Designed by Kevin Russ, with fabulous art by Beth Sobel, Calico isn't quite what it seems. Built around the warm and cosy theme of buttons, quilts and cuddly cats, you'll be forgiven for equating this tile-laying game with the comparably themed Patchwork (Lookout Games), but Calico is no Patchwork clone!
In this 1-4 player tile-laying strategy game, players will be drawing tiles that show different colours and designs. You'll be placing the tiles out on your individual indented board trying to earn victory points by forming point-scoring patterns. A group of three or more tiles of the same colour will score a button worth 3 points. There will be cats with pattern tiles attached to them and they will score for groups of tiles matching those patterns, with longer or harder-to-place patterns scoring the most points. In addition, each board will have objectives that will score points if you meet the indicated criteria, either by colour or tile design, with an added bonus if you can achieve it through both colour and design - no easy task!
Game play is super easy. You have a hand of two tiles and, on your turn, you play a tile anywhere on your board (it doesn't have to join up with previously laid tiles) and you draw a tile from the three available in a market display. If the tile you lay results in you satisfying a button- or cat-scoring criteria, you take a corresponding token and place it on your board. Play continues until the boards have been filled and your quilts are complete.
Of course, easy to play doesn't necessarily mean easy to do well. Tho' each turn only offers you a seemingly simple choice between the two tiles in your hand, you have wide scope for deciding where to place the tiles. You can also see what tiles are available to you for your draw, and that too may influence your play. You'll always be trying to optimise your pattern-building but a 'perfect' quilt will almost certainly be unachievable so you're bound to have to decide whether to go for easy immediate points (buttons and the 3-point cats) or whether to focus on trying to complete the higher-scoring objectives on your board. As your board fills, you're increasingly forced to make push-your-luck choices.
With so many options for scoring, Calico is a challenging optimisation puzzle game. There's a lot to take in just maintaining an overview of the options on your own board, so you may well find that even when playing with others, you'll be paying scant attention to other players' boards. That tho' may separate out the skilled player from the dabbler: canny players will ideally want to draw tiles to deny scoring opportunities to an opponent as well as to help themselves. Also, if you're holding out in the hope of a very specific colour and pattern tiles coming up, then you'll need to know what tiles have already been laid lest you find you are waiting for a tile that's no longer in the bag.
AEG and Flatout Games have done a great job in the production of this game. And however you play - solitaire, competitively sewing up an opponent or even as a quasi-campaign game, logging your 'achievements' over multiple plays - you'll find Calico an addictively satisfying experience.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)