Welcome back to Pocket Reviews, reviews of games that can fit in your pocket.
Who do you think would be faster: a cat or a ninja? How about a cat who is a ninja! Enter the tournament arena of Master Meow, prove your skill, and become the quickest paw there is in Cobra Paw, the fast-paced new game by the makers of Bananagrams. Everyone who has met me knows that I cannot resist anything that has a cat theme. So, of course, I had to buy this game when I found it.
The hexagonal box has an eye-catching image of a ninja cat (perhaps Master Meow himself?). Inside you will find 21 “clawfuku” stones, 2 large “catnippon” dice and an instruction book entitled “Points of Play”. This is one of the few games made by Bananagrams that does not come with a bag (which I found disappointing). The stones, which bear a passing resemblance to both dominoes and mah-jong tiles, each have a unique pair of brightly coloured symbols. The two six-sided dice have the same symbols. The tiles are spread, face up, in the center of the arena (aka a table). One person rolls the dice, and the challenge begins. The object of the game is to “snatch” a stone that matches the dice as quickly as possible. The successful snatcher rolls next. The winner is the ninja who successfully captures 6 stones (or 8 if there are only two players).
But, since even ninja have a sense of honour, it’s more complicated than that. In addition to the Points of Play, there is also the Code of Conduct, which ensures fair play and protects the honour of all participants. It includes both proper technique (one must snatch using the fingers, and not the whole “paw”; only one hand may be used to snatch) and dishonorable behaviour (one may not “hover” over the stones, and it is dishonorable to attempt to block other players’ view of either the dice or the stones.) The Code of Conduct also explains one important detail that is easy to overlook if you only read the basic rules. Since the dice are random, it is likely that the same pattern will show up more than once. It is perfectly legal to take a stone from another player, as long as the snatch is performed correctly. (This makes sense to me, since ninja are sneaky and cats have no regard for private property.) There are also several very interesting variant rules described, which will keep the game from getting boring.
This deceptively simple game requires pattern recognition, hand-eye coordination, fast reflexes, and a combination of competitive spirit and a sense of fair play. I played this game with a couple of young boys, and they really seemed to enjoy it. At least until we learned about the “legal stealing” rule. After that, they both started accusing each other of cheating. If you dislike arguments, or if your personal moral code believes that no one, not even ninja, should steal, you may want to implement the House Rule I used, that a pattern that has already been snatched will be re-rolled. Either way, remember to play with honour and have fun.
Debra Savage has been a geek for a very long time. She still misses the vintage board games from her childhood, when she frequently lost at Scrabble to her older brother and invented House Rules with her sister. She has been a member of The USS Bonaventure, one of Edmonton’s oldest Science Fiction Societies, for decades, and can’t remember the year of her first convention. Her first love is reading and she honed her writing skills on weekly online fanfic challenges in the early 2000s.