Cairn – Matagot Games – Review

Cairn cover

Cairn is a light/medium-light game of tile placement, grid movement, and action selection that pits the Sea village against the Forest village to see who can construct Megaliths.

Andrew Vogel



Theme and What is it?

Inhabitants of the forest and of the sea, it is time to awaken! You will embody Shamans and build Megaliths to expand your power and dominate the rival tribe. Activate the unique powers of each new Megalith, but beware: Shamans from the opposing tribe can also activate them!

In this intense duel, you must consider each move carefully as you advance your Shamans across the play area, banish the opposing Shaman and build Megaliths to make your way to victory! Do you have the soul of a shaman? A game of simple mechanics
A great depth of play
An intense duel where each move counts -from the publisher

Cairn is a 2-player board game that is reminiscent of checkers, with a dash of pattern building, tile placement, miniatures, and action selection thrown in. All wrapped up in great artwork and a fantasy theme, this is a fun game for ages 10+ that plays in about 25 minutes.


In the game, the game board is set out with the Sea facing one player and the Forest facing the other player. Three Shaman are set out on each side, and the rest are placed in reserves – ready to enter the playing field.

Megalith tiles are shuffled and two Megaliths are placed in the center of the game board (the instructions recommend starter Megaliths for your first few games). Two Megaliths are placed on the upcoming Megalith spots near the edge of the board. The rest of the Megalith tiles are placed face-down off the board.

Double-sided Action tiles and the double-sided Transformation tile are put into their positions, and so are the two scoring markers.

On each player’s turn, they perform two steps:

1. Choose one of the three Actions. The tiles allow adding a Shaman, moving a Shaman, or jumping over a Shaman. Once an Action tile’s action has been completed, it is flipped over for a variation on the action — for example, one side of the Movement tile allows only orthogonal movement and the other side allows only diagonal movement. If an Action tile allows a Shaman to exit the board through the opponent’s side of the board, a Megalith is constructed.

2. Check for Transformation effect. Each side of the Transformation tile has a pattern. If Shaman have moved into that pattern this turn, then the opponent’s Shaman also involved with that pattern is Banished (returned to owner’s reserves) and a Megalith is constructed.

The first player to construct three Megaliths wins the game.

Initial Impressions


This game presents very well. It’s a medium-sized box with engaging artwork on the cover. The game comes with 10 whimsical miniatures (5 each for Sea village and Forest village). Kudos for minis that are all unique sculpts! They’re reasonably detailed and my wife wants to paint them!

Opening the box, there is a nice insert that securely holds the miniatures and all other components.

There are also Reference cards in three languages (English, French, and German) and three rule books. I tucked the rule books for non-English under the game box insert for safe-keeping.

The manual is well-written (the English one, at least) and appears to be free of typos or errors.

Game Build Quality


As mentioned above, the game is sturdy and well-constructed. The minis are nicely detailed and held safely in the game box insert. There are no cards in this game; all the components are either chipboard or plastic, so it should endure many plays.

Artistic Direction


The art is primarily on the box, the Megalith tiles, and the miniatures. In the area of printed items, the art is vibrant, bright, consistent, and interesting. The miniatures are nicely detailed and each one is unique with cute touches.

My only quibble about the art is that one of the Action tiles specifies a White Totem on one side and a Black Totem on the other. With the exception of a tiny dot of white/black, they appear to be identical on each side. Careful scrutiny of the tile reveals the Totem, but it’s not easy to see at a glance.

Fun Factor


This is checkers-like but does much more as well. The game becomes more difficult as you play it, ramping up to a nice degree as it progresses. It can be somewhat “thinky”, as players contemplate their next move, hoping that an Action tile is flipped (or not) in their favor.

There are two levels of Megalith tiles. Some have a light-colored stone background on them — these are the beginner level. The other Megalith cards, with the dark-colored stone background, are a bit more advanced. Once everyone is familiar with the game, these tiles can be mixed together for even more game play variety.

There is some “take-that” in this game, just like in checkers, but it never feels vicious or mean.

The box recommends this game for ages 10+ and I think that’s a great starting point. It’s a light/medium-light game, and finishes well within the 25 minute game-length advertised on the box.



Cairn is a light/medium-light game that plays in 25 minutes. It’s a good filler or lunch-time game. It doesn’t take a lot of table space, and the durable components will keep it looking sharp on your table for a long time.