An oldie but a goodie (published in 2011), HABA’s Catch Me! is a kid’s game that puts one player in the role of a cat trying to catch the other players’ mice. Like virtually all of HABA’s kids’ games, Catch Me! includes several large, brightly colored chunky wooden components that will instantly have young children wanting to pick them up and play with them: a die with six colored faces, another standard die with pips, a wooden cup in which to roll said dice, and six wooden mice (in six different colors which correspond to the die faces) attached to strings. At first glance, it’s a visually delightful game.
Like many of the HABA kids’ games I have reviewed here before (First Orchard comes to mind), Catch Me! has multiple modes of play designed for different learning levels. Younger children will, no doubt, enjoy the freedom of the Mouse Picnic mode while older children will find the Watch Out, Mouse! mode more challenging.
In this mode, each player chooses their favorite color mouse and all but the player who will be the cat for the round place their mice into the center of the table with their noses touching. The cat takes the colored die (the standard die is used in a variant for the other game mode) and the wooden cup in hand. Whichever color mouse they chose for themselves becomes the ‘signal color’ for the current round.
Next, the cat rolls the die in the cup in such a way that the die winds up hidden under the cup. When they reveal the die to the other players, if the die matches the signal color, the cat will then attempt to catch the other players’ mice under the cup while the other players simultaneously use the strings attached to their mice to attempt a hasty exit from the table. If a mouse gets caught, then its owner becomes the cat for the next round. Otherwise, the cat remains the same until another player’s mouse is caught. If a player pulls their mouse away mistakenly, then they automatically become the cat.
Skills For Life: This mode rewards quick color recognition. The faster your child is able to react to the color on the signal die, the longer they will avoid getting captured by the cat. This need for instantaneous color recognition will serve them well in the future when playing games like FUSE: a real time cooperative game that forces players to work together to defuse bombs using various patterns of colored dice before the bombs explode.
Watch Out, Mouse!
This game mode is similar to Mouse Picnic, but the onus of color recognition is put onto the cat rather than the mice. In Watch Out, Mouse! mode, the cat must roll the die and then attempt to capture the mouse that matches the color of the die before that mouse’s owner can exact an escape. If the cat is successful, the captured mouse’s owner becomes the cat for the next round. If they are unsuccessful, they remain the cat and must keep trying until they manage to capture a mouse. If a player pulls away their mouse mistakenly, they become the cat for the next round.
The variant for this mode replaces the signal color with a signal number—the colored die is replaced by the standard pip die. Each mouse is assigned a number. If the cat rolls up your number, they’re coming after your mouse.
Skills For Life: Catch Me! is also a game that rewards having a fast reaction time. If you don’t pull your mouse away quickly enough, then your mouse is likely to get captured. On the other hand, if you’re the cat and don’t move swiftly enough, then your prey will escape the table before you are able to capture it. This kind of frenetic play is even more amplified by games such as Gimme That! which not only tests a person’s reactionary skills, but will also demonstrate whether or not they can count to 100.
There’s a thing that happens when you’re a gamer and an expectant parent. Your head fills with these grandiose visions of sitting around with your child someday, banging out a late night session of Gloomhaven (or whatever your favorite game may be). But unless your child is Doogie Howser (a pop culture reference which I am sure has just dated me), it’s highly doubtful they are going to emerge from the womb ready to delve into such a lengthy, strategic endeavor. That doesn’t stop you from buying games for that inevitable day they’ll be able to play games with you, though, so you start off small with games like this one.
I purchased Catch Me! from a flea market before my son was even born, before I even knew that my son was even going to be a son. I couldn’t wait for the day that my child would finally have all the criteria required to play it: being able to sit up on his own, the manual dexterity needed to handle the components, a working knowledge of basic colors, etc. And then that day finally came. A few months ago, feeling confident that my son, Maxwell, could handle it, I finally pulled Catch Me! off the shelf, gave it a good dusting, and set it out on the table.
Maxwell took to it like a fish to water, like a bird to the sky, like a platypus to whatever habitat it prefers… you get the point.
He loves it. He always wants to play it. Nary a day goes by that Catch Me! isn’t hitting our table. And this makes me insanely happy. I love playing games with my son. I live for the beaming smiles and the joyous laughter that Catch Me! evokes.
What I don’t live for is the game itself. Catch Me! has a few flaws that make it a painstaking process to play. For starters, it’s the boardgame equivalent of The Song That Never Ends (the popular song from the old Lambchop television show). While it’s clever and endearing at first, it soon becomes grating due to its infinite nature. Here’s ten hours of that song for you so that you’ll understand what I mean. Catch Me! has no built-in ending. If you don’t place some limitation on it yourself, wave goodbye to the rest of eternity.
Unlike the first issue which has a workaround in the way of enforcing strict rules of how many rounds you’re going to play before you go completely insane, there is no workaround for the game’s second, and arguably bigger, flaw: the cat cannot capture mice until the proper signal color gets rolled. This means that there will be times—many, many, many (did I mention MANY) times—where the cat is stuck rolling the dice over and over without the proper color coming up. This issue was so prevalent, in fact, that we instituted our own variant, wherein each player in our three-player game takes on the color of two different mice. That way there is a 2:6 chance for one of the cat’s signal colors to come up. Even then, the constant dice rolling causes the game to drag on for a bit too long for my tastes.
That being said, Catch Me! is a game that when suggested by Maxwell, I am happy to play even though I secretly wish I were playing something else. Anything else. Please.