When I crack the plastic on a new game to review, I very rarely know what I’m getting into. That’s honestly the point. Try something new, tell people about it. That being said, I want to start this review by admitting I’m several levels of not this game’s target market. It’s very good at being what it is, but understand that it’s not for me. It happens.
I’ll keep this part brief, but let’s talk about the designer. If you’re a regular reader you may have noticed I rarely put much emphasis on the actual creators/designers. I do that intentionally, but in this case the designer, himself, is as much an intellectual property and a brand as any products he puts out. James Rallison started releasing his webcomic TheOdd1sOut in 2012, and launched his YouTube channel two years later. In the five years since then, his main YouTube channel (also TheOdd1sOut) has over 13 million subscribers, and his secondary channel (TheOdd2sOut) has gained over 2 million subscribers in less than two years. His art style is simple but instantly recognizable. His animation style is equally bare-bones (sometimes drawing criticism that it isn’t “real” animation). But what has earned him over 2 BILLION views is the fact that he is a masterful storyteller. I wish I could go on like this guy. I’m not a “fan”, per se, but I respect and appreciate what he does.
Moving on to the game itself. Once again, if you’re a regular reader, you know I basically detest speed games. If you know me personally, you may also know that my least favourite speed game is probably the simplest and most commonly played speed game: Spoons. I’ve had friends injured in a variety of ways playing spoons. I’ve seen chairs destroyed playing spoons. I’ve even seen a table sturdy enough for a person to stand on, broken playing spoons. Imagine my delight when my friends started moving drinks and taking off restrictive layers of fashion upon realizing that Can’t Catch Harry is an upscaled Spoons.
I, in no way, mean that in a negative way beyond my own opinion on Spoons. The Great Dalmuti and Dilbert’s Corporate Shuffle are both just President (to use the family-friend name). Blackjack, Poker, War, even Go Fish have all seen variations and derivative games. There are perfectly good reasons these card games are timeless classics.
Here’s how the game works. Each player gets four cards, and the remainder of the deck is handed to the youngest player. The first (youngest) player draws a card, then passes a card to the next player, who passes a card to the next player, and so on until the last player who discards one card. When a player gets four of a kind they reveal them and grab a moth from the center board. Every other player also grabs a moth as fast as they can, hoping not to end up with the lamp.
Each moth is worth a different amount of points. Harry is worth 3 points, Cray Cray is worth 2 points, Chubs is worth 1 point, and the Lamp is worth -1 point. There is no elimination, and the winner is the first player to reach EXACTLY 11 points. But there are a few other ways to score, or lose, points. If a player finishes with all four Harry cards in their hand, they get an extra 3 points. The Everyone cards are wild, and can be used to finish any set, but they are worth -1 point if you aren’t able to grab Harry at the end of the round. Each Devil card in a player’s hand is worth -1 point unless you have all four. If a player has all four Devil cards, everyone’s score is reset to zero (even if they were in the negative) and only that player scores their moth for the round.
The rule book isn’t as clear as I would like on a few points, but ultimately gameplay is simple enough. What really makes Can’t Catch Harry stand out, is the components. The board at the center of the table is a thin neoprene mat that can be rolled up for storage, while still laying flat when unrolled. You could play without a board at all, but it keeps all the pieces a consistent distance apart. We found that rotating the board as play went on kept things fair, after I got my four cards and stupidly grabbed the Lamp first because it was directly in front of me. D’oh.
The moths, and lamp, are exceptionally well manufactured. All of the pieces are solid enough to stand up to… shall we say, rigorous… play and also just pliable enough to not snap if grabbed wrong. It is certainly possible that the antennas or wings could eventually break off, but after 3 groups of players, they still look like new. (which is more than I can say for an unfortunate number of games.) As well, the moths all have their respective point values imprinted on the bottom of each piece, which is a nice touch.
The cards are significantly better quality than most, which is (again) important in a game like this. The art itself is what you’d expect, coming from the original artist, but the little details are noticeable. The character cards are all mirrored, like the face cards from a regular deck of cards, making the orientation a non-issue during the game. The other thing I appreciated was that very little of the art on the wild Everyone cards was the same art as on each character’s individual cards.
This will never be my favourite game. But I feel like it is a massive advancement from its roots, and my players that like this style of game loved it. While it won’t be my first pick, if someone else wants to play I wouldn’t automatically say no, and I promise that’s a bigger compliment than it sounds.
BONUS: Here a video from TheOdds1Out about Tabletop Games: