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For those who don’t spend their time concerning themselves with international board game affairs, Rio Grande Games is a company who basically searches out some of the very best strategic board games around the globe, brings them to the United States, translates them into English then unleashes their addictive tendencies to a whole new unsuspecting civilization.
Keeping that in mind, Cape Horn is exactly one such game, written by Thorsten Gimmler. Made originally in Germany by a company called KOSMOS back in 1999, Rio Grande brought the game to North America shortly thereafter and has released subsequent reissues in the years that followed. Compared to some of their more popular titles, Cape Horn isn’t quite as readily available or easy to locate. The object of the game, in its very simplest terms, is to be the first to sail your clipper ship into San Francisco.
The game’s theme is derived from those crazy days before the Panama Canal connected the Atlantic with the Pacific and the fastest way to ship goods from New York to California was to navigate a wind-driven ship all the way around South America then back up the other side! Fortunately the game deals only with the stretch of wild ocean surrounding South America’s southern most tip, Cape Horn.
While marketed as a race, the truth is that winning Cape Horn has everything to do with strategy over speed or endurance. After picking out a colored clipper ship to be theirs for the game, each player is allotted (three at first but a maximum of 6 at-a-time) wind tiles that provide both a direction and a number of spaces. The tiles are then laid down adjacent to each other so that a route for the ships can be followed. The trouble with creating an efficient route is that everyone will try to take it. The strategy is as much keeping your opponents off your tail as it is trying to be the first to cross the finish line. Interestingly, there are actually two ways to win, one being simply collecting three tokens from each of the nine nautical stations on the board. The other is collecting two of the tokens then hightailing it toward the finish line.
I’ll be honest; it took a few rounds to iron out the rough spots for my friends and I after following the instructions. Once in your grasp, the game is quite intuitive and requires very little forethought to get into but prepare to find the flow of things a little bit cobby initially.
Games last between 45 and 60 minutes initially but plan on reducing that time to about 35-40 minutes after a dozen or so times through. While a majority of Rio Grande’s games earn an age recommendation between 8 and 10 years, Cape Horn is one of few that recommend only children 12 & up give it a go. I imagine this is again due to the initially complex mechanics. Once an adult’s mastered the flow of things, I don’t suspect children between the ages of 8 and 11 couldn’t pick it up after watching a few rounds.
Another oddity for Rio Grande is that the minimal number of players is 3 (maximum 5), which means couples can’t enjoy this one when nobody else is around. However despite the slightly steep initial learning curve and the fact that at least three players are required to have a round, Cape Horn is a pretty solid strategic game with emphasis on looking ahead. Truly this is one of the most balanced games (between advancing yourself and trying to keep everyone else from advancing) that I’ve ever played. It’s one of those anybody can win at any given time titles that keep everyone involved on their toes. If you enjoy well-plotted strategy and don’t mind getting beaten pretty frequently when you were sure you had the edge over everyone else at the table, Cape Horn won’t disappoint.