Have you ever wondered why cats are such loving creatures, but also appear to be sadistic self-proclaimed overlords? I’m sure there are a lot of answers out there, like because they protect us from the dangers of ancient Egyptian undead. Anyways, John Wick has provided us a way to explore the answer to that question in the form of the role-playing game Cat: A Little Game About Little Heroes.
Now, Cat is not a new game as the edition I have was published in 2014 and that certainly isn’t the first. In fact, the first edition of this game was finished in 1999! As a smaller, indie game it is one of those that you don’t see popping up everywhere. You probably won’t see it at most local game shops and you definitely won’t find it at Barnes & Noble. Nevertheless, it is still being published and still worth your time to at least get a preview here. If you are intrigued and want to know what it is like to play you can also check out our one-shot adventure on Untamed Dice. The playlist for that can be found here.
Let’s begin here, because the mechanics of a game can turn a lot of people off of it. On the other hand, an interesting set of mechanics could be the reason you pick up the game. Either way, Cat is a very simple one. You may not enjoy simplicity, and if you need some heavy complexity, mechanics, and math turn away now. The GM, or Narrator, will probably just reach out and push your stuff off the table anyways.
Personally, I enjoyed the simplicity of the game and thought it left a lot of room for the important part of the game: playing. Don’t get me wrong I love D&D and other complex games for what they do, but I don’t need a ton of rules to know that a cat is an asshole, but its a lovable asshole. They do things, for REASONS, and then pretend they didn’t. In the game there are certain difficulties set by the Narrator which determine the number of needed successes (1-5). Then you roll however many dice you have in a stat (3-5). Evens succeed and odds do not. Got it? Good, because that is all there is too it.
The only exceptions to this is that there are limits to what cats can and cannot do. There are also specific ways around those limitations. Magic is straightforward and based on the tail stat. Spells are specific, require a certain tail score and may ask you to roll. There aren’t a lot, you don’t have to choose them, and you just have them or you don’t (again based on tail). There are a few other bits like what you are good at might add a dice and scars which temporarily reduce your scores because you’re hurt, but these are simple +/- a dice functions. What it comes down to are that the mechanics are very simple, easy to learn, and meant to create drama. They are not there to create a complex world, that is up to your imagination.
Spoiler alert: cats are here to protect us from the boggins and other nasty things. The idea behind Cat is that cats are here to protect humans. There are reasons for this, mostly because they won the Contest and we lost. They get to rule the world, but have to protect the losers. That is how the Contest works, after all. I don’t want to go too heavily into the story, because you can read John Wick’s short at the beginning of the book if you get it. The story is good and really puts the game, its intent, and its purpose all into perspective.
The story of the game at your table? Now, that we can talk a little about. As Narrator and players the basics are the same, no matter what: monsters are real, cats rule the world, cats protect people from monsters. But the genres and stories that include cats, all the ways you could work with cats, those are quite varied and many are mentioned in this book. Wick provides you with folklore about cats that is true, and facts about cats that are false. He also provides context for running a game which includes the various bogeymen that might have to be dealt with to where cats might come from (Ulthar perhaps?). There is plenty there for a group to sink their teeth into.
When playing this game, the Narrator has the job of providing an enemy, a goal, and creating drama throughout. Because there are not a lot of mechanics this is easy in some ways, mostly not having to look much up or figure out various things when the players decide to try something crazy. The difficulty comes in with creatively responding. It is on your shoulders to do it, do it well, and not take too much time.
The weight of the game, the story, and how it unfolds is much more in the hands of the players, or at least it seemed so. It is really hard to tell with Cat. It is a game that really lends itself to acting almost as if you are just telling a story with each of you jumping in for a turn. Of course that’s what RPGs are, but the few mechanics and the fun of the setting make you lost to that fact. It’s a great feeling and tons of fun. There is a lack of structure to the game, but because you’re cats the story easily comes around to something happening that causes you to get back on track. The game just lends itself to happening without effort and without pause.
I have mixed feelings about the presentation of the book. It is not a large game and it certainly doesn’t need to be. The book is quite small, but could actually be made smaller. The font isn’t huge, but the spacing is generous. The table of contents is fantastically laid out, but some boarder or chapter number on the corner or page edge would make quick look ups a lot easier. Instead, there is a paw print motif that runs up the side of pages. Well, some of them…randomly. It isn’t a terrible look, or even distracting, but it is a bit random. There are plenty of good cat pictures and silhouettes of cats throughout, but I would have liked to see more art like the cover with a cat protecting its human from unknowable monsters. To me, that would have added to the feel of the setting a little more.
Overall, Cat is an amazing game. It is a ton of fun to play and takes virtually no thought process to learn. You can sit there and have plenty of silly fun mixed in with epic misadventures and get plenty of laughs doing it. No, it isn’t super complex. Yes, it is made for adults AND kids. But those things are why I like it. You probably won’t play a giant campaign from it, but that’s not the goal of the game either, At John Wick Presents you can find it in print and PDF for just $15 and it is well worth the cost, in my opinion. Sure the production value of the book is low compared to the giant hardcover, full-art games like D&D but it isn’t a book that will make you go, “why did I spend money on this?” It gives you exactly what it says it will, and you shouldn’t expect more. Cat is a gateway to a fun time, and John Wick is very obviously passionate and committed to this game as a part of his design career. I won’t play this game all the time, probably not even that often, but I know that I will play it, have fun, and I am glad I own it.