Review – Cape May

What’s the only major tourist destination in New Jersey?

Yes, Cape May!

It’s a beautiful oceanside town, at least from what I saw on the Blacklist episode it featured in.

(Yes, I’m aware of Atlantic City. This is kind of an inside joke, but I’ll bet you Cape May is the quietest and most leisurely tourist destination in New Jersey for those who just want to relax).

Anyway, what better subject for a game than building up this peaceful place for tourists to stay?

Cape May is a game designed by Eric Mosso with art by Michael Menzel. It was published in 2021 by Thunderworks Games.

It was a game that was sort of intriguing to me when it first was announced in 2020 but I never picked it up. I finally did so on a whim when trying to get free shipping on an order last year.

What a fortuitous occurrence!

That’s because this game has been played a fair amount and hit a pleasant nerve for some of us in my game group.

How does it work?

Let’s take a look.

In Cape May, players are entrepreneurs trying to develop the city of Cape May into “the Queen of Seaside Resorts”. They do this by travelling around the city, building homes and commercial buildings in the empty lots, and maybe setting aside some time to go bird-watching!

The game comes with some really nice plastic pieces (that do take up a lot of room in the box!) for the upgraded Businesses and Victorian homes. This gives the game a great table presence.

The game consists of 12 rounds divided into the four seasons, so three rounds per season. At the end of the season (except the Winter, which ends the game), income is collected.

Each round, and event card is drawn that may have a variety of effects.

It could force players to pay money, or maybe collect money! It may make things easier or harder to do during the current round.

After the event card, each player takes their turn, doing three actions.

They can play one of their Move cards and move their piece that many spaces on the board.

They can build or upgraded a building in a lot adjacent to their piece.

They can play an Activity card for one of the two options.

They can draw two Activity cards and keep one, they can pull back all of their used Move cards, or they can get $3 from the bank.

Moving around the board can get you places, but it’s really the Activity cards that will help you do things efficiently. The card above that lets you build on any empty lot means you can build all the way across the board and not have to actually be there.

That saves time!

At the beginning of the game, each player will receive 4 bonus cards and will chose 2. These cards will basically be your guide for how you want to develop the city. They can often be a very large fraction of your end game points.

Some of them just require you to have a certain number of buildings in certain areas of the board. Some will require you to have more of a certain type of building than any other player.

That’s where it can get sticky.

But more on that later.

In addition to all of the building development, you can go bird watching! Whenever you land on a space with a bird (or maybe two), you will draw the corresponding number of bird tokens from the bag.

The “question mark” bird can be any bird you need it to be

Bird token scoring is done by combining different birds into sets and scoring them (maximum of 7 different birds in a set).

This can be quite lucrative, especially if you get two bonus cards that want bird tokens! (That’s how I won the only time I have won this game).

You can initially build cottages and shops, but when you upgrade them, they move from cardboard to plastic.

When you upgrade a shop to a business, you also get an upgrade card, either choosing the face-up one or choosing one from the top two cards on the deck.

Some of these will be straight points. Some will have an immediate effect (like “draw 2 bird tokens”). Others will give a once-per-round ability, or a one-time only one (like being able to ignore the effects of an event). Finally, some may give an ongoing ability (like upgrading a cottage to a Victorian will always cost one less).

As the game goes on, it will get more and more built up (and prettier!).

After the twelfth round, players will total up all of their victory points and see who the winner is.

Victorians and Landmarks (Victorians with the nice white picket fence around them) will get you points, the closer to the ocean, the better.

I guess here is a good place to mention that there are four zones on the board: Gravel, Grass, Dirt and Sand.

Each zone consists of two rows. Gravel is the two rows furthest from the water, and so forth. Each zone is also coloured on the map so you can see them.

Commercial buildings (the hexagons) will get you income during the game but not any individual points at the end of the game. You will only score Victorians and Landmarks.

However, after Victorians/Landmarks, each region is scored for majorities, with whoever has the most buildings of all types getting the higher number of points and whoever has the second highest getting the second most.

Majorities further away from the ocean will get you more points than majorities in the Sand, which encourages players to build across the city.

Of, course, that does depend on players’ bonus cards as well.

All of these points, including bonus cards and bird tokens, as well as some upgrade cards, are totaled and whoever has the most points is the winner.

Is Cape May a gorgeous resort town where tourists line up in the shops by the water and lounge around on the beach? Or is it a town where the sewers are perennially backed up and nobody ever wants to go there?

I mentioned before that this has been a popular game with certain segments of our game group and that is no lie. I’ve played this game six times now, with mostly the same group of players, and it has been a hit.

It’s an interesting puzzle of how you combine actions to do as much as possible spread out all over the city and does have multiple avenues to victory, though most of those avenues go through the bonus cards.

This is my only major bone of contention with Cape May and it’s not really that big of one.

As I said, bonus cards come in two main varieties, for the most part (there are a few different ones, like the bird token ones): cards that require you to build a certain number of a type of building in a couple of zones and cards that require you to have more of a certain type of building in one or two zones than all other players.

The former are easier to do than the latter, which can make things difficult, though at least the latter cards are worth more points generally.

Cards that ask you to have a certain number of buildings just let you do them at your own pace, as long as you get them done before the end of the game. Nobody can really affect you as long as you don’t wait until the last minute and suddenly there aren’t any spaces left in Dirt (for example) to build in.

The majorities cards?

You have to either concentrate on those zones from the beginning or run the risk of an opponent suddenly making it so you don’t qualify for the bonus points anymore. Then you have to go back and try to make sure you have the majority again, if you are able to and there is space available.

There might not be.

The problem becomes the fact that these bonus cards can be a major source of points for you. Until our sixth game, the bonus cards were usually a hefty proportion of those points.

Even in that sixth game, the winner’s bonus cards pointed him toward doing the high-value Landmark strategy anyway.

Two green landmarks on the beach! That’s 22 points right there.

Maybe I just haven’t figured this game out yet, but it seems to me that the bonus cards are a bit too important for winning the game, and some of them are easier to do than others,.

This is still an amazingly fun game, though. It is almost a puzzle, as I said before. How do you chain together your activity cards, your bonus cards, moving around the city, to get the most bang for your buck? Especially when you only get income three times a game.

This does bring up a bit of a caveat to my “multiple ways of winning” comment above. If you don’t spend the Spring season building up your income by building shops and upgrading to businesses, you may find yourself hard-pressed to get much accomplished in the next three seasons. You should definitely not be concentrating on cottages and Victorians (don’t even mention Landmarks, since those cost $10 regardless of what zone they’re in) in Spring.

The production of Cape May is really beautiful with all of the plastic upgrade pieces and even the initial shops/cottages are pretty nice. The artwork on them is very sedate.

The other pieces, the cards and board artwork, is also very nicely done. The board does look like a seaside resort in the late 19th or early 20th century.

While there are a few adjacency questions (is my piece adjacent to that lot?), for the most part the board makes it easy to tell with the dots on the borders adjoining the street space that is next to it.

The rulebook even has a nice guide for what lots are adjacent to the two churches (there’s a bonus card that requires that).

All in all, the production is first rate.

I also like the play mats that give you the costs of everything along with a list of all the actions you can do and what the final scoring is.

Almost everything you could need is answered right there! It also comes with a place to track your moves and a piece to do it with, but we almost never use them.

They are a bit flimsy and it’s good that you don’t really need to track anything on them, because things would move on them very easily.

The event cards make each game just a little different, but they also don’t have a huge effect on the game. Just minor inconveniences or benefits. They’re not swingy in that way. One card may give players $1 for each of their Businesses. Another might make building in Grass and Dirt cost $1 less this round.

The “you can’t draw bird tokens this round” event can really affect you if you’re using a bird strategy, but may it’s time to do something else this round instead?

I also like how the limited movement cards that you have make you have to consider what you are going to do and what you can do as well on your turn.

Each player has Move cards from 1-7 (the 1 and 7 cost $2 to use while the 2 and 6 cost $1 to use). Once you’ve played a Move card, it can’t be used again until you pick all of your discarded cards back up. What if you need to build on a lot but you literally can’t get there without picking your cards back up?

These decisions will keep you up at night (ok, that might be an exaggeration, but it’s still something to think about!).

Our games have all clocked in from 90-105 minutes so it’s not a super-fast game but it’s also not a slog. I’ve heard rumours of people playing the game faster but I’m not sure that will ever be us. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, though.

Downtime isn’t too bad unless you have somebody with really bad AP (there’s a pill for that, I think). You can always be planning what you want to do next round, though events and/or other players building where you want to build can affect that.

As far as randomness goes, you have the Activity cards, the Bonus cards and the Upgrade cards as well as the Event cards.

Even with all that, it doesn’t feel like much of a random game.

Instead, you are dealing with things that pop up at the beginning of the game and during it, adapting as necessary but you can still have an overall plan in mind (especially once you choose your bonus cards) and shouldn’t have to deviate from it too much.

Red landmarks in the Gravel!

There isn’t really any direct player interaction other than just “hey, you took my spot!”. There are no “take that” cards, for example. It’s not multi-player solitaire because you are all fighting over the same real estate, but you will never be able to directly hurt another player.

Even taking the spot they want is unlikely to be a major hazard (unless they just made it so you can’t score a bonus card).

Cape May is a great game that I highly recommend at least trying out. It can burn your brain a little bit but not in a bad way. It’s never going to be the brain twister that some heavier games are.

But there’s enough meat in there to satisfy all but the most hardcore carnivores.

This one is a success in my book.

(This review was written after 6 plays)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: