Review – Calico
Calico is a tile-laying game about making cozy quilts and having cats curl up on them. In this game, players take turns drafting tiles and adding them to their quilts, with the goal of making specific patterns and formations. With a simple ruleset and a quick playtime, it is a wonderful experience for gamers and non-gamers like.
Calico is a new release from AEG with a heartwarming theme and a clever puzzle. In this game, players craft colorful patchwork quilts, and in doing so, they try to fulfill objectives, decorate the quilts with buttons, and attract cats to snuggle up on them. The goal of the game is to score the most points.
The basic flow of play is 1) place a tile, 2) check for bonuses, and 3) draw a new tile from those available in the market. Tiles come in 6 colors and 6 patterns, and they are drawn randomly from a bag.
To start the game, each player receives a personal tableau board and a set of 6 objective tiles. Depending upon which game mode folks wish to play (beginner or standard), they select 3 tiles to use, either predetermined or drawn randomly.
The player boards have 3 designated spots for objective tiles. Each objective shows a specific set of requirements, such as “AA-BB-CC” (meaning 2 of one type, 2 of a different type, and 2 of a third type) or “AAA-BBB” (meaning 3 of one type and 3 of a different type).
Objectives always refer to the 6 surrounding spaces – at the end of the game, if the tiles in these spaces fulfill the objective using their colors, their patterns, or both, the player will score points. The value of each objective tile is listed using 2 numbers. The lower number (in blue) is what the player will earn if they complete the objective using only colors or only shapes, and the higher number (in yellow) is what they will score if they complete it using both.
As an example:
Here, the “AA-BB-CC” objective has been completely surrounded. Examining the tiles around it, we see that 2 are one color, 2 are another color, and 2 are a third color. Likewise, 2 tiles show one pattern, 2 show another pattern, and 2 show a third pattern. Therefore, the objective has been completed perfectly, and the player will score 11 points at the end of the game. If one of the tiles had been a different color (say, green) but had the same pattern, the player would have only scored 7 points, since the objective would have only been completed using patterns, not colors.
If a player makes a cluster of 3+ tiles of the same color, she gets to add a button to it, worth 3 points at the end of the game. (In the example above, notice that the clump of red tiles near the top has a red button token on it.) Players may use the pre-printed tiles around the border as part of a cluster; this deepens the strategic choice of where to place each tile. If a player manages to collect all 6 colors of buttons, she immediately earns a rainbow button, as well.
Lastly, there are the cats. During setup, players choose 3 cats to use in the game. Each cat receives 2 random tokens showing a pattern in black and white.
Every cat has a specific scoring objective related to its pattern tiles. (The cats shown here are the ones used in the beginner game.) Millie, the cat on the left, wants a cluster of 3 or more tiles in a single pattern. Tibbit, in the middle, wants 4 of a single pattern, and Coconut, on the right, wants 5. If a player can make a grouping of tiles that satisfies a cat’s objective, a cat token is placed on the group, awarding extra points at game end (3, 5, or 7 respectively for these cats).
Here, the player has managed to make a group of 4 tiles with the quatrefoil pattern. This satisfies Tibbit’s objective from above, so a Tibbit token is placed on the group. This will earn the player 5 points.
Players continue placing and drawing tiles until their board are full (22 turns). At that time, they score points for objective tiles and button/cat tokens, and the player with the most points wins!
Calico is an excellent game. It checks all the boxes for me: it is simple to learn, quick to play, highly replayable, strategic and puzzle-y, and it has a lovely theme. Puzzle games are among my absolute favorite genres, and this one is high on my “best of” list.
The tableaus in Calico are extremely tight. 15 of the 22 spaces are attached to an objective tile, and the remaining 7 “throwaway” spaces are a precious commodity. As the game progresses, players’ options become increasingly limited and their decisions, in turn, become tougher and tougher.
First-time players may optimistically think that the game will be piece of cake and that they will have no trouble finishing all the objectives. I had the hubris to think this the first time I played, and boy was I wrong. This game is a total brain-burner, and I love it for that. Despite its brain-burn, however, Calico remains extremely accessible to kids and non-gamers. It’s difficult for a game to hit that sweet spot of “simple enough for kids, strategic enough for gamers,” but this one really does it.
As usual from publisher AEG, the production quality of Calico is high. This game is full of vibrant carboard bits featuring lovely Beth Sobel artwork. The button tokens bear a spot-UV finish which gives them an attractive sheen, and the colors and patterns are all easy to differentiate. All in all, the game looks great.
I have never used the term “cozy” to describe a game before, but that is exactly what Calico is. It’s the kind of game I want to play on a chilly night while sipping hot chocolate in front of a fire. The theme of cats curling up on patchwork quilts is just so warmly inviting, it’s perfect for this time of year.
Looking back on 2020, I believe this is my favorite game of the year. Highly recommended.
A review copy was provided by AEG.
The Bottom Line
Calico is fantastic, probably my favorite game of 2020.