Curios is a fascinating filler game for two to five players. Produced by AEG games, Curios is suitable for older children and adults, but its simple mechanics mean it can be understood by younger children too. It will appeal to those who like deduction and bluffing, combined with worker placement and hand management. This review digs deeper into this 15 minute gem.
The Curios game is based on identifying and claiming artefacts from archaeological sites. There are four historic sites, each of which contain a limited treasure trove, indicated by coloured gems. Every player has a number of archaeologists at their disposal. They can be placed to dig at different ancient sites and retrieve the gems. The issue is that the value of each artefact retrieved is unknown. It is possible to hypothesise these values based on how others play and by the cards in the hand. Do you want to push your luck and use resources working in just one site only to find it is worthless? Perhaps spreading the risk is the way to go, which may result in a quite average score in the final scoring tally.
The four historic sites are laid out in front of the players. There are four sets of cards, one for each site, and each has a value (1, 3, 5, or 7). In the style of Cluedo, at the start of the game, for each ancient site, one of its value cards is randomly drawn and placed face down next to the monument.
The remaining 12 cards are shuffled and dealt to the players. In the two-player and five-player game a small number of these cards are left face down in a side deck. This means that each player may have an inkling of which monuments may have more value based on the cards in their hand. In the two and three-player game each gamer receives just four cards; with four players, three; and with five players, only two cards are dealt.
Each player starts the game with five archaeologist pawns. In turn these are placed at each ancient site and a gem (artefact) is claimed for each successful “dig”. With each archaeologist placed, the ability to retrieve gems becomes more difficult, meaning subsequent players must commit more pawns to that site to claim treasure. A bonus treasure piece is awarded to the player(s) that have placed the most archaeologists in each site.
At the end of each round, players have the opportunity to recruit additional pawns. However, the cost is to forfeit one of the value cards from their hand. This gives a dilemma of whether to withhold information from the other players that would be helpful, or to claim more pawns and potentially gain more treasure. In the two and five-player games, the top card of the side deck is then revealed. Play continues with the next player.
With each turn, treasure is acquired. By observing how others choose to place their pawns, this might indicate their possible knowledge of the value of certain treasures. The game finishes when two ancient sites have been emptied of gems. At this point, the hidden value cards are revealed. Total points for each player are tallied and the winner is the one with the most valuable haul.
Thoughts about Curios
Curios comes in a small tin, very similar in size and style to Forbidden Island. It has a lovely, embossed finish with a secure lid. The plastic inset holds the cards, gems and player pawns nicely. The rule book is colourful, clear and very easy to understand. The rules are simple and there is no ambiguity in the explanations. The coloured gems are lovely. They have a superb tactile feel too, and the first player token (an old oil lantern) is made of brushed metal. It has a quality about it.
However, the archaeologist pawns are just “pawns”, identical to pieces from a 1970’s Cluedo game. They do the job very well, but to be more consistent with the theme, AEG could have provided a set of coloured archaeologist meeples. The 16 value cards are of standard playing card size with a reasonable quality. The artwork is good. Whilst three of the historic sites have matching coloured value cards, site and gems, one site does not. The Ancient Colosseum has a nice landscape with elements picked out in the value cards, the predominant colour being blue, yet it yields a mid-green gem artefact.
Gameplay for Curios is quick. Worker placement opportunities are limited to just four historical sites and then further curtailed by the number of available archaeologists. Each round takes less than a few minutes, with a complete game finishing in ten to fifteen minutes usually.
Part of the fun of Curios is trying to second-guess other’s cards and therefore determine the true value of each artefact. One can try bluffing by “wasting” one pawn on a site that has little value. This might encourage others to believe it to be of greater worth and divert their attention, freeing up better historical sites for you.
There is an element of chance as the dealt cards might help or hinder some of your decisions. However, there appears to be no first-player bias. By playing later in the round you can see what other decisions are being made. Although you might need to commit more archaeologists, you may then have a greater number of pawns on the site. This could give you the end of turn bonus.
A nice feature is the opportunity to obtain additional pawns by discarding and revealing cards in your hand. Sometimes just by revealing one card, it is enough for another gamer to glean all the information they need to identify the most valuable site. However, for yourself, an extra pawn could be worthwhile, especially if it allows you to claim a bonus gem for one site.
My family will often add tweaks and extra “house rules” to games. Within a few games of Curios we realised this trade-off between archaeologist pawns and information cards could be developed. As a result, when we play the two- or five-player game, we will allow players to forfeit one of their archaeologists in return for gaining an extra card from the side deck.
Most games of Curios are completed within three rounds as treasure sites are quickly depleted. The total value of all of the artefacts claimed determines the winner. One small issue is the lack of a scoring pad. This would make calculating final scores so much easier.
Curios is a super, quick game. It takes moments to set up and minutes to play. It scales easily and works well across all player counts. Children from ten years and older could easily grasp this game. With time the subtleties of bluffing in worker placement will come. This is a very suitable family game. As each game only takes 10 to 15 minutes it is one that can easily be replayed. It might only be a “filler” game, but because it is so quick it, will get to the table far more frequently than weightier games.