Updated: Oct 24, 2020
If it isn't birds these days, it's bees; and if it isn't bees, it seems to be cats. Well at least it isn't zombies! The theme in Sunrise Tornado Game Studio's small box game, Cat Sudoku, is literally pasted under the game play, which is a light roll and write game for 1-6 players.
Designer and evident ailurophile Ta-Te Wu has previously given us Cat Rescue and the less furry but excellent Promenade. The premise here is simple: place numbers on one of four different sheets so that none repeat in a connected row or column or are diagonally adjacent to the same number; each infringement receives a penalty; subtract penalties from 100 for a total score, highest score wins. Despite having the trappings of multiplayer solitaire, the game allows for interaction in the choosing of wild numbers - or not - each round. As a lead summary, everyone who played it enjoyed it, with multiple plays often requested.
There are some rules niggles which, for a small production, irk more than they should. When the standard four six-sided dice are rolled to generate a random start, these numbers can be placed in 'any four of the starting spaces': the phrasing implies the numbers do not need to be adjacent to each other. While I can understand that being so for set up, the rules never specify whether future numbers must be adjacent or can be placed anywhere: we assumed they had to work off the starting numbers and played that way, but would rather it had been explicitly written in the rules. There didn't seem to be much of a game otherwise.
Each roll, the active player can choose to make a number wild if there is a slot available for it on the dinky tear off sheet. Here the rules state that a single number is ticked off in the first box, while two or more of the same number go in the second box; however, the tear off sheet has 1+ and 2+, implying any quantity can go in the 1 slot. There was also no way to signify which of the dice in the current round were the wilds, so we put the 'active player' cat token next to the chosen wild dice to show this.
According to the rules, tallying penalties is done at the end of the game. The problem with this is that by that stage players are looking at a very busy array of numbers - with the cat artwork underneath it - and finding illegal pairs or sets of diagonal numbers is hard to do. Circling duplicated numbers or drawing a diagonal line while the game is in progress seems a much better solution. Once a game is owned by someone, they can pretty much play it the way they want, as long as the rules are set for all at the outset; but a woolly rule set doesn't help anyone (especially a reviewer). Something the rules are clear on, though, is ensuring players synchronise the amount of numbers they have written; this is the last way to lose points: however, we opted for a friendlier solution with players entering fewer numbers or rolling an extra non-wild die on the next turn with no penalty.
Even without being a sudoku fan, I enjoyed both the activity present in Cat Sudoku and the game along with it, and was pleased to discover the simple heuristics which emerged as I played. The Knight's Move, for instance, seemed the best pattern to place matching numbers in; and leaving 'dead ends' for awkward or duplicated numbers in the late game also turned out to be wise, in preference to a cluster of empty spaces where your options are more confined. While Cat Sudoku is by no means the definitive roll and write, it is a pleasant addition to the genre, and when Board's Eye View's copy starts to run out of sheets because people want to play it so much, you can't deny it has a certain catnip-y attraction to it.
(Review by David Fox)