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SPIEL '19 Game Preview: Cloaked Cats, or Spotting Kitty's Spots

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Cloaked Cats, a deduction game from Connor Reid that HABA will debut in Germany on August 21, 2019, doesn't feel like it has anything novel compared to other deduction games, but I say that only in the context of someone who's played lots of deduction games.

Tthe kids who I introduced the game to, on the other hand, demanded to play it again immediately, then again until we played four times in total — then my son wanted to play twice more the next night. To quote James Nathan from his review of Across the United States:

There’s nothing new going on in Across the United States.

It’s not a game that you can point at and say it does this new thing. It has this twist.
Have you heard about that new train game, but where the other thing happens?
It’s like X, but with Y.

And I love it.
It’s like infrastructure maintenance for board games, and I’m here for it.
Cloaked Cats — which is titled Club der Tatzen, or "The Paw Club", in German — bears this same description, but with "deduction" in place of "train". Each of the 2-4 players starts the game with three characteristics, with the nineteen characteristics in the game being five poses, eight colors, two body decorations (stripes and spots), and four accessories. The game includes forty cat cards, and each card has 3-4 of these characteristics, such as these:

What characteristics can you deduce from what's marked? (prototype materials)

You start with three cat cards in hand, and on a turn you place one of these cards into play, then all players mark the card with a colored token if at least one of their characteristics is visible on the card, then you optionally guess a characteristic held by an opponent. If you're correct, they reveal that card and give you one of their tokens, which counts as a point for you; if not, you give them one of your tokens. End your turn by refilling your hand to three cat cards.

Players keep taking turns until someone has revealed all three of their characteristics, then you finish the round so that everyone has the same number of turns (but with players only being allowed to guess without playing a card), then you tally points, with each unrevealed characteristic card and each token of an opponent's color being worth 1 point.

Lots of whiffs when playing with only two

Cloaked Cats feels like many other deduction games because every guess — whether correct or not — potentially ricochets into another player gaining enough information to make a correct guess of their own. If you and I both mark a cat card with three characteristics, then I know you have B or C since I have A — unless I have both A and B in which case I have you nailed, but at the expense of exposing myself to retaliatory fire.

Sometimes the cards work against you, as in the game in which each of my three starting cat cards bore a different one of my three characteristics. Whatever I played would reveal me, but I had to play something. In practice, though, having one of your characteristics revealed isn't necessarily terrible because you'll continue to mark cat cards that bear this characteristic — and if that cat card just happens to have one of my characteristics that's still hidden, well, that bit of knowledge often remains in the background thanks to what's been made public. Sometimes you're pushed to make a guess because you can feel your options for safety running out, and you know that if you don't end it, you'll be the one fully revealed next.

I've played Cloaked Cats nine times on a prototype copy from HABA with all player counts, and while it doesn't offer any "gee-whiz" features to advertise on the box, it delivers a solid, quick-playing deduction experience with kids as young as six reveling in their correct guesses, especially when an adult sits in the role of guessee...

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