While Isle of Cats isn't my favorite polyomino game, I certainly do enjoy it. The game takes drafting, a mechanic I love, and combines it with polomino, a genre I love. And while the net result is great, I feel it was very shy from how good, it could have been.
The problem starts with a lack of tense drafting. Drafting is amazing because of how it makes you wrestle with each and every decision, how it makes you rethink whether you picked the right cards or not, but in Isle of Cats there's none of that. There tend to be clear first picks, and the same card type frequently ends up being passed around for the latter picks. I rarely felt I was truly making a difficult decision....which defeats the whole point of drafting.
From there I also wasn't a fan of the general pathways....perhaps it's just me and my group, but over multiple plays no one came close to finishing the pathway room, the room that feels less like an actual room and more like the common area. So why even call it a room?
Those complaints aside...I did enjoy the game. The art and components are gorgeous, the multiple paths to victory are well balanced, and in general no two games have ended with the same winning strategy. It's also nuanced...going all basket seems like an obvious play, but there are multiple ways to win without ever going past a single permanent basket. The mechanism of pay now, play later works well too....force people to commit when it's expensive and to make a judgement call about how their board will play out.
And did I mention the gorgeous art? (I know I did). Isle of Cats is a solid addition to my polyomino collection. Yet while I was hoping the drafting would escalate it to a whole other level, at the moment it comes in third for me, behind Barenpark and Indian Summer. It's a great game, by designer Frank West, and a worthy addition to any collection.