This review is ingeniously available on Zatu here!
Hollywood’s portrayals of underground crime systems are often exaggerated… I doubt every villain has a white cat or a spinny chair. Nor would they have one specific henchman with a strange quirk to do their bidding. But what they probably do get right is their wit and sharp mind! I’d hazard a guess that organising anything big requires a good head on your shoulders. In any crime film there will be a head honcho; a mastermind if you will. They’ll orchestrate everything to a tee and will be suave, sensible and certain of a win. The interesting thing is that, when they do make a mistake, they’ll have a plan A, B and C to fix any blunders. Caper by Jumbo Games allows you to attempt to be that mastermind. Of course, it’s extremely unlikely your crime spree will be as successful as theirs, and you’ll have to provide your own spinny chair. But this game can allow a sharp player to make big moves and cash in through a long play.
Each player takes on the role of a mastermind planning to rob riches from different locations. Both players are competing to make the most money (earn the most points) by the end of the game. There’s no challenge in actually robbing the joints (casual crime lingo) but there’s challenge in being dominant enough to do so. The way to ensure this is through earning Capers in those locations. Capers are effectively successful attempts at theft and can be earned in different ways:
- Some thieves automatically give Capers
- Some thieves earn Capers for specific gear combinations
- All thieves with three equipment gain a Caper
- Some equipment gives a Caper
The thing to remember about Capers is that they will help you win locations, but not the game! Capers are only used to win a location reward but won’t directly contribute to your final score. Forgetting this can cause you to lose catastrophically, a good mastermind has their eyes on everything.
To kick off, both players take a mastermind card; green or cream. The game starts with Round 1 which is a thief round. Both players are dealt 4 thieves and the cream player goes first (reflective of the thief cards being cream in colour). You play a thief to a location, taking note of any special conditions the location may have, and then your opponent plays a card from their hand. Some thieves have immediate effects on, others have Caper or Point gain conditions. (Some even require your opponent to have certain things!) Most thieves allow you to pick up coins used to buy really cool equipment, so remember to play them when possible! Remember! Capers win locations, Points win the game! Then comes a really interesting thing… Once you’ve both played a thief, you swap hands! Immediately you know what your opponent can do and vice-versa. It really makes you plan ahead!
Locations differ dependent on which city you decided to play with; Paris is the least complex, Rome is moderate, and London is the most. In the midst of the locations deck are some default places too but each is different. Every location has win conditions on them which activate during the scoring. Some will gain Points, some Stolen Goods. Taking note of which locations require which cards will enable you to cash in!
Once players have only one thief left, they discard their hands and the equipment round begins. All equipment rounds consist of six cards, but again, you’ll discard when you’re down to one. Like with the thief round, you play a card each then swap hands. Equipment is played onto thieves instead of locations. This means you’ll be empowering the thieves played instead of gaining new locations. Where you play equipment will change the points or Capers earned, so knowing what your opponent needs can allow you to reduce their chance of winning. Unlike thieves, equipment costs. You must spend coins (earned through playing thieves) when playing an equipment that requires it.
The combinations between thieves and the equipment they’re given can determine who wins a location. What’s interesting though is that their ability is for equipment at that location, not just what they have! This means you can stack a thief with 3 equipment to gain a Caper, then add another thief with a complimenting ability to gain more! Caper is the sort of game that allows those who go for the long play to really shine, but lets the opportunist cash in too!
The game continues for a total of 6 rounds, switching between thief and equipment rounds until both decks are spent. Once all’s done, the game is scored! I’ll admit, at first this can seem daunting with so many elements to cash in on, but it’s done as a process and is actually quite straight forward!
- First you establish who won each location, by having the most Capers, and then you gain location rewards, increasing scores accordingly.
- Secondly you earn any points from thieves
- Then you earn points from equipment
- Finally you earn points from stolen goods sets.
The winner is the player with the most points at the end of the game!
There is one thing that I haven’t yet mentioned as it’s not essential for play, but I’d argue it’s an integral part of the first few games. The Caper Catalogue. As I did, you’ll no doubt crack the game open, see the rules and this strange catalogue and be pretty thrown. Why is there a sales catalogue in your game? Well it’s not a sales brochure at all. It’s a reference guide for every card. The symbols on the cards are straight forward once you recognise some of them, but initially they can be quite confusing! This catalogue is the saving grace of your first few plays.
The game runs as a procedure. Everything is done in an order and this order is never deterred from. This allows you to both get used to the game but also allows more experienced players to plan their moves ahead. Initially we found the baby steps too simple, but when we did get confused it was a real help. Then, when we eventually did get used to the state of play, we made use of it to speed through the game!
Once you know the symbols you’ll be flying though the game, but it’s worth remembering what you’re passing on to your opposition when handing over your hand. We found playing big cards straight away reduced our chances of having them towards the end. Some cards allow you to flip an opposing thief or equipment card. Any flipped card doesn’t score it’s bonuses – though they still count towards wild counts and thief counts. Playing the best in your hand straight away will make it a target.
When choosing which location to take on – Paris, Rome or London – it’s worth remembering they all play differently. The locations are diverse enough to change how you’ll try to take them, but all follow the same pattern. They are all affected by the country’s specific thieves and equipment. These are specific cards added to game setup dependent on which country you choose. If you get equipment from Rome, it’s worth playing them on the thieves in Rome locations over others. We found that playing them elsewhere wasted them and meant we missed out later! The biggest push for their tactical use is Rome (or so we found) as the cards payout points for the specific cards being played there.
Our scores were either very tightly close together or miles apart. When we were both on it, game faced and focussed it was a tense scoring session. One slip up and suddenly one of us was 20 points ahead! Funnily enough, the score boards go all the way past 60 but We never scored massive points. We struggled to understand how we would! It would probably take the absolute perfect game to do so; hitting every card combination and having stacking point scorers combined with the right locations.. It would be crazy situational and would require meticulous planning. Which is probably why we aren’t real criminal masterminds!
The first game of Caper is going to be steady. That’s common amongst most games but you’ll feel it with Caper. You’ll want to know what every card does and will refer to the catalogue a lot – but that’s good! It’s best to understand the symbolism in the game and get a grasp quickly. None of the symbols are abstract, most are common sense, it just takes a few runs to get the sight reading of them down. The second game will be a lot quicker, and the third may be under the expected time.
Once you’re fluent in Caper shorthand symbols, you’ll then begin making smarter plays. If you know a location pays out for blue and red equipment, you’ll play thieves with complimenting abilities. Being able to see that straight away is how you start to win, but then it’s a balance of Capers and points. As said earlier, Capers are needed but will not win you the game! We learned that the hard way. On one location I managed 8 Capers, but then received 0 points from it!
The awesome thing about Caper is that you’re never left guessing beyond what you know. You choose your card then give the rest to your opposition. You know what they have, you know what they can do, it’s how they’ll do it. It’s the same with the equipment too, but that’s going to cause more damage. With cards that can flip opposing equipment cards and cards that simply give coins, what you pass on might catch you out! We found ourselves balancing playing cards out of spite and playing cards we needed to ensure our rival didn’t get ahead. Had we gone all out we’d have definitely been punished, and that’s the point of being a Mastermind. Planning and knowing above spite and damage.
Caper is a game for the thinker. It’s a game of mind games, long plays and patience. I tried going gung-ho and was punished, badly, in the end game scoring. I’d managed Capers but didn’t have the combinations necessary to earn the points where it mattered. When playing patiently and slowly, gaining dominance over a location gradually, I did really well. If you enjoy short games that requires a long think, or you’re the type to always have a plan, you’ll love Caper.