Teaching Time: 5 mins
Playing Time: 1-12 mins
Setup Time: 1 mins
Value For Money: Mid
A recent Kickstarter from Stuff by Bez, Kitty Cataclysm is advertised as being a game of card play, puns and being a dick to your friends, how successful it is at the three of them varies depending on your point of view. I should say before starting the review that I’ve met Bez at several conventions and personally like them very much, which I suspect is probably true for a significant number of people who own their games because Bez is charismatic, energetic and active on the convention scene. That said I’m going to try to judge Kitty Cataclysm on it own merits as much as possible.
The game play is pretty simple, as is suitable for a lightweight party take that game, players receive a hand of cards at the start of the game and play them into a joint in play area/discard pile known as their kitty. The cards have effects, usually connected to drawing, discarding, taking or giving cards. Each card has a value as a score rather than a cost and at the end of the game, which triggers when one player has no cards, the player with the biggest total score in their hand and kitty wins.
This is probably the most traditional card game from Bez so far, their biggest previous efforts being “In a Bind” a sort of twister in a deck of cards game and “Wibbell ++” a modern game system in the vein of lexicon, but it remains very much the sort of fast playing party game reliant on some cross table chatter and light attitude that defines their games. The art style is the sort of thing that will divide people, personally I find it charming though I could understand those who might prefer something a little slicker. Which comes to the first of the selling points of the game, the cat puns. This is very much a matter of taste, after several play throughs I still had members of my group who chuckled every time “Cat Burglar” was played and found that the scoring in the game is down to “Meowney” deeply amusing and I suspect you’ll know if that’s you or not. Suffice to say they’re probably not the sorts of jokes that will sustain the game past more than a few plays for most gamers. If you’ve played Munckins, and if you’re thinking of playing a card game of puns and friend abuse it’s a fair bet that you have, then that’s about the level of gag. But they’re cute, well meaning and will work with any crowd so as a lead in to the game they work just fine.
The question is, does the game they lead into sustain itself enough to justify getting into it? Well that depends on the card play and the dickery and its tough to pin down how effective either is. Its generally a good thing when a lightweight party card game doesn’t overstay its welcome, but a game of Kitty Cataclysm can be over in a flash. I played rounds where the game was over before the fourth player even got a turn. Now the mechanic of scoring what players have in their hands should stop players intentionally ending the game extremely early, since they have no way of knowing if their opponents will be holding high scoring cards, but the operative phrases there are ‘should’ and ‘intentionally’. It will generally take a few games before you manage a round where someone doesn’t play a card, end the game, then take a few seconds before realizing they’ve ended the game. That few will increase depending on the size of the group and the attention they’re paying and in a party game of this nature the possibility of a lack of attention ending the game before someone even gets a turn is a bit of an issue. Generally, you want someone not paying attention in a game like this to be a target for taking advantage of or someone who can be isolated and ignored, here they can just blunder into ending the game before anything has really happened. Worse, ending the game that early can be a winning tactic since people’s hands can contain all manner of minus scoring garbage, so its not impossible to have several rounds where one player never gets to play a card and repeatedly loses, which fulfills the dickery end of things, but not so much the card play end. This comes down to the game’s biggest problem, being a dick to someone relies for most of its satisfaction on the person having formulated a plan, having some vision of where they’re going, then pulling the rug out from under them. Being a dick in Kitty Cataclysm boils down to handing people minus cards which they might or might not want and might or might not have ways of getting rid of or handing right back to you, stealing cards from them blind, which might be a good thing or might not, and ending the game when you think you might be at an advantage because of it, but you might not. So, its hard to get a real sense that you’re actually screwing people over so much as just being one of the cogs in the game that sometimes throws good things at you and sometimes bad things.
Which is one way of looking at and playing the game. On the other hand, this is a game with a short memory and a short turn around. You never build up anything super long term and there’s not much point trying, you stick a card down, steal something from a friend, or give them something nasty, get called a dick, then the game ends and you set up for another round. Its like a conversation that was fun while you were having it but you can’t honestly remember what it was about after you had it. Played as a party game it will probably result in several of the players never totally grasping what the hell is going on at any point, which will be totally fine with some players. Even the ones that have no idea what they’re doing will win some of the rounds and since almost anything can be beneficial or damaging everyone gets to both call everyone else a dick while fronting out that what happened was exactly what they wanted to happen. Which can make for an immensely fun time around a table.
If you’re looking for a game to tell a story, however short, for your friends to communicate via and share, avoid Kitty Cataclysm. If you’re looking for a game that will be something happening while your friends shout insults and come backs at each other, Kitty Cataclysm is pretty much exactly what you’ll be looking for. It’s not a story, it’s not even a one liner, it’s a shouted one or two word snap back from across the room, it won’t work for every player, it won’t work for every group, but it’ll bring the party for the ones that it does work for.