One of the hottest games we saw (and got to take home) from Origins 2023 was boop. from Smirk & Laughter games. This abstract strategy game has an incredibly cute theme, featuring little wooden cats and kittens jumping on a bed.
While we know people love the theme and the look of the game, what really matters is how well it plays. Read on to find out what we thought of boop., the two-player, feline themed board game.
Disclosure: Thank you to Smirk & Dagger for letting us take a review copy of boop. home from Origins. Links in this post may be affiliate links. As an Amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
What is boop.?
boop. is a two-player only abstract strategy game from the Smirk & Laughter imprint of Smirk & Dagger Games. It was designed by Scott Brady, who I know from his party game Hues and Cues. boop. is actually an update and retheme of Scott’s original design Gekitai. The new cat themed version features artwork from Curt Covert the head of Smirk & Dagger Games.
Board Game Geek lists boop. as coming out in 2022 but I don’t remember seeing it anywhere until this year. Since it’s release it has won a number of awards including the 2023 Mensa Select Winner, the 2023 American Tabletop Early Gamers Winner, 2022 Golden Geek Best 2-Player Board Game Nominee and the Origins 2023 Game of the Year (we were actually there at this year’s ceremony and got to see Scott accept this award which was pretty cool).
boop. is quick to learn, but not easy to win. When you are first starting out and learning things games can take a bit, maybe just over half an hour, but as players get better the game gets quicker, with games finishing in as little as fifteen minutes. We’ve also found that once you have a couple of experienced players facing off against each other, that playtime can climb back up.
boop. is a game about cats jumping on a bed, which is represented by a six by six grid. Players start off with eight kittens. When you place a kitten on the bed it boops all adjacent kittens once space away (if there’s room). If a player can get three kittens in a row those pieces upgrade to cats. Cats can’t be booped by kittens but can be booped by other cats. The first player to get three cats in a row wins.
One of the most stand out things about boop. is the components, which you can check out in our boop. Unboxing Video on YouTube.
There you will get to see all of the boop. cuteness, which includes a quilted playing grid that you place on the upturned box to form a bed, eight kittens and eight cats in two different colours and patterns, and a simple single sheet folded over rulebook that does a great job explaining of how to play boop.
All of these components really are awesome. They give boop. a fantastic table presence. This game would have still worked mechanically if it was just a wooden board and some glass beads, but I’m certain it wouldn’t have gained the popularity it has if that’s what Smirk & Laughter had gone with.
We actually called out this aspect of boop. as part of Episode 215 of The Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast, Quality of Life, where we talk about what publishers can do to enhance the board game experience, and I encourage you to check that out when you have time.
It’s also worth noting that Smirk & Laughter considers boop. a follow up to Shobu, another two player abstract strategy game they published. While the games are similar they do play quite differently, as you can read about in our Shobu review.
How to play boop.
boop. is super quick to set up. Players dump out the box and each grab the sixteen pieces in their prefered colour. Keep the kittens and set the cat pieces aside for now. Flip the box over and put the quilted board on top to form the bed.
The player who last pet a cat starts (or you can choose a start player at random).
On a player’s turn they add one of their eight active playing pieces to an empty spot the board. At the start of the game this only includes the player’s kittens.
When a piece is placed it boops all adjacent pieces (from either player) one space directly away. Any pieces booped off of the bed are returned to their player. Booping does not cause a chain reaction and you can’t boop a piece if the space it would move into is blocked by another piece.
Whenever a player manages to get three of their kittens in a row, they remove them from the board and swap them from the cat pieces they put aside at the start of the game.
Cats are placed just like kittens and can boop all other pieces. However, cats can’t be booped by kittens. If a set of three pieces is later made using a mix of cats and kittens, all of the pieces are removed and any kittens in the mix are upgraded to cats.
The first player to get three cats in a row wins the game. A player can also win by having all eight of their cats on the bed at once.
Finally there’s one exception to the rules. At the end of a turn if all of your pieces are on the board you can remove one piece. If this piece is a kitten you get to upgrade it to a cat.
For younger players the rules suggest you leave the cats in the box and just play until one of the players makes a row of three kittens.
That’s it. That’s all there is to boop. While it sounds simple enough, you have no idea how hard it is to line up these bouncy felines until you sit down and play a full game.
boop. is exactly what I want from an abstract strategy game and more
My wife and I love two player abstract strategy games. We collect these kinds of games and often bring them with us for date night or on any trips out of town. If you’ve been around for a while you’ve heard us praising games like The Duke, Onitama, and most recently Shobu.
To me the thing that makes for the best kind of two player abstract strategy game is that it’s simple to learn but difficult to master. That’s exactly what we discovered in boop.
The basic gameplay in boop. is really straightforward. Place a piece, boop any other pieces that were next to it away and try to make lines of three. Sure there’s a bit more to it with upgrading your pieces and some outlier rules, like what happens when you get all of your pieces onto the board, but the basic gameplay loop is dead simple.
The thing is those simple mechanics lead to some really interesting play. It’s not easy to line up three pieces in a row when you don’t get to make that determination until everything’s been booped out of position.
Players will quickly learn that one of the keys is trying to get pairs of pieces up, that way you can place next to them, but once both players grasp this they will both be working hard to prevent that from happening. More advanced moves like booping a piece into position come with experience.
With two experienced players boop. becomes an almost chess like experience, which is exactly what I want in this style of game.
The thing is boop. takes this core quality of a good abstract game and does something you don’t see very often, and that is to tie all of this to an instantly recognizable theme of cats jumping on a bed.
This is paired with some really awesome component design and quality. The way boop. uses the box is great and the addition of a quilted board really gives you the feeling that your pieces are being placed onto a bed. The cute cat and kitten playing pieces just add to this.
Smirk & Laughter even went so far as to make sure the patterns on the pieces were different for each side so there’s no worry about colour based vision issues.
Without the cute theme and top shelf components boop. would still be a great game, the thing is these extra elements elevate it to be even more.
Not only that, these cosmetic and thematic touches also help to make the game appeal to a broader audience. People think of chess-like abstract games with wood, stone, and marble pieces to be high end intellectual games. boop. turns this tradition on end by presenting a very family friendly and approachable game, that’s just as mechanically deep as some of those ‘classier’ games.
With all of this said, boop. is still a two player only abstract strategy game and that’s not going to appeal to everyone. While my wife and I love these style of games I know many gamers prefer to play larger group games with three or more players, or they prefer games that tell more of a story, or feature some for of advancement or building during the game. You won’t find any of that here.
Overall boop. is a fantastic two player abstract strategy game that also has a super cute and awesome theme and components to go with it. I think this is a fantastic way to introduce more people to a genre of game they may have avoided in the past.
If you are fan of abstract games you really should check out boop. I get that the theme of cats jumping on a bed may seem a bit silly compared to two armies facing off but the mechanics here are very solid and winning is not nearly as easy as it first appears.
If you’ve never really given abstract strategy games a shot, maybe even thinking they are too complex, I suggest checking out boop. It’s a great game and the theme makes it easier to find willing opponents than with other two player games.
If you are looking for an engine building Euro, a thematic dice chucker, or the next innovation in deck-building, and don’t enjoy the one on one conflict and stress of abstract strategy games where there is no randomness and you have to out think your opponent, you probably want to give boop. a pass.
If you happen to be shopping for someone who loves cats, boop. could be the perfect gift. While it would be great for someone you know already enjoys strategy games, it could also be a great gateway game for someone who’s new to hobby board gaming.
Comparing boop. and Shobu
So there you have my thoughts on boop. Pretty positive overall, if I do say so myself.
There is one more thing I want to bring up and that’s to compare boop. to Shobu. I figure this is appropriate since Smirk & Laughter considers boop. to be a follow up to Shobu, enough so that when I first got and started playing boop. I mistakenly thought they were by the same designer.
They are not. I think Curt just grouped the two as they are a bit similar and also the only two abstract strategy games his company publishers.
When you are reading about Shobu and boop. they do sound a bit similar but once you sit down to play them I find they both give a very different feel. boop. is all about placing things and trying to line things up and planning ahead to make a row. Shobu is more confrontational and is about pushing your opponents pieces and protecting your own from being pushed.
While I would say both games are chess-like abstracts and they both do the simple to learn difficult to master thing, they are both very different games.
My wife and I have found that we prefer Shobu, but just by a bit. That said if I’m packing games for a public play event I’m going to grab the eye catching boop.
This is both because it’s more approachable as noted above but also because of it’s table presence. boop. is the kind of game that gets people asking questions like “What are you playing?” and that’s the kind of thing that gets strangers playing games at public play events.
I’m happy to have both games in my collection and I don’t expect that to change. I feel both will get plenty of play even if it’s not me playing the game myself every time.
What about you folks? If you’ve tried both boop. and Shobu I’d love to hear which you prefer. Or tell me about some other game in this style that you dig, as I’m always on the look out for more abstract strategy games to try out.