Cat is a 49 page PDF by John Wick in which players take on the roll of a cat in a dark fantasy setting that is based upon our own world but in which strange things are going on and humans can't see them. Cats are our protectors, set to the task of looking after humanity and protecting us from the dark forces that prey upon our fears and base emotions.
Okay so far.
To begin with, let me make it clear that I am a cat person. Very much so. As such, I was always going to want to give this game a try, however, conversely this also means I probably had reasonably high standards for any product relating to my favourite animal.
The rules are very light, with your cat defined by 6 traits rated from best to good and given 9 lives (as befits the folklore). Cats can also have reputation, which helps them with any action that involves the thing for which they are renowned. (Hmm, in which case my real world cats presumably have reputation in “devour cat treats at high speed” and “Avoid cat carrier when Vets appointment is due”).
Combat is quick and comes in two forms, cat-on-cat which is only ever for dominance and cat-on-non-cat which may be to the death, or may not. Damage is in the form of “scars” which impede a particular attribute unless and until they are healed, although your cat can sacrifice a life to avoid scars from a round of combat.
It is all remarkably efficient and rather charming, and I speak as some one who generally dislikes “light” systems. I tend to find they feel as if something has been sacrificed for speed of play. Cat, however, is not such a game. You instead feel the light rule system works perfectly, serves it's purpose (or should that be purr-pose – sorry, sorry, I'll stop now) and actually enhances play, not to mention it is such that it is hard to think of a situation it won't handle well indeed. If I have any criticism of the system it would have to be that I didn't think of it first!
Towards the end is a section on cat magic, which is also both simple and very flexible, a similar system could work well in just about any RPG of any setting, yet this particular interpretation conjures up (excuse the pun), exactly the right feel for the subject matter.
As I read the rules my own cats were in the room. One was trying to eat my pen whilst the other was falling off the desk in my studio whilst trying to get to her favourite sleeping spot. As a consequence the fantasy element of the game – in which cats are highly intelligent masters of creation was very much highlighted in my mind as fantasy, but the writing is such that even with real world examples staring me in the face I was still more or less able to suspend disbelief, now that has to be the mark of a good game!
In places one gets the feeling that the writing style is very much aimed at experienced RPG players, and may not be the easiest for new comers, some knowledge seems to be assumed on the part of the reader, by way of RPG conventions and tropes and so forth, but not so much that it matters greatly.
I bought this game as a beer and pretzels game to trot out now and again when we needed to fill and because... well... cats! However, now I'm really looking forward to trotting this one out and running it. It can be by turns dark and humours, sort of like a cat.
Now if I can just stop my two from batting my dice under the couch long enough, I'll run a few games.