Cabo (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designers: Mandy Henning, Melissa Limes
  • Publisher: Bezier Games
  • Players: 2 – 4
  • Ages: 8 and Up
  • Time: 45 Minutes
  • Times Played: > 5

Cabo is a fast-playing card game designed by Mandy Henning and Melissa Limes.  A second version of the game was recently released by Bezier Games, and it is a remake of original version from 2010.  The game is hand management and set collection game.     

The Gameplay

Note: The complete rulebook can be found here.

At the start of the game, the deck is shuffled, with four cards given facedown to each player.  The deck is put in the middle of the table, and one card is flipped face up to form the discard pile.  Players may then look at — and probably should memorize — two of their cards.

On a player’s turn, he or she has three choices: (a) take a card from the deck, (b) take the top card of the discard pile, or (c) call Cabo.

Most turns involve taking the top card from the deck.  The player looks at it, and then can (1) discard it, possibly using a special power, or (2) exchange it for one or more of his cards, discarding them instead and keeping the drawn card.

There are three special powers in the game: peek (look at one of your cards), spy (look at another player’s card), or swap (exchange a card with another player).  

If exchanging, you nominate one or more of you cards, and you can discard several as long as they match.  If they don’t match, you have to keep all of the cards (including the one you drew) and take a penalty card if three or more cards didn’t match.

If a player takes the top card of the discard pile, he or she can do the exchange action.

Finally, a player may call Cabo.  This triggers the end of the round: every other player gets one more turn.  Alternatively, the end of the round is triggered if the deck runs out.

For scoring, players get points equal to the face value of the cards, unless they called Cabo and have the lowest score, in which case they get 0 points.  (If they don’t have the lowest score, they also get a 10 point penalty.)

There are a couple of exceptions to the above scoring: (1) If a player has two 13s and two 12s, this is called a Kamikaze, and every other player earns 50 points, while they earn 0, and (2) if a player’s score ever totals exactly 100 points, they get to reset to 50.  

The game ends when a player has more than 100 points, and the player with the lowest score wins.  

My thoughts on the game…

Cabo is a fun, fast-paced card game that just about anybody could play.  Me and my family have had great fun with the game in recent days. The game can seem a bit random at first, but after a few plays, this becomes an interesting experience in tactical play and hand management.

The game is well produced: the art is attractive, and the cards are of decent quality.  I like the inclusion of a player aid: you probably won’t need it after you’ve played a game or two, but it is helpful for teaching the game.  

Cabo features interesting decisions on each turn.  First you have to determine whether you want the face-up card in the discard pile, though rarely you do, since the other players tend to discard their high cards.  If you’re not going to take from the discard, then draw a card, and consider exchanging it if it matches with your existing cards or if you think it is lower than one of them.  

The real challenge, however, comes down to when to call Cabo.  Experience helps in this regard, and I still haven’t managed to master it.  I call Cabo far more than my family, but I have a miss rate that keeps costing me the games.

The Kamikaze and 100-point-rule are interesting additions to the game.  I haven’t seen anybody Kamikaze yet, but I’ve seen players try. Much like “shooting the moon” in many trick-taking games, it is a high-risk-high-reward proposition.  

The game plays well at 2, 3, or 4 players, and I don’t know that any particular player count is better than others.  We’ve been playing this slightly less than the advertised time — 25 minutes on average, I’d say — but groups will vary, since a lot of it comes down to the group dynamic of when somebody is going to call Cabo.  

If you’re a fan of interesting card games, I recommend checking out Cabo.  The MSRP of less than $13 makes it affordable, and there’s a lot of fun in this new release from Bezier Games.  

Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:

Simon Neale: I have had this game in my collection since its original release and reviewed it for Counter magazine for which I was fortunate enough to chat to Melissa Limes at Essen about the development of the game. The game is a stable favourite of my family and it is my most played game having a total of 170 recorded plays. It is the simple rules, very fast play and enjoyable interactions that make this game fun.

Michael Weston: The card wear in my copy of original Cabo is testament to the high number of plays it endured through the years. I’d been on the brink of home-brewing a replacement copy when I discovered Ted was re-printing it. I just got my new copies, but haven’t had a chance to shuck the shrink-wrap and get it to the table yet. I’m now curious to try it with 2 – I’ve only ever played with 3-5 (anyone know why Ted dropped the player count? 5p wasn’t as good as 4p, but it did work.) The only thing I’m unsure about with the new ruleset is keeping known cards face-up. Some of the best moments in Cabo have been when when a Swap was used to chase a “known” 0 or 1, but they didn’t remember exactly where and we don’t find out if they were right until the Cabo reveal. I’ll give it a try the new way, but suspect we’ll keep playing the “memory variant” with all cards always face-down, unless there’s a player(s) that protests.

Greg S:  Cabo is a favorite and I never tire of playing it.  Like Michael, my first copy was worn out from continuous use.  I first discovered Cabo after missing a game night. Fellow gamer Jim McDanold gave me his ratings for the games he played, which included an “8” for an unknown game called Cabo.  An “8” is an extremely high rating from Jim, who is known to prefer hard-core railroad games. I checked the Geek and the only “Cabo” I could find was an obscure little card game. Surely, that couldn’t be it.  I checked with Jim and, sure enough, that was, indeed, the Cabo with which he was so enamored. I immediately purchased a copy and have been smitten ever since.

I am thrilled that Bezier Games has introduced this new version, although I must admit I am puzzled by the new “face-up” rules.  I MUCH prefer the original way to play. Fortunately, one can continue do so with this new version.

Dan Blum: I played the original version and I played this version and I still don’t understand the appeal at all. The Bezier version is better than the original – which was about as much fun as banging your knee on a table corner, except it lasts longer – but it’s still inferior to dozens of other similarly light games.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Chris Wray, Simon Neale, Erik Arneson, Michael Weston, Greg S.
  • I like it.
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me… Dan Blum
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7 Responses to Cabo (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  1. JamieC says:

    Thank you for this review. I bought the game based on it and tried it over the weekend with my wife, daughter (age 7), and a friend of ours. We played two games and really enjoyed it. My daughter liked it so much she asked to play it again the next evening.

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