1 Game Description
A co-operative children’s game, which the box says is for 1-8 players. Players control a bird, mouse, and squirrel (the animals) which are trying to get home to their tree before Max the Cat eats them. A player’s turn consists of rolling two dice, each of which has 3 green faces and 3 black faces. The player then gets to move any animal of her choice one space forward for each green face showing and the cat forward one space for each black face showing. In other words: 2 green=move two animals one space each or move one animal two spaces; 1 green + 1 black=move one animal one space and move the cat one space; 2 black=move the cat two spaces. Movement is always forward. The player chooses which token to move first.
Each animal has its own shortcut. If the animal lands on its picture, it moves to the second picture (like a latter in Chutes and Latters). If an animal is moved two spaces, you can chose to skip the shortcut. If the cat lands on a shortcut space, it also takes the shortcut. If the cat is next to a shortcut space, and two blacks are rolled, it automatically skips the shortcut.
When an animal reaches the end of the board, it goes to its home the next time it is moved and is then safe. If the cat reaches the end of the board, then it sits there the rest of the game, waiting for the animals – who can jump over the cat if two greens are rolled.
At the beginning of a player’s turn (and only at the beginning) a player may place a cat treat on the board, which causes the cat to go back to start. There are four treats.
Players win if all three animals get home. Otherwise, the cat wins. With children, the game takes about 10-15 minutes, unless a mistake is made and you decide to end as soon as an animal is eaten. In that case, the game can be over in just a minute or two.
The basic strategy is to use the spaces between the shortcuts as safe places for the animals. Hopefully the cat will take the shortcut and then the animals can safely follow it, using a treat before the cat gets to the end of the board. Players need to work together to come up with a strategy for moving the animals and using the treats. This strategy must also be adapted to the dice rolls. Luck is a big factor, since you can roll 2 greens thrice in a row or 3 blacks thrice in a row and have to use your treats. You can think for sure that you are going to win or going to lose and then a string of rolls completely changes things. The unpredictability can make the game exciting. If all the cat treats are used and if only one animal is left, then players cease having choices and simply carry out the results of the dice roll, which is not as interesting.
Players simply take turns playing the game. The game does not really play differently with one player than with two or more, since more players do not add new mechanics to the game. The game is harder with multiple players, because new and younger players may not understand the strategy and everyone can lose if a player makes a poor decision.
My daughter (6) identifies with the little animals and is distraught when the cat eats them. The playing dynamic creates some anxiety and you often have to take risks regarding what is likely to be rolled. The unpredictability of the die roll fits with the unpredictable nature of a cat. Presumably, the same board design could be adapted to other themes, such as a zombie chasing victims and being lured away by brains or a dragon chasing dwarves and being delayed by hoarding its treasure or a Nazgul chasing hobbits who can call on four different allies to distract it, etc.
4. Components and set up
A small board, two dice (that you stick the faces on), three animal and one cat token, and four treat tokens. I believe the games are handmade by a family in Canada. The production value is amateurish, but is fine for an inexpensive children’s game. I prefer the simple drawings to glossy CGI. Set takes one minute or less.
5. Interaction between players
This is probably the weakest part of the game. Players do not have to cooperate. Players have nothing to do while waiting their turn. I think that playing this game with more than 4 would be dull, though it is possible that the children could become invested in the animals. There is the danger in an old or bossy player just ordering the others around. I think the best way to play the game is for an adult to play with 1 or 2 children and help then to understand the possible outcomes of the dice rolls and to make choices.
6. Fun and what happens if you are losing?
The dice rolls and the cat not necessarily following the shortcuts make the game exciting. Animals that you thought were safe suddenly are not. Even if one animal is eaten, you can keep playing to see if you can save any. As mentioned before, sometimes at the end game there are no longer any choices to be made, which is not much fun, though there can still be a surprise, as when an animal manages to jump over the cat and reach home.
The game has a flaw in that the cat just sits at the last space and waits for the animals. Perhaps under some circumstances, the cat would advance backwards up the board, chasing the animals from the other direction. With the simple game dynamic, I am not sure how to make it more cooperative.
8. Whom is it for?
Max the Cat is a good teaching game. The play is simple enough for young children (4) to play, though they will not understand the strategy. The game teaches children to plan ahead for multiple contingencies – they need to think what will happen if 2 blacks are rolled, or 1 black is rolled, and then decide whether to give the cat a treat or maybe risk an animal being eaten. Thus the game teaches risk management, which is a key concept for more advanced games. This teaching aspect is what draws me to play this game with my daughters (6 and 3), who generally enjoy it.
- Family with kids – Recommended because the players have real choices. 3.5/5
- Casual gamer – Would this game be desirable for people without kids? No. 1/5
- Hardcore gamer – No, but this is a good game for training children some basic strategy 2/5
- Social gamer – It would be silly to get a game of Max the Cat in between your Balderdash and Dixit. 1/5
Bottomline: A not-very-cooperative cooperative game that can teach children elementary board game strategy.