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[Review] Cairo

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Joined: 03/23/2011

I’ve played hundreds of games with my teenager game club and have had great success with most of them. But above all, without a doubt, my most successful games in the club have been the dexterity games. Carabande, Loopin’ Louie, and Fubi have been the most popular, netting hundreds of games each. So when I am seeking a new game for the club, dexterity games catch my eye. The problem with dexterity games is that while great fun, the kids often get so caught up in playing them that I have a hard time bringing out other games. At times, I’ll have to shut down the Loopin’ Louie games because they’ve been running for over TWO HOURS, and it’s time for the kids to play games that make them think. When I heard about Cairo (Schmidt Spiel, 2002 - Gunter Burkhart), I thought that it would really hit the spot - a dexterity game mixed with a good euro game.

Unfortunately, it would appear as if I’m the only person who likes the game. The game was not a great success with neither the youth game club, nor with my regular gaming group. The game didn’t bomb in either one, in fact - both groups enjoyed it. The problem was that the game took entirely too long, and players ended up getting bored with the play. It’s certainly a fairly difficult dexterity game, which doesn’t help matters. On the flipside, the game play is good - the board and bits look fantastic, and I’ll gladly pull it out anytime people request it! They just don’t.

To play the game, the long, thin board is placed in the middle of the table, with a representation of the Nile River in the middle, and nine building sites arranged on each side of it. The sites are of different sizes, with two numbers in each - denoting their value. The smaller the area of a site is, the larger the two numbers. Each player takes a wooden ship token, and places it on the start space of the river, and takes 15 small wooden blocks, 1 large wooden block, and one die of the matching color - placing them in front of them. The youngest player takes the first turn, with play proceeding clockwise around the table.

On a turn, the player rolls a die, and moves their ship that many spaces on the river. If they reach one end of the river, the ship turns around and heads back. There are twelve spaces going upriver, and only six going back, so travel downriver is quite a bit quicker. If the ship would land on another ship, it would move to the next available spot. If the player is moving downriver, and any of their building components are in the land next to that river spot (but not on a building site), they may return them to their supply.

The player then may flick some of their supplies to any building site in play. They must use the corresponding finger to the number they rolled: (1 = thumb, 2 = forefinger, etc., with a six being wild). The player may flick either three small blocks, the large block, or their die. Whatever is being flicked is placed on the top platform of the ship token, and flicked with the appropriate finger, with the player trying to get the piece to stay in one of the building site zones. If the piece lands in the Nile, or goes off the board - it is out of the game for good. Players can “kill” other pieces by knocking them off in this way. If the player knocks over another ship (sounds stupid - but it happens), their turn immediately ends, and they must lose a block for being clumsy.

If a player manages to get a small block into a building site (even partway on), they can build a “pyramid” on that site. The pyramid must follow one of the diagrams in the rules, basically with each row having one less block than the row above. The blocks that are higher in a pyramid are worth more than those in a lower row - but pyramids can be knocked over by skillful shots, so the face of a building site can change also.

When a player runs out of building supplies, they must remove their ship from the board. When only one ship is on the river, the game is over, and immediately scored. One block from each player is placed on the river, which conveniently doubles as a scoring track. Each site is scored separately, and players total their value at that site to see who gets the victory points for the site. The small blocks are worth one point (unless they are on a pyramid - in which case they score points equal to the level they are on.) The big block is worth three points, and the die is worth its face value. The player with the most points for each site scores the first number on the site as victory points, with the runner up getting the second amount of points. After all sites have been tallied, the player with the most victory points is the winner! (ties broken by number of small blocks actually on the board.)

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The game is really nice, and does draw a small crowd when brought out, due to its pleasing aesthetics. The five colors (yellow, green, red, blue, and brown) contrast nicely with the sandy colored board - although I can see color blind people having a problem distinguishing whose blocks are whose. The colored dice are an especially nice treat, as they match the colors of the blocks exactly - and are pretty fun to flick. A neutral colored die is included, for players to roll when moving their ships. The numbers on the board building sites are very large and clear - and the sites are of various shapes and sizes, making everything look less “blocky”. The artwork, both on the board and box, is very thematic, and has a slight cartooned feel with an Egyptian flair. The box is the same size as most Schmidt, Abacuss Spiele, and Amigo games, so is quite easy to fit on a shelf.

2.) Rules: The rules are not in English, but I was fortunate to get a translation of them (where else?) from The translation wasn’t the best, but was fairly simple to figure out, and comparing it with the original book, I didn’t have too many problems. The game is extremely easy to teach, as the rules are rather simple, and most people picked it up after a few turns.

3.) Flicking: People like to flick things, as is evidenced by the most popular game I own - Carabande. People refuse to play, but after one game, they get hooked into flicking their cars around the track. The reason for this is that while there is skill in Carabande, it’s not that hard to flick the cars. The cubes in this game, on the other hand, are quite a bit more difficult. Not only are they smaller, with smaller targets to aim for; but have you tried shooting with your pinky finger? It’s not easy, and a simple mistake in this game can cause the loss of your pieces - which is very irritating. In all the games I’ve played, players have also flicked very aggressively. Instead of it being a trade war, it becomes actual war, as players aim their blocks at other’s pyramids, etc., trying to destroy them. This is not the best strategy for winning, but it makes people feel good to knock over other’s pyramids, and I haven’t seen too many pyramids make it to the end of the game. People will deliberately lose a piece to hurt their opponents.

4.) Dice: Flicking the die is fun, but there’s really no skill involved. I practiced flicking it time and time again, with different fingers, and with a different side facing up - but the results were totally random. It’s basically just akin to rolling a die.

5.) Strategy: Deciding what area to aim for sounds like good strategy, but really it just boils down to how well you can shoot. I try and spread my blocks around to the different sites to get as many points as I possibly can, but when I miss them all, does it really matter? Hoping that your ship gets you back some of your previously missed blocks is nice, but it’s kind of lucky that it will even happen. Therefore, I don’t see much strategy in this game, just flicking skill and luck.

6.) Time Factor and Players: It’s nice that the game can accommodate up to five players, but when a full compliment of five players is playing, the game can last a while. A player will roll the die, move their ship, then decide exactly what they’re flicking. Everyone has to move away from the table at this point, as the flicking player circles the table, eyeing the board for that perfect shot. Finally, they make the shot. But wait, they have two more shots! Multiply that by four, and you can sometimes have a long wait between turns. And since players have to stand back from the table, invariably their interests may turn to other things, unlike Carabande, where the action is quick, and your turn comes again in a hurry.

7.) Fun Factor: I had a lot of fun playing the game, as I liked switching fingers to flick with. Sadly, however, most people didn’t share my views. They liked the game, but the downtime between turns was too long. Many people found the stacking of blocks to be a somewhat “fiddly” rule, and found that shooting said pyramids was more fun. I was actually surprised when halfway through one game, some very excited kids asked, with a yawn, that a different game be brought out.

So, apparently I’m in the minority on this one. Playing a board game solitaire is not my idea of a fun time, so I doubt that this one will see much action around here. Every once in a while, I’ll suggest it, and probably hook a few people to play it. And even though I’ll enjoy the experience, I doubt they’ll play it twice in a row. Nice components, simple rules - what’s missing? I’m not exactly sure, but I’m still waiting for a game that mixes good game mechanics with a fun dexterity twixt. It’s back to Carabande we go.

Tom Vasel

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