The One About Letting the Cats Out of the Bag

The One About Letting the Cats Out of the Bag

April 20, 2021 0 By Ryan Sanders

We look at two cat-themed puzzle games this time around, The Isle of Cats and Cat Sudoku: Roll For Kyoto

The Case of the Mythical Felines

The Isle of Cats

  • Player Count: 1-4
  • Ages 8+
  • Playing Time:  60-90 Mins
  • Published by The City of Games
  • Designed by Frank West
  • Mechanics: Drafting, Puzzle
  • Theme: Fantasy 



Set in a fantasy world, the game, The Isle of Cats, has players trying to save as many mythical cats from ‘The Isle’ as they can before the evil Vesh Darkhand reaches the island and destroys them (player have 5 rounds). Each round players will gain 20 fish, which is the in-game currency, to spend on cards they want to buy and cats that are currently on the market this round. After collecting fish, each player receives 7 cards which players will draft (take) two and pass the rest to the next player, repeating the drafting until all cards have been drafted. Looking at the drafted hand of cards, each player then decides which cards to keep. To keep them you have to pay a price (prices are in the corner of a card) in fish and then discard any they do not want to keep. Cards have various actions, like lessons, which are either personal or public goals used in end game scoring, green cards which allow you to change turn order and gain baskets to put cats in (you must have a basket to transport a cat), purple cards can be played anytime. Finally, there are cards that gain players’ treasure or a wild tile cat. Each round, there are different set times in which you play each type of card (with the exception of the anytime cards, which can be played at any time). After all, cats that can be captured (during the Rescue Cat phase) and safely put on the boat have been rescued, and cards used, the next round begins. The way rounds play may first seem daunting, with it being broken into five phases, but actually, it all works together extremely smoothly. If you would like to learn more about how to play check out this great how-to-play video that will give you an in-depth look here by Watched It Played.


Gameschooling Aspect: What Skills Does It Teach or Reinforce? 

Spatial Reasoning is a big concept used in The Isle of Cats, as players are playing with polyomino shapes and trying to figure out how to best fill out their own boat for the highest possible score and to fulfill private goals they may have. Also it has a nice tension in the market, teaching buying and saving. What is the best way to use my fish (in-game currency) each round? Do I buy all the cards I want, or do I pass on expensive cards and buy more cats? Do I try to save some fish this round to have more to work with next round?


Isle of Cats is an amazing board game, both in its play and in its visual design. The first time I played the game – it blew my mind. The second time I played it, it was just as great as the first time. The third time I played it… well, I think you get the point. Even though a round is made up of 5 or 6 steps, it flows so smoothly and logically that you hardly realize you’ve completed a series of steps. It becomes second nature after a few rounds. I love the decisions the game makes me choose from such as which cards to keep when drafting as well as how the lesson cards can completely change up your strategy as the game progresses. Maybe with some of the lessons, I now want to NOT cover rats or treasure maps on the boat, or I want to go for a different color cat all of a sudden. Drafting, even in a two-player game works really well, because you still have to pay for the cards that you want to keep.  The currency in the game, fish, that you use both to purchase cards and to rescue cats onto your boat, creates a nice tension between how to use them. Often in The Isle of Cats drafting I find the decisions hard because there are so many good cards, I want to pick more than just the two allowable cards, and if I pass the cards to the next player there is no guarantee they will still be available when the hand returns to me.



The cats/polyomino shapes chosen, go great with the grid layout boat. I also like the common treasure are basic shapes for filling up small holes, while the rare treasures are more traditionally Tetris shapes. It works extremely well, especially with the boat not being a perfect rectangle and how the different rooms work (you want to cover all of one type of room on a ship or you get -5 points for each room that isn’t completely covered). The Isle of Cats never overstays its welcome and you wish that it lasted another round longer sometimes. Though in the end, I think not having it play longer is what makes part of the tension of this game, having so much you want to do and buy but not having enough time to do it all.



The Plot to Sudoku-ize Cats

Cat Sudoku: Roll For Kyoto

  • Player Count: 1-6
  • Ages 8+
  • Playing Time: 15-20 Mins
  • Published by Sunrise Tornado Game Studio
  • Designed by Ta-Te Wu
  • Mechanics: Roll and Write, Puzzle
  • Theme: Cats 



Cat Sudoku: Roll for Kyoto is a roll & write game-ified variant of the famous paper puzzle Sudoku. In the game, you are trying to best place the numbers of your roll on the dice into your grid. At the end of the game (all spaces filled), you score negative points for the same numbers in rows or columns or if the same number is diagonally adjacent. You can also lose points if you fill in too many spaces or not enough via an accident. I should note that some rows and columns have breaks (empty spaces in them) at where a current column and row ends, and if you have the same number after a break, it doesn’t cost points. Each turn (with the exception of the first where you roll to seed the board with some numbers)  there is a chance to assign one dice number to be wild, but each number only has a limited number of times/ways it can be wild. So, as time goes on, and numbers get marked off the number track,  it’s harder and harder for dice to become wild. The game comes with 4 different sheets (that vary in difficulty) each corresponding to a season of the year. You have 25 of each sheet, and due to filling them in with numbers you roll each time, each sheet can be played tons of times without the same puzzle showing up.


Gameschool Aspect: What Skills Does It Teach or Reinforce?

Cat Sudoku has the same benefits that number puzzles like Sudoku (and its variants). You have to think logically where to place things. What I like about Cat Sudoku is you do this with numbers you roll – How can I best fit these numbers into this puzzle (work with what I got) and get the best result? I also enjoy how the game is scored, you have to think not only in columns and rows but where you place numbers diagonally. What numbers to make wild, maybe it’s not always what will give you the most wilds, but a single number you really don’t want to place. This would be an excellent solo warm-up game to play before school work begins or Math class starts. I do want to mention that it would help if your child/student already understood Sudoku, before coming to these puzzles. It just may be easier to explain the rules. 


If you are a paper puzzle lover, you love the puzzles in newspapers, or you buy those puzzle books from the newsstand, the Cat Sudoku may be the ultimate board game for you. I have played many puzzle board games, but this one feels like it should be collected in a book and put in store racks. It has a great puzzle quality to it that you experience in many of those paper puzzle games. It works extremely well. Designer Ta-Te Wu has done a good job with this game, and I hope he does more sets. Though the game plays differently each time on a page, due to your rolls, new page shapes would always be nice. I do want to mention that I have only played Cat Sudoku as a solo game. I am not a huge solo board game player, but this game is a lot of fun and is one of the few expectations to that rule. I definitely recommend Cat Sudoku if you are into paper puzzles, Sudoku, and looking for a solo puzzle game to play.

Note: Both of the reviews are edited versions of one’s done in the past (and may have been slightly updated), to fit this new format. Both were also sent to Ryan by their respective publishers for a fair and honest review.