15 June 2020
Fairy tale magic meets strategy with a twist
Where the sea meets the forest, shamans duel, infused by the powerful presence of mysterious Megaliths. As intriguing as it sounds, Cairn doesn’t say much more about the world in which it is set. This theme, like a magical coat of paint, is only tangentially related to the gameplay but serves as a perfect base for absolutely stunning components and art.
It is unusual to see quick, strategy-driven two-player games, put so much care and resources into its components, yet Cairn does not hold back. The art feels appropriately whimsical and warm as if you just wandered into the edge of the forest on a sunny autumn’s afternoon. Every component has a unique design, including the impeccably detailed shaman figurines. The creature design is so stunning, it makes one wonder more about the nature and the history of the world that Cairn is set in.
Splashing out on the looks, Christian Martinez, Cairn’s designer, kept gameplay, swift, simple and strategic. Cairn’s closest brother is chess, although the former streamlines the gameplay of the elder strategic behemoth to have only five figurines and a set of moves that can be chosen by all pieces to traverse the board. When one player conjures three Megaliths by either making it to the opposite side of the board or completing one of the two special arrangements, the game is over.
The light gameplay might not satisfy all, but it is perfect for newcomers or young board gamers to learn the basics of strategy – the importance of positioning, formations and planning future turns and moves – all in less than half an hour.
Cairn does not usurp your time or try needlessly complicated combat systems or intense strategic elements. Taking certain inspirations from a big classic and adding its own flare of fairy-tale magic, it is a beautiful board game in looks and in the elegant simplicity of its gameplay.
PLAY IT? Probably
Time: 25 minutes
This review originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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