I don’t know if it’s because of the current restrictions on travel and socialising, or just pure chance, but recently I seem to find myself playing two-player games a lot more frequently than I used to. Not only that, but with games like Seven Wonders Duel and Mandala among them, these games seem to get better and better. Curious Cargo is the latest two player game I’ve spent time with, and whilst it is probably the most complex, it is also perhaps the most rewarding.
Curious Cargo is a game in which both players control a rival factory. Each of these factories uses the same blueprint, determined during set by choosing matching boards from the four or five double-sided options available. The objective of each factory is to move goods from your player board out of your factory, whilst taking goods in from your rivals factory.
The game comes with a standard mode (fairly complex) and a more complex mode (very complex) which determines whether there are two or three different kinds of goods to move. Depending on your chosen factory, the entry and exit points will be in different places, and the challenge in Curious Cargo is to take turns in placing pieces of pipe onto the factory floor that lead these goods either outwards (onto trucks, which I’ll explain in a minute) or inwards, from trucks that your opponent sends.
If you’re struggling to imagine how these trucks work, I’ll try and explain it. Trucks come in several different sizes (as chosen by the player during a particular step) and are placed alongside the left side of your factory. As more trucks arrive, the existing trucks move forwards up your factory. At some point, part of a truck will “hang” off the edge, and at this point, it moves across to your opponents factory, effectively travelling down their factory on their right hand side.
Each truck has a set number of spaces onboard for goods (not counting the cab) and goods will only leave (or enter) a factory if one of those spaces aligns properly with a factory outlet (or inlet) that happens to have pipework that matches. Yes, I really mean that — in either the standard or complex games, you have to make pipes of each of the two or three colour goods, and then you have to try and get the trucks to align with the goods to the right pipeline.
There are a couple of challenges here. Firstly, actually getting the pipelines sorted out is quite challenging, since your factory is not very big, and each tile gives you some fairly quirky placement decisions. There are relatively few “simple” tiles here, and pipelines will often twist and turn through the factory. Unusually for this kind of game, a player can use a “scaffold” tile to build one half of a tile up and effectively overbuild an existing tile. Whilst fiddly, this often helps.
Assuming you can get at least a couple of workable pipelines, the next step is to manipulate trucks to ensure goods can leave. This is quite easy, since players have a lot of agency over what trucks they bring into their own factory, and can control the order in which trucks are placed. A good only has to leave your factory to score, it does not have to be delivered to the opposing factory.
Indeed, trying to ensure that your goods pass by your opponents factory is a key tactic. Players only have a set number of points to spend on trucks, so choosing where and when to send trucks is tricky. Placing a truck of a certain length into your own factory will likely send at least one truck into your opponents factory. The size of truck you should choose matters not just for loading at your end, but also for trying to make sure your opponent can’t unload trucks at their end as well. You may even send a truck directly into your opponents incoming truck queue to try and disrupt their export.
These things come together to make Curious Cargo a fairly complex decision space, but one that feels so, so rewarding when it comes together. It’s the kind of game where you can have a turn in which everything goes exactly right, and then the turn after you might miss everything you wanted to achieve by a single space.
We talk often in modern board games about striking the right balance between luck (which is essential for ensuring some level of balance) and skill, or agency (which rewards repeated play and learning a games systems). Few games offer such a good balance of these two things at a fixed two player count better than Curious Cargo, in my recent experience at least.
There is a clear, noticeable improvement in strategy and turn-by-turn decision making when players play this game over repeated sittings, but regardless of that, access to poor tiles, or a poor early placement can swing the balance either way. Using trucks to cleverly manipulate your own goods in and out, and that of your opponent, is also key and there is simply no decision to be taken lightly in Curious Cargo.
Curious Cargo is a great looking game with fantastic build quality, that also comes in a small box that fits just about anywhere and has the potential to travel. Not only that, this is a thoughtful, reasonably complex and extremely rewarding experience for two players. If the base game isn’t enough, it’s incredible to see an even more challenging mode right there in the box and whichever mode you play, Curious Cargo has a habit of surprising the players in each and every game. To sum up, it’s a huge recommendation for Curious Cargo from me.
You can purchase Curious Cargo on Amazon.