In a cruel act of betrayal, the life I once knew is ripped away. I’m left a stranger in a strange land, forced to declare allegiance to a group of warriors with only blind faith to guide me. My new home, the forest, is out of alignment. Three clans fight for territory day in and day out. The guardians must be awoken. Restoring balance to the colonies rests on my shoulders alone.
I am a cat.
Cattails is the debut game from husband-and-wife team Falcon Development. It began as a hobby project in May of 2016 and proceeded to blow its Kickstarter goal out of the water a year later. The story of an abandoned house cat learning to live in the wild, it involves a rotation of seasons, hunting and gathering, raising kittens with your cat spouse, and, oh yes, fighting in the glorious cat colony war. It would be easy to declare Cattails to be "Stardew Valley but with cats". Sure, it has seasons and a central narrative about a single, hard-working outsider revitalizing a community. But that description misses the best part of Cattails. It isn’t "Stardew Valley but with cats". It’s "Risk but with cats".
Let slip the cats of war
Every morning, Ragnar Pawbrok (that’s me) wakes up in his den, has a good stretch, and assesses the battle lines for the day. The forest is divided into a grid, each square controlled by one of the three cat colonies. At the center is the Sacred Temple, neutral ground where all three clans meet at the end of every season for a ceasefire celebration. Battle rages in two sectors every day.
Ragnar Pawbrok is on the front lines without fail, fighting beside the other mountain cats to claim territory. Each section is a three-way tug between the colonies where daily battles decide whose influence prevails. Ragnar is spread thin most days, running from one end of the forest to the other to support his fighters. He hunts along the way, eating whatever birds, bunnies, and fish he can catch. By sundown, conflicts are resolved. The cats fight until one side is devestated. At midnight, the fighting breaks out again like clockwork and the battle lines are drawn anew.
Each day, I drag Ragnar back and forth across the map. The two sectors where fighting takes place for the day are sometimes adjacent, but often a long trot away. After winning the melees, the next task is boosting influence in sectors that are on the verge of being overturned. My diplomacy skill is the first protective measure; my handfuls of lavender are the second. It gives a very small boost to my clan in a section of the map, but I’ve begun growing my own supply of useful plants in the small four-plot garden that I added to my den.
Wars before chores
Cattails offers a familiar choice: how will you spend your time? You can hunt, gather, make friends, visit the mines, or fight against other factions. Most of those activities play out how I’d anticipated. Taking and controlling territory in the forest, though, can quickly consume the entire day. More than once, I’ve spent a whole day and night running about the map to secure land for the mountain cats. Fortunately, cats don’t mind staying up all night, so passing out on the way back to the den isn’t a concern.
Fighting other cats yields coins and experience that can be spent on character and stat upgrades. Coins ("mews") are used to buy food and supplies at what passes for a cat store or on upgrading the den. Experience is spent on either one of four attributes (hunting, fighting, swimming, and foraging) or active skills. To satisfy my warlike tendencies, Ragnar’s experience went first to upgrading his fighting ability and then to unlocking useful skills. The diplomacy skill, for example, increases the influence of my colony in whatever sector of the map I’m standing in.
The greatest sense of accomplishment I’ve had in Cattails hasn’t come from marrying my cat partner (Robin) or helping awaken the ancient obelisks beneath the Sacred Shrine. Ragnar Pawbrok springs out of his den every morning for the glory of battle. Nothing feels better than taking on three enemy cats at once and laughing cruelly to myself with the knowledge that they’re outmatched, even though they have me outnumbered.
Ragnar is a terror on the battlefield. His health is superior. The damage he deals with his claws is unrivaled. He can call in allies with one skill and heal them with another. After the (imagined) carnage, he uses his diplomatic abilities to fully secure the area for the mountain clan, stomping out the last vestiges of his foes.
This is how I have spent every day in Cattails thus far. Despite the adorable cat portraits and upbeat soundtrack, I’m completely immersed in the Viking cat-conqueror narrative that I’ve invented. I’m obsessed with dominating the forest. Bring balance to the factions? I think not. Under my steady paw, there will be only one cat clan. The forest will be unified under the banner of the mountain cats.
Cattails admirably follows in the pawprints of other charming seasonal life sims, but it has earned a more permanent place in my memory thanks to the way it allowed me to imagine a decade-long war campaign fronted by Ragnar the fluffy-tailed Viking.
You can start your own cat colony by picking up Cattails on Steam.