Yeah, it’s hard; I almost got through Dice Tower West without buying any games. I was super proud of myself, but then the worst happened; game art caught my eye. I looked over and CABO was there. I sat down for a demo and was like “this is fun but I don’t need any more games in the house”, which is the kiss of death as far as whether or not I’m going to buy the game. Kept going back and forth, looked it up, and ultimately said, what the heck, and got it. So here we are.
In CABO, you’re hunting a unicorn! I assume for friendship reasons. Or to drink its blood. I’m not here to judge. Either way, you know roughly how far away you are from it, but you’re not the only one on its trail! Navigate twists and turns as you try and make sense of the directions towards it, but don’t forget to throw your rivals off the scent. Will you be able to reach CABO before anyone else?
None required! Shuffle the deck of cards:
Deal each player four. They may choose two and look at them (I generally recommend two adjacent cards, since you can’t look at them again). They cannot look at the other two cards.
You can use the score sheet, if you want, I suppose:
Beyond that, you’re ready to start! Discard one card and choose a player randomly to start.
Alright, so, a game of CABO is all about trying to find the Unicorn, CABO. As you do. Your goal is to stay on his trail. If you lose it, the game will end, and the closest player to CABO will win!
So, for a given round, you’ll take turns until the round ends. On your turn, you may do the following:
Draw a Card from the Deck
If you take a card from the deck, you may do any of the following follow-ups:
- Swap it. You may swap it with any of your four cards (or more than one), placing the card face-up in the discard (regardless of whether or not it was face-up previously). If you want to swap multiple cards, they must all be the same value. You prove this by flipping them all face-up before putting them in your discard pile. If they’re the same value, discard all of them and replace them with the face-down card. If they’re not the same value, keep them and add the face-down card to either side of the line. You have a bonus card now! Draw an extra card from the deck (face-down, without looking) if you tried and failed to match three or four cards.
- Use its ability. If the card is 7 – 12, you may use its special ability instead of swapping it:
- 7 / 8: You may look at one of your face-down cards.
- 9 / 10: You may look at one of your opponents’ face-down cards.
- 11 / 12: You may swap one of your cards with one of your opponents’ cards. Cards must stay in the same orientation.
- Discard it. If you don’t like the card or don’t want it, discard it face up.
Take a Card from the Discard
You may, following the same rules as Swapping a Card from further up, take the top card of the discard pile. The only major difference is that the card you take from the discard pile remains face-up. You may still swap it with multiple cards, as long as they match.
If you want, you may call CABO. Every other player gets one extra turn, regardless of who started the round.
End of Round
When the round ends, everyone reveals their cards. Add up everyone’s total card value and compare!
- If you called CABO and you have the lowest total (or tied): You score 0 points! Nice. Points are bad.
- If you called CABO and you did not have the lowest total: You score your total value + 10. Do better next time.
- If you did not call CABO: You score your total card value.
There’s one exception. If any player finishes the round with exactly two 12s and two 13s, they’ve done something terrible. If that happens, they score 0 and all other players score 50. It’s a risky move but it could theoretically pay off. Note that if you want to go for this you may still call CABO.
Shuffle all the cards back up, re-deal, and the player who got the lowest score last round starts.
This bears mentioning in its own paragraph. If you score exactly 100 points, you may reduce your score to 50 once per game. Each player may only do this, as I mentioned, one time.
End of Game
Once a player hits over 100 points, they lose! The player with the lowest score wins.
Player Count Differences
The major thing is that calling CABO becomes less and less good at higher player counts, because more turns happen between the CABO and the end of the round. If you’re unlucky, that’s a lot of potential swaps that could occur in a bad way for you. It also means the deck will likely be a bit diluted for you; you may never see any 0s at all. That said, it’s perfectly fun at any player count, so I don’t have a huge preference on this one. I can say that two is a nice and intense experience, if you’re looking for a silly game for date night or while you’re waiting for other people.
- Every game’s a bluffing game if you believe in yourself. Laugh when you look at someone else’s low-value card or if it’s a high-value card make them believe that it’s low so that they’ll keep it as long as possible. You just want to confuse them about the value of their cards.
- You can also bluff your own cards, if you want. If you discard a 2 to take a 12, you might luck out and get your opponent to swap a card with it (since they’re face-down anyways). It’s definitely funnier if that happens. Not for them, of course, but who cares?
- You should try to establish what your other two cards are. That will prevent you making the horrifying mistake I made several times where I slid a 2 into a slot and revealed a 0 right into the discard pile (that my opponent happily took). It’s infuriating; not because you gain so many points with that play, but because your opponent loses so many.
- Discarding combos is never a bad idea. I sometimes keep sets for a while (to disincentivize swaps) and then once another player CABOs, I dump multiple cards of the same value at once. Even then, though, just make sure the card you’re losing is lower than the combo value; you don’t want to discard two fives to pick up a 12 (unless you’re burning two 12s next turn).
- If you draw a Swap during the last round, give your highest card to the CABO player. It’s unlikely that they tried to double-bluff (a risky move), so you’ll likely get a better score this way. Plus, best case, you give them a card that pushes their total value above another players, so they gain an additional 10 points! Worst case, it lowers your score even if they end up winning.
- If you can hit 100 exactly, do it. It’s almost impossible to do, but as someone who managed to do it exactly one time, it rules. I would highly recommend it. Just make sure you undershoot if you have to choose between undershooting 100 and overshooting it.
- I can’t recommend shooting for the two 12s and two 13s. It’s very difficult to get, and you run a major risk. Most players will swap with the CABOing player if they draw a Swap, so you cannot be the player that CABOs or let another player swap with you before the round ends. It’s really hard to pull off, but your opponents will hate you forever if you can, so, bonus?
- If you start with two cards <= 5, you might as well CABO. It’s a bold move, but your opponents will be caught off guard. Note that I’d only do this if I were starting the round; otherwise some players get bonus turns. If someone does this to you, swap your visible cards with the cards they looked at; you might be able to boost their score.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Very portable. You can actually eschew the tuckbox entirely and just throw it in a Quiver or something. That’s probably what I’ll do from now on, honestly; it’s a very small game.
- Easy to learn. It’s just remembering four cards with some swaps and looks. And those say it on the card, which I appreciate.
- The art is very pleasant. It’s just very nice to look at. Agus Muqith did a really nice job! It’s cartoony and kind of whimsical, which is what I expect a desperate search for a unicorn would be.
- Lots of big moments. I really appreciate the big reveal at the end of every round! It’s very exciting. You’re going to see a lot of energy from players whenever it happens, which definitely motivates the game. It’s got a similar energy to PUSH, in that regard.
- The one-time limit to the 100 rule is nice. The game probably wouldn’t go on forever, but it would be kind of annoying if a player hit that twice in one game; it would slow it down.
- Memory games are always ever-so-slightly frustrating. You can choose to make this a serious game or a silly game, in my opinion; if it’s serious you need to lower the number of distractions so that players can remember all the things that they know. If it’s silly, just kinda go for it. It can be annoying if you forget what your cards are, though, and that frustration happens to a lot of players. Thankfully, the game is fast enough that that frustration also doesn’t linger for any real amount of time.
- You’re going to mess something up. Make peace with it. The reason it’s a meh isn’t because it’s all that bad, but because you feel bad for a bit before you laugh it off. It’s going to be okay. You’ll discard a 2 because you thought it was a 5; this happens to everyone.
- It’s mildly annoying when players swap with you after you CABO. I get that it’s part of the game, but I’d be interested to see what happens if you become swap-proof after you CABO. I might try that in future iterations.
- The box is definitely something. I already kind of hate tuckboxes, but this one has a foam insert. I wouldn’t say it needs the scoresheet; it almost feels like this was just done to make it appear taller, which isn’t awesome. I’d much rather have a box like Coloretto or something where it’s a two-piece rather than a tuckbox, especially a weird tall one. Oh well.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I’ve had a lot of fun with CABO! Like I said, the thing I like most about it is how it enables big moments in a game. When you play a game with a group that’s meant to be fun and silly, the best thing you can get is a solid laugh from the group. CABO enables this in spades with big reveals, flashy card art, and an overall solid gameplay experience. We laughed whenever a player came up one short, we had a player hit 100 exactly (to another player’s despair), we had a bunch of really great experiences that were enabled by this game, and I think that’s perfect. This, like PUSH, is another one of those games that I’d just sneak into a friend’s collection and replace UNO with; it’s easy enough to pick up that most people will get it, and it’s fun enough that I don’t see people necessarily getting rid of it. Sure, if you knew what you were doing, you could implement this yourself with a basic deck of cards (A = 1, K = 13, Jokers = 0), but I like the art in this, so I feel like that justifies it, for me. Naturally, it also helps that I’m into quick, fairly light games, so CABO is right up my alley. Either way, it’s a strong showing, in my opinion, so if you’re looking for something easy to slip into a bag or backpack that’s pretty easy to learn and a lot of fun to play, I’d definitely recommend trying a few games of CABO! I certainly enjoyed it.