Calico is a competitive tile laying game about creating your own personalized quilt to attract cats to snuggle into your blanket.
Total Game Play: 30 to 45 minutes
Designer(s): Kevin Russ
Artist(s): Beth Sobel
Publisher: Flatout Games
As far as themes go, Calico is one that immediately attracted me. Making quilts? Heck yes! Collecting Cats? More please! Solving a spatial tile puzzle? What more could you want?! Calico is a set collection game that works on multiple axis’s. One axis allows for buttons to be weaved into the quilt while the other axis attracts cats. I love the spatial puzzle of this game and the optimization of free spaces to get extra points with cats or buttons.
This is a general overview to provide context for the review, not an in-depth how to play. Some rules may be glossed over or missing.
Calico is a game for 1 to 4 players. While this is a competitive game, there is little to no player interaction. This is very much a game that is more about optimizing your own board than worrying about your opponents.
The game starts with one player and then continues clockwise around the table. There are no designated rounds or upkeep between turns. Due to the nature of the game, each player will get the same number of turns which I’ll get into a bit more in the end game section.
To set up Calico, we first need to decide which three cats will be in the game. Cats have a range of difficulties, the rules suggest using Millie, Tibbit, and Coconut for your first game. Or you can just pick the cats that seem the cutest. I guess you can also look at how you attract the cats and decide which is in your wheelhouse. But cuteness…
Then, two of the black and white patch tiles are randomly assigned to each cat. The cat will only care about these patterns. So player will use them to attract the kitties to your quilt.
Shuffle the quilt tiles. I like using the bag as it makes shuffling the tiles easy. Each player then draws two patch tiles from the bag and keeps them facedown near their player board. This could easily be seen as trackable hidden information so playing with player hands face up would not make a difference in the game. A central market of three tiles are placed in the center where everyone can reach.
Each player also has six design goals which they will shuffle and randomly draw four. Out of the four drawn, only three are chosen to be in play and are placed on the marked spaces of the player board. For a more symmetric game, all players should have the same goals.
A player will do two things on their turn. They will choose one tile from their hand (of two) to place onto their quilt board. The quilt board has spaces all around the edges that have already been filled in. All edge patches count towards any goals. After placing the tile, they will check to see if a cat has decided to visit or if a button should be sewn on.
Then, the player will choose one of the three tiles that are in the market. They will take the tile into their hand and refresh the market to have three tiles. This is the only way you can interact with the other players. The best you can do is deny a player of a tile they want. But you cannot control what comes out next. Hopefully it’s not something you want!
The game ends when all players have filled their quilt boards. Since players can only place one tile per turn, this will happen on the same round for all the players. Then end game scoring takes place. End game scoring will total up the design goal tiles, cats, and buttons.
Buttons have a static score where each button will give the same number of points. While cats will be worth different values depending on how difficult they were to lure. The cat tokens also have their values written on the back on their tiles to help with ease of scoring.
Concept: Design goal tiles
The design goal tiles are long terms goals that can award victory points at the end of the game if their conditions are fulfilled. Each goal will dictate a pattern that needs to be completed in the six spaces surrounding the tile. This is in reference to color, pattern, or both.
If a design goal tile wants to be AA – BB – CC, then the tiles should be comprised of three pairs of different patterns. Or three pairs of different colors. If you’re feel particularly ambition, it can be three pairs of patterns and colors. The colors and patterns do no have to have any relation to each other, so this example would be fine.
Sometimes I fear that I will lose the focus of any other goals and only try to attract cats. They’re just so cute and fluffy!! And I absolutely love that all of the cats in this game are based on real cats. It makes me very happy.
The cats in Calico do not care about colors, but the patterns are very interesting and will attract the curious kitties. Some cats only want a certain number of their patterned tiles to be touching while others want the tiles to be arranged into a certain shape.
It’s important to note that each pattern grouping can only attract one cat. If you wish to attract another cat of the same type, you must create a new pattern group that does not touch the previous group.
To add a button to your quilt, a player must have a group of three or more of the same color. Once a group is made, a button of the same color is placed on the quilts. Just like with the cats, if another button of the same color is desire, a new color group must be made in a space that does not touch the previous group.
Who Will Like it?
Calico is a fun game all about set collection and pattern solving. This game lends itself well to players would want to be competitive but do not want to be aggressive. This game can be great for players of any experience level as the difficulty can be adjusted to up or down as the players desire.
I have played Calico with a group of more experienced players as well as with a group of newer gamers. Both situations turned out to be a great time.
What I Think
There are a lot of things I like about Calico. It definitely hits all my buckets on paper, but what about in application?
What did I like?
The tile laying aspect of Calico is extremely interesting. I love the duplicity of the design goals which makes a player have to examine the two different axis’s in order to get the best score. There are many times where a player gets to a point of laying the best tile in the worst situation.
I also find it fascinating how Calico can demonstrate how each person’s brain works. When I looked at my board, I had one large hole in the center of my quilt that I was slowly filling in. While another player had many holes all around their board. And the third player only had the hole on one side of their board.
What didn’t I like?
While Calico is all about strategizing where to place your tiles, there is a very large element of randomness to the game. You can search for a tile but it might next show up. Or worse, someone else might take it. There not a lot that can be done about this, you just have to hope for the best and plan for the worst.
Calico is a fun game with a light to medium weight depending on the rules you decide to play with. This is definitely a more relaxing game for those with a spatially inclined brain and can prove to be more difficult from someone who struggles with this sort of puzzle.
Rulebook/Learning the Game
The rulebook for Calico is well laid out and has examples that fully explain each potential situation and the possible point outcomes. The main game is explained early in the rulebook with more in-depth details explained in the later pages.
The first time I played Calico, I definitely got confused between the colors and the patterns. I mixed up what I wanted and did a AA-BB-CC design for pattern but an AAA-BBB design for color around the same design goal. It definitely took me longer to separate the two axis’s than I expected when I first started playing.
In subsequent plays, I put more focus on the design goal tiles in the early game. This locked me into a bad situation with the RNG of the market. In other cases, it gave me the time I needed to find the right tiles.
Calico is a game that I would revisit. I know that it’s a little lighter than games that are on the top of my list, but I still love the challenge and the cats. Especially the cats. I don’t have as many opportunities to play Calico since I live with a human who values more interactive games, but I will bring Calico to the table when the right opportunity arises.
*See my rating scale Here