Released last year in 2020, Calico is the latest puzzly, tile-laying board game published by FlatOut Games and AEG. Upon release, Calico was met with more than a little fanfare, and it is easy to see why! The theme of knitting together a beautiful patchwork, complete with colorful buttons, in the name of attracting the most cats to your quilt is beyond adorable. More than that, though, the gameplay is incredibly streamlined, meaning you can drop your first tile into place within minutes of setup, even with players brand new to the wonder of hobby board gaming.
Each player turn consists of two steps. First, you’ll choose one of your two tiles in your hand and place it anywhere on your board. Second, you’ll choose a new tile to add to your hand from the available three in the tile market. Replace the gap in the tile market with a randomly drawn tile from the bag, and it’s on to the next player’s turn! So simple. Almost… TOO simple...
The complexity of course comes in how you place your tiles onto your board. Instead of bogging you down with restrictions on where you can place certain tiles, like requiring adjacency to previously placed tiles, you are free to place a tile wherever a space is available! If you place your tiles in clever patterns, though, you’ll earn points from goal tiles, earn buttons to add to your quilt, and place the precious cat tokens on your board if you meet their preferences.
At the beginning of the game, you’ll place three hexagonal tiles on the space with cat icons that will list requirements for earning bonuses, usually in the form of a pattern - AA-BB-CC, for example. You can follow this pattern by surrounding the goal hex with tiles matching that pattern in either color or design. Blue-Blue-Green-Green-Yellow-Yellow, to follow the previous example, will earn you seven points at the end of the game. Similarly, different designs will also satisfy the goal - Floral Pattern-Floral Pattern-Stripes-Stripes-Palm Leaf-Palm Leaf. Each goal tile has different requirements, so choosing the right ones each game will be a big part of your strategy.
Buttons can be earned by connecting three or more tiles of the same color, earning you the corresponding color emblem, and you can add a Rainbow button if you can collect one of each of the six different colors. Each of these are worth three points at the end of the game. Cat tokens, on the other hand, can be earned by meeting their own requirements printed on each of their cute little boards. Cats require certain collections of tiles, either a grouping of a certain number of tiles (e.g. 4+, 7+), or a particular formation of tiles (e.g. four in a straight row). The patterns are randomized at the beginning of each game, and each of the three cats will have two different patterns that will work for their attention.
For such a simple concept, this game can really turn into a brain burner pretty quick! There is no luck mitigation in this game, so you have to make the most of what you have in hand, and while player board have a couple spaces not connected to goal tiles for flexibility turn-to-turn, you really don’t want to waste those with throw-away tiles when you can be earning the point-scoring buttons! It is actually pretty challenging to earn those Rainbow buttons, but I am determined to make it happen.
If I have any complaints about the game overall, it is that the points you earn from the goal tiles seem to be a little off. If you can manage to pull off the pattern a single time, you get somewhere in the ballpark of seven points. If you can, by some stroke of a miracle or super-villain-level social engineering, meet the requirements of any given goal tile TWICE, that is by both color AND pattern with the same six tiles, you eke out another measly four points for a total of eleven. I would be flabbergasted if anyone can make this happen with any confidence or regularity, and in my own games I feel like it should basically be catching the golden snitch. Like, I would demand a whole 1,000 points if I ever manage it in my lifetime.
Beyond this one little quirk, the game is phenomenal. The components are amazingly high quality, the color palette is really fun, and the gameplay itself provides a satisfying thinker experience. It makes me so happy to collect those little buttons, and seeing those photo-realistic cat tokens sprawled out on my little game mat makes me feel so cozy, I just can’t tell you how it feels. Maybe a GIF could do it justice, but my limited vocabulary fails the feeling. You’ve just gotta check it out for yourself! Please pick up a copy for your favorite cat-lover in your life, or meet me at a game night and show me your masterful execution for the double-goal-tile-bonanza.
Calico is available now from our webstore.