Explore The Isle of Cats and draw what you see!
In the game, you are citizens of Squalls End on a rescue mission to The Isle of Cats and must rescue as many cats as possible before the evil Lord Vesh arrives. Each cat is represented by a unique shape and belongs to a family, you must find a way to make them all fit on your boat while keeping families together.
Isle of Cats: Explore & Draw is played over 7 rounds in which you try to save as many cats, learn lessons and collect treasure. At the start of the game a grid of 3x4 is formed with cards from the cats deck and cards from the lessons deck following a predetermined set-up.
After the grid is set-up all players can take their turn simultaneously and should choose one of the four columns with cards. The players can resolve their chosen cards in any order they like. There are two different type of cards in the game:
Discoveries are drawn as polynomial shapes on your boat. Cats are always drawn in the color shown and you try to form large groups of cats (families) as they score a lot of points at the end of the game. Oshax are wild cats and you can choose the color. Lastly there are Treasures they help you fill up your boat, Rare treasures are also worth points at the end of the game. Discoveries are always drawn adjacent and the first discovery you draw can be anywhere you like.
Lesson Cards show different scoring conditions. If you select a Lesson card you can check that particular lesson on your Lessons sheet to activate that scoring condition at the end of the game.
Each player has a slightly different boat layout with treasure maps and rats. Treasure maps lets you gain treasure if covered with the right coloured cat and rats are worth negative points at the end of the game if still uncovered. You can also active special abilities as listed on your Boat sheet, but only once per round and only 3 for the entire game.
After 7 round you calculate your score and the player with the highest score is declared the winner!
The Isle of Cats originally released in 2019 was a huge hit on Kickstarter (8,168 backers pledged £467,847) and in the meantime a new campaign has also delivered more expansions to the fans. With everybody staying more at home the last couple of years Frank West, the designer, figured an Isle of Cats remote edition would be a good way to still let players enjoy the Isle of Cats. Since players also really enjoyed this Print-and-Play Flip-and-Write variant to Isle of Cats, City of Games decided to release it in 2022.
So let me start by saying, I really like The Isle of Cats. Since its release I've played it quite a lot and I've introduced various people to it since it has an approachable theme and streamlined rules. I also like Roll-and-Write game so I was very eager to try out this new variant.
Explore & Draw does a really good job at capturing the feeling of the original. Filling up your boat and completing lessons is a satisfying mix of mechanics. Instead of drafting cards with your opponents it features an interesting card selection mechanism that offers the players equal difficult decisions.
It does all of that in a much smaller package and set-up time is also greatly reduced. Since most of the placement rules are equal to its bigger brother you can also get playing even faster if you're already familiar with them. The addition of the special abilities (that have limited availability each round and game) adds another decision layer to the game to make it a bit more interesting.
The art is mostly reused from the original game and that is fine because it looks great and vivid. The quality of the cards, wipeable boards and included markers is also fantastic. Once again the City of Games has released a perfect package.
The question is however do I need both in my collection? For now they will stay both in my collection as both serve a different purpose. Explore & Draw as a filler game or after a long day at work. While the Original game is more of a main event game that has a lot more to offer especially if you add the expansions into the mix.
👍 Captures the feeling of the original game in a much smaller package
👍 Lots of strategies to try
👍 The order of the cards coming out makes the game different each time you play
👍 Beautiful production with high quality components
👍 I'm still a Dog person, but really like the game
➖ Still needs quite a bit of table space (for the card grid)
➖ No player interaction
The Isle of Cats: Explore & Draw
While Explore & Draw is definitely a lighter affair compared to the Isle of Cats it still offers plenty of possibilities for an interesting filler game. This is an example of a perfect Roll-and-Write: low set-up time, enough replay-ability out of the box and difficult decisions.
Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)
Looking for alternatives or similar games? Have a look at Isle of Cats or Calico if you would like a tougher challenge!