Interview: Frank West & Dino talk about "The Isle of Cats: Don't forget the kittens!"

The Isle of Cats: Don't forget the kittens!


"Cats are much more flexible which gave them a slight advantage for fitting onto the tiles in the game!"

- Frank West (Arvis Games Inc)

Interview led by WereDINO on The Social Deduction Network Discord

Note: This is not a word for word transcript of the interview, some grammatical mistakes and other things of that nature were altered. For the full unaltered transcript, go find this interview listed under the interviews tab in The Social Deduction Network discord.

Mikrofon, Diskussion, Sprechen, Datensatz, Radio

Dino: It is pretty cool to be in the digital presence of Frank West, creator of Isle of Cats and the three expansions, which are live on kickstarter right now. Welcome to the Social Deduction Network! I wanted to start off by saying that I am a dog person, and consequently struggled with the decision to back your game. Your game looks amazing, but I do feel like I’m betraying man’s best friend. Why did you decide to create this dilemma for me?

Frank: Haha, it's great to be here, thank you for the invitation! I grew up with both dogs and cats and love them both, but cats are much more flexible which gave them a slight advantage for fitting onto the tiles in the game!

Dino: Interesting. I would have loved to see a hotdog on one of those tiles, though… For those tuning in who are not familiar with the base game, could you give us some basic information about the game mechanics and objectives?

Frank: Of course, I would be happy to. The Isle of Cats is a competitive card-drafting, polyomino cat-placement board game for 1 – 4 players. In the game you will be choosing cards, managing resources, and rescuing cats from an island which you'll need to carefully place on your boat to achieve different objectives. Objectives include things like keeping similar-colored cats together, filling specific spaces, and also completing lesson cards which gives you countless different personal ways to score points (you pick which ones you want!)

Dino: I see. I hear that players have to make many decisions while playing, which causes each game to feel very different from the next. What is your personal strategy when playing the game?

Frank: Personally, I really like to try and go for combinations that I haven't played before, and it's funny really, I've played the game hundreds of times now but I still find new things to try out. As you get your objectives through cards you draft, and you can combine multiple cards, it really gives you a completely new goal each time you play.

Dino: Would you say you decide how you will play based on the circumstances of the specific game rather than any preconceived plan?

Frank: Exactly that. During playtesting I would of course pick and choose combinations to test out various things, but these days when I'm just playing the game it's adapting to circumstance. One of the key things about The Isle of Cats is learning how to adapt your plans on what opportunities you have. If you focus too much on trying to do something you'll likely fail. If you keep your mind open and work towards multiple things, you're much more likely to succeed.

Dino: Yes... That tends to be how I play most games, I suppose. There are so many different types of gamers out there. Do you feel that Isle of Cats would be best for solo gamers, casual gamers, or hardcore gamers?

Frank: It feels like a cheating answer but I would say it's equally good for them all and I suppose I should add some justification. Originally I designed the game for the more hardcore gamers, but I am a big supporter of the solo community. As a result I spent many months designing a custom solo mode for the game, it wasn't just an afterthought but a big part of the development process. Equally, as the game has a cat theme I knew it would have a wide appeal to more casual gamers, so I spent another couple of months working on a second game for them, which has its own rule set and comes in the box. As such, it has 3 modes (standard, solo, and family) and each of them has had a lot of time dedicated to its design, and been very well received.

Dino: Holy fur balls! You are telling us there are three ways to play this game? Okay, I set you up for that, but it is worth mentioning. I have seen lots of games that have a solo and multiplayer mode, but having a version for both hardcore and casual gamers is not something I am used to seeing it. As someone who plays with many different groups, I appreciate that. In addition to the rich base game, the new campaign includes three new expansions modules. How do these change up the game?

Frank: The new expansions are focused on 2 different things. The Kittens + Beasts expansion is all about enhancing the existing game. It has a number of modules and each of them takes an existing part of the game and adds new mechanisms around them. The result of this is I've managed to tweak parts of the existing game, refining elements to give a more involved experience, without damaging the existing game. For example, the kitten module focuses on turn order and as a result impacts the perceived value of cards. The beast module focuses on the early game and gives you more direction at the start. The event module is all about changing rules and introducing mid-game scoring that makes the game very different each time you play. The Boat Pack expansion is all about adding replayability to the existing game without altering any rules, it makes the game feel very fresh by changing your board substantially, but still offers the same experience. Finally you have the Kickstarter Pack which is about adding more content and component upgrades to the Kittens + Beasts expansion.

Dino: Well, that all sounds pretty sweet! Much sweeter than cats, who are actually quite cold in my experience. But I digress… I saw that your game comes with really nice components like wooden fish. Is it true that cats prefer wooden fish above all others?

Frank: That is indeed true, it makes them much easier to slide along a table to push off the edge.

Dino: Plus the smell is easier to tolerate. I would be lying if I said the two minute box wasn’t one of the things that excited me the most about the campaign. Why might people want this thing?

Frank: I'm a gamer at heart, I own hundreds of games and I go through all the struggles that many of us in the hobby go through. Can I turn this box sideways or not, will it fit on a Kallax, will it hold all the expansions, will card sleeves fit and so on. I wanted to make sure I answered every question I could and while doing so I realised there was one more key thing, setup and take down time. It's all part of the experience and being able to get the game out on the table and start playing it in less than 2-minutes was so appealing to me, that I assumed others might want it too. So people would want this if they want the perfect streamlined experience that we all dream we'll have with every game we play.

Dino: Setup and cleanup are always a process. I find cleanup surprisingly satisfying, though. Especially when the box is well thought out. I especially like the wooden holders for the sleeves that you came up with. They hold sleeved cards and go right on the table ready for use. Very convenient.

Frank: I find it's things like that that really do make the difference. There is a huge difference between "storing stuff" and "being practical". Simple things like how hard it is to get a card out of a holder and so on, they are easy to overlook and most storage solutions do, while with this I tried to optimise everything the best I could.

Dino: Well... It looks great! Really does. But if I may get serious and turn the tide of this interview which has been friendly thus far: Why aren’t there any werewolves in your game? You wanted absolutely nothing in the dog family, I take it?

Frank: The Isle of Cats is set within the bigger universe of The City of Kings which is where all my games are set, and currently werewolves aren't something that have featured in that world unfortunately!

Dino: Well, in that case, I shall sigh heavily. *sighs heavily*

Frank: (There are no dinosaurs either)

Dino: Dang it...Up until now I had assumed there would be. Anyway… I like the art in your game. It almost makes cats look like they are worth owning. Who is the artist, and how did your collaboration begin?

Frank: I always have a very hands on approach with my artwork, I do a lot of conception work, researching, and even bits of the artwork myself. This means it's really important I find an artist who's open to a collaborative approach and I spent a long time searching for someone who's work best suited what I was looking for. In the end that was someone named Dragolisco and it all started when he applied to an advert I put out. He specialises in drawing dragons but I saw something in them which just ticked my boxes. (There are dragons in the world)

Dino: Oh, I see. Dragons to werewolves shouldn't be too big a stretch, right? I mean... both are carbon based lifeforms.

Frank: Maybe one day!

Dino: You heard it here first, Folks! Are any of the cats meant to resemble actual cats, or are any resemblances purely coincidental like those of the zombies that appeared in Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video?

Frank: Ha! No, they certainly take inspiration from real world cats. Mainly big cats such as tigers and lions, and most of the poses were drawn using references of real cats in those positions. But outside of that the cats were always "fantasy" and were meant to appeal to cat lovers and fantasy lovers in their own ways.

Dino: Makes sense. I did notice that one bears a striking resemblance to Marlon Brando... or at least to the cat he pet in that famous Godfather scene… What is “Explore and Draw”? It sounds like the job of a pioneer cartographer. Is this another expansion?

Frank: Explore & Draw is its own game and while offering a similar experience to The Isle of Cats, it's a different, smaller, faster game. Its story is interesting really as I had never intended to make it. When The Isle of Cats originally released in retail the entire world went into lockdown, not as a result of the game releasing, but due to covid. This was an incredibly worrisome thing as I had a new game that I had invested many years of my life into and people couldn't play it. As such I decided to create a new way to play the game, I wrote a rulebook which people could download for free and it converted The Isle of Cats into a game you could play with people in different houses. You could play over streams, discord, facebook, whatever you wanted and it allowed people to experience the game. I then started running streams on Twitch and people enjoyed it, it grew and became the 4th big mode of the game (after standard, solo, and family). Due to the popularity I decided to make Explore & Draw which is an evolution of that "Remote Edition" I released last year. Wrapping up the experience in a standalone form.

Dino: Oh, that makes sense. Good idea. I take it that it is not meant to be stored in the two-minute box?

Frank: It's not, it has a much smaller box and is perfect for travelling and taking to places where taking a full box isn't convenient.

Dino: I see. I have to say, your kickstarter campaign is going very well. How much more successful would it have been if it had centered around dogs? I mean, if you added dogs, sales would go through the WOOF!

Frank: I mean, that's quite literally the million $ question isn't it?!

Dino: Yes, I imagine Bob BARKER asking that question. Speaking of which… Once these cats are rescued, do you make sure to have them spayed or neutered? I mean, anything less is deeply irresponsible...

Frank: It's certainly recommended, but you do have to be careful as they are a little large and not used to humans.

Dino: All the more reason! Can we expect future content for Isle of Cats? And will it all fit in the two minute box?

Frank: The answer to the first part is unknown to me right now, there is plenty of opportunity to add more to the game. The question is, does the game need more, and if it does, what should be added? Those are questions I can't answer until the new content is in the wild and being played by thousands of people. I'm a big believer in expansions only existing if they need to exist and that's why it's been 2 years between the first and second Kickstarters, as it's only now I knew what would be right. As for fitting in the big '2-minute' box, I'm hopeful. I've certainly giving myself ways to manage that and if I can't, the box has been designed to be extendable as well. Meaning you wouldn't need to throw it or the storage solution away.

Dino: That's what I like to hear! I know I have been joking around quite a bit about the feud between dogs and cats, but a dog expansion might be pretty cool. Imagine dogs that are worth lots of points, but can’t be placed adjacent to any cats. That would add some interesting complexity and tough decisions, right?

Frank: It would certainly be interesting, but you might be pleased to hear one of the beasts in the game is a form of dog! ^_^

Dino: Oh?

Frank: Oh yes, you'll have to scroll through the beasts graphic on the KS to find it though.

Dino: Okay. Puts on Waldo-finding glasses! Now, before you go, since this is a social deduction discord server, what are your favorite social deduction games? And would you ever consider producing one in the Isle of Cats universe?

Frank: That's a tough one to answer, I am a big fan of the more traditional ultimate werewolf as I find it meets a good balance of accessibility and enjoyment, but I've enjoyed a fair few of them over the years. In regard to producing one, I have actually designed one already that sits within The City of Kings universe (the universe of which The Isle of Cats belongs) but I've not gone too far with it. For me the biggest issue is the practicality of playtesting a game that requires so many people, but to be honest Discord is starting to help solve that problem....

Dino: Hey, that's interesting! Hope something happens with that game you mentioned. Keep us posted!

Frank: I will indeed, you guys may even prove to be a good testing platform, you never know!

Dino: I believe that is the perfect not to end on! Thank you so much for being here. This was a lot of fun. Isle of Cats is live on kickstarter, now. Back it, today!

Frank: It's my pleasure, thanks for having me here. It has been great!