Grant Lyon, Comedy Central comedian and board game reviewer, visited Gumbo Live! a few months back. He was as quick witted on the show as advertised, and if you have not seen his “Grant’s Game Recs” yet on YouTube, you should check them out.
We chatted with Grant about a lot of topics, but a common theme was games that can be played quickly but provide memorable experiences, especially games appropriate with newcomers to the hobby. I noticed that Grant uploaded a Kickstarter video for Mouse Cheese Cat Cucumber recently that encapsulates not only the best parts of the game, but as usual, showcases Grant’s trademark humor. We were fortunate enough to have Seppy Yoon, the designer of the Mouse Cheese Cat Cucumber, send us a preview copy of the game, which is out on Kickstarter right now. Did Seppy really pull off a hidden role, party style, yet thinky board game that only takes about 15 minutes?
The suspense is killing me!
Mouse Cheese Cat Cucumber (“MCCC”) is a 2021 game out on Kickstarter right now from Fight In A Box games. We are pumped to have Seppy Yoon on the show in a couple of weeks to chat about his games, so come on by Gumbo Live! on March 2 and join in with the Chat Krewe.
In MCCC, players take on one of four different, hidden roles: a MOUSE, who wants to eat the block of cheese, the CAT, who wants to eat the mouse, the ROYAL CHEESE, who just wants to be left alone with no one eating anyone else, and the CUCUMBER, who apparently loves chaos (according to Grant) but really wants to see Cat catch the Mouse in the act of gobbling down some Cheese.
That’s some disturbing imagery if you think about it hard enough, so let’s focus on the game instead.
Players will take turns building out a five by five grid of tiles. Each of the tiles contains the elements of a mechanical maze, things like hallways, walls, and even gears. Anytime a player places a tile next to the cat or the mouse, that player must move that cat or the mouse to an open space that follows the track of the hallway (no fair going through walls!) Likewise, anytime a player places a tile with gears on them, they get to spin adjacent tiles around, perhaps opening up hallways that can scoot the cat right up to the mouse or the mouse near the cheese — or even block them from moving forward.
Sounds simple? It is!
After just a few turns, I immediately pictured in my mind a kind of a reverse Tsuro, where the object is not to survive the maze (or flight run of the birds) but instead is to build out a maze such that you can run over someone or not be run over (as the case may be). But where Tsuro has always kind of fallen flat for me, despite its beautiful production, Mouse Cat Cheese Cucumber has a secret in its roux that pumps it up to my liking.
The secret ingredient is that players almost never know for certain what the other players’ roles are. The roles are randomly assigned at the start of the game, each with the different win conditions described above, and each completely hidden during the game. That is, unless one of the players wants to use the one time special power on their tile, and in that case, the role is revealed for all to see.
The end of the game comes from a couple of conditions — either the mouse and cheese meet up, or the cat and the mouse do the hokey pokey, or the cucumber comes out into the market of tiles (called the “Conveyor Belt”, after the elongated star system just four lightyears east of Convention Galaxy.) That belt of tiles represents the four choices a player has to pick a tile to place in the maze, and can serve as one of the timers in the game. Once the cucumber is placed onto the conveyor belt, assuming the game hasn’t ended in previous turns, the game ends immediately, and the players trace through the maze to see if the cat can catch the mouse (Cat wins!), the mouse can catch the cheese (Mouse wins!), the cat and mouse don’t come anywhere near each other or the cheese (Cheese wins!) or the cucumber is happy to watch everybody else think they are winning but in reality the cucumber is victorious. Diabolical!
This is a Kickstarter project that is ongoing but we were lucky enough to play with both editions that will be in the project: the pocket sized edition which can easily slip into a jacket or game bag pocket for playing with up to three of your friends, as well as the cool upgraded acrylic tiles edition. Admittedly, the pocket edition is easy to carry and easy to store, and the artwork shows up a lot better on the cards we have. But the acrylic tiles were so chunky and clunkity (hey another new word this week! I’m on a roll!) that it was a lot of fun to shuffle them out and lay them down on each turn.
As a preview, we realize that there are always tweaks that Seppy could make to the game and its aesthetics that we cannot predict, so we generally stay away from too many comments about the production value. But the games that we were sent feel pretty complete in that regard and I was pleased with both the portability and the cool, victorian england style Great Mouse Detective motif running through the artwork.
Plus, there are tiny little details in the hallways on the tiles that make it fun to explore them after the game. You’ll see famous canvasses on the museum walls that you will most certainly recognize, and its fun to speculate as to why the footprints stop at certain paintings but not others.
As for the gameplay, I am always hesitant playing hidden role games that rely on screaming and shouting at players as part of the “fun”. (Yes, the air quotes were intentional.) I realize that Werewolf and Mafia are some of the world’s most popular games, but I am totally burned out on that mechanic. I would much rather have a purpose to the privacy, games like Deception: Murder In Hong Kong or Fake Artist Goes To New York being my favorite examples.
If you are like me, you won’t have to worry about the inanity of accusing random people of being a traitor in Mouse Cheese Cat Cucumber. The designer knows who we are, and came up aces fixing our little “problem.” It is hard to believe that a 15-30 minute puzzle game could have this much intrigue, but starting with our very first play and onward, we stared at each other with hardened eyes trying to figure out why that player played that tile that way! Are they the cat, or are they trying to pickle us with the cucumber? Throw in the ever present threat of the special powers on each role, and Mouse Cheese Cat Cucumber is a winner, even if the name is just about impossible to say.
I’m looking forward to interviewing Seppy on the show, and looking forward to more games of Mouse Cheese Cat Cucumber when we get our game nights going again. This is the absolute perfect start of the night game for the Gumbo Game Nights, where puzzly little fillers are always appreciated.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ at Board Game Gumbo