Max the cat is a cooperative game aimed at small kids, roughly 3-7 year olds. The players are 3 small animals (squirrel, bird and mouse) who are trying to run to their home in a tree. The enemy is a cat who (moved according to game rules) is after them.
Each turn you roll 2 dice, with a 50% chance of getting a cat or small animal move on each die.
So the possible results are:
- Two small animals move one space each (or one small animal moves two spaces)
- Cat moves one space, one small animal moves one space
- Cat moves two spaces
The key point is that the "small critter moves" can be distributed amongst any of the animals. So the phasing player can decide not to move himself, but instead to "give" his move to someone else if that other player is in more of a danger of being caught by the cat. It is a simple cooperative mechanic through which kids learn to work togeather as a team (and sometimes make hard choices).
There are a few shortcuts (snakes&ladders style) that you can use, but the cat will also use them if possible. As the cat is moved randomly, there's a chance he "skipps" the shortcut if he moves 2 spaces without actually landing on the shortcut space. So there is an element of luck mitigated by strategy.
There's also several "cat treat" chits which the players can use up in order to move the cat back to the starting point.
There's also a small but elegant "endgame" rule - when the cat reaches the end of the track he "lurks in ambush" at the tree. At this point he cannot be brought back to the start by the cat treats anymore and the small animals need to have a double move in order to dodge him on the final streach.
1. Both strategy and luck play a role in the game in fine proportions. This makes the player decisions meaningful and at the same time there remains a level of unpredictability that prevents the subsequent playthroughs from being boring.
2. Kids will need to negotiate between themselves, learn to work as a team, learn to make risk-assessments and sometimes make tough choices. Those are all skills that will help them in life, but also prepare them for more complex games later on. In this sense it really is a great "little kids" game which is simple but not dumb.
3. The theme is familiar and engaging to most kids. Cats chasing mice are present in nursery rhymes etc, but the element of danger is there and motivates the little players to make the best decisions.
4. The game is balanced in a way that most games will result with all 3 small animals arriving to safety in 75% or so of games, provided the kids don't make any very bad decisions. Moreover even if one of the small animals is caught and eaten by the cat, the players can still go for a "minor victory" by saving 2 or 1 out of the three small animals. It is very rare for a game to end with a "total defeat" of all 3 small animals being caught by the cat. So most of the time the kids will walk away satisfied to some degree at having achieved something.
This would not be a good thing in an adult game, but is is a good thing in a game aimed at preeschoolers.
5. The game can be easily finished in some 15 minutes, but may extend to over 30 minutes depending on how long the kids take to talk things over with one another or just comment on the situation on the board and play with the theme (kids at this age can be very creative when it comes to making a backstory or a game-within-a-game etc).
1. The engaging theme may come at a price. Depending on how sensitive your kids are. They may cry when an animal gets eaten by the cat.
2. There is a chance that one of the little players happens to really love cats or small predators in general and will end up playing "against the game" wanting to see the cat win (which will damage the cooprerative element of the game). Kids can be unpredictable in this respect
3. The worst case scenario is that a kid will get very upset once "his" animal was eaten and will spoil the game for the two other kids. Kids may also get very upset at one another if they decide that the other player didn't do enough to save "their" animal. (I think that's the price you have to pay with every kids cooperative game that is not dumbed-down and is a real learning experience in teamwork).
4. Last final remark: the board itself is decent and hard, but the playing pieces are just cardboard punch-outs, which is dissapointment when it comes to a kids game. The game would be more attractive if it had little animal figurines instead.
I think the game is decent as a game for small kids. It teaches kids to think ahead, assess risk and cooperate with one another. As you migth realize by reading the "cons" part of the review - the main problem is going to be the emotions the game creates amongst the little players. In some sense learning to manage one's emotions is a learning experience as well, so maybe even that isn't as much a downside.
Overall I'd say the game is solid as far as its target audience is concerned and I'm giving it a 5 stars out of 6 rating.
This was something new for me, as its my first review of a kids game.
- Last edited Tue Mar 21, 2017 12:58 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sat Mar 18, 2017 12:32 pm
I thought you might be interested to know that in Poland you can now purchase Max the Cat in Polish and that it utilizes wooden meeples for parts as well as a beautiful constructed diecut tree. It is made in Poland by Egmont and is a legit licensed product. The remake is perfectly true to the original you played but with today's production values.
Also, when we play Max we have never selected creatures as belonging to a particular player. Instead, the dice are passed around as normal, but the player whose turn it is can move any creature, except Max who is autonomous, as a cat should be.
The result is that all players participate to an extent each turn in decision making, and there is no hope of resentment regarding outcomes among players. The player whose turn it is decides what move to make, but rarely without consultation. The group can be upset or dissatisfied if things don't go well for the creatures, but rarely (practically never) at one another. "Alpha" players sometimes get upset if they are not always heeded by others, but this is true of all games & there's a lesson there too.
The Polish version is quite stunning by comparison, and there is now even more updated (and expanded) versions from Sunnygames.nl for English, French, German, Dutch (each language gets a version instead of a multi-lingual single product. They are really great looking.
Great work for your first children's game review!