Whenever a mechanic becomes the “it” thing in board game design, it is not uncommon to see every possible theme implemented with that mechanic. Whether it was the wonder years of worker placement or the dominant days of deck-building, you could count on finding a game about almost anything you could imagine. Now that we are in the Golden Age of roll and writes, it should be no surprise to anyone to find a game that has a theme near-and-dear to our hearts—cute cats playing and lounging on cat towers.
Cat Tower, originally self-published and reimplemented by Alley Cat Games as Cat Cafe, strives to be the cat’s meow of the roll-and-write craze. Let’s scratch our way into the box and see if it achieves its goal of gaming purr-fection.
Note: Our review is of the original self-published Cat Tower. The Cat Cafe reimplementation has updated rules but the same components.
The goal of Cat Tower is to score the most points by filling cat towers with various toys, food, and pillows for cats to enjoy while relaxing on their towers. Each spot on the tower is assigned a floor number (in the d6 range) and each tower is of varying heights (with taller towers awarding higher scores on completion). The objects you can fill the towers with score points in a variety of ways: mice toys score for connected chains, food dishes award points based on other adjacent objects, while yarn balls only grant points to players with the most yarn. Houses can be built in specific spots in the towers, awarding immediate bonus points based on the number of various objects in the towers.
The first part of a turn in Cat Tower is drafting dice, with the first player rolling dice equal to the number of players plus one. In turn order, players each draft a die, until all players have a die and one remains undrafted, serving as a shared die for all players to use. Next, the players mark their cat tower sheets, by using the dice values of their drafted die and the shared die. Players use the value of one die to determine the floor number they can place an object, and the value of the other die to determine the object. For example, a combination of 3/5 can allow a player to play a butterfly in a 5th-floor spot, or a pillow in a 3rd-floor spot. Players can use cat paws (earned by placing butterflies or passing their turn) to adjust the value of a die by 1.
After players mark their sheets, the towers are checked for completion, with the player who completes a tower first earning bonus points. Once three cat towers are completed, the game is finished, and all objects are scored and points are totaled up. The player with the most points has built the most beautiful and attractive cat tower and is declared the winner!
Cat Tower is an exemplar of the roll-and-write genre, combining a simple dice drafting mechanic with a straightforward scoring scheme to create a game that has fur-miliar rules that are quick to learn and easy to master. A quick explanation of the drafting and the function of each object (helpfully displayed at the bottom of the player sheet) gets players off and rolling in minimal time. From a design standpoint, we would prefer larger fonts and darker ink for some of the numbering—some of us have pretty poor vision and trying to make out some of the verbiage and numbering on the player sheets was difficult at times.
There are two strategies in playing Cat Tower—arrange your objects efficiently to maximize their score (the way we prefer to play) and race to fill all the cat towers as fast as possible (the boring-but-winning strategy). While the object combo/organization strategy yields a close score and a good game, the race-to-the-top strategy tended to win out quite a bit more often. The strategy you choose to employ really is a meta-decision, based on the group you are with—playing with family and friends in a relaxed atmosphere, or with a die-hard group of fur-midable gamers.
While the gameplay and experience of Cat Tower are definitely enjoyable, the replay value is an obstacle that is difficult to overcome. Once you have played through Cat Tower enough times, you’ll find yourself in a dearth of new experience. While different player counts offer varying gameplay experiences (we prefer playing with 3 & 4 players), this does not provide enough variation to make new plays a unique experience.
The best way to describe Cat Tower is cute: cute theme, cute mechanics, cute box. However, sadly, other than the theme, there is nothing outstandingly paw-sitive about Cat Tower that makes it stand out from the crowd. It is a solid game to purr-haps introduce people to the roll and writes, and is a must-have for any gamer who is a cat enthusiast.
Final Score: 3 Stars – Cats + roll-and-write, but not greater than the sum of its parts. Fur real.
• Lacks depth of strategy and choice
• Gets repetitive on multiple plays
• Difficult to read print/graphics on player sheets