It’s hard, when you look back on your life, to determine exactly what got you into the animal grab-bag business, but here you are, bidding blindly on sacks of cats at auction. The contents will be gradually revealed for those who stick around, but sticking around might mean ending up with more than you’re able to pass on at a profit. Still, fortune favors the bold. So with skill and a little luck, maybe you’ll be able to land the coveted Felicity, the Cat in the Sack.
How It Works
Felicity, the Cat in the Sack is a hand-management, auction, and bluffing game for three to five players. Players contribute animals to nine communal sacks and bid on the contents of those sacks. The player with the most points wins.
To begin, each player receives ten cards of a color and fifteen “mice money.” The bank is prepared and the auction cards are placed in the center of the table based on the number of players. Each player has another player randomly choose one of their cards to remove from the game. The start player receives the wooden sack.
The game is played over nine rounds. At the start of the round, mice money is placed on each of the auction cards. Each player contributes one card, face down, to the sack. Cards are mangy cats (worth negative points), rabbits (worth 0), clean, groomed cats (worth positive points), or dogs (which scare cats out of the bag). The cards are arranged in turn order under the auction cards, and only the first player’s card is turned face-up.
On a turn, players may either bid (placing at least 1 money more than the current highest bid) or pass (take their mice money back and take the money from the lowest auction card that still has money). Once a player passes, the card under the newly empty auction card turns face-up.
The round continues until all players pass but one. This last player pays their bid to the bank and claims the contents of the sack. The contents are all the cards played this round, unless dogs were played. If just a small dog was played, the animal with the lowest value and the dog are removed. If just a large dog was played, the animal with the highest value and the dog are removed. If multiple dogs were played, these dogs “cause their own mischief” and are all removed. The player who claimed the sack gets the start player marker, and a new round begins.
The game is over after the final round. Players count the face value of the cards they’ve claimed plus 1 point for each mice money they have left. The player with the most points wins.
The Cat’s Out of the Bag
I’ll admit that when Felicity, the Cat in the Sack ended up on my review schedule, I wasn’t super enthusiastic. For one thing, I’m not much of a cat fan, and for another, while I do have a soft spot in my heart for small card games, that spot is not immense. There are more and more titles competing in a crowded genre for my love, and I simply can’t make space for them all. But I can make space for Felicity, and I will, because this is a game I’m quite smitten with.
The game’s charms begin at its title and premise: there’s a sack full of cats, and players are bidding on the sack without knowing what’s in it. This is an oddball premise and an oddball name, but it lets players know quickly what they’re in for. No, this isn’t a complex strategy game. This is a silly filler that revels in its silliness. But the surprising and excellent thing here is that behind the silliness, there’s the substance of a compelling game.
Part of what makes Felicity compelling is that the entire game is channeling players toward the interesting pay-off of seeing what’s in the sack. The auction that drives the game is essentially chicken: you want to be in a position to see what’s in the sack as other players drop out, but you want the option to bail yourself if what’s in the sack isn’t worth having. However, in order to stay in until that point, you have to bid higher than all the other players. While everyone who passes gets their bids back, bidding makes you vulnerable because you at least temporarily are on the hook for what’s in the sack. If the group conspires against you–if the next player, for example, knows that he or she put a mangy cat in the sack and decides to bail, and the next player knows the same, and so on–what you thought was a safe, conservative bid might net you the contents of a worthless sack.
But again, the game channels you into staying in the auction as long as you can. One way it does this is simple human curiosity. It’s similar to, in Texas Hold ‘Em poker, paying to see the flop. Fortunes can change on the flop. Felicity creates a similar tension. What if you completely misjudged your fellow players? What if, what you fear is a worthless sack, is really the only sack worth bidding on? But beyond natural curiosity, there’s the more mercenary consideration that passing later in the round will get you more money, and money is points. The best part of the game is the surprise of seeing what other players stuffed in the sack, and these simple guardrails ensure that, most of the time, most of the players will be invested in this outcome.
Felicity is driven by its auction, but at its heart is a mind game. Each round, each player contributes a card to the sack, and it’s up to the players to determine 1) what other players put in the sack, and 2) how to interact with that through their own contribution. If you think other players are contributing valuable cats, should you put in another valuable cat, hoping to take home the big prize? Should you put in a mangy cat, hoping to spoil it for the unsuspecting winner? Should you put in a dog to chase off one of the cats? But here again, it’s the human element that makes the game worth playing. I might suspect that David will put a high-value cat in the sack, but he might know that I’ll suspect that and put something else in instead. Again, this is what makes the game compelling: as players drop out of the bidding and cards are revealed, all the players get to see the groupthink that was operative around the table, and that’s often better than winning or losing.
In fact, Felicity is the kind of game that’s hard to get too upset over. This is a game where you have to guess at what other players are doing, and often you’ll guess wrong–sometimes hilariously so. Once I bid six money, and I wondered why everyone was so quickly backing out of the auction. It was less surprising when card after card was revealed to be their negative-value cats. So it goes. While this was, indeed, a blow to my score, it didn’t hurt too much because we were all laughing and enjoying the game. Reversals of fortune and bluffing are common in the game, and as long as you can approach the game with a good sense of humor, you’ll find there’s a lot to enjoy in this box.
By saying that, by the way, I’m not saying that the “game” doesn’t matter, or you might as well not play because it’s so chaotic. The moments of surprise revelation are so much fun because a lot of the time you can guess what the other players are doing, if not with certainty, at least within the ballpark. But because they are humans and not robots, they can still surprise you. It’s good to have this reminder after playing my typical Euro calculation fests.
That being said, some players will find this chaotic. There is simultaneous selection with hidden information, and sometimes, especially when you’re stuck with a bag full of junk, you might feel like bidding is a shot in the dark. There’s never 100-percent certainty, even for the card-counting player, since one card is removed from each player randomly at the start of the game. There’s also the possibility that a player can win the game without winning many bids. Because money is points, especially if other players are making outrageous bids–especially in a game like this, where it’s lighter, it can be tempting just to win something rather than bidding judiciously–you might be able to walk away with the game by just passing well. Again, especially in a game this short, I don’t mind either of these things, but some players might.
The components of Felicity are a mixed bag (!). The player cards are large (Dixit sized) and colorful and have evocative artwork on them. They’re clear and bold, and I like them quite a bit. The game comes with a first-player marker, a sack, and this is wooden and hefty. The mice money in the game is green and black tiddlywinks. This money isn’t great, but it does get the job done and is easily concealed in the hand. The rulebook has some strange wording with regard to the dog cards, but looking at BGG cleared up any doubts I had on the subject. I’m satisfied with the components–especially the cards–but not blown away. Then again, I don’t think Felicity is the kind of game (or bears the kind of price point) where I would expect the components to knock my socks off.
Felicity, the Cat in the Sack is a surprisingly fun and engaging filler that takes the fun of bluffing games, ties it to a silly premise, and makes a compelling new thing. Small games like this have a tendency to rise and fall in favor, and I’m not sure how long Felicity will be in active rotation, but I’m loving it now, and I intend to hold on to my copy. It has more bluffing, jockeying, and luck-pushing than, say, For Sale, and while this might annoy some players, it’s a winning combination for me.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Stronghold Games for providing us with a copy of Felicity, the Cat in the Sack for review