Dale Yu: First Impressions of Curios

Curios

  • Designer: (not listed on box nor rules)
  • Publisher: AEG
  • Players: 2-5
  • Ages: 14+
  • Time: 15-20 minutes
  • Times played, 3 with preview copy provided by AEG

Curios is part of the 2019 Big Game Night project from AEG.  In previous years, AEG has kept the games a secret until the big reveal at the Big Game Night event at GenCon.  This year, AEG has chosen to take a different approach to the promotion of the new games, and they have given preview copies to the press and retailers will be able to start showing them on the Thursday of GenCon week.  The three games from this year are Curios, Point Salad and Walking in Burano.

The description from the publisher goes like: “You are a rogue archaeologist, traveling the world for history’s lost artifacts. But the market for artifacts can shift like the rains of Africa: One minute, treasures from a lost pharaoh’s pyramid are all the rage with collectors, and the next minute religious artifacts discovered in a remote temple are what’s in demand.  In Curios, players acquire artifacts from various treasure sites without knowing their worth. Using the cards in your hand and those revealed by others, you can deduce the possible value of your artifacts, allowing you to focus your efforts on the more profitable ventures. Curios is a game of worker placement, deduction, and bluffing like no other. This simple and intuitive game is quick to learn and even quicker to play!“

The game has four locations: The Great Pyramid, The Lost Shipwreck, The Forbidden Temple and The Ancient Colosseum.  Each has a site card with plenty of columns of spaces on each and each has four market cards numbered 1,3,5,7. There are colored gems to match the background card of the four sites.

To start the game, each player chooses a pawn color and takes 5 pawns in that color.  The four treasure site cards are placed on the table and a number of gems suitable for the player count is placed underneath.  Each site’s Market cards are shuffled and one is randomly chosen to be placed face down above the site care. All of the unchosen Market cards are then shuffled together and dealt out to the players.

Each game round is made up of two phases: Searching for Treasure and Recruiting Archaeologists.  In the first phase, players take turns placing pawns from their supply onto a site card in order to get a gem of matching color.  Players must place pawns to completely fill the leftmost empty column on the card of their choice. As they fill the column, they take a gem from the supply under the site card.  If they do not have enough pawns to fill a column, they must pass for the rest of this phase. Play continues around the table until all players are forced to pass. Then, bonus artifacts are given for each site.  IF there is one player who has more pawns on a site card than all other players, that player gets one bonus gem from the supply. No bonus is given if there is a tie for most. To end the phase, all players take their pawns back.

Then, the round moves into the recruitment phase. Each player has the opportunity to take add an additional pawn to their supply (to a maximum of seven pawns total).  However, if an extra pawn is taken, the player must reveal one of the Market cards which they were dealt at the start of the game – therefore, all players will now get the information – and all players will know the value of the matching gem CANNOT be the value revealed on your card.  After all players either pass or reveal a card and take an extra pawn, the round ends. The start player moves clockwise and another round is played.

The game continues until the end of a round where at least 2 Treasure sites are out of gems.  At this point, the game immediately moves into scoring. The facedown Market cards above each Treasure site are flipped up and the value on that card determines the value of the gems of matching color.  All players add up their points, and the player with the most points wins. There is no tiebreaker.

My thoughts on the game

Well, when I first read the rules to the game, I was really worried that it was going to turn out to be a giant random-fest.  I am pleased to say that I was wrong – and while the role of lady luck certainly looms large here, there is a decent opportunity for bluffing and maybe even some intuition.

Sure, the game is simple.  Place pawns, take gems, and hope to score the most points.  In general, the earlier that you play pawns to a site, the fewer pawns that you have to play in order to get a gem, and therefore, the more gems you are likely to be able to get.  But… if you think that a blue gem is not worth many points – you might instead play on red, even if that means that you have to play more pawns. Or, you might even try to bluff and make a suboptimal play in an early round trying to convince your opponents that you think blue is quite valuable – when, in fact, you are pretty sure that it is not (based on the cards in your hand or the cards which other players have played face up).

By carefully watching what colors your opponents are trying to get (or trying to avoid), you might be able to make a good educated guess at what they think is valuable.   The decision on whether to reveal cards or not is fairly interesting in a 5-player game – because you only get two cards, and if you max out on your pawns, you have no secret information of your own… but it is less interesting with lower player counts because you will always have at least one card left in your hand at the end of the game, and that gives you almost no reason not to max out your pawn-age.

The games are quick, usually over between ten and fifteen minutes.  Once players have the hang of it, placing pawns and taking gems zips around the table.  We’ve had to make a rule to simply disallow takebacks because once you start placing pawns on a card, the next player is free to make their move.   

The rules are easy to grasp and I think the rulebook is well laid out.  Though it feels hefty at 8 pages, the pages are filled with graphic illustrations, and the actual text of the rules is pretty short.  Even the casual gamers that I have taught this game to have understood how to play within a few minutes.

The gems are nice and chunky – much larger than the usual boardgame plastic gem, and the game itself comes in a sturdy metal tin.  The pawns are simple plastic affairs; pretty reminiscent of the ones you would get in Sorry! or Parcheesi from your childhood… I know that tins can be polarizing – while they look great and are very durable, they usually come in a size that means they won’t stack nicely with all of your other standard cardboard boxes.

The one other curious thing about Curios is that no designer is listed.  I’m guessing that this means that the game is an in-house design, but even if that were true, it’s still rare for a hobby game to come out without some recognition going to the person/team that designed it.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter – the game will be played whether the designer is listed or not – but just a curious thing for a game these days.

Overall, Curios is a fine filler.  There is a bit of room for bluffing and whatnot, but many turns are simply determined by the board status – if you only have two pawns left AND only one card has a column of 2 spaces left, you’re gonna play there, even if you know the gem is a low scoring one.  Otherwise, if you don’t have a lot of information, you’re simply guessing at gems – maybe you’ll choose to concentrate on one or two colors and hope that the 7 flips up for them at the end… or maybe you’ll just cast your net wide and try to take an even distribution of gems to lessen your risk.  After all, every gem scores at least one point, but given the point distribution (1-3-5-7), it would be better to get a single 5 pt gem with your pawns than 4 one-point gems. Yet, so far, it seems like most of our games have come down to luck of the draw as far as the scoring cards is concerned.

For the amount of decision making required, a ten minute game length feels just right.  For me, I would have preferred this to come in a smaller package in order to be a pocket sized game, but I certainly can see the attraction to the colorful attractive metal tin.  I’d be happy to play this while we wait for Craig to show up at the start of our game night or if we were waiting for the other table to finish up the final scoring round of their game, but I don’t know if there is enough here for me to request it otherwise..  I can definitely see how this would be a nice introductory level game for a casual gamer or a teenager, with the metal tin making a nice display item for a gift.

Until your next appointment

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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2 Responses to Dale Yu: First Impressions of Curios

  1. Pingback: Dale Yu: First Impressions of Curios – Herman Watts

  2. Pingback: Dale Yu: Review of Point Salad | The Opinionated Gamers

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