A version of this review was published on a site, I have discovered, no longer exists.
Catch the Moon is delightful, with its tone somewhere between the destructive madness of Jenga and the serenity of a collaborative art project. Indeed, the win/loss conditions are the slightest form of incentive possible, and I can’t imagine anyone ever feeling genuinely competitive over a game of Catch the Moon. Quickly it shifts from opposition to teamwork as you root for your ostensible opponents to successfully place their ladders in creative and exciting ways.
That’s right, I said ladders. I don’t know what inspired designers Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez to think of ladders for their dexterity game, but it works great. They’re an awkward enough shape to both be annoying to manipulate and capable of forming complex, perilous structures.
The rules are extremely simple. Roll the die. The die will tell you if your ladder needs to touch one other ladder, two ladders, or if it needs to become the highest point in the overall structure. That last one’s the real challenge, and successfully creating a new peak for someone else to later surpass supplies what some might say is an unreasonable amount of excitement.
I love how well Catch the Moon expresses the reality that often competitive and disparate individual incentives can interact in such a way to result in something greater than the individual parts. Each person wants to place a ladder according to the rules, but together the players are, unknowingly, building something beautiful and unplanned. It’s a type of spontaneous order.
Such phenomena are not easily captured by games which often feel pressured to shoehorn in a single winner even if the theme doesn’t promote that. But, as I’ve talked about on the podcast it’s very difficult to step outside of the win/loss binary without simultaneously leaving the realm of “game”.
The dreamlike art and presentation are in Catch the Moon’s favor. (I particularly enjoy the stately, tongue-in-cheek “Book of Figures” housed in the rule booklet that shows possible ways to connect the ladders.) Unlike many games where the presentation is wafer thin, Catch the Moon improves as you dwell on the Quixotean absurdity of stacking ladders on a cloud to reach the moon. The fact that failure is met with tears from a weeping moon is the cherry on top. My friends and I have quickly ritualized a simultaneous frenzied cry of “THE MOON WEEPS” to further accent the shame. The neighbors haven’t expressed any concern for us. Yet.