Friday 7 June 2024

Capybara n Capybara

The Game

Capybara n Capybara is a game from Japan, by Hisashi Hayashi, designer of Yokohama, Trains and String Railway. Capybaras come from South America. They became an internet meme only a couple of years ago. They are usually portrayed as the most friendly and peaceful animal. I found out they are actually huge rats. They come from the rodent  family. In the game Capybara n Capybara, you collect capybaras and line them up in a queue, then score points based on their types and positions. 

There are five kinds of capybaras in the game, A to E. That card on the left is the start player marker. 

These are mission cards. During game setup, you randomly pick one. It is open information and it applies to everyone. It decides the bonus points you score at game end, and it affects how you arrange your capybara queue. Let's take the one on the left as an example. In your queue, every pair of capybaras of the same type scores 1 point. However, if you have three or more of the same type in sequence, they score nothing. 

Every player has a queue of capybaras and a monkey, like this. The left side is the front of the queue. The monkey starts the game at the back of the queue. On your turn, you must move the monkey forward or backward. When it moves forward, you have two options. You either add capybaras to your queue, or you claim a pumpkin. If you decide to gain capybaras, you may gain up to three of them, depending on how far your monkey moves. To claim a pumpkin means fulfilling the scoring criteria on one of the pumpkin cards. Usually a pumpkin card specifies a certain combination of capybaras, e.g. two A capybaras and two B capybaras. By advancing your monkey to move over these four capybaras, you'll be able to claim the pumpkin card. This is not always easy to do. There is a way to substitute capybaras you are short of. Advancing your monkey across any three capybaras can be treated as having fulfilled one capybara condition. E.g. you may advance your monkey over A, C and D capybaras, and you can consider yourself as having advanced over one B capybara. 

The other option you have on your turn is to have your monkey retreat towards the back of the queue. You have to advance your monkey whether you want to claim capybaras or pumpkins. Once you are at the head of the queue or near there, there won't be much you can do. So eventually you have to spend turns "winding up" your monkey again to prepare for the next useful move. When your monkey retreats, it moves only three steps. Sometimes you need to retreat for multiple turns before you have something useful to do again. As they say - work-life balance. Give your monkey a break.  

There are two rows of cards at the centre of the table, the capybaras and the pumpkins. The game ends after any player completes the fifth pumpkin card. 

The Play

This is a game that needs a fair bit of table space, because those capybara queues will grow pretty long. The star of the game is actually your monkey and not the capybaras. The capybaras look cute but they just stand around in the queue doing nothing. It's the monkey that'll be busy moving forward and backward getting things done. This is a game about arranging and planning your resources to fulfil tasks. Most likely players will end with four or five pumpkin cards. The pumpkins are open information, so there will be some competition if players are aiming at the same ones. The common row of capybaras can also be a source of competition. 

Your queue of capybaras is your resources. Advancing your monkey is a form of utilising your resources. Retreating your monkey is replenishing them. You try to collect capybaras and complete tasks as efficiently as possible, i.e. using as few steps of your monkey as possible. 

A fifth pumpkin claimed by any player triggers game end. You have to think about the values of the pumpkins when you decide which ones to attempt. The values can vary from 4 to 7 points. If most people will end up having around five pumpkins, then it may be better to go for the higher valued ones. Else you'd be at a disadvantage. If you think you can get to five pumpkins much faster than others by going for lower valued (and thus easier) pumpkins, it can be worth a try. 

When you complete your third pumpkin, your monkey grows up. The young monkey retreats 3 steps, but the adult monkey retreats 4 steps. 

That pumpkin at the centre requires the monkey to advance 8 steps.

The Thoughts

This is a light strategy game. There is a little strategy to consider and it's not just a simple casual game. There is little direct player interaction. You'll be mostly busy with your own queue of capybaras. It's generally a peaceful game. There is some competition because the common rows are shared. You may be wanting the same capybaras or pumpkins as someone else. There is a race element, because you are all heading towards the fifth pumpkin. 

The queue mechanism is not often seen. However I realise the positions of the capybaras are not all that critical. Yes, it is important for the mission card, but for fulfilling the pumpkins, so very much so. As long as you have the right capybara types, it's usually good enough. Maybe I should use this game as an inspiration to design a game with queues. 

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