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[Review] Cargo

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Joined: 03/23/2011

I have a game on my cell phone called Push Push, in which I maneuver some little creature around, pushing crates around until they land on designated spaces. It’s a puzzle game, and one that I’m not particularly fond of - but I find myself playing it often on the subway, trying to get to that next level. It’s an addicting little game, and many computer and console games have capitalized on the subject of pushing boxes around. Cargo (Wingnut Games, 2003 - Tom Jolly) takes this theme to a multi-player game, having each player push around boxes of tea in the famed Boston Tea Party.

The Boston Tea Party is an interesting bit of American and British history, but quite a few liberties have been taken here - with each player being paid by a captain to load tea onto their boats. The theme is interesting and slightly funny, but the game is mostly a four-player “push-the-boxes” game. I found it interesting and fun, but others were not as enamored, with some calling the game “boring”, or “too hard.” There is a definite learning curve when playing the game, and initial setup is extremely important. But if you are a puzzle game fan, such as Ricochet Robot, then this is a clever game I think you’d enjoy.

A board including a grid of sixty-four squares is laid in the middle of the table. Each side of the grid is connected by two squares to a ship of a certain color (red, blue, green, or yellow). Players take their seven worker counters, as well as a number of crate tokens in their color (five for a four-player game, seven for a three-player; and ten for a two-player). All the crates are mixed up and placed face down on the board in a semi-random fashion: meaning that players can choose where the crates go but do not know what color the crates are. Once all crates are placed, they are flipped face-up. One player is chosen to start and places one of their workers on any legal space, with the other players following in clockwise order until all the workers are on the board. A player is randomly chosen to go first, and the game begins.

Players are trying to do two things: push crates that are not of their color into the ocean off any edge of the grid and push crates that are of their color onto the corresponding ship. On a player’s turn, they may move three of their workers, and then play passes to the next player. Each player has four different types of workers with different abilities.
- Dockhand: These workers can push a crate one space, or move one space. They cannot push more than one crate, unless more than one of them is in the same space. Dockhands are the only workers that may reside in the same space. They are also the “weakest” workers; and if they get caught between two crates pushed by another player, they are “squished” and go to the box for one turn (Doctor’s Office).
- Burly Worker: These workers can push up to two crates one space if they are in a row, or move one space. A Burly Worker cannot be “squished” but can be moved if pushed by a crate.
- Mule: These workers can push OR pull up to one box two spaces or move up to two spaces. A mule cannot be “squished” but can be moved if pushed by a crate.
- Elephant: These workers can move two spaces, or push up to two boxes two spaces, or pull 1 box. Elephants can neither be “squished” nor pushed; they are basically immobile.

If a worker is pushed into the water, they are placed on one of the two squares next to the player’s ship. If a player pushes one of their own crates into the water, they lose one point; but if they push another player’s crate into the water, they gain one point. Players also get one point for each opposing worker that they “squish”, and three points for each of their own crates that they push into their own ship. As soon as one player has no crates of their color left on the board, the game is over; and whoever has the most points is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The board is little more than thick cardboard, but is nicely illustrated and fairly sturdy. The board is not much more than a square grid, but the illustrator helps invoke the theme with the game art. The tokens are neat; although, passersby often wondered why elephants and mules were at the Boston Tea Party (beginnings of the American political parties?). The counters are sturdy, punch out of their frames well, but I had to get some plastic bags to keep them separate in the box. Some generic tokens are included to help players keep track of points when they “squish” opponents, and I thought that was a nice touch. Everything fits well in the box (no insert though), which is small, sturdy, and very nicely illustrated. The cartooned artwork matches the semi-ridiculous theme.

2.) Rules: The rules are printed on one page in small type. But they are fairly clear, and we didn’t have any question. What I really was delighted to see; however, was that on the reverse side of the rules, there was some detailed pictorial illustrations as to how pushes in the game worked. These helped clarify pushing quite a bit, and I’m glad they were included. I found that the game was easy to teach, although strategy was certainly not intuitive.

3.) Strategy: A major part of one’s strategy is the initial setup. For new players, this is daunting, as they really have no idea as to where to put their pieces. The board, at beginning of the game, is extremely crowded and can give one a sense of claustrophobia. I found this invigorating and fun, but others were rather confused about what was going on. It became apparent that the elephant was the most powerful piece, but it was just as important to keep track of the Dockhands, as one didn’t want to give the opponent points for unnecessarily “squishing”.

4.) Fun Factor and Puzzles: There are some people who thrive on Ricochet Robot and other puzzle games - who love to look at a board such as this and think about what the optimal move is each turn. Others find that this is indeed the opposite of fun for them. I’ve played the game with both types, and have resolved that while I enjoy the game, I will play it with a group of puzzle-minded folk next time, as they seem to enjoy the game quite a bit more.

5.) Time: Because the game is like a puzzle, there is a small chance that “analysis paralysis” will occur (one player taking twenty-three years and six months to figure out their next move.) Gentle prodding (or dire threats) should help dissuade this; and if this does not occur, Cargo ends at a decent time - in about thirty or forty-five minutes.

6.) BGDF: Not the best production values in the world, but still a clean, nice-looking game. You may not have the money to put out a game like Days of Wonder, but you should do the best that you can. Good artwork, like this game has, is also a huge plus. Finding someone who can draw isn't that hard - but apparently some game companies can't do it.

I’m glad I have the game. I think it’s a good effort by Tom Jolly - a notable game designer; and the theme is good enough to make this a little more interesting than just a dry, abstract puzzle game. That does not take away from the fact; however, that the game IS a puzzle game, and people who enjoy such games will be the ones most likely to find pleasure from playing it. People looking for a light, fun time can possibly have a good time with this game, but I would recommend that they move on elsewhere. This is a strategic game, and if a few players randomly move their pieces around it could frustrate those who are taking it more seriously. I’ll still play Push-Push on the subway, but if I’m with a group of Push-Push fans, now I have a game they’ll love!

Tom Vasel

“Real men play board games.”

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