I got the chance to play-test a wonderful new game last night. It is called Cabriole. The designer is Doug Bass, who previously designed and published Garden Dice. Players take on the role of 17th century furniture manufacturers in London. The game tasks you with gathering resources and hiring tradesmen to get furniture pieces made. It is a worker placement / card drafting / resource management game. I very much enjoyed it, and while none of the mechanics are new, they are arranged in a very interesting way.
The game is set up with the main board in the center of the table, rows of cards (the number of which varies by player count) beside it, and player boards for each player. The main board contains the spots to collect resources, the trade guilds where players place to hire or promote tradesmen, a store front where players can make a sell for some quick cash, three tracks that keep up with how many of each furniture type players have sold (bonuses at the end), and the victory point track. The player board is where players keep up with their tradesmen, which types they have hired and what levels they are.
Placement happens by placing at the end of one row of cards or by placing at the spots on the board. The cards are furniture designs players can complete or special bonus cards that allow players to collect a resource for free or hire/promote a tradesmen for a discounted price. All of the placement spots are limited and there is a timing aspect to how all of the placements are resolved that I really enjoyed. When you place at the end of a row you are queuing to select something from that row, not placing on the specific card you want. The first person in a row will obviously get what they want, but second on has some deduction to do to try and guess what those ahead of them intend to take and whether that conflicts with what they want. They may risk being later in queue or they may need to find an alternative action.
This timing mechanism extends to the way actions on the board resolve. There are four resources and each has four stacks available, each containing a different amount of resources for a different amount of money. Players select the stack they want in the order that they placed meaning, if you need three ebony to complete the projects you are working on, but are the third to place in the ebony spot, you may be in trouble. Again, you need to keep an eye on the projects your opponents have in front of them, and even the rows they are placing on to see what they may possibly be working on when it comes time to resolves resources, before you commit somewhere.
At the end of the turn players are automatically allowed to complete any projects they have the resources and correct tradesmen for, choosing to take either money or victory points for each piece they sell. The game forces you to plan your next turn out in advance, making sure you have enough money on hand to buy the resources you need and pay your tradesmen, before you decide whether you need the money or it is ok to bank to victory points.
I really enjoyed it. The mechanics are simple but the planning it asks you to do is not. Planning out your turns ahead of time, calculating exactly how much money you will need to get everything done, while also trying to bank as many victory points as possible, is interesting. Trying to read what your opponents are doing so you don’t end up in the middle of a round with your plans shot, scrambling to figure out a new direction, is fun. But it can also be mean. If you can figure out what opponents are doing, you have the opportunity to screw them out of it. The game can be kind of easy going or players can get in each other’s faces, and that is one of the more interesting aspects of the game for me.
With a few rule tweaks the game has the ability to go from a fun, relaxed Takenoko or Fresco level game where money comes pretty easily, there are ample places to place, and people are required to do much less planning, to a much heavier and tighter game where money is scarce and planning is paramount. If you calculate your money, or your opponents’ moves, wrong you could be left very short at the end of a round, unable to complete the furniture you had intended to, which will leave you without the money you need to pay tradesmen or get anything done in the next round. There are no loans, and the store front gives a very small return for a placement. You may end up having to sell some of the resources you had gathered to build furniture, meaning you’ll have to regather them before said furniture can be completed.
We actually discussed the possibility of the game shipping with the ability to play both ways: two different sides to the player boards, one family and one advanced, two different decks of cards, one that loosens up money, and one that makes it very tight, and a few rules tweaks that forces players to rub more and makes decisions/planning more difficult. I am very excited about the possibility. I really like the theme and think it could appeal to a broad range of players. He got the idea after attending a lecture at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts at Old Salem and the historic flair really comes through. The art is also fabulous. So far only the cards have been done, but they are beautiful and charming. Lamberto Azzariti, the artist from Upon a Salty Ocean, De Vulgari Eloquentia, Rio de la Plata, and Romolo o Remo, is doing it and hist style is perfect for the subject.
I could see using a family version of this game as a gateway/second tier game, depending on the player. I think the theme really is interesting and charming enough, and the mechanics simple enough, to get casual players interested. But the game can also be tough enough to appeal to serious gamers. I could see playing the family version with my kids and other family members at get-togethers. But I can also envision sitting down for an evening and playing the advanced version with my brother and wife, or a game group, trying to outthink and outmaneuver them. The system really is that flexible with just a few simple changes. There were a few rough spots on the board that need to be worked on, and a few things (like a round tracker) that need to be implemented, but, all-in-all, I was really impressed. I am already looking forward to it being released.