I had heard about Cape Horn for quite a while on various lists. It is an older Euro title and, while it’s never made anyone’s top ten list, it seems to quietly stay in print. So, when I had a chance to pick it up cheap, I did so. Cape Horn then went into the game closet and stayed there.
I realized it was time for me to start getting some play into the pieces of my game collection that have never seemed play so Cape Horn came out of the closet and hit the table.
Cape Horn has a lot of elements that I’m used to. You have tile laying, you have multiple victory conditions, you have the fact that it’s a race game, you have preprogrammed movement, and you have the potential for some fairly vicious (i.e. fun) player conflict. Yet, they come together in a way that makes Cape Horn feel different than any other game I’ve played.
Each player controls a ship that is trying to round Cape Horn. The board is divided up into three zones and there are three checkpoints for each zone. Yeah, the yellow checkpoint for zone I is in zone II but it’s still the checkpoint for zone I. To win, you have to either reach two different colored checkpoints in two different zones and then cross the finish line OR you have to reach three different checkpoints in all three zones.
When you move your cute little wooden ship, you move the distance and direction that is indicated on the wind tile you are on. You must land on another wind tile but when you place wind tiles, they must be adjacent to another wind tile (diagonal does count, though). Thus, you are creating the race track as you go and you are programming out your next move.
That means, though, that you are also telegraphing your move and that means other players can interfere with your plans. In fact, they are definitely going to interfere with you because that’s where all the interaction and conflict in the game is. If you don’t play nasty or at least aggressively, Cape Horn loses a lot of what makes it sing. But if you’re nasty, oh, it sings.
There are other rules, including a resource called sail points that you can use to move in special ways but that’s the game in a nut shell.
I brought it over on game night at Abe’s place to play it with Abe and Greg.
The first thing Abe and I did was mix up Cape Horn with Cape Good Hope because we assumed we were sailing around Africa. Greg told us we were wrong and we argued with him until he pointed out that the map on the board was CLEARLY South America.
Thus chastised, I went over the rules and we started to play.
Both Greg and I started towards the temptingly close red check point in the first zone. However, Abe had realized the potential of disrupting other players’ paths. He created an ugly vortex of wind tiles around the zone which slowed us down. Neither Greg nor I played nasty enough to keep him from getting two tokens and crossing the finish line.
Well, having learned a few things, I insisted we play again. Greg and Abe had had enough fun the first time round they were eager for a second game.
This time out, both Greg and I were willing to play rough. The game became a steady series of laying down traps and coming up with counters for those traps. Both Greg and Abe were going for the two token and crossing the finish line victory so I pursued getting three tokens.
This included laying a false path of wind tiles for them to mess with while I spent three sail points for a special move that put me on a wind tile that they couldn’t block that would land me on my third checkpoint.
When all was said and done, all three of us enjoyed Cape Horn. It’s a game that we would not only play again, we were starting to think of other players who we would like to play it with. It is fast to set up and play and easy to teach but it has a very nice level of nastiness and conflict that keeps the game engaging and interesting.
I see what you did there...