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How To Play Cat In The Box

cat in the box how to play

My review for Cat In The Box is available here so please go and have a read if you want to know if this is the kind of game you would like (hint it definitely is).

This is a How To Play for this amazing Trick Taking game so if you want to learn the games rules without dipping too much into the actual rule book and youtube videos then this is the blog for you.

Set Up

How many players are playing Cat In The Box? This is the most important question at this point. Depending on the number of players you may need to exclude some of the cat cards. For a full game of five players you use all of the cards, if you have four players you exclude all of the 9 cards, three players you exclude the 7, 8 and 9 cards and for two players you exclude the 6, 7, 8 and 9 cards.

You also need to set up the main board (research board) according to the number of players. For five players you use the purple research cards and the main board needs to be extended to its full width. For four players you can use either the white or purple side of the research cards but you must use the observed tokens on the number 9 position (these tokens look like little cat heads and are used to block numbers). Once again the main board is fully extended. For three players you can use either the white or purple side of the cards but the board is not extended if you use the white side. Don’t forget to block off any numbers from 7 onwards if you use the purple side. Finally for two players use the white side only and block off the number 6 positions.

Shuffle the cat cards and deal them equally to all players (ten cards for a two, three or four player game and nine cards for a five player game). Also give each player a set of player tokens and a player board. Each player then places one of their tokens on the four X’s on their player board. Choose a starting player and away we go.

Dealing Cards

With your freshly dealt hand of cards you need to look through them and decide which one you want to exclude. The best way to decide is to look at how often you have the same number repeated. You do not want too many of the same number as there will be a possibility of you not being able to play it later on in the round which will cause a paradox. Everyone discards one card to a discard pile.

Predicting Tricks

All players then predict how many tricks they will win between one, two and three for a four or five player game or one, three or four for a three player game. They then place one of their tokens on the relevant space on their board. This is relevant to end round scoring and will be explained further on.

Playing Cards

The starting player will play a lead cat card and will declare what colour it is (not red at this point). They will then use one of their tokens to cover the colour / number option on the research board.

All other players must, in clockwise order, play one of their cat cards and follow the lead colour. When they play their card they also cover the equivalent number on the research board.

Once all cards have been played the player whose card was the highest wins that trick and takes all of the cards into a pile in front of them.

The winner of the previous trick starts the next turn by playing a new cat card and declaring its colour. You cannot choose a colour / number combination that has already been marked by a players token.

Unable To Follow The Lead Colour

This continues until a player says they cannot follow the lead colour at which point they remove their token from their player board for that colour revealing the X. This indicates to all other players that this particular player has declared they have no more cards of that colour. Everyone can now use this information to their advantage.

Playing The Trump Colour

If you choose not to follow the lead colour you may choose any other colour including the trump colour Red. The red cards beat the lead colour and will win the trick if it is the only red card played (if more than one red card is played the highest one will win the trick). From this point on you may start a round by declaring a Red colour for a card. (note: you may also start a turn by declaring a Red card if it was impossible for you to play anything else).


If it becomes impossible for a player to play any of the cat cards from their hand because all of the numbers are taken then they must declare a paradox. This immediately ends the round.

End Of Round

The other way to end a round is for players to play all but one of their cat cards. In either eventuality it is time to go to scoring.


Players will score one point per trick they successfully won. However if a player caused a paradox they will lose one point per trick. Then you will check to see if you won the same amount of tricks as you predicted and if you did you will score one bonus point per player token in your largest group of connected tokens (orthogonally) on the research board. This bonus is not valid for the player who caused the paradox.

End Of Game

The start player of Cat In The Box is moved to the next player and the game continues until all players have had one turn of being the start player. You then add everyone’s scores up and the player with the highest score is the winner. Ties are broken by the player who scored the most points in the last round.

Two Player Variant

The two player game follows almost all of the same rules except there is no prediction of tricks at the beginning of the game. Also, after each player is dealt ten cards you reveal three of the remaining cards and place a ‘third’ players tokens on these numbers on the green row. If numbers are duplicated you place them on the green and yellow rows. If the number is the same for all three cards you place them on the green, yellow and blue rows.


I hope this has helped you to learn the rules and how the game plays. Obviously I would always recommend people use the official rule book to learn the rules in depth but this blog should give you a really good flavour of how the game flows.

I absolutely love the game and if you want to find me on twitter to discuss how brilliant Cat In The Box is please do @boardgamehappy.

That concludes our guide on how to play Cat In The Box. Did this help you? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames.