CALICO

It was in the summer of 2019 that our beloved buddy Bogart started a sharp decline in health, and while he was a respectable senior citizen at 18 years old, it was painful to prepare ourselves to say goodbye to him. Even now, there are nights when the house is very quiet, and I’m certain I can still hear him rummaging about, looking for a paper bag to wrestle. 

Although it’s been over a year since our stately old man left us, opening the box of Calico hit me with a wave of intense feelings that I was not expecting. One of the felines found in Calico is Millie, and while her colouring isn’t a perfect match to our Bogey, the beautiful artwork still gave my heart a little jolt, and I needed a few deep breaths to continue.

Calico is a tile laying game published by Flatout Games, which plays with 1 to 4 players, and lasts between 30 to 45 minutes, depending on player count. The design is by Kevin Russ, with artwork from Beth Sobel. Throughout the game, players are competing to create the most comfortable quilt of all, attracting adorable cats and adding colourful buttons. Each player has a hand of two hexagonal tiles, and each turn consists of placing one tile on their player board, and then replenishing your hand by selecting a new tile from a selection of three. If any tile cluster includes three or more of one colour, the player earns a button of the same colour. Three cats will also be included in each game, which can be attracted to a quilt that meets their specific pattern criteria for a snuggling on. Once everyone has filled their personal board with tiles, the game is over, and players count points based on their cats, buttons, and individual player goals. Whichever player has gathered the most points is the winner, and is declared Queen of the Kitty Quilt!

WHAT IS GREAT ABOUT CALICO?

Calico’s production is some of the best I’ve ever found in a tabletop game. Everything about this game is beautiful, thanks to the artwork of Beth Sobel, and the investment in overall production quality. The box is gorgeous, the components burst with colour, and the various cats all have personalities that practically leap out (or perhaps flop down, depending on the cat) from the game. As the player quilts evolve, the sense of creating something perfectly pretty washes over everyone. All of the game’s beauty is contrasted with a game that offers absolutely agonizing decisions, as the long term planning can be quite broad, but the turn-to-turn choices available are limited. It’s absolutely delightful!

BIG THUMBS – HOW IS IT FOR ADULTS?

Each player starts the game with three personal goal tiles, which can be randomized, or pre-selected. When playing with new players, I’ve been making sure everyone has the same set of goal tiles so that beginner questions are easily answered. These goals are placed into each player’s board, and if the surrounding six tiles meet the goal’s criteria (for instance, three sets of 2 matching tiles, or six tiles that don’t match at all) points will be scored. Goals can be completed with colours OR patterns, and if you’re a really focused player, bonus points can be had by completing them with BOTH!

The turns are so quick, and yet sometimes can feel like an eternity, as the process of playing a tile and selecting a new one can have implications that ripple for several turns. Playing with seasoned gamers and casual players alike, I’ve found that every experience level can easily catch on to the game’s flow, and many have asked for a second play immediately after the first. Aside from a few critical moments where one player might select an important tile you had your eye on (intentionally or not), it’s a low interaction game, with simple steps that allow for conversation to flow between turns.

I’ve also been impressed with the solo mode, which is just as puzzly, and involves a number of scenarios to explore. Unlike many recent games where the option to play solo is stuffed into the box as an afterthought, this mode very much feels similar to the multiplayer game, and is one I expect to return to frequently.

LITTLE THUMBS – HOW IS IT FOR CHILDREN?

The biggest surprise of this product is how effective the game is at scaling to a younger audience, with its included family version. To play with these rules, simply flip over the individual goal tiles. Literally, that’s the only change required. However, the difference this makes to the level of brain sweat induced is immense, without altering the quality of the overall experience. 

My 5 year old Big Bean has been eyeing the Calico box since it arrived at our home. As the box recommends the game for ages 14 and up, I was hesitant at first. Big Bean’s requests persisted, however, so I figured that there is no harm in giving it a try. To ensure our first play was a positive experience, we made two other changes to the gameplay. First, we only played with one cat – Millie, whose point payout is the same as the buttons, at 3 points each. The other change we made was removing the hand of tiles, and allowing each of us to draft from a public row of five. Since every button and cat tile was worth the same amount, we were able to count our scores by simply counting the tiles. Big Bean was invested in the entire experience, and when she first drafted tiles that didn’t lead to any immediate goals, she uttered a phrase which perfectly captures the spirit of the game:

“It’s not getting me any points, but I don’t care because it’s so pretty!”

To be clear, our alterations are not endorsed by the designer, but it allowed her to experience the basic mechanical elements. In future plays, we added a second and third cat, but have yet to deviate from the public market of tiles. After our first play, Big Bean immediately asked to start over again, and has asked to play multiple times per day since those first games – the ultimate seal of approval marking a hit game in our household!

FINAL THOUGHTS

I don’t typically gravitate towards abstract games, but Calico is absolutely an exception to that rule. Between the quality components, stunning artwork, and satisfyingly crunchy gameplay, this is a game that is going to stay in our collection – for myself, my children, and to honour the memory of our furry friend Bogart.

VERDICT:

At the end of every Little Thumbs, Big Thumbs article, we offer our verdict in the form of “big thumbs up” (a great game for adults) and/or “little thumbs up” (a great game for children). Typically, the games we cover are better suited for play with children, or in some cases, adults. However, Calico is something special, as it is an excellent title that can appeal equally to both children or adults. Therefore, for the first time ever, we are awarding …

TWO PERFECT THUMBS UP!

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