#993 – Caper: Europe

Base price: $35.
2 players.
Play time: 25 – 35 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 1
2

Full disclosure: A review copy of Caper: Europe was provided by Keymaster Games.

I have returned, half-awake, from PAX Unplugged and my holiday travel, and, predictably, I got absolutely no writing done the entire time. I meant to! I just ended up playing Boomerang-Fu and watching Everything Everywhere All at Once (again) with my dad. High-priority stuff. Thankfully, I had two reviews already done for this week, and this third one’s not too hard for me to pick up and run with. So we’re gonna dig into another Keymaster title, Caper: Europe! I’ve always been impressed with Keymaster’s style, so I’ll be interested to see how this one shapes up.

In Caper: Europe, players dream of being great Masterminds, committing crimes and larceny and more crimes across the whole of the European continent. They’d be hard-pressed to outdo some of the British Museum’s thefts, but, that’s a larger conversation for another time. Each potential Mastermind must outwit their rival in a beautiful European city to succeed. As any good thief would tell you, a caper requires the right Crew and the right Gear in order to be successful. You’ll also probably need funds, but you can get those along the way. So buckle up, get your group together, and find a city to take over for crime reasons. Become the greatest Mastermind in the land!

Contents

Setup

First, you’re going to want to set the board between both players:

Then, place the coins near the board:

You’ll want to separate out the Core Decks. That’s going to be your core Thief Deck:

Your core Gear Deck:

And your core Location Deck:

Into each deck, shuffle the relevant cards from the city of your choice. There are four: Paris, Rome, Barcelona, and London:

Then, place the decks on their relevant spaces, and reveal one Location Card from the Location deck on each of the three spaces on the board. Now you can shuffle the Stolen Goods and place four next to each Location, face-up:

Finish up setup by placing the three Caper Trackers on the middle of each Caper Track near the Locations:

Place the Round Tracker on the “Intro” space.

You should be ready to start!

Gameplay

A game of Caper is played over three rounds, each split into two phases. During the Thief Rounds, you’ll be playing Thieves to various Locations to support your capers, crimes, and mischief. During the Gear Rounds, you’ll give those Thieves gear to help them steal whatever they’re going to. As you do, earn points and mess with your opponent to see who comes out ahead! To start, check to see what round you’re on via the Round Tracker. That will tell you how many cards of which type to deal to both players as well as who starts. Let’s dig into how the rest of the game works.

Thief Round

Once you have your hand of cards, the Thief Round starts. On your turn, play a Thief to any empty space below a Location on your side of the board. Each Location starts with three empty spaces, so you could play up to three Thieves. Once you do, gain the number of coins indicated in the top-left corner of the Thief Card and activate its effect, if one is present. It does not matter which slot on your side of the board you play your Thief to, provided it is one of the three slots associated with the Location you want.

After both players play their Thief Card face-down, reveal them, resolve their effects, and then trade hands. Instead of trading hands when you only have one card left, discard the remaining card.

Gear Round

Gear Rounds are a bit more complicated. See, each Thief can hold a maximum of three Gear Cards, but many of them have a Coin cost, which must be paid before the card can be played. Any Gear, on your turn, may be discarded for 1 Coin instead. Some Gear will let you gain more Coins, some will help you steal Stolen Goods, and some can even burn visible cards your opponent played, reverting their effects. There are even more abilities, some of them specific to a given city’s Gear. Regardless, once you play a Gear Card, it’s part of your Crew (the set of Thieves and Gear you have in a given Location), so check to see if the card activates any icons on any other cards.

A number of Gear Cards will move the Caper Tracker towards you, which can be used to win the Location and earn you even more points. Additionally, some contribute to bonuses that will earn you points for sets of Gear Cards, so keep an eye out.

Like the Thief Round, after both players play their Gear Card face-down, reveal them, resolve their effects, and then trade hands. Instead of trading hands when you only have one card left, discard the remaining card.

End of Game

After three Thief Rounds and Three Gear Rounds, the game ends! Tally up points:

  • Locations: For each Location, the winner is the player with the Caper Tracker closest to their side of the board. They win the points on the Location and the Location’s effect.
  • Thieves: Each player scores the Thief Cards in each of their Crews.
  • Gear: Each player also scores their Gear Cards.
  • Stolen Goods: A set of 1 / 2 / 3 different Stolen Goods is worth 2 / 5 / 9 points. Each Stolen Good may only belong to one set.

Keep an eye out for special City-specific scoring icons, and the player with the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

None this time! Purely a two-player game.

Strategy

  • Thieves with “good” abilities tend to gain you fewer Coins, so keep an eye on your cashflow. You don’t really want to run out of money at any point during the game; keep in mind that Gear costs 0 / 1 / 2 / 3. As long as you have a bit of money, you’re probably in a good spot, but try to make sure that your money is protected. In particular, some cards will gain you 4 Coins; you want to place on top of those as quickly as possible so that you don’t lose the money when they get burned by your opponent.
  • A good Burn Card can go a long way. You specifically want to look for high-value Burn targets. What earns your opponent the most money? The most points? moves the Caper Tracker the farthest? Those are the ideal cards to torch when you can. I particularly like torching money cards and then passing them a hand of cards that they can’t afford. Then, you’ve effectively wasted two turns, since they’ll have to discard the cards for a Coin next. This particularly works well if you can get the Thieves that reward you for playing the red cards.
  • You can see what cards your opponent is likely favoring by looking at their Thieves and Gear; try to see if you can disrupt their strategy without ruining your own. Some things are pretty clear. If their Thieves score points or move the Caper Tracker for certain types of cards, they probably want those. If the Location rewards (or protects) certain types of cards, they’re likely to play those. If you can see those signals sufficiently far in advance, you can prepare for them and try and keep those cards for yourself. That said, try to do your own strategy as well. You will struggle to win if your entire game is just denying your opponent what they want.
  • I tend to undervalue Stolen Goods; do so at your own peril. I’ve lost a few games by letting my opponent (Susan, in this case) take all of the Stolen Goods while I was overfocusing on needlessly complex combos. It would have been wonderful if they had worked out, but, unfortunately, not meant to be. Make sure you’re taking a few to get some points, but also, it helps to get a couple Stolen Goods just so that your opponent doesn’t get all of them.
  • This game has some subtle combos; use them to your advantage. You can really string together some interesting moves based on what you pick up, how that moves the Caper Tracker, how you collect money, and what Gear you use. This is made a bit more complicated by which Thieves you have where, so try to make sure you’re keeping track of everything. A good number of the combos depend on how you use the City-specific cards in your game.
  • Having a good amount of money is nice, but be careful: if the bank is empty, your opponent just takes money from you. Don’t flaunt your wealth, I suppose? Your opponent can take money from you if the bank is empty, they would gain money, and you have more than them. So you may not lose the complete amount, but they will definitely take some from you if they play a yellow card. This is particularly common in the London game, since Coins are taken out of play by certain Gear Cards.
  • Each City has a theme; try to lean into it. The themes are pretty fun, too! They shift the Caper Tracker more or reward you for keeping certain cards on top or make it harder to get Coins. They introduce new Thieves, Locations, and Gear that play towards those themes, as well. Keeping an eye on them might give you an edge on your opponent, especially if the Locations are more from the specific City. Either way, though, new Thieves and new Gear are worth trying out, if you can thread their combos well.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Very stylish game! I really like the art style! It’s engaging and colorful with some cool hard lines. It looks like it would make for a very fun animated show, as well. That said, the game just looks really good! The components look great, the cards look great, and I love the color choices for everything.
  • Surprisingly low-complexity, once you understand the flow. I appreciate that it’s mostly just playing a card and passing your hand (classic drafting), with some effects based on how the cards interact and whether or not you can afford the Gear that you want. There’s a bit of area control and that tug-of-war thing that is fairly common among two-player games, but even those I find aren’t too tough to explain.
  • I appreciate the variety of cities available. I was surprised that there were four different Cities in the box, but they also all play pretty differently, which is fun.
  • The game plays pretty quickly. One of the benefits of a drafting game, I suppose, especially since you don’t calculate scores until the end of the game. As a result, you’re just playing a card, passing the rest, discarding the last one, and repeating that a few more times. It’s surprisingly quick once you get the hang of it.
  • Heists are one of my favorite themes for games. I remain a huge fan of Burgle Bros., but I just really like games that are about daring heists or stealing. It’s a fun theme.
  • Good diversity among the thieves as well. They do really come from everywhere to try and become the greatest, and I respect that. But I also just appreciate that there’s a range of ages, abilities, and backgrounds among the thieves.
  • Really high-quality components, which I’ve come to expect from Keymaster. Everything is very nice! Even the rulebook has surprisingly nice paper? It’s not something I normally think about. But the other components and cards are very nice, as well. Keymaster has generally kept to a pretty high quality standard for their productions, but it’s still nice to see.
  • It’s just a very solid two-player drafting game. I find that a lot of these games rely a lot on the tug-of-war element, to the point that I feel like it’s somewhat played out? Caper: Europe has it as well, but making three distinct areas that you’re fighting for control over allows players to try and choose ones that work for their strategy (and gives players an opportunity to bail on a location that they’re not winning). The other cards have a nice combo potential and the set collection elements play nicely with each other. There are a lot of different ways to win, and I appreciate how those work within the various cities you can play with. Each one adds some pretty unique flavor to the game.
  • Fairly portable, too. I think it helps that the box is surprisingly flat. That said, the board is fairly long, so you may have trouble playing this if you’re traveling or trying to play it on the go. Wouldn’t recommend that, but if you have a normal table, you’re probably fine.

Mehs

  • It can be tough to remember what the effects of a Burn Card are, so just remember that it only undoes the burnt card’s immediate effects, not the effects of other cards. It’s mostly that you just need to remember that only the card itself gets undone. It doesn’t undo the subsequent effects of, say, a Thief who advances the Caper Marker every time a card of that color is played. It does prevent the player who owned that card scoring it at the end of the game, which is where things get confusing.
  • It’s fundamentally Eurocentric, which I find boring, but at least you’re robbing the place, I suppose. I like games with a more worldly view (and I’m just bored of Eurocentrism), but the heist locations are particularly fun. I do hope that this means that we’ll see Caper taking place in more continents moving forward.

Cons

  • As with many drafting games, there’s a bit of a bias towards the more experienced player. It may be worth walking someone through the first game before you play, especially if the other player has played before. The iconography is fairly straightforward, to its credit, but there’s the challenge of figuring out how the more subtle combos intersect, as well. Drafting, in general, I think lends itself more to players who are already familiar with the cards and combos. With new players, it helps to walk through the cards first and show them what they might expect from them. It’s polite.

Overall: 8.5 / 10

Overall, I think Caper: Europe is pretty great! Granted, I’d love to see a whole world of Capers, just based on what I’m seeing here. It’s an exceedingly fun two-player drafting game whose tug-of-war elements aren’t as central to the core game as some other versions of this that I’ve played (Tesla vs. Edison: Duel / 7 Wonders Duel), and I like that. Sure, you’ll almost certainly lose one of the Locations, but you can focus on the Location you want based on what works with your strategy. Go too hard, however, and your opponent may just abandon you to your own devices and swipe the other two out from under you. But, as you probably know, mechanics alone don’t necessarily make a game a keeper, for me. Thankfully, Caper: Europe has the full one-two-three punch of solid mechanics, a fun theme, and fantastic art. It’s bold and vintage-y, which gives all the heists an old-timey feel, especially when you get involved with goofy Gear and other gadgets. I particularly like the modularity of this set, offering Cities with their own unique rules and variants on play, even if it does take significantly longer to review it because now I need to play all of the different cities a few times. I got there eventually. I was worried that this game might be a bit more complex than some of my friends are looking for, but I’ve honestly had a lot of success trying this out with gamers at a variety of preferred complexities. I think everyone finds Caper: Europe engaging and wants to try and see how they can assemble a combo, and given how varied the hands can be each round and each game, there’s always something new to try. So if you enjoy gathering up a crew, pulling a heist, and getting away with it, or you just want a very fun head-to-head card game, I’d definitely recommend checking out Caper: Europe! I’ve really been enjoying it.


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