By this point, I’d argue that chess is fairly well established as being a Pretty Good Game. It’s intelligent yet simple, tense yet accessible, iconic yet adaptable. But do you know what chess is missing? Adorable kitties, that’s what.
Luckily, there’s a new board game in town that has finally corrected chess’ centuries-long misstep while managing to offer a similar sense of tight, tactical head-to-head competition. We played it at this year’s PAX Unplugged, and it’s cute as a button. (Disclaimer: PAX Unplugged is run by Dicebreaker owner ReedPop.)
Boop comes from publisher Smirk & Laughter, which previously put out the exceptional abstract strategy game Shobu in 2019. Where Shobu played the serious part of a traditional chess-a-like, its rustic components gathered together from wood, rope and pebbles, Boop hides its diamond-hard tactical gameplay under the soft, fluffy dressing of cats on a bed.
Where Shobu played the serious part of a traditional chess-a-like, Boop hides its diamond-hard tactical gameplay under a soft, fluffy dressing.
The Shobu connection is more than familial, too. Boop is effectively a spiritual successor to Shobu - originally considered by the publisher as a ‘Shobu 2’ and briefly known as the wonderful pun Pounce House, though I’d have personally preferred Shobuup - building on that game’s sneakily intense battle to push your opponent’s pieces off the board.
Here, knocking pieces off is simply a means to an end, rather than the end itself. Each player is looking to place three cats in a row (horizontal, vertical or diagonal) to claim victory before their opponent, taking turns to place a single piece on a six-by-six grid.
Getting three in a row is much harder than it sounds, though, as each kitty repels any cats in the spaces next to it when placed - both yours and your opponents’. Presumably they were all chomping down magnets before climbing onto the covers. Thus begins a back-and-forth game of placing and pushing to line up your own cats, while also shoving your rival’s moggies out of line.
Boop looks to rightfully throw more of the spotlight on one of tabletop gaming’s true hidden gems from the last five years.
Adding an additional twist is the fact that neither player starts with full-grown cats. Instead, you’ll be placing kittens - getting three in a row lets you trade them up to cats, like a cross between Candy Crush and Pokémon evolutions. These kittens are naturally smaller and lighter, too, so they can’t push around the bigger cats, making later turns even more tactical as you line up combos of immovable chonk and flying feline.
Cats and kittens will also stay put if they’re booped into another adjacent piece, providing plenty of chances to utilise your opponent’s pieces for your own advantage - and reasons to be careful about how you line up your own kitties.
Like Shobu and the very best abstract strategy games, Boop’s feather-light rules are used as a leaping point for players’ decisions and strategies to take flight. Turns bounce back and forth quickly, with cats flying across the sheets and players taking it in turns to groan/swear/cheer as they mess up their rival’s arrangements or see their own carefully plotted plans go to ruin.
With echoes of noughts-and-crosses, draughts and more alike in an irresistible package, Boop has the feel of an instant classic. Its winning presentation only further seals the deal; the game’s cat and kitten meeples (mew-ples?) are predictably adorable, and the clever use of the game box’s reverse to become a 3D bed on which the pieces are placed - with an actual, fabric miniature duvet - is as space-efficient as it is charming as all heck.
Shobu remains one of tabletop gaming’s true hidden gems of the last five years. Boop looks to rightfully throw more of the spotlight on that game’s intelligent gameplay design with an even simpler successor worthy of just as much praise. Far more than a cutesy name with cartoon cats on the cover, Boop will dig its strategy claws into you and not let go. It’s a pure delight.