Stats at a glance
Publisher: Capstone Games
Curious Cargo looks like one of those old-school pipe-laying puzzle games, but there’s much more to it than meets the eye. You’ll need to build several cargo lines and get the goods loaded onto your trucks, and unloaded from your opponents!
This game will put your planning skills to the test so prepare for a real mind challenge!
Table of Contents
Brief Overview of Curious Cargo
Curious Cargo is a puzzle game for two players, with an average game time of 30 to 60 minutes. Despite the appearance, Curious Cargo is anything but a casual game.
It takes the simple concept of connecting the lines and adds the shipping mechanic on top of it. This raises the depth and complexity of the game to a whole new level. I’ll talk more about it in the how-to-play section, but keep this in mind as we go forward.
I’d recommend Curious Cargo to those looking for a serious and dedicated 2-player game, as it certainly has an edge over games that allow more than two players. I don’t think you should try this with casual or younger players, but I’ll tell you about some great alternatives at the end of this review.
Unboxing Curious Cargo
Inside the box you’ll find:
- 6 Player Boards
- 2 Shipping Boards
- 1 Turn Order Track
- 2 Forklift Meeples
- 25 Truck Cards
- 25 Truck Tiles
- 75 Conveyor Tiles
- 36 Goods
- 10 Construction Tokens
- 8 Trucking Tokens
- 6 Splitter Tiles
- 10 Scaffolding Tiles
- 1 Bag
We all know that colorful design and cool components result in better game sales. However, once the wow factor fades and we start looking at the game as a set of mechanics, those same flashy components can get in the way.
The designers behind Curious Cargo went with the function-first design. None of the components seem particularly interesting, but at the same time, they’re excellent for gameplay.
You’ll learn to appreciate the simple color palette as your pipelines become more intertwined and complicated. The game boards and tiles are small enough to make the game compact, but big enough that you can handle and read the components easily.
The turn order track is where the designers went loose and broke some of the monotony of the pieces. I wish they did the same with trucks, as the blue cabin with faded red tarp trailer, looks dull.
The player boards aren’t made of thick cardboard but they’re not paper either — it’s something in the middle, and it works nicely.
That’s all I can really say about the components — they’re functional and they look okay. Most importantly, they don’t get in the way of the gameplay. And when I show you how the game’s played, you’ll understand why this is so important.
How to Play Curious Cargo
Curious Cargo has a lot of things going on, so to make this guide as clear as possible, I’ll start with the setup and work toward the game’s end.
The game comes with 6 double-sided player boards, 3 for each player. You’ll need to sit opposite your opponent and take the same board and side. Place the boards in line with your opponents — this will matter when we get to the trucks.
Shipping boards are next. Each player gets their own and places corresponding goods on the empty spaces. Take 3 truck cards and 5 scaffolding tiles each, then decide who plays first. Put the conveyor tiles in the bag and the rest of the components within reach.
With the setup out of the way, we can talk about the gameplay. Curious Cargo is played over a series of rounds and goes on until someone reaches the victory condition.
Rounds are broken into construction and trucking phases — these form the meat of the game.
The construction phase consists of two actions: Draw a conveyor tile and play a conveyor tile. You get three actions per construction phase to spend however you want, but you may want to keep some for the trucking phase.
To place a tile, you need to find an empty teal grid, not covered by machines, walls, or numbers. You can place them however you want and even stack them, as long as they lie flat on the board. If they can’t, you can use scaffolding to level the surface before stacking a tile on top.
When you place a tile over a gear symbol, you receive a construction token. These can be used as a one-time boost to the number of actions, or to get the very useful splitter tile.
Your goal during this phase is to create new active connections by connecting machines with the docking ports (numbers on the sides of the board). You’ll also move on the turn order track with every active connection made.
If you have exhausted all actions but have Conveyor tiles remaining in your hand, place them in the storage on the shipping board.
The trucking phase is hard to explain, so to make it clear I’ll simplify the concept. You can always read about the details in the manual before playing the game.
The sides of player boards have sets of numbers. You play a truck to the left side, with its rear end positioned next to the number 1. When you play the next truck, you’ll push the previous forward.
When you push beyond the numbers, it’ll move to your opponent’s board. Likewise, their trucks will come to the right side of your board, following the same positioning rules.
If you remember, active connections are made toward the numbers on the sides of the map. When you line up a truck’s empty cargo space with an active connection, you can load up a good. Similarly, when the opponent’s truck arrives and lines up, you can unload the goods off their truck.
Scoring & Game End
Curious Cargo can end in a number of ways, but to win, a player must ship at least 2 goods of each color.
The scoring is based on stars which are earned by progressing down the turn order track and by collecting 4 goods of the same type. The player with the most stars is declared the winner!
Your First Game of Curious Cargo
My first piece of advice for you is to ignore the estimated playtime and set aside at least 2 hours. With so many choices to make on each turn, I can guarantee your first game will take a lot longer than the estimated 60 minutes.
The game manual recommends using board #1 for your first game, and I agree. It has the most streamlined layout, making it easier to understand for a beginner.
The construction phase can be taken by both players simultaneously, but I wouldn’t recommend that during your first few games. You want to take the time and observe your opponent’s moves — and vice versa — so you can catch accidental rule-breaking or misinterpretation.
The last piece of advice can be applied to any puzzle game — don’t focus on making a perfect grid. Make the most out of the pieces you have because you can always build on top of existing pieces.
Pros & Cons
- Depth of Strategy
- Balanced Gameplay
The depth Curious Cargo has is without a doubt its biggest positive. It will take you a while to figure out an optimal path to victory — and by the time you execute it, you’ll realize it’s subpar next to your new idea.
Unlike Euro games, I don’t think you can “figure out” Curious Cargo. A lot of Euro games offer a ton of possibilities, but there’s that one strategy that just works better than others.
The gameplay loop of Curious Cargo is always the same, but the sum of steps you take will always be different. The game forces you to adapt to every tile draw and truck card, making every game interesting.
While there is a dose of randomness, Curious Cargo will always offer an equal footing for both players and the better player should always win.
- Very Challenging
- Long Games
Curious Cargo seems like an easy game and a lot of people get that impression from the visuals. I’m sure it’s not the intention of the designers to mislead gamers, but you need to know that this is one challenging game.
It’s the type of game where you rack your brain until the very end and be spent mentally afterward. A great game for someone who loves that, but it’s not something you’d want to pick up after a hard day of work.
You’ll need to devote at least an hour to the game, likely more if you’re not as quick with your turns. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but just keep it in mind if you plan on playing Curious Cargo.
Curious Cargo Review (TL;DR)
Curious Cargo is an amazing puzzle game that will appeal to any challenge-seeking gamer. It offers a ton of replayability and with each game, you’ll get better and better at designing a perfect cargo distribution network.
If you’re looking for a more casual experience this is not a game for you. But if you’ve played through similar games and are now looking for a more interesting game, Curious Cargo is a must-have.
What impressed me the most about Curious Cargo is how it took a very simple and played-out system and turned it into something new and far better than it ever was.
To my knowledge, video games where you arrange pipes have been around for at least 20 years and they saw a resurgence with touchscreen smartphones. Curious Cargo looks like all of those games, yet it feels completely different.
The ability to stack the tiles adds an extra layer to the system, while the trucking changes the gameplay loop entirely. You’re not thinking about making the longest routes, but rather making the most and in such a way as to maximize cargo loading/unloading.
I have to say that Curious Cargo was a bit much, even for me. My friends felt quite spent after finishing a game, but I could tell that they had fun playing it.
Now to mention those alternative games. I think that Railroad Ink Challenge is a perfect substitute for Curious Cargo if you’re looking for a shorter and easier game. It has similar mechanics but without the whole trucking section.
The second recommendation is more out-there — Cartographers. The best description I could think of is “Tetris on a Sudoku board”. It’s really fun and I have played tons of it, so give it a look if you’re interested.
Once you’ve had your fill of games like Railroad Ink or Cartographers, Curious Cargo will be the perfect step up. If you find just one person to share your interest in Curious Cargo, you’ll have a ton of fun and could create a chess-like rivalry out of it!
We hope you enjoyed our Curious Cargo review! Have you tried this strategic tile-placement, route-building puzzle game? We’d love to hear what you think about Curious Cargo! Drop a comment below and let us know your thoughts.
When I first got into the hobby some 10 years ago, my friend circles didn’t know that board games went further than Monopoly and Risk. Now everyone I’m close with is into board gaming and my collection really has something for everyone.
My favorite games are Terraforming Mars and Lords of Waterdeep and I’m a fan of Euro, strategy, and engine-building games in general. I also enjoy the Warhammer 40,000 universe, which pulled me into the miniature painting hobby.