Late Arrivals is an expansion for the tile placement and drafting board game The Isle of Cats, released in 2019 by publisher The City of Games. Designed by Frank West, the expansion adds more cats, more boats and the components to play with more players – increasing the player count from 1 – 4 cat rescuers to up to 6 players. However, do more cats improve the experience or is it more of a crazy cat lady situation? Let’s find out!
(Editor’s Note: For those new to The Isle of Cats, check out our review of the incredible base game!)
A lot of popular board games with an up to 4 player count get this style of expansion, with Late Arrivals allowing two additional players to join in the action. Two additional boats are included for them to use as their player boards, a range of discovery cards and additional cat meeples are included. There is even an Oshax cat meeple for the sixth player to use as a player piece. Late Arrivals is more than just a 5 – 6 player expansion pack. Numerous elements can be used when playing with 1 – 4 players to add even more variety into the experience.
On the surface the two new boat boards seem very much just for additional players. However, like those in the base game, the two boards are unique. While the outline of the boat shape and room zones are identical, the positioning of the rats and treasure maps are varied from board to board. This variation continues across the two new boards, giving slightly different layouts for players to work with – regardless of the player count. Being the same quality and colours of the original boat boards, once mixed together players would have a hard time telling which is a base boat and which is an expansion one.
Of the 70 included cards only the 16 Lesson cards are recommended to be shuffled in when playing with 1 – 4 players. These 16 lesson cards are split into 2 sets of 8 cards, forming modules to be shuffled into the main deck, while other lesson modules are removed. This means when playing with 4 players, or fewer, the majority of the expansion cards will stay in the box or worse. Worse, by the fact that players may have to go through and remove them from the deck. Each expansion card does have a small but noticeable treasure chest symbol on them, denoting them clearly as expansion cards. This does ease that process but it’s still not a small deck to flick through and remove cards from, costing time either in setup or teardown – if switching between player counts.
Public Lessons were an odd but interesting choice in the base game of The Isle of Cats. A single player would have to pay to play the Public Lesson but then everyone would get a chance to score it. The choice came from taking it during a draft to stop it being put into play, to choosing a colour of cat which it referred to. With the Late Arrivals expansion players are free to shuffle out the C module, removing all Public Lessons from the experience. To some these choices made The Isle of Cats feel a little different from other games, though the choice is there to remove the other lesson modules instead.
The Isle of Cats is a rather quick to play game, when everyone involved gets into the flow of the round phases. Adding two more players into the mix will slow that speed down to some extent. The drafting stage is still performed simultaneously, thus there shouldn’t be more than a minimal increase there. With more players making choices when it comes to rescuing cats, and picking up rare treasures/Oshax tiles, there will be an increase in playtime though. It is a two fold issue that is just as present when play changes from 2 players to 4 with the base game. Not only is there slightly longer between turns there are more cat tiles to pick from. As the number of tiles increases the longer each player ends up debating which to take, though some of this is offset by having longer to think between turns.
Currently playing The Isle of Cats with 5 – 6 people is simply not possible for most. While that is half of the potential, Late Arrivals as an expansion adds more than just that possibility. Adding a touch more variability to the game from additional Lesson modules to different boat layouts, a chunk of the content can always be enjoyed. It would have been better if all of the Late Arrivals expansion had shuffled in neatly, never needing to be removed. Yet, it seems this is done to maintain the balance and distribution of card types in the deck.
There is no denying that the added variety from the content included is there, especially with the ability to play without public lessons. This won’t be enough for everyone to justify the purchase though. The focus is split between more players and more variety, but it favours more players by far. Still, if you love the base game and get it to the table repeatedly then this expansion could be for you, especially if you are able to play with 5/6 players. Plus, if you are one of those looking to save shelf space, the entirety of the expansion content easily fits in the base game box!
(Editor’s Note: The Isle of Cats: Late Arrivals was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The expansion is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)