Full disclosure: A review copy of Curios was provided by Alderac Entertainment Group.
Alright, let’s return to a few games from Alderac. They do Big Game Night at Gen Con and are releasing three new titles, this year. One, I’ve already covered: Walking in Burano, from EmperorS4. Full review at the link, loved it, thought it was weird that Santa showed up but it didn’t negatively impact the game, etc. Another is Point Salad; we’ll get to that next week. Last up is Curios, which is the game we’re looking at now. So why not hop right into it?
In Curios, you are all each the bad boy / girl / person of archaeology, and you’re breaking into sites that are likely sacred to various cultures to pilfer artifacts so that you can sell them for big money. This is not a super cool thing for you to be doing, but as long as you yell “this belongs in a museum, far removed from the culture that produced it, so that they cannot benefit from its appreciation”, then you’ve at least covered your bases? Either way, you want to ensure that you’re only stealing the most profitable things, so you’ve done some research. Unfortunately, it turned up short because all you know is what certain artifacts aren’t worth. You figure if you can sneak some peeks at other people’s research, you may be able to deduce the right solution. Only problem is, other people have the same idea. Will you be able to reduce an entire culture down to a profit? Or will you end up shortchanged?
Very little. Give each player 5 Archaelogist Pawns:
There are also white pawns, but they wouldn’t have shown up in this shot. Put the other two pawns in each color aside, for now. Set out the Treasure Site Cards:
Shuffle each Treasure Site’s Market Cards:
Place one face-down at each Location, and then shuffle the cards together. Deal them out to each player:
- 2 players: Each player gets 4 cards.
- 3 players: Each player gets 4 cards.
- 4 players: Each player gets 3 cards.
- 5 players: Each player gets 2 cards.
If there are any cards remaining, place them in a Side Deck (a face-down stack next to the Treasure sites). Then, set out the Artifacts below the Treasure Sites:
- 2 players: Use 8 Artifacts per site.
- 3 players: Use 10 Artifacts per site.
- 4 players: Use 12 Artifacts per site.
- 5 players: Use 14 Artifacts per site.
Once you’ve done that, give one player the first-player token:
You’re ready to start!
Gameplay is pretty straightforward. You play as some absolute garbage “archaeologists”, raiding sites of major cultural significance to find artifacts that you can sell on the uh, “aftermarket”. Usually it’ll end up in some rich dude’s house. So that’s fun. However, you’re not totally sure how much things are worth, but you know how much they’re not worth. The key is to figure out what’s the most valuable set of artifacts first, I suppose.
Starting with the first player, each player takes turns placing their pawns on a Treasure Site. The first spot is always one pawn, then two pawns, and so on. Whenever you place pawns on a Treasure Site, take an artifact. If you can’t place any more pawns, then pass.
Once all players have passed, check the four Treasure Sites. The player with the most pawns on each Treasure Site gains a bonus artifact from that site. If there’s a tie, nobody gets it. After resolving that, take your Archaeologist pawns back.
Now, each player may optionally recruit additional Archaeologists, in turn order. How do you do that? It’s simple; just discard one card from your hand, face-up. Now everyone knows the thing that you know. Once everyone’s done that, if the Side Deck exists, reveal a card from it, as well.
After two or more Treasure Sites have run out of Artifacts, the game ends after that round. Reveal all of the Market Cards above each Treasure Site; each Artifact is worth the value above its site. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
The major difference is just the information market. You, individually, know about the same amount of things at two and three players, but at three you can potentially read some information based on other players’ plays. Where are they going? What are they avoiding? Do they know something you don’t? At higher player counts, you individually know a lot less, so the market is going to be a bit more volatile. However, after one round, you’ll potentially know a lot more, if players all go after recruiting a new Archaeologist. At that point, you know 6 cards, as many as you would in a two-player game. Just be careful to not get wrapped up in a bunch of players who all think they know what’s valuable. I’d generally lean a bit towards lower player counts, for this one, but not by a lot.
- Do some probability. If you’ve seen a 1, then you know that the card below cannot be a 1, and it’s more likely to be a higher value. If you haven’t seen the other cards, then you have even odds that it can be a 3, 5, or 7. Handle that information accordingly, even though it’s not much.
- Familiarize yourself with expectation. This is a really interesting thing. Expectation is the idea that the probability of each outcome times the value of that outcome, added together, is what you should roughly expect that outcome to be. So, for instance, if you know that an Artifact is worth 5 or 7 points, you have a 50/50 chance that it’s either, the Artifact has an expected value of (5 / 2 + 7 / 2), or 6. It’s a useful metric when you’re trying to evaluate, based on what you know, how valuable certain locations are.
- You can try to throw off your opponents. If you spend your first pawn on a location, you might convince your opponents that you know that location is valuable, and drag more of them into it. That only works if your opponents aren’t holding cards that suggest that location is worthless. If they already know, they’re not gonna follow you.
- Don’t leak too much information. If you know a location is valuable, you cannot let your opponents find out. Otherwise, they’re going to start fighting you for the same location, which will dilute both of your overall scores. That’s not great, as you might imagine, so doing your best to keep them in the dark might be to your overall benefit.
- It may not be worth always taking that last pawn. You have to give away some information to do so, and that might impact the final round pretty heavily. If you keep a few cards close to your chest instead of playing them, you may be able to manipulate the flow of information.
- Sometimes it’s worth not going for the least expensive location. If the least expensive location costs 1 pawn and is worth 1 point, and the next location is worth 7 points and costs two, three, or even four pawns, you’re still getting a better deal by going there. Not to mention you might have a chance of getting the bonus Artifact from having the most pawns there.
- Watch to see where your opponents are going. Or, rather, watch to see where they’re not going. That might be valuable information, especially
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Really nice art. The cards all look really great, and I’m a huge fan of the color schemes chosen.
- Very quick to play. All in all, a game really does only take about 15 minutes. The rounds themselves are pretty quick, too.
- The first-player token is really nice! It’s like, a nice weight and it’s shaped really cool. I really appreciate metal first-player tokens, generally speaking. They’re a nice touch and they elevate the classy factor of the game, which is always important if you care about that sort of thing.
- Easy to set up. You kinda just shuffle four piles of cards and then you’re good to go. Set out some pawns. Very straightforward.
- The deduction aspect of this game is very interesting. I don’t think it’s always possible to get better information than just what you feel like the right answer is, but given that it’s a short game that’s often going to have to be enough, I suppose. And that’s fun, too.
- Really portable, if you ignore the box. There aren’t a ton of components; you could throw them into a Quiver very easily and you’re essentially good to go. The box is a bit large, especially given how few cards are inside of it, but, that happens in games.
- I’m not really a fan of games that come in tins. As I’ve said in a few other reviews, I generally find them to be more trouble than they’re worth. They tend not to be standard box dimensions, they’re just kinda weird, and personally I have trouble always getting the lighting right for photos. That’s not really a general problem but it’s one I have.
- The components (beyond the cards) are pretty generic. I assume this was done to keep costs low, and, it works, but it does kind of make you wish that there were a deluxe edition you could get that would have some more archaeology-themed pawns or specific artifacts.
- The theme is a bit … yikes? Fun game, but it does mildly glorify the practice of basically raiding sites that are sacred to various cultures (often people of color) for “valuable” artifacts that can be sold. I’d appreciate more games about repatriation, but I haven’t yet seen any. And I get that it’s a play on the Indiana Jones-style of swashbuckling adventures to recover treasures, but, I dunno, it just adds some vague discomfort to the back of my brain. Would absolutely love to see a game about repatriation, though, yeah.
- Can also feel pretty random. There’s a certain level of “hand strength” that’s just based on what you get in your hand, right? Like, if you get 1 / 3 / 5 of a Treasure Site, and you know it’s 7, you should only go after that, if you can. Generally, your opponents might be a bit more gun-shy about going after a spot they know nothing about, even if you’re gung-ho about it. This means that some hands are just … better than others, and you start with occasionally unbalanced information. If you make a bad call based on information you don’t know, you might just … lose. Which can be annoying, but, as I’ve mentioned (and will mention again), it’s a pretty quick game, so it’s hard to care too much.
- Some games aren’t terribly interesting. It’s possible for all of the locations to be the same (albeit unlikely, only 1 / 64 games). If that happens, pretty much none of the deduction actually matters; it’s just whatever player gets the most artifacts. It’s a quick game, though, so even if that happens, it’s not the worst thing in the world. Just happens sometimes.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I’m solidly enthused about Curios! As usual, I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to quick deduction games, and this one certainly doesn’t disappoint. Component-wise, it’s a bit light, but I think that’s primarily to keep costs low for the game so that it’s easier for people to pick up. Not terribly bothered by that. I will say that I’m a bit uncomfortable with the theme, since it seems to be the worst part of archaeology; going around to different cultures and stealing their stuff to sell on the market. To be fair, that’s a pretty common theme among Tomb Raider, Indiana Jones, Uncharted, etc. Not sure if there’s a lot to be done with that, though. Even for a short game, it can feel a bit random; I haven’t quite figured out if there’s a foolproof way to deduce your best option beyond guessing based on what information you have, which, I guess is the point? Who knows. Plus, since there’s only four spots for variation, it’s possible to have a game be four of the same option, which does make the game a fair bit less interesting. Regardless, it’s a pretty game where it needs to be! The box looks great, the cards look excellent, and the first-player token is awesome. Because of that, it also makes the game pretty easy to transport, which is nice. Either way, I think it’s a solid, quick little game, and if you’re looking for something like that and a game that scales up to five players, easy, then Curios might be a great fit!