Calico by Kevin Russ is the first physical board game that I purchased since the COVID-19 pandemic ended my in-person gaming group in March 2020. It’s also the first game I’ve purchased since I launched MeepleandtheMoose.com and started playing my physical games solo. I purchased Calico not only because I was drawn in by the cozy cat aesthetic and endearing art by Beth Sobel, but because I knew the brain bending puzzle of fitting together the best quilt is a challenge that inspires excitement in my little gamer heart.
Coconut is the most comfortable cardboard kitten I’ve seen all day
Thanks to Covid-19, I’ve only had the opportunity to play Calico at 1 and 2 players. I plan on returning to this game once I’ve had the opportunity to play it more with larger groups of people. For now, I’m just so excited to share my thoughts that I don’t want to delay this post any further.
Calico, as I mentioned in my Top 100 post, is a cerebral tile laying puzzle game. In Calico you are given 7 different ways to earn points with the sneaky insinuation that if you’re a competent quilter, you’ll be able to achieve glory in every facet of the game. It’s all a bundle of lies! In Calico, you must first accept that you will not be able to score all the point and the only way that you’ll be able to survive is by picking and choosing which of the goals and objectives you’ll focus on in any given game.
Calico’s components are bright, vibrant, and high quality. Each of the four player boards are dual layered, which helps keep your tiles in place. The tiles come in 6 different patterns and 6 different colours, with 3 copies of each. The cat scoring cards are adorned with artistic renditions of actual cats (you can read their biographies in the back of the rulebook). Associated with these cat scoring cards are miniature tokens of each cat that will dot your player board if you can satisfy that cat’s very specific desires. The cloth tile bag is thick and sturdy, with plenty of space to shuffle the tiles within. Speaking of those tiles, they’re very thick and have a linen finish. The game box cover and some of the tokens have a spot UV coating that will shine if you catch the light just right. The production of this game has left nothing to be desired.
How to Play
The gameplay of Calico is very straight forward. When you begin the game you have a empty player board that you’ll fill with your hopes, dreams, and regrets. Each player starts with 2 tiles in their hand, and 3 more tiles in an offer row. On your turn, you’ll place one of the tiles from your hand anywhere on your board. Then, you’ll take one of the tiles from the offer row, place it in your hand, and refill the offer row. Every turn proceeds in that exact fashion until the boards are full and you’re left with your head in your hands contemplating how everything fell apart so quickly.
Calico Set up for 1 player. More players just get their own boards with the same scoring tiles in the centre
Allow me to speak about each of the scoring opportunities separately, starting with colour coordination. If you are able to stitch together 3 tiles of the same colour, then congratulations! You just earned yourself a button in that colour, which is worth 3 points! If you’re able to earn at least one button for each of the 6 different colours, you’ll be awarded with a rainbow button which itself is worth 3 points.
Each game of Calico will have 3 different cats displayed to the side. To lure those cats onto your board you’ll need to match their requested shape with one of the two requested pattern tiles. Coconut might just want 5 tiles of the same pattern touching each other, while Misty wants a 4 tiles arranged in a cross and no other arrangements will satisfy Misty’s fickle nature. Each of the cats you draw to your board will grant you certain amount of points; the easiest kittens will bestow a piddly 3 points per feline laying cozily on your quilt, while the most demanding cats will award up to 11 points, which should make you purr with glee as you place your awarded cat token on your quilt.
Hey I got a button! This game won’t be so bad!
There are also 3 objective tiles on your board. While every player will have the same 3 objectives, each player is free to slot them into the objective spots on your player board in whichever order you wish. These objectives ask you to surround them with a certain set of colours and patterns. A pattern asking for AA-BB-CC will want 3 sets of 2 different colours or patterns. If you can satisfy the requirements in either colour or pattern, you’ll get the lower number of points (usually somewhere between 5 and 10). If you can pull off the super-human feat of satisfying both colours and patterns… well, along with bragging rights and a slow applause from myself, you’ll earn slightly more points (generally between 10 and 15).
When playing the solo mode, the only salient difference from the multiplayer game is how the offer tiles behave. First you imagine a conveyer belt and visualize the direction the tiles will move in. During your turn you are free to take any of the 3 tiles available. Once you’ve claimed your tile, the remaining tile furthest to the ‘end’ of the conveyer belt is flung into a proverbial furnace, never to be seen again. The final tile is spared such a cruel fate, but it moves to the end of the conveyer belt and two new tiles populate the row. That’s the extent of the differences between the multiplayer game, and playing the game on your own.
I call this board state: The River of Dread
Near the back of the rulebook there is a list of achievements laid out that chart your progress toward becoming a Calico master! The achievements dare you to win a normal game while exceeding 60, 70, or even the insane 80 point threshold. Can you win the game without collecting buttons? Can you get the elusive rainbow button? Can you do it all while standing on one foot while rubbing your cats belly and tapping your head? Both my wife and I really like this feature, as it gives us something to work towards, and amps up the replayability of the game.
Another feature that Calico offers is a list of scenarios. The game suggests 10 set-ups and asks you to accomplish a specific set of tasks. The first scenario requires you to earn a rainbow button and exceed 58 points. The next challenge has requires that you collect 5 cats tokens and exceed 59 points.
Well well well… If it isn’t the consequences of my own actions.
I found the scenarios a wonderful reason to play Calico on my own. Considering the title of my Journal is “I am not a Solo Gamer, I shouldn’t have to reiterate how I rarely play board games on my own. I had this thought when I played Sagrada solo and the challenge of that game was just to exceed the sum of the undrafted die. Simple score attack solo games do not excite me, and perhaps because of that I have not returned to Sagrada’s solo mode since.
I very much enjoy the design of Calico‘s scenario challenges. I like that each scenario has been tested and calibrated to test my quilting skills, and, while it cannot account for the randomness of the tiles that come out of the bag (No, I don’t need a third green polka-dot tile, thankyouverymuch), at the start of each game I do feel the challenge is beatable if the tiles fall right and I play well.
It’s not the prettiest quilt, but my cats seem to like it
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Playing Calico is a very simple affair. Each turn requires only three decisions and at the start of the game when your board is full of opportunity and promise, you’ll happily place tiles somewhat arbitrarily, perhaps chasing a short term goal like getting 3 colours together. As the free spaces start to dwindle and the need for specific tiles rises, you’ll quickly find yourself making concessions and saying “it’s fine if I don’t achieve both colours and patterns for that one objective. It’s fine if I don’t get all 6 buttons and achieve that rainbow button. It’s fine if I only get one cat token on my board. It’s fine if I only achieve one of my three goals…” This amount of negotiating with yourself and being forced to compromise when the wrong tiles come out of the bag is what elevates Calico from a neat puzzle to a fun game.
So, the production is fantastic, the puzzle is great, the aesthetic is wonderful. What’s the downside? Calico has almost no player interaction. If you look across the table and see your friend has sewn a perfectly colour coordinated and patterned quilt, there’s nothing you can do to affect them. The most you can do to affect your opponents is take the tile they may want or need, but then you better hope that you can use that tile, otherwise it’ll be taking up one of the two tiles in your hand and hurt you more than you hurt them. It really can feel like the whole game comes down to the last few tiles that get pulled from the bag. When you’re down to the last four spaces and you are needing a tile that is a specific colour and/or shape, your heart can drop when the next tile that gets pulled is the absolutely wrong one. It’s doubly frustrating when you see your opponent say “I just need a yellow stripes!” and then get it. Smug bastards.
Not a bad sized box
If you can accept that you won’t be able to complete all of the scoring objectives in a single game, I think you’ll find Calico is an enjoyable game. If you’re hoping for a game that has lots (or any) player interaction, Calico is not the game for you. Personally, I love Calico, and I can’t wait to introduce it to my family and friends. I know the production of the components, the art direction, and the deeper than expected gameplay will have my loved ones asking to set it up and play it again and again!