Each rare treasure on a player’s ship will give them  3 points.
  • Lessons: Players then check if they completed any of their private and public lessons and calculate the points earned from these.
Isle of Cats Lesson Cards

Isle of Cats Family Mode

Isle of Cats removes all the fish, baskets, and regular cards from the game.  Players instead get just two private lessons, which are much less complicated than many of those in the regular edition.  Players will also use the reverse side of the ship board for this mode.

In this version, players will take turns rescuing cats until no cats are left in the field or everyone has passed.  This is a very simplified version of the game and allows players to just focus mostly on laying the cat tiles in the best way on their boat.

Conclusion:

Isle of Cats Board Game Review Playthrough

Isle of Cats is a game that many love and for good reason, but one that fell flat for us instead of on its feet.  It just tries to be too many things at once and while a lot of recent games have succeeded at that, in this case, it just is a little too messy, fiddly, and chaotic.

When looking at each individual aspect of the game they actually all seem great and excellently designed.  The card drafting feels impactful, puzzly, and like it matters.  The swapping of cards significantly helps balance the game by giving players more choices when it comes to what they keep and what they pass to their opponent.

The currency system of the game is extremely tight and will make you think about the trade-offs between decisions.   You have to think about what’s most important to spend your very limited fish on, more cards or more cats (if you have enough baskets).  

Isle of Cats Fish Tiles

This resource management aspect of the game is extremely thinky and requires a lot of planning and calculations that are constantly changing as you pass cards back and forth and have entirely new variables in addition to the cat tiles that are already in the fields for you to think about.

To top it all off the cat tile polyomino puzzle is excellent and the variable boards, rats, treasures, and multiple cat types create something that is a step above other similar games.  The lessons add even more dimension to this puzzle as you try to fit these unique objectives into the limited spaces on your ship too.

Yet… somehow all these things that are great on their own, just feel like “a lot” together.  Each aspect plays on the others in a way that makes them all feel worse than if they were separate.  

The card drafting feels long, and messy and makes the resource management feel overwhelming and stressful as there’s just so much to think about and decide.  You usually have multiple mini piles of cards in front of you as you try to decide what to keep, and what to give back to your opponent and then you have to decide what you want to keep all over again after you are done passing cards back and forth.

Then after all that is over and your brain is already burning, and all you want to do is roll over and take a cat nap, you finally get to rescue some of those cat tiles you’ve been eyeing and bring them aboard your ship.  

Maybe you get lucky and get to rescue a lot of cats, but maybe you don’t and you struggle to even add just a few to your ship.  It just seems like a lot of mess and chaos to take very few actions toward the actual physical tile puzzle at hand.  

Finally, the lesson cards seem like they add so much variety and make each player’s puzzle even more unique, but they come down to the luck of the draw. Especially in the later rounds, you just have to hope they fit with the current state of your ship.  

These lesson cards make the tile laying even more of a puzzle but somehow at the same time make it less satisfying because now you have all these unique objectives that might not necessarily make for a ship layout that makes sense, but one that will score you more points.  

This would be fine if players could do well just by filling their ship more traditionally too, but completing lessons is where the real winning happens.  If you focus on just getting large groups of cats and covering rats and rooms, you will never beat somebody who focuses on lessons instead.

Isle of Cats Lesson Cards

For some, all of these things will be great and might make it the perfect game for your collection, but for others like ourselves, it’s just a little too messy, chaotic, and fiddly almost to the point of being stressful.  Overall the game just feels like work and not worth the effort for what it is.  

If it was just a little more elegant and streamlined somehow, we would probably enjoy it a lot more than we do, but unfortunately, that is not the case.  As we said though, there’s no denying that there are some really great aspects to the game, as a package though it’s just not for us.

Is Isle of Cats Good For 2 Players?

Isle of Cats Oshax Tiles

This is one of the better player counts for Isle of Cats just due to the game length and card drafting process.  A large portion of the game is dedicated to the swapping and picking of cards and this takes quite a while with just two players.  

Playing with more this process is going to take even longer and if anybody is super analytical with their turns it will make the game way too long in our opinion.  If you are going to play with more players it might honestly be best to play the family mode to account for that.

In terms of card drafting though, your options are reduced a little so there is that downside but overall 2 or 3 is probably the sweet spot for this game. 

The turn order betting mechanism does seem a little unimportant in a two player game since there is less competition for the actual cat tiles and whether you get your first choice doesn’t typically matter that much.  When playing with more players though it might matter since instead of your second-choice cat you may get your 3rd or 4th instead depending on how many boots you lay.

Another consideration is that even with more players public lessons usually aren’t worth buying and playing, but with two players even fewer will likely get played.  This will make the game a little less exciting and lower the player interaction quite a bit. It’s not too significant though, since they are just a fairly weak aspect of the game in general.

Public lessons are a great idea, but there just isn’t enough incentive to play them at any player count, and aren’t dramatic enough to make a difference.  If this wasn’t the case we think they would improve a lot of the game’s weaknesses.

Other than these things Isle of Cats works just as well, if not better with two players as it does with other player counts.  

If you are like us though and this game might not be for you, it’s hard to recommend this one over something like Patchwork for this player count, especially if the family rules end up being your preferred way of playing.  The puzzle may be a little better, but not by enough to come out on top of Patchwork’s simplicity, elegance, and quick playtime.

Pros:

  • An excellent puzzle in all regards
  • Lessons add various objectives that make the game and your strategies feel a little different every time.
  • Extremely tight resource system that makes your decisions matter.
  • The included family version is great for quicker games or new or young players.
  • Excellent components, theme, and artwork that all tie into the game extremely well.

Cons:

  • The full game is a little long for what it is.
  • A little messy and fiddly, especially the card drafting aspect.
  • Too luck-dependent on occasion, and the player who draws the best lesson cards that align with their strategy will typically win.
  • Might not have enough player interaction for some.

City of Games The Isle of Cats - Rescue as Many Cats As Possible for 1-4 Players, Ages 8+
City of Games The Isle of Cats - Rescue as Many Cats As Possible for 1-4 Players, Ages 8+
City of Games The Isle of Cats - Rescue as Many Cats As Possible for 1-4 Players, Ages 8+

We hope this Isle of Cats two player review has helped you.

Our reviews are not paid reviews, but some games are given to us, we do not let this affect our opinions in any way. This post may contain affiliate links so we might receive compensation if you sign up for or purchase products linked to. As an Amazon Associate, we can earn from qualifying purchases. This helps cover our site's costs and allows us to continue reviewing games.


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