Top 5 Tips for Board Game Design Around Cats

Bear in her element.

As a new Cat Dad (my first year living with cats in the same house for more than twenty years) and a board gamer, I have felt the conflict between my board games and our cats. Inevitably when playing or designing a game I’ll face a cat sitting on the board, knocking cards over with an unnoticed tail, and/or attacking my legs for attention. I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two on how to still get work done around cats and here’s my top five tips for fostering design in difficult cat environment.


1. It’s Not Their Fault for Messing up Your Game

First, resist the urge to blame them. Blame them though you will. Resist the urge to feel exasperated and angry when the score track markers are sent in disarray or a box is shot off the table. Why? Well many of the best cat experts, including the wonderful Jackson Galaxy, heavily emphasize seeing the world through your cat’s eyes.

When I look through my cat eyes, my cats are frequently spending time in the high ground, on the kitchen table, windows sills, counters and and cat tree. Why? To observe the world from the safest possible angle for a small animal that can climb. It’s no wonder they end up on the table. It’s also natural that spreading out a literal carnival of cardboard (and a box!!!) is sure to get my cats’ attention and draw them over.

2. Create a Designated Space for Them

I have two designated spaces for our cats Bear and Lily. Problem 1: Bear loves to be on the table in the middle of the action, but whenever we shut her in a separate room she makes an the most pathetic human-esque cries I’ve ever heard and scratches the heck out of the door. Solution: We place a folded towel on the corner of our table. As she jumps up to join us, we scoot her onto the towel until she finally sits there relatively contented. Problem 2: Lily runs under the table and bites and claws our legs. This rarely actual hurts, as she is just trying to play with us, but it is scary and irritating. Solution: Play with her more. Cats need stimulation too and if I did my job as a Cat Dad better, she would be more tuckered out by the time we play. If that doesn’t work (or I am lazy) I also give her timeout in our bedroom. While Bear will whine and complain when behind a shut door, Lily will lay down and take a nap on the bed leading for some adorable pictures when we open the door!


3. Create a Designated Space for You

Let me know if you want a detailed gallery on how I constructed this amazing futon table.

Sometimes you need to leave a game setup overnight or even a week. As a resident of a smallish apartment in Chicago having a dedicated game room is not possible. Leaving a setup board game around cats is also not advisable unless you like looking for cubes on the floor. That being said, from my not-so-awesome thrifty living in Philadelphia (think cinder block nightstand & mattress on the floor) I was able to make a “stowaway table” out of a futon and a flat cardboard box in a room I can shut the door to. This is not pretty, nor is it entirely stable, but it’s free and a workable solution until I can convince my fiance into believing we will never have guests overnight again…or that guests really like to sleep on the floor.

4. Work While They Sleep

Probably because cats are nocturnal, cats get wild after 5pm. If I can, I will try to work in the early morning or early afternoon when they are sleeping. Mileage may very depending on the cat though.

5. Embrace the Constraints

Way before I had the time to work through these problems in the last year I caught myself thinking, damn, cats make designing so much more difficult! My negative thoughts continued spiraling into — “Wow. I have to waste all this time on setup and tear down, I wish I had a bigger place, no cats, a cooler gaming table”, etc, etc on and on. I was upset with a myriad of complaints until I realized that there are people with the same problem.

Other people, gamers even, have cats too.

I started considering that other people may appreciate a game that is easy to setup and put away and that designing a game like that might be of value to them.  Now, I am constantly thinking about how I can make a game easier to setup, how I can reduce components, and generally make things easier to pack up. Now, when I setup my current prototype, it only takes around 5 minutes to sort and play, as opposed to the twenty beforehand. It’s my hope that this lesson will make my games more accessible to pet owners, parents, and anyone else without a dedicated space for gaming.

Anyway, hopefully this helps! I’d be interested to hear what others have to say in the comments about their struggles with  playing or designing games around cats, large dogs, toddlers, parakeets, and anything else inconvenient.



  1. Our cat lead me to designing a game around his personality! Cats are always a good thing! 😹😹 I don’t think many people with cats have really thought “I wish I had… no cats”


  2. I have two cats. They both like board games, but are highly resistant to learning the rules no matter how much I try. Curiously, they have different tendencies. One really enjoys anything with meeples and cards — meeples are the most fun things to push around a table and cards are just the best for skidding around on — and the other will spend hours on a seat by the table as if she’s really playing, waiting for a dice to come within range of a paw.

    Now I’m waiting for you to incorporate all of this into a neat board game I can actually ‘play’ with my cats.


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