This two-player abstract strategy game from Matagot and Maldito is a bit like Draughts 2.0 (Checkers 2.0 if you're reading this in the USA). With dynamic rules, perfect information, no randomness (except in set-up), it will surely be of interest to fans of games like Onitama (Arcane Wonders/Pegasus Spiele), Santorini (Roxley), Kamisado (Burley Games) and Tash Kalar (CGE).
Designed by Christian Martinez, Cairn is presented as a duel between rival tribes’ shamans (pieces) trying to outmanoeuvre each other and build megaliths (achieve certain moves). Vincent Joubert's artwork and miniatures carry the 'theme' well but this is essentially an abstract game about moving pieces across the board more intelligently than your opponent: trying to either get to the other side or capture your opponent’s pieces (or both).
There are just three actions to choose on your turn but each has two variations which alternate whenever they are used. This adds quite a bit of challenge to players in planning ahead. The method of capturing opponents’ pieces also alternates between two varieties. Then there are the megaliths... These occupy spaces on the board once built and each has a different effect when activated, such as causing shamans to move or be removed. Even with a maximum of five pieces each in play at a time, the range of possible moves can be bewildering.
The game ends when one player achieves the construction of three megaliths. This means that victory can be achieved from what looks like hopeless situations. Recovering from 2-0 down is actually more plausible in this than recovering from being a piece down in Chess. The strategy is deep and multi-layered, and variability is ensured because the publishers have supplied a good pool of megaliths to draw from each game. If you enjoy new two-player abstract strategy games, you should surely check this one out.
(Review by Matt Young)