Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Saturday 12 December 2020

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Curious Cargo

Game: Curious Cargo

Publisher: Capstone Games

Designer:  Ryan Courtney

Year: 2020

Curious Cargo is a new, two-player game from the publisher and designer of Pipeline. If you're familiar with Pipeline, then the board covered in interconnected colourful pipes will certainly be a blast from the past, but the rest of the game is pretty unique and streamlined. Pipeline was a 2019 release that caught my eye straight away, but I didn't get around to playing it until very recently. After my first play I considered it a must buy, but I exercised some restraint and decided to wait and see if Curious Cargo provide a two-player experience that I would enjoy more. Now that I've played both, I realised the only share a small amount of DNA and the reality is that I probably need both in my collection.
Perhaps one of the most used phrases on this blog is 'puzzly tile laying game' and that's because I deliberately seek them out as games I have a very high chance of enjoying, and I'm very glad to say that Curious Cargo is no exception. It burns my brain even more than most, but it's extremely unique, and here's why!

In Curious Cargo, each player starts with an empty factory, containing a few machines with the ability to ship or receive cargo. On your turn, you get three actions which allow you to take random tiles from the bag or place a tile onto the board. If you don't like a tile, or need to save it until later, then you can store it on your player board. If, when placing tiles, you have connected a machine to the edge of the board using a single colour of pipeline, then this gives you an opportunity to ship or receive goods. To ship good, there needs to be a truck with an open spot ready to accept good on the left hand side of the board. To receive goods, trucks will come in at the top right of your board and you can offload any goods that line up with a connected pipeline in the corresponding colour. Both shipping and receiving give you end game points as well as a few bonuses along the way, plus bonuses get even better if you're able to ship or receive goods in a variety of colours, rather than focusing on one. At the beginning of the game you'll have no trucks, but you can add these during the 'truck phase' of each turn and you have the option to add them to help yourself align up truck spots, or to hinder your opponent - you're creating a little truck ecosystem with a push-and-pull mechanism between your two player boards.

It seems that there are three categories of two-player games in my mind - games with direct combat, abstract strategy games and games I actually enjoy. Curious Cargo falls firmly into that third category. It manages to have a very subtle kind of player interaction, where you really care about what the other player is doing, but 99% of your play is related to improving your own situation - simply trying to react and make the most of opportunities that your opponent presents to you. There is one way to try and be mean to the other player, but so far we've found ourselves so absorbed in the puzzle of trying to optimise our own player boards, that the idea of poisoning the other player with an incoming truck just hasn't come up!
Curious Cargo is a puzzle not quite like anything I've seen. To even build effective pipelines is a joy. The tiles that you pull from the bag might not seem ideal at all times, but there's often a way to make things work if you can just bend your mind in the right direction! even once you've built a few successful pipelines you've got to figure out how best to get cargo onto trucks - playing the right length of truck to allow your factory to start getting efficient is a puzzle in itself and one that rewards with bonuses if you're able to get it right. Off-loading trucks is even harder - trying to look at your opponent's board and figure out the pattern in which trucks will drive towards your board is harder - but you do have one turn to try and adapt your pipelines to suit their position. Later in the game, this ability to adapt your pipelines might win you the game. Every aspect of this puzzle is a joy to me, and every time I do something good I get a reward, like a happy puppy. There's a lot to get your head around in this small game, but it really packs a punch for its size if you enjoy a tricky puzzle.

It's very rare for us to add a two-player game to our collection. We often find that two-player games fall into categories that we don't enjoy, or that their small box size is indicative of a game that is small in scope and shallow in depth. We'd much rather play any game that says 2-4 players on the side of the box. Curious Cargo is that rare unicorn that has made its way onto our shelves. It's crunchy and it might not be our pick on every occasion, where something more light-hearted might fit the bill. But when we're in the moods for a puzzle that is so visually and mentally satisfying, then Curious Cargo is a brilliant pick. It's head-to-head gaming at its best, where nobody gets hurt feelings. Curious Cargo is a 9/10 for the Yellow Meeple.

Curious Cargo was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £39.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk 

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