As a cat lover there’s nothing I enjoy better than stacking my 42 cats. Sometimes I stack them in a really tall tower, which is good. Sometimes they fall over, and then you just have cats all over the place. Sometimes I stack some of the cats upside down, just because I want to. Some of my cats are really fat and lazy, and stacking them leads to all manner of unforeseen consequences. But as every cat lover knows, cats are notoriously resistant to being stacked, which makes cat stacking a difficult and time-consuming exercise.
Fortunately, I can now indulge my love of cat stacking with IDW’s Cat Tower.
The premise to Cat Tower is both bonkers and exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from a game about putting cats on top of other cats. It goes thus: Catty Fatty spies a fish hanging up on a tall shelf, and being both portly and not exactly good at climbing, she comes up with an idea: if she can get all the cats to stack themselves in a tall tower they can reach the shelf and the fish.
What this translates to is a very simple, very quick game about putting cardboard cats on other cardboard cats. The object of Cat Tower is to be the first to get rid of all seven of your cats. In turn, players roll a dice and, depending on the dice roll, put a combination of cats on the tower. Often the dice tells you to stack one or two cats, but sometimes it tells you to stack a cat upside down. If you roll a paw you get to let somebody else play your turn and take a penalty for you if the tower falls.
Speaking of penalties, if you knock over the tower you have to take back two of the fallen cats. But the tower stays as it is, which means future players will build on what could turn out to be very flimsy foundations:
Adding complications to all this are the fatty catties, flat playing card-style cats on which, when you stack them, you put a token. This token will have a command you have to resolve immediately. Maybe the next player misses a turn. Maybe you have to re-distribute all players’ cats equally. Maybe the playing order is reversed.
And look out: if in future turns you knock a token off the cat tower, you have to take back an additional cat. This means you have to take back three cats and not two.
Already you’ve probably decided if Cat Tower is your sort of game. And in this case you’d be right. If the game’s premise made you giggle, if you love cats, and if you find the artwork charming and cute then this is a game you’ll get something out of. But if you want something strategic, something with a bit more bite, let me assure you that you’re right in your thinking — this is not a game you’re going to enjoy.
What Cat Tower really is is a filler game. It takes no time to set-up, about as much time to explain, and lasts little longer — games of Cat Tower typically last ten-to-fifteen minutes. And there’s not much to think about; the only decision you make is about which cats you want. Player agency is passed on to the dice and the game’s tokens. And there’s nothing too surprising or varied in the commands they give you. In fact, some of the tokens repeat some of the commands on the dice. All of which suggests that there’s just not many options for variety in a game about putting cardboard cats on other cats. Put it this way, none of the ideas in the tokens or dice rolls are going to astound you. They’re all what you would expect.
But none of that’s really going to matter. Cat Tower is silly and funny, and it has its own little charm. I mean, just look at these cats:
And because it’s so simple, it works in any context. It’s good for families with younger children. It works just as well with two people as it does with six. You can play it as a filler game, in between other games or at the end of the night when everybody’s getting sleepy but nobody really wants to go home. You can have a lot of fun introducing it to drunk friends at the pub.
So that’s the review. If you’re charmed by the artwork and the silly premise, and if you or somebody you know loves cats and/or Jenga, then there’s definitely a space for Cat Tower in your gaming collection…
Okay, that’s not quite the review. Cat Tower does have one significant problem that’s worth talking about. The problem is that it retails at £17.99. In modern board gaming terms, £17.99 isn’t very much — some games will cost you upwards of £50. But £17.99 is a lot for a game of cardboard cats, a dice, some tokens and zero strategy. Another way of thinking about this is that there are games out there which offer far more value for money. Of course, if you’re charmed by Cat Tower and think you’ll get regular use out of it, you’re still going to buy it. You’ll still enjoy it. Maybe that’s all that really matters.
Number of players: 2-6
Playing time: 15-20 minutes
Designer: Aza Chen
Publisher: Originally self-published, but now by Pandasaurus Games and IDW.
Recommended soundtrack: The Aristocats soundtrack.