First Impression: Calico

Calico box cover art
“A puzzly tile-laying game of quilts and cats!”

…and with that introduction we meet Calico, one of the newest (and recent favorite) games in my collection. I happened upon this game completely by accident, and I am very happy that I did! I was going through the pledge manager process (part of a Kickstarter program) for a new Tetris-style (aka polyomino) game called Planet Unknown. As I was completing the final payment, this super-cute game box popped up. It had a cat on the cover along with other beautiful colors. It got my attention! I watched a short “how to play” video. Then I bought the game. Do I like it? Yes! I think it broke the record for most plays within the first week of acquiring the game.

We have cats in our house (currently three, but typically somewhere around that number). My wife also sews and makes beautiful quilts. Once I realized this game was about cats and quilts it seemed like a no-brainer decision to buy it. Plus the “all-in” cost, including shipping, was only about $40! Remember when board games used to cost $25-45 and not come with hundreds of tokens and dice and miniatures? 😆 From a cost-to-play perspective even if I never play this game again I feel I have extracted the proper value already.

So what’s the game about, other than cats and quilts? I think the most similar game in my collection is Sagrada. It’s another beautiful game where you have to balance two different attributes (die number and color) to build a pattern, in that case a stained-glass window. In Calico you are also balancing two different attributes, but this time it’s a pattern and a color. You are sewing hexagonal patches onto your quilt. Here are the steps:

  • Place a patch on your quilt.
  • Pick a patch from the shared supply.
  • Draw a patch from the bag and put it into the shared supply.

That’s it, that’s all you need to know as far as the mechanics. How about the goals? What are you trying to do with those patches? Again, a pleasing symmetry of three:

  • Place three of the same color patch together to earn a button.
  • Place three or more of the same pattern patch together to attract a cat.
  • In the “advanced mode” you can also attempt to place colors and patterns around an objective tile in a prescribed design. For example, one design might be AAA-BBB meaning you need two sets of three colors or patterns. It starts out simple but as the game progresses the challenge factor ratchets up!

Scoring is simple. Each button (set of three+ tiles of the same color) is worth three points. Collect a set of all six different colored buttons and you earn a bonus rainbow button, also worth three points. Each cat is worth different points, all printed on the back of their tile. Completed objectives are worth one point value if done with either color or pattern, or a higher point value if done with both color and pattern. That’s it!

It takes a few minutes to set up the game and get ready for play, a few more minutes to teach, and about 20-30 minutes to play a game. There isn’t a lot of direct confrontation in the game (sometimes called the “take that!” factor) other than someone else might be pulling the same pattern or color of tile that you are looking for. It’s a nice, casual, quick and beautiful game. You can start small (easier cats, no goal tiles) and crank up the challenge as you desire.

As mentioned previously, I think this game set the record for fastest to ten plays in our household. It helps that it’s super-easy to explain. We have been playing the “family mode” where we turn over the goal tiles and just go for buttons and kittens and that reduces the “brain burn” factor by a bit. 🙂

That being said, it’s also fun to play solo. There is a list of different goals that you can shoot for in the manual for some incentive, but mostly the solo mode is a “beat your own high score” type of thing. About half of the quick ten plays were me trying out different strategies in solo mode.

Another positive sign for the game? We taught one of our gaming families the game and they wanted to buy their own copy.

Oh, and that cat on the cover? It’s covered in their FAQ.

Why isn’t there a calico cat on the cover?
Our artist Beth thought a patchy calico cat on top of a patchwork quilt would look too busy. She encouraged us to go in a different direction. As soon as we saw her beautiful illustration of an orange tabby we fell in love! (We’re pretty sure you did, too!) Luckily, we chose the name ‘Calico’ for the game because it has a dual meaning – not only a coloration of cat, calico is also a type of fabric you can use to make a quilt!

…but you know that’s not a calico cat on the cover, right?
Yeah. We know. We put a board game with box art of an orange tabby onto the internet with the title ‘Calico’ above it. Trust us. We know.

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