On Friday a package arrived in the mail. Trouble is, I back so many Kickstarter campaigns, that whenever I receive such a package, I have no clue what it could be. This time was no exception.
It turns out the game was The Ratcatcher. And it was... a delight. The game is beautifully produced. The attention paid to the slightest detail is a amazing. The inserts are convenient and there are little symbols to tell you what should go in which compartment. There is even room for the additional custom meeples I purchased as an add-on. Everything is amazing. It was a real joy to see it all, unpack it all, set it up carefully on the table.
You get to draw rat meeples from a superb cloth bag (oh I wish the one in Bullet🖤 was close to this one!). It's a thrill. And you see that little wooden cage over there? I don't like 3D elements as a rule, but this one is very classy, and actually convenient - a great way to store the rats you caught without having them sprawling over the table. And dual-layer boards. One of my favorite deluxe upgrades! Those beautiful, elegant translucent dice fit perfectly in their slots...
End of set-up. 22:56. I'm in a very good mood, and can start playing. The rats are already gathering, and a "Peculiar Rat" (the one with the wings) has appeared. These are the rats I got the custom meeples for.
So I play. You move. You roll the dice to kill rats. You drop traps. If you clean all rats from a zone, you can pick up the "magic cheese", which allows you to upgrade character (character progression! one of my favorite mechanics!), and may also allow you to win (if you get 10 of them). The alternate win condition is to slay the rat boss, the "Nemesis", that spawns later on during the game. Problem is, the rats are after the magic cheese too! Each time they get some, they grow stronger (and this might spawn the Nemesis). If they gather 10... then YOU lose.
I enjoyed my first turn, then I had to move the rats. This is a bit tricky. Different rats have different priority targets and movement stats. But, OK, there are only three colors. Then rats sharing a zone with you attack you, and rats sharing a zone with a magic cheese consume it if there are enough of them. Last step: they spawn! On every nest on the map. And Black rats, once spawned, spawn one more rat. Then they keep spawning rats every turn after that. So if you are unlucky, they may pile up... Which is exactly what happened to me on my second turn.
The town grows pretty fast. If there are less than two magic cheese out there, you expand the town by as many cards as indicated on the card you're currently standing. I got to expand the town once, then twice, adding four cards, all filled with rats! At this point it got overwhelming. Moving like 30 rats one by one, according to different stats each, felt tedious. I don't like when my turn goes really fast and then I have to spend five times the time in upkeeping for the AI. Also, with cheese spawning on remote locations and rats spawning in the numbers, winning the race seems an elusive goal.
23:22. I quit. I didn't even had the courage to fill that very last card, with who knows how many rats.
I'll try again but so far, I'm not quite convinced. I felt it more exhausting than fun - and not the right kind of exhausting.
[Three days later.]
Ratcatcher round 2...
It felt about as tedious as the previous time. I see plenty of flaws in the design; mostly, you have to put into play more and more town cards, but the previous one become useless (you actually have to keep track of which are meaningless up to a point to remove what's on it). So the game is sprawling but you only play on a very tiny portion of the map. Besides, the cards are not interconnected so you can't build a city with multiple passageways. It feels overall quite linear. This "city building" with cards falls completely flat in my opinion and gets in the way of the game.
Spawning and moving around a gazillion rats was as exhausting as last time. At least, this time, I remembered that when rats consume a piece of magic blue cheese (bringing you one step closer to defeat), they disappear with it. So it felt a bit more manageable.
I had the feeling that I was doing the same thing over and over. You must race to the blue cheese, save your attack dice to kill rats there (otherwise you can't grab the cheese) and put a few traps along the way. It takes thirty seconds to think about it and implement it. And then it's the "rats" turn, which is the fiddliest thing you may imagine. At least now I had internalized the different rats stats.
At some point the Nemesis spawned (note that you can win by killing it instead of collecting cheese). I had already 6 pieces of cheese, the rats had 4. Movement roll for the Nemesis: 6! It runs right onto me (it spawns on the same tile as you so you can't flee very far). Then I roll its 5 attack dice: 4 hits! I had exactly 4 health left (out of 5, and I had purchased a health increase during the game).
In the end I had played 27 minutes and a few seconds. So unless you analyze everything like crazy, the playtime doesn't seem off (I admittedly died early because of brutal dice rolls from the Nemesis). Did I feel better? Did it seem unfair? Not at all! I was thankful! Finally relieved of this chore!
I'm selling it now as fast as possible.