Note: the 2 best ways to play Catchup are the iOS app and the online play site Little Golem (where >640 Catchup tournaments and >8500 games have been played)

A game of Catchup, in early mid-game


Catchup was a finalist for the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge

Catchup is a simple, drawless abstract game with a devilish dynamic. The goal is to end up with the largest group of stones on the board, but as you get closer to winning, your opponent gets more powerful. Whereas most stone placement games are about position, Catchup is about timing, position, and the interplay between them.

It’s for two players, played with black and white stones on this initially-empty board: 

Terminology ———————

Group – a set of connected, like-colored stones on the board. A single stone is also considered a group.

Score – your score is the number of stones contained in your largest group. At the beginning of the game, both players’ scores are set to 1.

The ovals around the board are called the scoring track. Before the game starts, set one white pawn and one black pawn on the “1” space on the scoring track. These will be moved along the scoring track as the game goes along to mark the size of each player’s largest group.

Rules ———————

1. One player owns the white stones and the other owns the black. White begins by placing 1 stone on any empty space.

2. From then on, starting with black, players take turns. On your turn, you may place 1 or 2 stones, or up to 3 if your opponent’s score increased on their last turn and is, at the beginning of your turn, greater than or equal to your score.

3. After taking your turn, if your score has changed, move your pawn to the corresponding spot on the scoring track.

4. The game ends when the board is full. The player with the largest group wins. If the players’ largest groups are the same size, compare their second-largest groups, and so on, until you come to a pair which aren’t the same size. Whoever owns the larger of the two wins.


Stuff I’ve written about Catchup

My Catchup designer diary for BGG
Here’s an article about the design of a possible commercial tabletop version.
Announcement regarding the upcoming iPhone/iPad app version of Catchup.
Here’s the story of how the iOS version came to be
Explanation regarding why Catchup can’t end in a tie.
What’s the closest possible game of Catchup (and lowest possible winning score)?
How a “fractal tiebreak” made Catchup deeper.
Some thoughts on how Catchup might be improved.

Online Play

Little Golem (turn-based)
igGameCenter (real time)
Mindsports (turn-based)

Here’s a printable pdf board with scoring track (identical to the board pictured at the top of this page), for playing Catchup with full-size Go stones (it’s 15×16 inches so you’ll have to print it at a printing store if your printer can’t handle oversized jobs. Alternatively, there’s a print option within Adobe Reader allowing you to print onto multiple standard sheets such that they can be combined to construct the full-size board)

Catchup around the web [last update: 11-21-17]

Catchup was a finalist in the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge

A 5-star review of Catchup at Pocket Tactics (5-star reviews are rare for them)

Touch Arcade, one of the biggest mobile game review sites on the web, gave the iOS version of Catchup 4.5 out of 5 stars.

“I’ve fallen for Catchup in a big way, and I want to share this joyful game with you.”

“…why do I love this game so much? Its purity, its beauty, its elegance.”

From a reviewer who played the game 100 times: “The famed Argentinian writer Jorge Borges said that to not read Dante’s Divine Comedy is ‘to ascribe to a secret and obscure asceticism’; this comment also applies to Catchup.”

There are only 8 abstract games in BoardGameGeek’s database (out of more than 1000) which have both more ratings and a higher average rating than Catchup. And one of those is driven by shill ratings, and another was invented by Bobby Fischer, and Catchup is the only unpublished one among them.

BGG’s iOS News Review

The game made it onto this list of “Supreme Games of Abstract Strategy”

Catchup has been implemented for turn-based play at Little Golem, where it has been played more than 8000 times.

Catchup has been implemented at two other online sites, Mindsports (turn-based) and igGameCenter (real-time).

At igGameCenter, Catchup has been played 456 times, and 142 players have played at least one game (with 226 wins for player 1 and 219 wins for player 2)

I very much hope this replaces Blokus Duo as the de facto abstract that non-gamers ask to play

I’m ashamed to admit that it wasn’t until I had the chance to play Catchup on my iPhone (review forthcoming) that I discovered the joys of this elegant gem.

There’s a game group in Minnesota playing Catchup a lot face-to-face. Here’s the Catchup tag page for that group’s blog (with pics of people playing).

Somebody from that same game group has posted a Catchup opening analysis on BoardGameGeek.

That same person posted a substantial, and super-positive review of the game, in which Catchup is likened to a Bach Fugue.

Catchup was played at the 2011 U-Con Abstract Games Tournament (in Michigan)

“Nick Bentley is a neurobiologist, which means he’s smarter than you. He also wears good hats, and has invented at least 2 immortal strategy games. The most fun and perhaps marketable of these is Catchup.

“Catchup is a work of genius…”

“Nick’s latest ‘tweak’ turned Catchup into one of the very best games I’ve seen in a long time.”

“Nick’s game leaves little doubt about his intuitive notion: he definitely sensed a beautiful new game, a natural organism – only thing was how to capture it, and this has been a reluctant cookie to say the least. Now that’s it’s all cleaned up and polished, we have a new definition of territory and new mechanics to match, and a beautiful new game awaiting deep investigation.”

“Nick Bentley’s Catchup has the most sophisticated balancing mechanism I know of… Catchup being highly regarded is a victory for architecture. Architecture does not always triumph, but when it does, it triumphs big.”

nice review in German

“…after Connect6 we’ve seen more abstracts explore the “multiple placements per turn” concept. Catchup is probably my favorite of those, right now.

Perhaps the best abstract created in the past 10-years. A 100-year Game.

Two noteworthy Catchup variants have been developed by other people: Spice (Catchup translated onto a 3D, pyramidal stack of balls; this game has itself been entered into another design contest), and Ice Catchup (a variant played with Looney Pyramids

Catchup page at Boardgamegeek

Catchup image gallery at Boardgamegeek

5 thoughts on “Catchup

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