Calico is a brand new quilt and cat themed pattern matching, tile placement board game from publishers Flatout Games and AEG. Designed by Kevin Russ, featuring artwork from Beth Sobel, 1 – 4 players will be using hexagonal tiles to stitch together a beautiful quilt – which naturally will attract cats to sprawl out on. For around 30 minutes players will be focused on buttons, cats and more. However, is the game family friendly like it looks? Let’s find out!
In Calico players use pattern and colour combinations to complete design goals, collect point scoring buttons and attract lucrative cats. At the start of the game three cats are put into play, from a selection of 10. Two patterns are assigned to each, indicating which patterns in which shapes/groupings will score what points. For example, the cat called Tibbit scores for groups of 4+ tiles. With the stripes and dots patterns assigned to Tibbit, players would be looking to make an area of 4+ tiles of one of those two specific patterns.
Also before playing, each player shuffles their design goal tiles, drawing four and choosing which three to place onto their board. These tiles come with patterns denoted on them, such as “AAA-BBB”. In this example players would score 8 points for two sets of three matching tiles surrounding the design goal. The tiles can match in either colour or pattern. Design goals score a higher amount if both ways to match are met, pattern and colour groupings. The final part of setup is to draw two tiles each out of the tile bag, and create a market of three face up tiles.
On a turn a player must add one of their two tiles onto their board, adding to their quilt. If a grouping that satisfies a cat’s demands is created the player takes a cat token, adding it onto their quilt. A placed tile can also complete a group of 3+ tiles of the same colour formed, which awards a 3 point scoring button of that colour. With 6 colours to collect a bonus rainbow button is awarded to players that manage to get all 6. All points are calculated at the end of the game, so placements around objective tiles don’t instantly trigger anything extra. A player then must choose a tile from the market – before refilling the market from the bag.
Play continues around the table in this manner until all everyone has completed their quilt, having added 22 tiles to their board. Points are then gained for the cats attracted, based on the difficulty of the cat’s demands, 3 points are awarded per button and for completing design goal tiles the points earnt are denoted on them. Whomever has the most points wins, with ties split by the number of cat tokens, followed by buttons.
Calico is not the cute family game that overview of the turn structure would suggest, being much more thinky than the visual appearance would suggest. Individual turns are simple: place a tile and take a tile from the market. This sounds simple enough for anyone to understand and it is. There is never an issue of not understanding how to play. What elevates it from a family weight tile placement game to a gamer territory is you constantly have to think about a multitude of ways to score.
Almost every single tile placed is an opportunity to score. Players might only have two tiles in their hand but right up until the final turn, where only one space on your board is left unfilled, there are ample places they could go. As every tile is a combination of one of the six colours and six patterns it’ll often be a choice between multiple scoring opportunities. A Blue fern patterned tile for instance could be used around a design goal with some other blues or ferns. The same tile could be used in a group of ferns for the cats or to join a few blue tiles together for a button. Every turn therefore is packed full of options. Calculating what’s best and the chances of other tiles coming up certainly slows the game down. So, for those prone to analysis paralysis (AP), Calico could be an extremely slow plod of a game to play.
Calico is much more of a tactical experience, reacting to what tiles become available to you in the market, than a strategic game to form a full game plan. Players can go into the game with the idea of throwing button based caution to the wind, and focusing solely on the 3 design goal tiles. A few turns in and you might have to adapt that plan, as you realise the tiles are lining you up to score a cat or two. This leads into a slight issue that doesn’t help the possibility of analysis paralysis, only on your turn will you know what is available from the market. This is very similar to many other games. Regardless, in Calico the choice of what you could pick up and therefore play on the next turn will often influence a decision. Thankfully, not every turn will hinge on what is in the market, as you may have already lined up a hand of two great tiles for your quilt.
People said that the game Patchwork looked good. Calico is stitches above, showing how to make a patch quilt look stunning. The vibrant coloured tiles are played into dual-layer personal player boards. Having that double layer isn’t needed but gives the game a more premium feel, whilst making knocking the table less of a threat to the game experience. The patterns are mostly distinctive, though at a glance the fern and foliage are a tad close for my liking. When looking at the board they are easily seen as different but you do have to properly look, not just glance. Included is a lovely, Azul like, drawstring tile bag. Oddly the rulebook constantly refers to using piles of tiles. It might save a second or two to have the tiles in piles but there is something special about swirling the tiles around in the bag when drawing one for the market.
Calico manages to lure players in with the cute cats and vibrant colours. Some will come out of the brain burny experience potentially a bit shocked, at how a game that looks light on the surface comes with ample choices to make. The game doesn’t necessarily grow with players, still with the choice from multiple cats at the start of each game there is variety. Instead, the puzzle on offer is what will keep players coming back for more. It is hard to play Calico and not instantly think of what you should have done differently, and more importantly want to play again. As that’s the sign of a great game it has earnt its space on my gaming shelf – just go into the experience knowing what to expect!
(Editor’s Note: Calico was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)