In recent months I have started playing more two-player games, both at work with a few colleagues I have dragged into our glorious hobby and at home when the player count suits. Luckily, I have a lot of people to play with and often have to find games for five, six, seven even eight people. It's nice now and again to pit your wits against one player, head to head in a one-on-one battle.
Caper: Europe, a follow-up to Caper is a two-player game about recruiting a crew, giving them the latest gear and performing heists. Well in principle anyway, it shakes out as more of a head-to-head tableau builder, where you're looking to get combos, battle over locations and watch out for the game-to-game changing scoring criteria. Is it any good though? Grab your crowbar and let’s find out!
Battle Lines Or Schotten Totten Extreme
At its core Caper: Europe immediately reminded me of Schotten Totten or Battle lines. You have three randomly chosen locations and must play your hand of cards to try and win these locations by drafting and playing cards. In each game, you select one of the four cities available to rob and mix those city-specific cards into the game's three decks. Each city has a different complexity rating and slightly different rules but nothing is too heavy or too ‘out-there’.
Once you have shuffled your city-specific cards into your decks, the thieves, gear and locations decks, you must deal a location to each of the three spaces on the lovely board that comes with the game. These locations will be a mix of the standard locations and ones you shuffled in from your chosen city. All of them have different scoring criteria and special abilities you will be trying to manipulate to your advantage.
Thieves, Drafting And Gear
Caper: Europe is played over six rounds, three thief rounds and three gear rounds. The rounds are tracked with a little thief figure on a little track, which both shows what you do in that round along with who goes first, it's a beautiful little thing but more on that later.
The rounds alternate between drafting and playing thieves, then layering them with the gear they need to fulfil their evil potential. Each location can have up to three thieves on it and each thief can hold three bits of gear. Whenever you play a card to a location it normally triggers an action, scoring opportunity or a way to try and stab your opponent in the loot-laden back.
When a thief is played it normally gives you cash or enables you to move one of the thief track tokens towards you. For each thief mask on a thief card you play to a location you move a little wooden thief token on that location towards you. This little token tracks who is winning the location and is a lovely way of tracking who is succeeding in each area. Playing a thief does not only move that token though, they could have other abilities that combo with other thieves, gear or even the location itself.
Once you have played your thief and performed its actions you pass your hand to the other player and you rinse and repeat until each player only has one thief left. This thief is discarded and it is on to the next round. This is where you will be equipping some sweet, sweet gear. This is where the game gets really interesting.
A Thief Is Only As Good As Their Gear
The gear rounds are performed the same as the thief rounds, play a card, perform its actions and then pass your hand to the other player. The only difference here is that most gear costs coins to play and must be played on a thief that has an open slot. Each thief may only have three pieces of gear total and choosing who has what gear is crucial. Alternatively, if you don't want to play a gear card, you can sell one for a single coin. Thief gear is not cheap you know!
Money in this game is very limited, only 10 coins are included and if you ever had to take coins but the supply is empty, you take them from the other player until you have an equal amount to them. This is a very unique system I have not seen before and adds a little wrinkle to when and how you take your hard-earned cash.
When you pay a gear card on your thieves, you resolve its effects immediately. This is where Caper: Europe gets its teeth. Not only does the gear card activate but it may also combo with your thief, location or other gear cards. This creates dynamic battles in each location with both players trying to eke out control using colour combos and abilities.
The gear is split into four colours, so say you played a thief that moved the control marker once for every green card in your location, not only would you move it for every green card currently there when played but its effect is ongoing, every green card played in the future would also benefit from this action. You can see how these combos can build, it really feels rewarding to build a crew with great gear in the correct location, creating game-winning, unstoppable combos.
Fruits Of Your Spoils
Each location also has four randomly placed goods for you to ‘acquire’. Some thieves you play allow you to take one treasure, some gear also allows you to also take one and some cards even let you take one prize of your choice. The reason for stealing these prized possessions? Well, you are a thief after all but mostly for points, isn’t that what we are all after?
At the end of the game you will score points for sets of treasures, the more different treasures you have in a set, the more points you will get. As with everything else in the game though there are combo possibilities. Some thieves and gear give you extra points for treasures, as do some locations and even the first city you can choose, Paris, gives you an extra point for these sparkly baubles. It's up to you whether to pursue treasures or not but sometimes their points can escalate depending on the cards, locations and city played, so keep your beady thief eye on the situation aand adapt your strategy as you go.
Scoring And Hopefully, Winning
Scoring is simple, yet does give players different ways to win. Firstly you see who is winning in each of the game's three locations, easily deduced by looking at the little thief tracker. Whoever is winning not only gets the points for the area but also any bonuses on the location as well. Whether it be card colours, the number of thieves or treasures, the winner gets all these juicy points. Each control track also has a small number of bonus points if you were able to push the token all the way to the end, another little wrinkle for you to manage and manipulate. Being a thief is more involved than I thought!
After that, you score up your thieves, taking into account any bonuses and point combos. Then, you repeat this with your gear, again taking into account any combos. Next, you score your treasure sets and any points from the city you have chosen, add it all up and see who is the best crew of thieves. Winner winner, chicken dinner!
Caper: Europe is one of the best looking, made and realized games I have played this year. Everything feels great, looks great and has an elegant look of quality about it. Not only that, it's a small box that has no spare space with not a wanted inch inside. I have seen too many games with bloated box sizes recently and this box pleases me greatly.
Everything has a regal look to it, gold embossing, classy fonts and beautiful artwork all go hand in hand to create a lovely-looking game. The cards and rulebook are linen finish and are of a very high quality. The insert has a velvety feel to it and everything is kept secure, snug and it truly is an amazing box of goodies. I have zero issues with the components, they make the game easy to track, look fantastic and use the amount of space in the box to perfection. A lot of other game designers and publishers could learn a thing or two from this box design and component quality.
As you have probably guessed, as far as two-player games go, Caper: Europe could be a new favourite for me. Unfortunately, It does not feel like you are actually performing heists, the theme is outstanding, don’t get me wrong, in the end it just feels like a beautiful control-based tableau builder. It looks stunning, it's a small box, it's quick and easy to set up and tear down but most of all, it has great decisions, combo-tastic options and only takes about half an hour. What more could you want? Go and buy it now, for its price, it does feel like someone is being robbed somewhere!