This is a guest post from Austin Palmer.
I love to travel, and my favorite activity when I visit a city is to steal everything I can lay my hands on. Glittering jewels, priceless paintings, those little shampoo bottles you get at hotels—if it fits in my luggage, it’s coming home with me. Unfortunately, with the cost of travel going up, and those wanted posters circulating the European continent, I don’t get to indulge as much as I would like.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw Caper: Europe at my local store—a game all about traveling to exotic locales and burgling them senseless. How could I resist?
Caper: Europe is a drafting game for two players, and takes about 30 minutes to play.
Caper takes place over six rounds. At the start of each round, both players are dealt a hand of cards. Then players take turns playing a single card from their hand, after which they exchange hands with each other and continue playing.
In odd-numbered rounds, players will play Thief cards to gain Coins, and in even-numbered rounds, they will spend those Coins to equip Gear cards onto their Thieves. These cards have a variety of effects besides their Coin value (or cost), and most of those effects make progress in one of the game’s three scoring areas:
- Caper Tracker: Certain effects increase your influence at a given location. At game end, whoever has more influence at each location will score that location’s point value.
- Stolen Goods: Locations hold a randomized assortment of Goods at the start of the game, which can be stolen through card effects. These Goods provide increasing quantities of points if you can steal multiple different types.
- Set Effects: Many Thief and Gear cards provide endgame scoring for gathering specific items (cards, Goods, etc.) in the same location as that card.
After six rounds, players tally up the points earned from these areas, and the player with the most points wins.
Caper does an excellent job of ratcheting up tension. Your first turns are probing, almost exploratory, but the decision space quickly cramps down to a series of agonizing compromises. You want to control locations, but can’t control them all. You want to steal Goods, but can only steal where you already have Thieves. You want to play certain cards for set effects, but those cards won’t fit into your other plans. And to do anything at all you need Coins… but obtaining Coins means ignoring everything else for a turn.
You also have the other player to consider, who can and will destroy your plans at every opportunity. Denying your opponent points is as good as earning those points yourself, but Caper constantly tempts you with the opportunity to do both. Of course, your opponent is trying to do the same to you—and if you don’t spend enough time shoring up your own position, they will pounce on your weakness and tear you apart.
Importantly, while these considerations are always difficult, they’re never complicated. Caper’s vibrant color palette and simple iconography make it easy to parse the game state in an instant. You spend almost no time trying to understand what’s happening, and almost all your time actually making decisions.
This little box also holds a surprising amount of replay value. Each game sees a random selection of locations and Goods (which will affect how you approach each location), and the game comes with four city modules to play with, each of which provides a unique twist to the core gameplay.
However, while Caper is a tense contest, it isn’t necessarily a dramatic one. You see every card over the course of a game, and after just a few games you’ll begin to understand what your opponent is capable of at any moment, and vice versa. Decisions are never obvious, but the game will cease to surprise you after just a handful of sessions.
Caper is also ruthlessly competitive, which will be an issue for some people. Half the game’s decision points come from the push to deny your opponent the cards they need to win, and when you can easily see exactly where they’re aiming for and what they need to get there, it’s so much easier to disrupt their plans. This isn’t a problem if you like your games to be confrontational, but you do need to approach the game expecting a knife fight to fully enjoy it.
Finally, as great as the art and components are, the theme is almost entirely absent—nothing you do in the game “feels” like thievery or masterminding. You could theme these exact mechanisms around rival Girl Scout troops trying to sell cookies, and it would make as much (if not more) thematic sense.
Drafting is a difficult mechanism to pull off for just two players, but Caper: Europe does a fantastic job. It packs a ton of depth and variety into an unassuming box, and its stellar production values make it easy to engage with the game’s tangled quagmire of mechanisms and decisions. The theme is mostly just a wrapper, but it is beautiful, and encases a delightful combination of difficult choices and fun combos.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – A standout card game in an extremely crowded genre, easy to learn and full of interesting decisions—but not for the cruelty-averse.
• Theme is pasted on
• Game arc loses its surprise factor over time
• Cutthroat-iness isn’t for everyone
About the Author: Austin is an avid board gamer and reader, and a lover of all things science fiction. His favorite games include Earthborne Rangers, Welcome to the Moon, and whatever the latest Marvel Champions expansion is.