Card games

New game idea notes: Caterwa[u|l]l

Just capturing this quickly here before I forget it all.

This is another boardgame idea, a family-game type of thing. Light and non-serious, but hopefully with a bit of tactics and replay value. It’s for two players.

The board is divided laterally into seven back gardens, of values 1 to 7. (1 is a grotty alley with dustbins, 7 is a palace.) Each garden goes all the way across the board, so it’s like seven broad stripes running from one player to the other.

Each player runs a gang of cats, the Paws and the Claws. Each gang consists of seven cat counters, of strength 1 to 7. 1 is a mewling kitten, 7 is a chewed-eared bruiser. The idea is to use your cats to gain control of the gardens, particularly the more valuable ones.

At the end of the game, all seven gardens are scored. If you are the only player with cats in a garden of value N, you score N points for it. If both players have cats in a garden, the one with greater total strength of cats scores 1. If equal in strength (or empty of cats), both score 0.

Players alternate turns. A turn consists of, in any sequence:

  • if you want, placing 1 cat counter onto the board, or moving one which is already on the board;
  • if you want, making 1 attack;
  • if you want, playing 1 card from your hand, and drawing another from the deck to replace it;


  • turning up any face-down cats in front of you.

You can only place or move a cat counter into (a) any garden where you already have at least one cat counter, or (b) the lowest-ranked garden where you don’t currently have any cat counters.

Fighting simply compares the total strength of your cats (in one garden of your choice) versus the other player’s. If you have a greater total, the opponent’s cats are removed from the board and placed face down in front of them. (Or if you lose, yours are remvoed and placed face down in front of you.) Face-down cats are turned up the following turn so cannot be replaced on the board until the turn after.

So that’s the basics, which are pretty straightforward and unforgiving. What makes the game interesting (hopefully) is the use of cards: you have a hand of five cards throughout the game, and can play one per turn. There are lots of different cards, and they allow you to do things like:

  • place two cats this turn rather than one;
  • turn a cat face-up at the beginning of the turn rather than the end;
  • get +1 to combat in a particular garden;
  • get +1 victory points for holding a particular garden at the end of the game;
  • exchange two of your cat counters that are in different gardens;
  • place into a higher garden than you’d usually be allowed;
  • etc.

Some cards persist, eg. you play a Fishpond into a particular garden, it stays there. Others are discarded after use. Some can only be played in a subset of the gardens, eg. a Nightingale Cage can only be played in one of gardens 6-7. This means that some are more useful later in the game, etc.

(Might also allow the attacked player to play a counter-card during combat. Otherwise combat will be very predictable?)

I’m not sure exactly how to finish the game. Perhaps something like going twice through the deck would be the thing: that doesn’t make any assumptions about actual level of progress on the board.

I would like the game to have a better beginning-middle-endgame structure: at the moment it’s a bit homogeneous. Will have to think about that.

I think I also have to think about the setup, otherwise the first player can just keep batting the other player off the board and no-one gets anywhere. Perhaps you need more than X points of cats in a garden to intiate combat, or something like that?

Any thoughts?

15 replies on “New game idea notes: Caterwa[u|l]l”

I’m not sure why you think there’s no early game. The steady war to ascend to higher gardens seems like it’s a natural early game, then once the first cat reaches garden 7 that’s the midgame.

End conditions should probably depend on how the game plays in practice. In particular, if one player is clearly going to win at some point that should ideally correspond to the actual end condition being at least close. On the other hand if the game is inevitably a constant back and forth then the end condition will need to be quite controllable so that the winner doesn’t feel arbitrary.

I like the theme of this a lot. I once bought game called Cat Attack, which I was hoping would be something like this. If you ever get a chance to play it, don’t. It’s terrible. 🙁

This one ? Mm. The cat pieces look quite cute though.

(And I’ve just remembered there was an idea to make combat less remorseless. Each side adds a d6 to their total cat strength. Possibly with a ‘special outcome’ on a 6.)

You’re right of course that the early game is fairly well defined, but it doesn’t feel ‘beginningy’ to me. Esepcially in a family game, I prefer the beginning phase to not have much conflict – ie. players can safely use it to feel out the board and how the rules work, and set up their positions, without too much threat. And the mid-game’s appearance is marked by a feeling of “right, I’ve got things sorted out now to some extent, I’d better start thinking about [x further bunch of aspects to cosnider]”. If (as at present) you’re potentially fighting over garden ownership from turn 1 onwards, it’s not ideal I think.

Maybe have a “time of day” track along the edge of the board and you can’t start catfights until nightfall? Time could be advanced by playing some kind of time passes card. Or possibly it could be a side effect of some other card types… not sure which would work better. That could also provide an end condition.

Great idea, I like that a lot! The idea of the cat armies silently massing during the afternoon, eyeing each other nervously, waiting for nightfall to bring on the savage clawing, is very appealing. And then the King of the Cats being crowned at dawn as the game ends.

Hurrah! 🙂

(We used to have a theory that Emily was a gangland boss, because every time we heard sounds of a catfight in the evening and rushed outside we would find her sitting calmly watching two other cats fighting each other!)

Time of day (or night) occurred to me too.
Another thought occurred for the early stages of the game, which was for cats to establish and mark territories if they can. Possibly gangs start with home territories, and if they are ably to occupy a location for X turns, they can mark it as their own, and would get bonuses for fighting there unless it is taken over and their “markings” are cancelled out.
Not sure how many sub-divisions you expect gardens to have, or whether the board is just seven spaces.

I had an idea for action cards too – if a fight is in progress, a human could open a window and throw something (old footwear, bucket of water) at one or all of the combatants.

I was planning on just seven spaces, keep it simple. But that’s something that can easily be adjusted if it doesn’t work out well.

I like the idea of your territory-marking thoughts, although requiring people to keep track of how many turns they’ve been in each territory might be abit fiddly. Perhaps marking a territory should be an action that they can do each turn (instead of fighting perhaps) in any one territory that they occupy. (With multiple markings per territory being more effective.)

Nice ideas for action cards, thanks!

The idea I had in mind for territory was that if there are no enemy cats in a particular territory, you could spend a turn marking it, represented by putting a coloured counter there, possibly adding more counters on subsequent turns if you are able to do so, bonuses might be, would not necessarily need to be cumulative.

Once an opponent takes possession of a territory, they can spend actions on removing the counters (again, 1 per turn), and once they are gone, add their own.

It occurs to me that gangs should have their own starting locations, which should be separate, if the game is to work in that way, rather than both gangs starting in Garden 1 and working up towards Garden 7, as someone else suggested. I don’t see the best way for that with the board as you described it though. If they start at each end, with the “palace” in the middle, conflict will tend to focus around the palace. What if the properties were not inherently more valuable to the cats, but could have attributes which make them valuable or useful, perhaps allocated randomly? You mentioned a garden pond, there might also be a bird bath, a sun lounger, a cat-nip bush, and (if my own cats’ preferences are anything to go by) a convenient patch of gravel, or freshly dug flower-bed!

Mm, I see what you mean re markers, that sounds elegant and clear.

I think I need to do a mockup of the board and try it out — you may well be right about the location values. After Consequences! I’m too easily distracted by interesting new ideas when I haven’t finished off the old ones yet…

Thinking further about this, I wonder if the time passing should just be a strict turn count. It feels a bit odd if the players could effectively delay nightfall by playing in a particular way. And having a visible and inexorable marker of the shrinking temporal distance to the next phase of the game could be useful in helping people plan.

Yup, I expect that would also work.

I have a fairly strong bias in terms of approach to game design that if something adds more strategic options I basically always prefer it, but that often comes at the expense of flavour and accessibility!

Mm, I have to keep reminding myself that this is supposed to be a family game, ideally for kids down to 8 or so. I’m sure there’s a fantastic more-strategic cat territorial warfare game for connoisseurs in here too, but not so sure about the market…

I think you might want to add more ‘structure’ inside the gardens, so that combat is resolved in a more elegant way.
This is for two reasons. Firstly there’s Terry Pratchett’s vision of ‘Cat Chess’

Secondly, I watched for many hours at home as our family’s two small black-n-white cats carved out a territory for themselves in our narrow london garden(s). They did this by appearing to be one small black and white cat that seemed to be able to teleport. The enemy cat usually got flustered and bottled out.

I dunno, maybe some kind of ‘scissors-paper-stone’ mechanic in each garden, where the piece entering it bumps all the existing pieces around a circular track, thereby changing their relative powers? (oh, and this might solve the first-mover problem if the advantage was actually to be the second cat in a particular garden).

[…] was great as always. I took along a new 2-player game Caterwaul, about gangs of rival cats, which I wrote about the idea here ages ago but only recently got around to making. It went over pretty well, although there were lots of good […]

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