WHAT IS IT?
A light route-building game where players have cats traversing the rooftops of a city, in an attempt to get together and gather fish. For Leo Colovini fans, this game definitely has his signature "setting up infrastructure in a shared space" feeling.
Good-quality board, two pairs of adorable cat-meeples in each of four colors, solid cardboard tiles for catwalks and shelters, tokens for fish and sardine cans, and over 50 thick cat location tiles.
Each player gets two pairs of cats and a few catwalks and shelters in their color, as well as 10 sardines. 4 sardines are placed on each of the three Cat dumpsters, and 1 sardine each on the Catwalk and Shelter dumpster. Cat location tiles are shuffled, and then three are drawn to place under the three Cat dumpsters. The board consists of a nexus of rooftops, all connected by broken paths.
On your turn:
1) Pay one sardine to each of the five dumpsters. If you cannot afford this, instead take two sardines from the bank and immediately end your turn.
2) Select one of the five dumpsters, collect all sardines on it, and take the associated action. If you have no cats remaining off the board, you may NOT select a location dumpster.
*Location Dumpsters: Each cat location tile lists two rooftops. Take one of your matching pairs of cats, and place one on each rooftop indicated by the tile. Then discard the location tile and replace it with a fresh one from the deck.
*Catwalk Dumpster: Place one of your catwalks over a broken path between two rooftops, to make it traverseable.
*Shelter Dumpster: Place one of your shelters on a rooftop that does not currently have a shelter.
3) (optional) Move any number of your cats along catwalks, so long as they all end on a rooftop. Whenever you cross an opponent's catwalk or shelter, you must pay that opponent one or two sardines, respectively. When you get two of your matching cats on the same rooftop, remove them from the board, and take one fish from the bank. (One fish = 10 sardines)
The game ends when the last fish is taken from the bank. Players are penalized for cats remaining on the board, and then the player with the most fish points wins.
*Easy to learn. The gameplay summary above is pretty much it. Your turn is basically pick a dumpster, do the thing that dumpster said, and then connect a pair of your cats if you can. Nobody should have any trouble picking up the rules of the game very swiftly.
*Short turns. Speaking of swiftly, since there aren't many decisions per turn, the game goes reasonably fast; absent end-game calculations, if it's not your turn, it probably will be soon.
*Some very functional component design. The board's rooftops are all alphabetized by name (a la Kahuna), making it easy to find the locations where your cats must be placed. And the Catwalks and Shelters are labeled with a 1 and 2 respectively, reminding you of the cost when you cross one belonging to an opponent.
*Adorable Cat Meeples. Not only do the two pairs of sitting and standing cat meeples for each color make it easy to tell which pairs are matching, but they are also just plain charming.
*Feels like it has a nice flow from early to late game. Early on without any catwalks on the board, players won't really be able to move cats and have to place some infrastructure. Mid-game a few cat pairs might be connectable, but some players will focus on infrastructure instead. By late game, most rooftops will be connected, so rather than seeing *if* cat pairs can connect, players will likely be calculating whether the profit is worth the payment for each of the three available cat locations.
*Kingmaker-Prone. This is naturally true of any game where you pay to use the routes that others have built, but often you will find yourself with two routes of identical cost to you, where your decision determines which of your opponents will rake in a few fish.
*High endgame luck. Once you reach the point in the game where most people are just grabbing location tiles, everyone is basically at the mercy of the luck of the draw. Maybe the locations will all happen to cross your shelter/catwalk nexus. Or maybe none of them will. The best available tile on your turn may be a cheap crossing, or an expensive one. But everyone will likely just take whichever tile offers the most profit until the game ends.
*Thick tiles seem an odd choice for location cards. While the quality of all the components in this game is unassailable, using tiles instead of cards here is a gain in durability at the expense of ease of shuffling -- a trade-off which I question in a game with only one type of card in the deck, and no individual player hands.
*The Catwalk/Shelter tiles are not conveniently color-coded. Each is an amalgam of two colors, neither of which really matches the cat meeple colors, so you'll constantly be looking at other player's holdings to see, "Oh, Bob has the catwalks that are brownish." A minor annoyance, but worth noting.
Like some fish I've dealt with, there's good flavor but not enough meat on the bones here for me. The strategy is fairly light; you try to throw stuff where people need to cross it and pay you, and then merge your cats when you can, ideally mostly along routes that you've built so you don't have to pay out. It's a cute, light game that I might bring out to play with non-gamer guests, but isn't something I personally would be excited about.
IS IT FOR YOU?
If you're looking for a light, fun game that doesn't take long to learn, Hot Tin Roof offers you that with good-looking pieces and a cute theme. Children and non-gamers will have no problem picking this up, and it can be played light and breezey. On the flipside, if you're a fan of Leo Colovini's style of games that often involve infrastructure other players can make use of, this is very much in keeping with that mold and possibly a reasonable get for you as well.
If you're looking for a meaty, deep, or heavily strategic game, there's likely not enough going on with this one to satisfy you.