A couple of months back we noticed a game called the Ratcatcher from Platypus Industries. We were immediately excited, not only because the theme was so different and unique, but also because of the gameplay. A tile placement game, exploration and unique art? We had to check it out! The Ratcather is also a solo game, so we knew our communication skills would be put to the test again since we were going to try to control one character with two people at once. Let’s see how this turns out.
How to Play.
Before starting the game, pick a character along with a matching character board and meeple. Place the indicated number of tokens on the reset icons of the player board, and the right amount of dices on the attack track. Also place a number of trap tokens equal to your character’s trap attribute found in the top right corner of your character board. Place the tallyman cage in reach for rats you catch and choose a nemesis rat to play against with the nemesis token. Place a red health cube on the reset icon on the health track and place the board in reach. Next is the city setup. First place the township card with numbers 00, this has a normal side and a hardcore side to choose from. Place your character on the starting card and shuffle the remaining township cards. Randomly place two township cards next to the starting card, make sure at least one connector icon on both cards connect when placing new township cards, the orientation of the card does not matter. For every question mark token on a card, randomly draw a ‘?’ token to reveal and resolve it on the card by placing the matching token or spawn a peculiar rat or rat’s nest. Now you are ready to catch some rats.
The Ratcatcher is played in rounds and your character will always perform actions first. Every round except for the first round, you start by resetting your attack dice, trap tokens and movement on your player board. Your ratcatcher may perform as many actions as they can in this round. If you want to move, you can spend the movement points indicated on your character board. For each movement point spend, you can move into an adjacent zone, these are separated on the township cards by white lines. You can also move to another part of the city by travelling to another adjacent card using the connector icon. By spending movement points, you can also deploy traps. One movement points will provide you with one trap to place in your current or an adjacent zone. Only one trap can be placed in each zone and you have a limited amount of traps you can place each round found on your player board.
If you want to attack rats, you can do that in the zone where you currently are standing. Choose the amount of dices you want to roll on your player board and compare the results to your characters accuracy. Every outcome that is equal to the accuracy or greater then, is a hit. All rats, except for the nemesis, only have one health. But other then health some rats can have defense. For each hit, the defense will take one damage. If there is no defense left, the rat only needs one hit in order to be captured. A common black rat for example has one defense. In order to capture a black rat by attacking, you have to deal to hits to the rat before you can place him in the tallyman cage. If you roll a six, this immediately turns into a hit towards the health, even if there is still defense left. If you defeat a peculiar rat, take the card and keep it close by. The dices you have used in the attack will be kept in the reserve for the remaining of this phase. If you catch enough common rats in the tallyman cage, you can claim rewards during the ratcathers phase. To do this, simple return the amount of rats to the sack for the reward you want to claim, indicated on the tallyman cage card. Returning ten rats will give you one health back for example. For peculiar rats you can find the rewards for capturing on the cards itself. You can also claim these in the ratcatchers turn if you want. Claiming rewards is always optional and you can wait until a later turn if you wish.
If you move to a zone that has cheese, but no rats, you may collect the cheese and place it in on of the upgrade or refill slots on your character board. If you manage to fill all the slots designed to fit cheese for a certain attribute upgrade, like movement or accuracy for example, you may place an upgrade token in that attribute. Every character has special abilities that are unlocked by placing one cheese token next to the ability. Once you unlock an ability, you gain the maximum amount of tokens for that ability. You can only use your abilities during the ratcatchers turn and for every use, one token is spend. Once your ratcatcher has performed all the actions that you were able to, or wanted to do, check if the city needs expending. If there are fewer then two cheeses in the entire city, place new township cards according to where your ratcatcher is currently standing. The number variating between I – IV is found on the top left corner of each township card. If your ratcatcher is standing on a township card containing number III for example, place three new cards according to the normal rules. After expanding, the rats will take actions.
Rats will always first move, starting with the nemesis rat, peculiar rats, then the brown rats, black and finally white. Nemeses rats and peculiar rats have their movement written on their cards and a target where they prefer to move to. Black and white rats will always move towards cheese while brown rats will try to move towards the ratcatcher. Once all the rats have moved, traps might be triggered. Rats that share a zone with a trap after movement, will trigger the trap according to the trap’s ability of the ratcather. This could be rolling dices from your reserve to rate the attack value from the trap, meaning you use dices you have used to attack in the previous phase. Or you trap’s attack value is the same amount as there are rats in the zone of the trap for example. You can find each ability on the player board of the ratcatchers. The nemesis rat, peculiar rats or brown rats that end up in the same zone as you that are not captured, will now bite you. If a bite from a peculiar rat exceeds your ratcatchers defense value, you suffer one wound. This is found on the card of the peculiar rat. To calculate the brown rat’s value, add together all rats in the zone. If this also exceeds your ratcatchers defense value, you suffer one wound. You can only be attacked once per rat kind, meaning you can only be attacked once by a peculiar rat, once by a brown rat and once from the nemesis rat.
After the biting, see how many rats there are in a zone shared with cheese. If there are five or more rats, they will consume the cheese. Place the cheese on the nemesis board and return all the black an white rats that were in the affected zone. The nemesis counts as five rats, peculiar rats as three and brown common rats do not count at all. If there are rat’s nests in the city (not rat spawns), draw a rat token out of the rat sack. For every black rat you draw, draw one more. Check if expansion for the city is needed and lastly clean up the city if necessary. Township cards that are not adjacent to your ratcatcher and does not contain any cheese or a nemesis, will become inactive. Remove any peculiar rat tokens and or common rat tokens back to the rat sack. Then reset your ratcatcher to begin another round.
The goal of the game is to collect ten cheese tokens or to slay the nemesis rat. The nemesis rat will in return try to decrease your health to zero with his army of rats and will try to collect all the cheese for himself. When either your character reaches zero health or the Nemesis rat’s tracker is filled up with cheese you lose. Every time when the rats collect a cheese, you place it on the rat tracker of the nemesis board. Every cheese placement will unlock new effects or abilities. If the rat tracker reaches the ‘spawn nemesis’ space, place the nemesis token on any rat’s nest on the township card where your ratcatcher is located. The nemesis rat has it’s own movement value, target and health that is all found on the nemesis board. When the nemesis rat bites you because he ends up in the same zone as you, roll the amount of dices indicated on the nemesis board. For every dice equal to or greater then the nemesis’ accuracy, he will deal a hit. Every hit that exceeds the defense of your ratcatcher, turns into a wound, removing one health from your character. During the rats spawn phase, the nemesis rat also spawns an additional number of rats found on the nemesis board.
The rulebook of Ratcather has a lot of information and is quite complicated. I have tried to place as much information as I can in this review. However, even though I wrote many rules in details, I might have skipped a few rules. Always check the rulebook before starting your first game.
Playthrough of the game.
I have to be honest, we struggled a lot with the rulebook. So many rules caused questions where I couldn’t find an answer for and for some I found one in an unexpected place after turning the entire rulebook up side down again. The rulebook took the fun out of the first game for us. After the first game and after talking to the designer itself, we figured most things out and have had enough practice to start our second game, which for us counted as our first real playthrough. We chose an interesting boss and different character with different abilities and started to play. Very soon, rats respawned everywhere, ate all the cheeses and caused the nemesis to spawn. We were not doing very well since we had only collected three cheeses of our own so far. This game is hard. The Abyssal Rat and it’s rat’s army, slaughtered our dear Sister Constantine, standing no chance with such an unexperienced team. Our first win was after six games with the Pied Piper versus the Rat King. With a lot of luck and strategy, we managed to collect ten cheese tokens before we were killed.
This game is for the die hard solo board gamers who don’t back down from a challenge. There is a lot of luck involved since you have to roll dices for your attacks. Even with upgrades, this game is not easy and has a low win rate. But, when played with the right strategies at the right moment (releasing rat’s and using special abilities for example), it’s definitely not impossible. From those six times, we definitely had some close calls before our first win. That being said, we are in love with the artwork in this game. The player boards and nemesis rats have outstanding artwork that is carried trough in the unique wooden meeples. Even all the peculiar rats have their own piece of art meeple and card. The quality of the components are also excellent. The dices are light and roll easily, the player boards have designated spaces especially for each dice and upgrade cheeses and the tallyman cage used to contain the rats you catch is even made out of wood. Normally and adventure lasts around 30-45 minutes, however, since we were both controlling the same character in this solo game, it took us longer in each game since we had several discussions (disagreements) on how to best continue. We did found that it is definitely doable to play this game with two players in this way. Once we had learned the rules, we were (mostly) on the same page.
The Ratcatcher is a solo adventure game where you need a lot of strategy and luck in order to win. This game is hard and the win rate is low since a lot of luck is also involved, perfect if you love a challenge. The rulebook needs some serious word, but we have heard there is an FAQ page coming online for The Ratcatcher. The art in this game is outstanding and the quality of the components is excellent. There is also a lot of replayability. Every game you will draw different city tiles and there are also different characters to play with and different nemesis rats to play against who each have their own unique ability. We found that this is a very heavy game with an awesome theme and in our opinion the game is also a little to much luck based which makes the win rate low. We would wish to see more strategic options that would eliminate the luck further in order to increase your chances of winning. That being said, even though this game won’t make it to our board game table every week because of the weight, this is a unique game to have in our collection with outstanding art and hell of an adventure.