Dale Yu: Review of Cairn


  • Designer: Christian Martinez
  • Publisher: Matagot
  • Players: 2
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 25 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Matagot


“Inhabitants of the forest and of the sea, it is time to awaken! You will embody shamans and build Megaliths to expand your power and dominate the rival tribe. Activate the unique powers of each new Megalith, but beware: shamans from the opposing tribe can also activate them! In this intense duel, you must consider each move carefully as you advance your shamans across the play area, banish the opposing shaman and build Megaliths to make your way to victory!“


In this game, players take on ownership of two competing tribes – a sea tribe and a forest tribe.  The goal is to construct 3 megaliths before the other side.  Each player gets 5 shamans, 3 which start on the board in the row closest to the player, and 2 which start off the board in the village area.  Two megaliths are placed on the middle row of the board to start and the next two in the game are placed on the edge of the board.  The double-sided action tiles and transformation tiles have their sides randomized and are placed on the other side of the board.


Again, the goal is to build 3 megaliths – and there are two ways to do this. First, you can move one of your shamans off the opposite side of the board.  Second, you can achieve a transformation effect and place a megalith that way.


On your turn, there are three possible actions – as dictated by the action tiles on the side of the board.  You take one of the visible actions and then flip the action tile over to the opposite side:


1] Add a shaman to a totem space – one side is for the white space in your first row, the other side for the black space.  If the space if occupied by your opponent, you can banish the opposing piece and then play yours


2] Move a shaman – one side moves orthogonally, the other side moves diagonally.  If your shaman moves off the board, build a megalith in the last location occupied by your shaman.


3] Jump over a shaman – one side lets you jump over your own shaman, the other side over an opposing shaman.  You can jump either orthogonally or diagonally. If your shaman moves off the board, build a megalith in the last location occupied by your shaman.


After you have done your action, check to see if you have achieved the transformation effect – it is either a row of three shamans with the opposing shaman in the middle or the end.  If this happens, you banish the opponent and then place a megalith in the space the opponent was in.


Megaliths are flat tiles and then do not obstruct movement. In fact, once they are on the board, they provide a special action which can be activated by either player when they move a shaman onto that space.  This could end up moving shamans which could in turn trigger other megalith actions.  However, if a megalith is placed underneath a shaman – this does not trigger that megalith.  In the rare case an infinite loop is created, the person creating the loop simply stops it at any point.


The game continues until a player has constructed three megaliths – that player immediately wins.  There is a rare case where a player cannot perform any of the three action choices on their turn, in this case, they immediately lose.


My thoughts on the game


Cairn is a quick playing tactical 2p duel – where the game situation changes nearly every turn due to the way that the action tiles flip over when activated.  Furthermore, each game plays out a bit differently as the special actions on each megalith tile will cause you to plan and react to the differences.


When choosing your action, I think it’s important to consider both the direct result of your action as well as the opportunity that your opponent will have from the flipping of the chosen action tile.  This always makes each turn slightly more complicated as you should consider both aspects of play.


That being said, the game is pretty simple. There are only three different types of actions, so there’s not much to learn in order to play the game.  Cairn is one of those games that plays way more complex than the rules would suggest.  You can try to set up plays to get your figures off the board; but you should also be watchful to possibly set up a transformation play.  In either way, be mindful of the fact you can’t place a megalith on a space that already has one – I have, on a number of occasions, thought I had come up with a clever play only to be reminded by my opponent that I couldn’t place a megalith on top of another one.


Games move fairly quickly, though there will definitely be turns each game that require a bit of thinking – remembering that you have to consider both your own play as well as the board state left for your opponent afterwards.  Twenty minutes seems to be the average length of our games right now; as the goal of 3 megaliths is just right for this game – there is enough room to develop a strategy, enough time to come back even if down, but not so long to outstay its welcome.  Definitely a nice challenge for a 2p game.


Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers


Dan B. (1 play): Cairn is not the sort of abstract game I tend to like, but I think rules-wise it works well and is interesting. However, the graphic design really works against it – the black vs. white action icons are hard to distinguish and the megalith icons are far too small. This made it a real challenge to play for the wrong reasons.


Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral. Dan B.
  • Not for me…

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.
This entry was posted in Essen 2022, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply